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B., D. (1927). Sexuality: Guy B. Johnson. Double Meaning in the Popular Negro Blues. The Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, Vol. XXII, No. 1, 1927.. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 8:534-536.
Psychoanalytic Electronic Publishing: Sexuality: Guy B. Johnson. Double Meaning in the Popular Negro Blues. The Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, Vol. XXII, No. 1, 1927.

(1927). International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 8:534-536

Sexuality: Guy B. Johnson. Double Meaning in the Popular Negro Blues. The Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, Vol. XXII, No. 1, 1927.

D. B.

The author presents certain data to show the undoubted presence of double meanings of a sexual nature in the blues. He says that the blues arising originally from the common negro folk have been widely exploited as a form of popular song. The blues deal with the man-woman relation, and the double meanings may be divided into two general groups:—

1. Those meanings pertaining specifically to the sex organs.

2. Those relating to the sex act or to some other aspect of sex life.

Relatively few symbols for the sex organs are found in the blues, and by far the most common of these terms is jelly roll. This term as used by the lower class negro stands for the vagina, or for the female genitalia in general, and sometimes for sexual intercourse. The following lines illustrate the use of jelly roll in these songs:—

1. I ain't gonna give nobody none o' this jelly roll.
Nobody in town can bake sweet jelly roll like mine.
Your jelly roll is good.

2. I don't know but I've been tol',
Angels in heaven do the sweet jelly roll.

3. Dupree was a bandit,
He was brave an' bol',
He stole that diamon' ring
For some of Betty's jelly roll.

Another term for the female organs is cabbage. Other symbols are keyhole and bread. The latter, sometimes found as cookie and cake, is almost as common as jelly roll in everyday negro slang.

Symbols for the male organs are more difficult to find and it is doubtful, the author says, if there is a clear-cut example of male symbolism in the blues.

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Expressions with double meanings which relate to the act of sexual intercourse are much more numerous in the blues than are symbols for the sex organs. The word jazz heads this list. It is used both as verb and noun to denote the sex act among the negroes of the South. In a footnote the author says that jazz music originated in negro pleasure houses, 'jazz houses', as they are sometimes called by negroes.

The majority of the expressions in the blues relating to the sex act are sung from the point of view of the woman, and are mostly concerned with the quality of the movements made by the male during coitus. The following expressions are frequent. 'My man rocks me with one steady roll'. Here are some folk stanzas which show the line of thought in the undeleted versions:—

Looked at the clock, clock struck one,

Come on, daddy, let's have some fun.

Looked at the clock, clock struck two,

Believe to my soul you ain't half through.

Looked at the clock, clock struck three,

Believe to my soul, you gonna kill poor me.

Looked at the clock, clock struck four,

If the bed breaks down we'll finish on the floor.

My daddy rocks me with one steady roll,

Dere ain't no slippin' when he once takes hold.

'Do it a long time, papa'. In the popular song one is led to believe that 'do it' refers to something innocuous like kissing or dancing, but this is not the case amongst the negroes. 'Daddy, ease it to me', 'Play me slow', and 'Easy rider', are frequent expressions. The last one is frequently met with both in negro folk songs and in formal songs. 'I wonder where my easy rider's gone', is a sort of by-word with Southern negroes.

'Shake it', 'Shake that thing', etc., are very frequent in the blues. Ostensibly they refer to dancing, but they are really negro vulgar expressions relating to coitus. The following is a stanza from a recent popular piece:—

Why, there's old Uncle Jack,

The jelly-roll king,

Got a hump on his back

From shakin' that thing,

Yet he still shakes that thing.

For an ole man how he can shake that thing!

An' he never gets tired o' tellin' young folks how to shake that thing.

In a footnote the author refers to the expression 'shake the shimmy'. Chemise is pronounced 'shimmy' by most negroes and a great many whites in the South. In its original meaning it described the effect produced

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when a woman made a movement or did a dance step which caused her breasts to shake. This caused her 'shimmy' to shake.

'Mama's got something I know you want'. This meaning is clear from the concluding stanza of the popular song:—

Mama's got something sho' gonna surprise you,

Mama's got something gonna hypnotize you,

Mama's got something I know you want.

The following lines from the popular blues are obviously of a sexual nature:—

It's right here for you; if you don't get it, 'tain't no fault of mine.

I'm gonna see you when your troubles are just like mine.

If I let you get away with it once, you'll do it all the time.

You've got what I've been looking for.

How can I get it when you keep on snatching it back?

Put it where I can get it.

If you don't give me what I want, I'm gonna get it somewhere else.

The author mentions another point that tends to substantiate the origin of some of the blues from the songs of the negro underworld. He says that negro churchmen and educators vigorously oppose the singing of the blues. Their opposition is undoubtedly due to the fact that they are fully acquainted with the undercurrent of vulgarity which runs through many of these songs.

The author thinks that the popularity of these songs is evidently due to the fact that the white man enjoys seeing the other meaning in them.

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Article Citation

B., D. (1927). Sexuality. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 8:534-536

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