Waterboy (song)

"Waterboy" (a.k.a. "The Water Boy") is an American traditional folk song. It is built on the call "Water boy, where are you hidin'?"[1] The call is one of several water boy calls in cotton plantation folk tradition.[2]

"Waterboy" / "Water Boy"
Water Boy sheet music.jpg
Cover of sheet music to a piano version of the "negro convict song" arranged by Avery Robinson for singer Roland Hayes, 1950
GenreJazz, Folk, Blues
LengthTypically 3-4 mins
Composer(s)Avery Robinson (arr.)

Numerous artists have written and/or recorded their own versions of this African-American traditional song, including Jacques Wolfe, a Romanian immigrant, and Avery Robinson[3] who popularized "Water Boy" as a jazz song in the 1920s. From 1949 onwards, many blues and folk artists have performed their own arrangements of it.

The opening call to the "water boy" has been said to bear a resemblance to melodies found in classical works by Cui, Tchaikovsky, and Liszt, as well as a Jewish marriage song and a Native American tune.[4] The first melody of the subsequent refrain is similar to the old German tune "Mendebras," used for the hymn "Oh Day of Rest and Gladness." [5]


This is the version arranged by Avery Robinson[6] (see image).
"Waterboy" was recorded by several other jazz singers around this time, including Fats Waller, Earl Hines, and John Payne.
This version appears on The Country Blues of John Lee Hooker, The Unknown John Lee Hooker: 1949 Recordings, and Jack O' Diamonds: 1949 Recordings.[10]
Song: "I've Been Driving on Bald Mountain/Water Boy".[11]
"Waterboy" became a song Odetta performed regularly, and it appears on several of her albums. It is also the song she plays in the film No Direction Home, in a TV performance from the 1960s (shown to highlight her influence on Bob Dylan).

External linksEdit


  1. ^ Sheila Tully Boyle, Andrew Buni Paul Robeson: The Years of Promise And Achievement - 2005 Page 147 "The work song, "Water Boy," is built around the cry for water of a gang of condemned and laboring men. Robeson sang the refrain ( the water cry itself, "Water boy, where are you hidin'?") a cappella and very softly, and the verses themselves ..."
  2. ^ Harold Courlander - Negro Folk Music U.S.A. 1963 - Page 86 "In the cotton fields and the cornfields of the present time, as on the old plantations, the water carrier is in constant demand. The call for the water boy (or girl), in one or another of ... Some water calls such as "Water Boy, Where Are You Hidin'?" have come to be regarded as true songs, and may be heard on phonograph recordings. The water call given here (Example 14) was recorded In Alabama in 1950."
  3. ^ AMG: Avery Robinson > Songs composed by
  4. ^ Sigmund Spaeth, Read ‘Em and Weep. The Songs you Forgot to Remember (New York: Halcyon House, 1926, p. 40.
  5. ^ Spaeth, ibid. See also Gerald Bordman: His Life and Music (New York: Oxford University Press, 1980), p. 146. To hear Mendebras: [1].
  6. ^ JSTOR: The Black Perspective in Music, "Isaac Hayes in London" retrieved April 25, 2008
    If unavailable, text also contained in Google search result
  7. ^ Fats Waller - In London, AMG
  8. ^ Fats Waller - 1938, AMG
  9. ^ < retrieved November 24, 2019
  10. ^ John Lee Hooker - "Water Boy", AMG
  11. ^ Odetta - "I've Been Driving on Bald Mountain/Water Boy", AMG
  12. ^ Paul Robeson - The Power & the Glory, AMG