USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘children’s song’

Morning Song – Korea

Original Script:

아침해가 떴습니다

자리에서 일어나

이빨 닦고 세수하고

학교에 갑시다


Phonetic (Roman) Script:

achimhaega tteossseubnida

jalieseo il-eona

ippal dakkgo sesuhago

haggyoe gabsida



The morning sun has arisen

Get up from bed

Brush your teeth, wash your face

Let’s go to school


My mom was born in South Korean, but moved to America when she was 16 years old. She told me that she had learned this song about 45 years ago when she was in first grade. She isn’t sure if they still teach this song, or if it is something that all schools taught or just hers. Everyone was taught to sing this song during music class. Music is a great way to reach students; it can help discreetly teach important lessons. My mom said students were taught to sing this song in particular as a way to encourage them to get up for school and help them develop a morning routine. When I was little, we used to sing this song together all the time. It was actually really effective in getting me out of bed, and made it more entertaining to get ready in the morning by singing along with her.

Folk Dance
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Sma Grordorna – Swedish Midsummer Celebration Song


Elliot Danielsson is a 21 year old man from Gothenburg, Sweden. This is his favorite folk song from his native Swedish culture. He also says that almost everyone in his town “and probably most of Sweden” knows this song and sings it during their Midsummer Celebration.

Folk Song:

Små grodorna, små grordorna

är lustiga att se.


Ej öron, ej öron, ej suansar

hava de.


What the song is about:

Elliot: “It’s…uh…kinda hard to give a straight translation, but it’s basically about…It’s small frogs without tails or ears, which makes their lives very difficult, but they are still full of joy and love dancing around a tree. It basically shows how even though we all may live tough lives, we can still live our lives with happiness and joy.”


Elliot: “It is most often performed at any celebration that whatever Swedish town is putting on the…uh…celebration. Kids, like, love singing it during the celebration, and adults join in too.”

My thoughts:

Elliot also added that this Midsummer Celebration is comparable to America’s Christmas in regards to popularity, and one of the biggest parts (and probably my favorite part) of our Christmas traditions is Christmas music. Therefore, this song that is connected with a major holiday is very interesting to me because I did not know that other cultures’ holidays also often had music that went along with them.


Morbid Jingle Bells

I was first taught this song at the age of 10 while at a ski lodge in Lake Tahoe:

Dashing through the snow, On a pair of broken skis

O’er the hills we go, Crashing into trees

The Snow is turning red, I think I’m almost dead

I woke up in the hospital with staples in my head, Oh! 

Jingle bells, Jingle bells, Santa’s almost dead!

Rudolph brought an atom bomb and blast it on his head, Oh! 

Barbie doll, Barbie doll, tried to save his life,

But G.I. Joe from Mexico (??) and stabbed him in the head! 

The entire some makes absolutely no sense, grammatically or logically, but it was catchy and as children it was easy to latch onto because American pre-teens have a tendency to want to appear grown-up by pretending to be unfazed by gruesome ideas. Also, the people I was friends with at the age of 10 all spoke English as a second language, so we never noticed how ungrammatical it was until years later. There are in fact other versions of the song with similar violent vibes, but usually only the first verse (before Jingle Bells) is the same. I tried to look up any instances of this that appear in media, but all I found was that this morbid version is actually very widespread.

In December 2014, I heard a few lines from this version of the song while on vacation in Reno, sung by two giggling Chinese-American girls between the ages of 7 and 10. I had always thought that this was something my friend AZ had made up back in 2003, so I tracked him down to find out where he’d heard it.

AZ told me that he had heard it while in art class from GT, who I happen to now know. He was singing the song for attention at the time, but the lyrics he knows were grammatical, as it removes the “and” in the last line, AZ just remembered it wrong when he sang it back. When I asked him where he’d heard it, he only remembered that it was from Minnesota, but no longer remembers the details of who sang it at him and the circumstances under which he learned it.


Oh Alice

“One of the things I remember about growing up was that my mom would sing me funny songs and after she would sing them she would crack up. Even though my family experienced a lot of loss and pain, it was always great to hear my mom’s laugh. One of the songs she used to sing was about Alice. When she sang it she thought it was so funny, but it would scare me. I was a little girl and I thought I might go down the drain!”

The lyrics are as follow:

Alice, where are you going?

Upstairs to take a bath

Her shape is like a toothpick

Her head is like a tack

Oh my goodness, oh my soul there goes Alice down the hole!

Oh Alice, where are you going?

