USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘chant’
Folk Dance
Gestures
Kinesthetic
Musical
Myths

Delta Sigma Theta step/chant

The chant:

“Contrary, contrary, contrary to the story,

Everybody knows that this is Delta territory.

In 1913, a change was made,

And for a solid sisterhood, the foundation was laid.

Twenty-two women who were destined to lead

Founded the devastating, captivating—DST.

In Delta Sigma Theta Sorority,

Public service is our number one priority.

For royal red, and nine white pearls,

It takes a lot to be a—Delta girl.”

 

The informant, my mom, is from Tennessee working as a middle school Spanish teacher. She learned this sorority chant in college in the South from her sorority sisters while they were getting ready for a stepping competition. Stepping is a combination of claps, steps, and chants to a particular rhythm; this practice is popular among traditionally black Greek organizations. She told me that she learned a lot of chants while pledging Delta Sigma Theta, but she didn’t learn this one until later. These chants are usually learned directly from sorority sisters or fraternity brothers in these organizations, and many have roots as far back as the beginning of the 20th century when the organizations were founded. The chant serves primarily to tell Delta’s history and take pride in their organization, while carrying out impressive stepping as well. Thus, it is somewhat also the mythology upon which Delta Sigma Theta is founded, as it tells of its origins and identity.

Customs
Initiations
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Sorority Drinking Song

Informant: Take a shot, take a shot! Take a god-damned shot! If you can’t take a shot like a/an [sorority nickname] can, then you shouldn’t have a shot in your motherfucking hand! Take a shot!

The informant is a student at the University of Southern California. She is a member of a sorority, and was born and raised in Chicago, IL.

The informant first learned this drinking song, or chant, on the night after she received a bid from her sorority. She and her new “sisters” gathered in the largest bedroom of her sorority house, poured shots of Fireball (a popular brand of cinnamon flavored whiskey) and preformed the chant before knocking back their drinks. The informant has since preformed the chant only a handful of times—all occurred with other sorority sisters before a night of partying, and sometimes during. The informant claims she has also heard members of other USC sororities sing the chant with their own sorority’s nickname in place of the informant’s. Nevertheless, the song stands a symbol of initiation into a sorority; only members can preform it.

Customs
Folk speech

“Blood Makes the Grass Grow”

Informant: I’m from Oklahoma, and back home at football games, we always chant, “Kill, kill, blood makes the grass grow” whenever we’re winning or, like, about to make a big play.

Me: Like at professional games?

Informant: No, mostly at high school ones. And some college games.

The informant is a student at the University of Southern California and loves to attend and participate in sporting events.

This chant, in the context of football games, seems to mean that a brutal victory over an opponent will serve to make the field look better during the next game. However, variations of the chant also seem to be associated with the US military; it receives a nod in the title of author Johnny Rico’s memoir—and account of the year he spent fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan—Blood Makes the Grass Grow Green: A Year in the Desert with Team America. Another version of this chant appears in the 1987 war film Full Metal Jacket. The Sergeant asks, “What do we do for a living?” To which the platoon replies, “Kill, kill, kill!” The Sergeant continues with, “What makes the grass grow?” And his men reply, “Blood, blood, blood!”

Citation 1: Rico, Johnny. Blood Makes the Grass Grow Green: A Year in the Desert with Team America. New York: Presidio, 2007. Print.

Citation 2: Full Metal Jacket. Dir. Stanley Kubrick. Prod. Stanley Kubrick. By Stanley Kubrick, Michael Herr, and Gustav Hasford. Perf. Matthew Modine, Adam Baldwin, Vincent D’Onofrio, and Lee Ermey. Warner Bros., 1987.

Customs
Humor
Musical
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Sorority Bus Chant

Informant: It goes—okay, don’t laugh—it goes: [to the tune of Take Me Out to the Ball Game]

Take me out to your frat house, take me up to your room;

We don’t need pillows or sheets tonight, just a condom that fits you just right;

For it’s fuck, fuck, fuck ‘til the morning;

If I don’t come, you’re to blame;

For it’s one, two, three strikes you’re out;

By the way, what’s your name?

The informant is a student at the University of Southern California. She is a member of a sorority, and was born and raised in Chicago, IL.

This piece is one I originally encountered in its intended context—on a bus, bound for a sorority invite (off-campus party to which dates can be invited)—but collected months later in order to catch the full lyrics. While the chant was sung with brazen gusto on the bus, once the informant had sobered up, she admitted that the chant is “definitely not reflective of what we’re about.” Most performers of the chant seemed to feel the same: the chant is a fun sorority tradition, but the lyrics are laughably outlandish and don’t reflect the moral values of modern-day performers. Hence the informant’s little introduction to the piece, letting me know that she doesn’t stand behind the lyrics or take them seriously.