An audio recording of Gloriadele Guzman (the mother of the informant, referenced above) singing the song has been provided: Oh Alice

I collected this song from my mother. It was fun for me because I also remember my grandmother singing me this song when I was a little girl. I had always thought it was a song my grandmother had made up but I found some other versions of the song online. My grandmothers version is slightly different. Some of the other version include more details that has caused some people to infer that the song is actually about Alice in Wonderland.

For one of the other versions of this song please see:


Marco in the Meadows

“Marco skače, Marco skače

po zeleni trati,

Aj aj ajajaj

Po zeleni trati.


“Marco is jumping

over the green meadows

aj aj ajajaj

over the green meadows”

This is a traditional Slovenian nursery rhyme, one that I was raised listening to as my mother sang it to me as a child. She said that it was a song generally sung with many children who held hands and danced in circles. The informant has no information as to its origin or its meaning, though the reference to meadows suggests a more rural origin.

Folk speech
Stereotypes/Blason Populaire

“I Believe I Can Fly” Parody

The informant is a college-age male whose parents are both originally from Pakistan. He has lived in Southern California all his life, with frequent trips to Pakistan to visit extended family. Although he graduated from a public high school, he attended a private Islamic elementary school until the third grade. He says there were Muslims of many backgrounds at the school, and one of his friends (who also happened to be of Pakistani descent) used to sing this as a joke during rehearsals for school programs. It is a partial parody of a once-popular song by the artist R. Kelly.

I believe i can die

I got shot by the FBI

My momma hit me with a chicken wing 

All the way to Burger King


Analysis: The informant (and, according to him, his other friends and classmates) always thought the song was funny, both because “the original song was about how, you know, you can do anything if you try hard and believe in yourself, and like… not letting your fears get in the way of…getting your dreams or whatever. And then it’s like, oh, I got shot by the FBI and my mom hates me…So, that was funny;” and also that the friend in question was also a bit of a troublemaker, so the just the fact of him singing the rather inappropriate song when he was supposed to be singing a school song, “made it even funnier” to the informant.

From a more objective point of view, the elementary school attended by the informant was located in South Los Angeles, which has a high population of African-American residents. It is quite possible that this parody was learned from neighbors or friends who were African-American, as it seems to give voice, through humor, to anxieties about dangers which are uniquely part of the reality of African-Americans in South LA–that is, being “shot by the FBI” or otherwise victimized by members of potentially racist law enforcement or the government. It’s also a very stark contrast between the original song’s message of hope and inspiration and this version’s obvious (justified) pessimism about American society. On the other hand, the second and third lines seem to include stereotypes about African Americans’ supposed fondness for fried chicken and fast-food and their strict parenting style.

An online search reveals that parodies of this song are common among African Americans from LA to Pittsburgh, revealing how far and wide the common anxieties of this minority group spreads.


Clapping game rhyme/song

Context: The informant is a Pakistani-American 11-year-old girl and a 6th grader at a public school in Torrance, CA.  The following clapping rhyme is a two-person game she learned in first grade.


“I went to a Chinese restaurant

To buy a loaf of bread, bread, bread

She asked me what my name was

And this is what i said, said, said

My name is

L-I-L-I, Pickle-eye pickle-eye

pom-pom beauty, sleeping beauty

Then she told me to freeze freeze freeze

And whoever moves, loses.”

The word “freeze” may be said either once or three times, and at that moment the players must both freeze. The informant also showed me the two kinds of clapping sequence that are used for the two parts of the game, one for the first four lines, and the other for lines 6-8.

Analysis: At first glance, the rhyme seems like complete nonsense; but upon further examination, the rhyme could conceal casual racism. “Li” could be an East Asian name. Rhyming it with “pickle-eye” (which itself could be referring to culturally unfamiliar food which is automatically dismissed as unnatural or revolting–for instance recall the urban legend where neighborhood cats/dogs were disappearing after immigrants from [insert Asian country here] moved in), which is essentially a nonsense word, could be meant to show disrespect towards all people with similarly “Asian” names. Then referring to oneself as a “pom-pom beauty” (perhaps referring to a cheerleader’s pom-poms) and “sleeping beauty” (the classic western fairy tale) as a contrast to the “Li” lady is like proclaiming, I am an all-American girl, like a cheerleader or Sleeping Beauty, and you are not.


Clapping game rhyme/song

Context: The informant is an 11 year old girl of Pakistani descent. She is a 6th grader at a public school in Torrance, CA.  Her social groups include friends of many different religious and ethnic backgrounds. The following clapping rhyme is a two-person game she learned in first grade.



iced tea



Lemonade, iced tea, Coca-cola, Pepsi,

turn around, touch the ground, kick your boyfriend out of town, freeze

Another version from the same informant begins with the same line:


crunchy ice

Beat it once,

beat it twice,

Lemonade, crunchy ice, beat it once, beat it twice,

turn around, touch the ground, kick your boyfriend out of town, freeze

In the last line of both versions, the players may perform the actions sung: they turn in a circle, drop to a crouch to touch the ground, and may even stand up and make a kicking motion. At the word “freeze,” both players must stop moving, and the first to move loses.

Analysis: I learned a version of this game, similar to the second version recorded, from cousins who went to the same school district as the informant. Instead of the words “beat it,” however, the words “pour it” were used, and the last line was completely omitted. The rhyme ended with the players crying “Statue!” and the first person to move, lost. Somehow, however, a player was allowed to tickle the other person to get them to move, even though tickling would seemingly count as moving. 

The incorporation of Coca-cola and Pepsi, both globally-recognizable drink names, into the rhyme is evidence of how popular the drink is worldwide and how it has been incorporated into “American” or “Southern California” culture, that children are mentioning it in their songs along with the ever-popular summer drink of lemonade.

The last line “Turn around, touch the ground” seems to be echoing some long-dead magic ritual, especially when followed by a mention of the singer’s boyfriend (keeping in mind that 11 years old, the majority of children likely have nothing close to a romantic partner yet). Also, the pouring of the drink–once, then twice–would seem to recall the adult practice of pouring drinks for oneself and one’s partner after a long day or at a party. This shows this age-group’s (perhaps unconscious) desire to  mimic the adult relationships they see with their own peers.

Folk speech

The Little Piccolo Player

“Prišel je tsiganček

sajast kako vranček;

Igral je na piščalko

Milo in pelo

Kakor malo kdo.”


“There came a little gypsy boy

Black with soot/dirtlike a crow; [Dark as a crow]

He played on the piccolo

gently and beautifully

like very few could.”

This  is a traditional Slovenian nursery rhyme, one that I was raised listening to as my mother sang it to me as a child. She said that it was a song generally sung with many children who held hands and danced in circles. The rhyme itself imbibes a deeply racist sentiment towards the Romani people, who are widely refered to across Europe as “tsiganci” or “gypsies. ” The second line, “sajast kako vranček,” works two fold: 1) “sajast” means sooty or dirty, implying that the boy is unclean or uninterested in being washed. 2) the line likens the boy’s skin color to that of a dark crow, calling special attention to his non-aryan complexion.

However, the informant and I both have affectionate relationships with this rhyme, as it is sung with a gleeful, youthful tone, thereby removing much of the willful malice of its inherent bigotry. In fact, it was only when the informant and I revisited the rhyme did she and I truly grasp how deeply the racial sentiment was pronounced. The informant is unclear as to where in particular it originated, though when she was growing up in the late 60s, it was a very popular children’s rhyme in the Slovenske Konjice, a region of northeastern Slovenia.


Miss Lucy

This is a children’s hand-clapping game that my informant played when she was in elementary school with other girls. The hand motion is similar to paddy cake; the participants’ right hands meet, then each participant claps their own hands together, then the left hands meet, and then it repeats. Some specific lines go with specific movements: at “operator”, the participants put their hand up by their ear with their thumb up and pinky sticking out, mimicking a telephone; at “dark dark dark”, there is just continual clapping with the word for emphasis; at “bra bra bra”, it is the same thing as “dark dark dark”.

“Miss Lucy had a steamboat, the steamboat had a bell

Miss Lucy went to heaven, and the steamboat went to

Hello operator, please give me number nine

And if you disconnect me, I will chop off your

Behind the ‘fridgerator, there laid a piece of glass

Miss Lucy sat upon it, and it went right up her

Ask me no more questions, please tell me no more lies

The boys are in the bathroom, zipping up their

Flies are in the meadow, the bees are in the park

Miss Lucy and her boyfriend are kissing in the




Dark dark dark!

The dark is like the movies, the movie’s like a show

The show is like a tv show, and that is all I know

I know I know my ma, I know I know my pa

I know I know my sister with the 80 meter, 80 meter bra bra bra!”

This particular clapping game song has very simple hand movements, but the text is very interesting. It engages in a lot of scandalous tabooistic discourse, and is cleverly constructed so as not to actually say any inappropriate words. For example, at “Miss Lucy went to heaven, the steamboat went to/Hello operator”, the word “hello” serves both as the greeting and as the word “hell”, where the steamboat presumably went. However, because it’s inappropriate for primary aged children (generally female) to be talking about such things as boys zipping up their flies, it’s recited in a way where they’re not technically saying anything inappropriate, though they do mean it. This tabooistic discourse is indicative of the kind of things that children at this age would be wondering about, or hearing about, and it is often passed among children and taught by friends in older grades or older siblings, continuing its tradition.