The chant, the informant told me, has been passed down through the years; she isn’t sure when it was started, but she knows that different sororities sing different variations of the song, and the lyrics have changed slightly over the years (sorority members are not allowed to write down the lyrics in any form because, as a national organization, the sorority does not want to be attached to such a scandalous chant).

The context of the chant is essential to know: sorority members sing it on a crowded bus while their dates watch and listen. The goal of the chant is, most likely, to convince the dates that sorority members are fun and ready to party that evening. The chant also has fairly overt sexual suggestions, and therefore might be a way for sorority members to approach the topic of what will happen after invite.

general
Musical

Choctaw Freedman Anti-California Song

Informant: When my grandma moved from the reservation in Oklahoma—the one where, like, you know, they were forced to go after the Trail of Tears and stuff—to California, people were mean to her and her family. And the other Choctaw Freeman. So they’d sing this little song, like:

“One, two, three, four, five, six, seven,

all the Okies go to heaven.

When we get up there;

we’ll sing: hell, hell,

you’re gonna go to hell,

all the Californians are gonna go to hell!”

The informant is a student at the University of Southern California. She is from an “eccentric” family. Her grandmother is Choctaw Freedman (formerly enslaved African Americans who joined the Native American Choctaws in Oklahoma) and has passed on many of her traditions and beliefs to the informant.

This song, the informant told me, is something her grandmother and other Choctaw Freedmen preformed together when they came to California and faced prejudice. The song is colored with equal parts resentment for Californians and pride in the Choctaw Freedmen identity.

Folk speech

“Hooah!”

             An ROTC student at the University of Southern California, the informant explained the significance behind the army recognition cry, “Hooah!” He called the army cry both an acknowledgement of another serving member as well as “a different way of saying ‘yes’ with motivation and enthusiasm.” The cry is limited to soldiers only, but he has always liked that there are no rank or level associations with the cry―anyone who has been enlisted or who has served in the U.S. army has access to the “Hooah!” cry.

 

            When a soldier in the army responds to an acknowledgement from another member in the army, he or she usually says, “Hooah!” Marines usually say, “Hoorah!”

 

            This traditional response from soldier to soldier is similar in theory and practice to the “Fight On!” chant that USC students exchange with one another. For one, it identifies an “inside” group; an exclusive community can use it as well as understand it because there is a particular university history and tradition attached to the chant.
Additionally, the chant transcends boundaries of seniority and rank, just as the “Hooah!” cry does. Prospective students, alumni, and faculty alike are all welcome to use and exchange the “Fight On!” In the case of “Hooah!,” it marks a solidarity and collectivity between soldiers―a symbol of respect for one another’s service to the country.
            Lastly, the unique sound and zeal behind the “Hooah!” cry boosts soldier morale in the same way a drummer boy behind the ranks or a welcoming parade does. The wildness and loudness of the cry emblemizes an abandon of inhibition that has zero representation in the regulated, disciplined setting of the military.

Folk speech
Humor
Musical

Miss Suzie’s Steamboat

Miss Suzie had a steamboat
The steamboat had a bell (toot toot) 
Miss Suzie went to heaven 
The steamboat went to 
Hello operator, please give me number 9
If you disconnect me, I’ll chop off your 
Behind the refrigerator laid a piece of glass 
Miss Suzie sat upon it and broke her little
Ask me no more questions, please give me no more lies 
The boys are in bathroom pulling down their 
Flies are in the meadow, the bees are in the park 
Miss Suzie and her boyfriend are kissing in the DARK DARK DARK! 
Is like a movie, a movie’s like a show, a show is on TV 
And that’s all I know know know!

This is one of the many chants that is recited with a certain clapping pattern that I learned in elementary school.  Back then, many girls would say these chants during recess as a way of spending their free time.  I remember learning it from my best friend, who had learned it from other girls in her class.  Once we both knew it, we would frequently play this clapping game, whether we were at school or at each other’s houses.  It was a way of passing time when we were bored.
Looking back at my elementary school days, chanting this rhyme was extremely enjoyable.  Not only did it help ease my boredom, but it also provided me with fun.  Chanting the words with my friends made me laugh because of the words in the chant.  It implies inappropriate words without actually being inappropriate.
Remembering the chant reminds me of how much fun I had as a kid.  When I hear other kids recite these chants and play clapping games, I remember more specific memories that I had as a child.  This chant gives me a connection to my past.  I don’t think I’ll ever forget this chant because it has been implanted in my brain from reciting it so much.

Folk Beliefs
Folk medicine
Folk speech
Gestures

Mexican Healing Chant

My informant taught me this chant in the context of our Forms of Folklore JEP class. I asked her if she was familiar with “sana, sana” and she said yes, and then finished the chant. She said that she learned this from her parents, and that they say this to her when she has been hurt. My informant said that this usually occurs at her home, but that it could happen anywhere. When asked if it works, she giggled and said, “well, it makes me laugh.” She repeated this as the reasoning as to why she likes and does it.

Material:

Spanish:
“Sana, sana, culito de rana,
y si no se cura ahorita, se cura mañana.”

Her translation:
“I hope you feel better,
if it doesn’t get better today, it gets better tomorrow.”

Word-by-word translation:
“Healthy, healthy, frog ass,
and if not cured now, cured tomorrow.”

While saying these lines her parents usually rub the inflicted area. You can hear her performing this here: Sana, Sana.

Analysis:

One of the most interesting aspects of this piece of folklore is perhaps what was almost left out, “culito de rana.” My informant giggled over it while reciting the chant in Spanish, and when translating it into English she left it out entirely. This piece, which Google Translate translates as “frog ass,” could have been lost entirely. This omission makes one wonder the reason behind it. Did she intentionally do so, for my sake and sensibilities, or did her parents tell her a simplified translation? The first option certainly makes more sense, especially considering her incessant giggles. So, more likely than not she felt uncomfortable sharing such material with me. To me, this emphasizes the early understanding of what is appropriate and what is inappropriate behavior and speech. The environment of the school reinforces and could be the source of her understanding of behavioral norms. Her teacher is extremely strict and reprimands the students for every false move—even speaking out of turn. There is no doubt that she would frown upon the use of vulgarity and that my informant would be punished for such speech.

The vulgarity (and my informant’s attempt to cover it) proves very interesting for analysis. It could be a part of the chant in order to allude to (and perhaps make fun of) magical workings that could involve such things as frog butts. With this in mind, the chant could be seen as a parody of a spell, or it could be the remnants of an actual healing spell.

Simultaneously, the laughter involved in the chant does not only point to discomfort but also to a bit of levity. Though her parents transmitted the chant to her, the authority didn’t confer seriousness. Instead, it could be taken lightly—my informant didn’t say that it worked, but that it does make her laugh. And perhaps this was the intended result (especially if the goal was to poke fun at magical workings).

Furthermore, and more particularly, the piece of folklore does something interesting—it offers the hope of recovery but not the promise that the recovery will be immediate. This statement is at least in a different tone than more traditional comforts—“you are okay,” “it isn’t too bad,” etc. Instead of that, it conveys that it may not be okay right now, that it may be bad, but that it will not be soon. This points to a different sense of time, and immediacy.

Childhood
Folk speech
Humor
Musical

Girly-Girl Chant

My informant remembers chanting this with her friends in elementary school. She believes that it was around third grade that girls began singing this to each other in line-up before school began.

Oh, my gosh! I think I need a manicure! (looks at nails)

The sun, I swear, (presses hand to forehead) is greasing up my well-done hair! (touches hair)

Go! Go! Fight! Fight! (bobs head back and forth), Gee I hope I look alright! (points to herself)

Forty-three, fifty four, I don’t know the stupid score! (Makes confused face)

I remember this chant from elementary school. It was used to mock the “girly-girls” by singing it in a high-pitch tone and using dramatic eye-rolls for emphasis. There was no purpose to the chant, other than to show your friends that you knew it. I believe that it is important because it reflects upon the American societal image of a “girly-girl” and the fact that girls themselves recognize how ridiculous it is.

Childhood
Folk Dance
Folk speech
Game

Little Sally Walker

My informant told me about a childhood chanting game that she learned in second grade. She and her friends would play it during recess. She describes it as follows:

“You stand in a circle with a bunch of girls. One skips in the middle and everyone sings:

Little Sally Walker, walking down the street

she didn’t know what to do, so she stopped in front of me

she said:

Hey girl, do your thing, do your thing, switch

Hey girl, do your thing, do your thing, switch

After the line: “she said”, the girl in the middle stops in front of a girl in the circle and dances until the song ends. Then the two girls switch and the new girl skips around the inside of the circle as the song repeats.”

I personally have never played this game, but I faintly recognize the lyrics. It reminds me of many camp songs that I learned when I was young. It is a good way to learn rhythm and cooperation through song and dance. It is also something to do to simply pass the time.

 

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