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Juba
9-12, College/University

Selections: Juba
Recorded: New York City, Alan Lomax’s apartment, September 27, 1961
Performers: Bessie Jones

Activity 1: Rhythmicking, clapping and tapping, and singing

  1. Listen to the recording (39 seconds long), and ask the students to listen and determine the sources of sounds that they hear.
    Question: Do you hear an instrument?
    Answer: No, there are no instruments.
    Question: How many performers are there on this recording?
    Answer: Only one person.
    Question: What kinds of musical sounds do you hear?
    Answer: Singing and percussive sounds.
    Question: How is the performer making the percussive sounds you think?
    Answer: She is using her own body as a percussion instrument. She is clapping her hands, tapping her body and stomping her feet.
  2. Listen to the recording again and ask the students to clap to the main beats (the song is in a fast 4/4. Ask the students to find the main beats and clap to those, and not to the eighth notes, which means clapping slower than their first instinct tells them.) Ask them whether the song remains in 4/4 throughout the recoding or whether the time signature changes (answer: it remains in 4/4 until the end of the recoding.)

  3. Listen again and while they’re still clapping softly (with two fingers of one hand on the palm of the other hand) to the main beats, ask the students to listen if the rhythm of the clapping and tapping on the recording changes, and if it does how many times? (answer: Yes the rhythm changes, and there are four sections with varying rhythms on this recording.)
  4. Listen one more time, this time only focus on the first part of the recording until 00:20 and ask the students if they think she is just clapping her hands, if not how is she making those sounds? (answer: she is not only clapping her hands, but rather she is using various parts of her body, like tapping on her thighs maybe, to create different percussive sounds). Let the students try tapping on their bodies and make different percussive sounds. Challenge them to re-create the rhythmicking of this part of the recording (during the first 20 seconds she is tapping on every eighth note but not every tap sounds the same). Demonstrate how the tapping is done during the first 20 seconds of this recording (explained below), let the students try it but encourage them to create their own sounds.

    (One way of making this sound is as follows: the right hand taps on the left knee, then bouncing back up, the left hand taps on the back of the right hand, then the left hand taps on the right knee and when bouncing back up the right hand taps on the back of the left hand.)
  5. Moving on to the second part of the recording, play the recording from 00:20 to 00:35 and ask the students to conduct in 4/4 along with the recording and determine where (on which beats) the clapping and tapping is performed (She is stomping her foot on beats 1 and 3, and capping on beats 2 and 4). Then play the same section several times and ask the students to practice clapping/tapping along with the recording and then without the recording. Explain how this rhythm is played with some swing, meaning that the two claps fall somewhere between a straight duple meter (a dotted eighth followed by a sixteenth note) and a straight triplet (with the second note of the triplet silent or tied to the first one). Write both rhythmic patterns down on the board for the students to have a visual reference and then play the recording again and ask the students to clap/tap along.


  6. Write the lyrics of the song on the board, play the recording from beginning to end and ask everyone to sing along. Bring their attention to where the longer syllables and notes are. The lyrics go from singing on every eighth note to a different rhythmic pattern. Then ask the students to clap/tap to the rhythm from 00:20 to 00:35 while singing.

    Juba,
    Juba,
    Juba,
    Juba this and Juba that
    And Juba killed a yellow cat
    And get over dou—ble trouble Juba

    (You) sift-a the me-al
    (You) give me the husk-
    (You) cook-a the bre-ad
    You) give me the crust-
    (You) Tr-y the me-at
    (You) give me the skin-
    And there is where my mama-‘s trouble begin-
    And then you Juba
    You Juba,
    Juba,
    Ju-ba up-
    Ju-ba down-
    Ju-ba a-ll arou-nd the town-
    Juba for ma—
    Juba for pa—
    Ju-ba fo-r you-r borther-in-law—
    Juba,
    Juba

    (the –‘s signify a longer syllable, but I’m not sure if they need to be there or not)

  7. Challenge the students to create a melody for the song and sing the song with a melodic contour that resembles what Bessie Jones is singing. For older students this last part can be an improvisation/writing assignment to do in groups and each group can create their own melody to sing to the song.

Activity 2:

  1. Ask the students if they have ever heard of Ms. Bessie Jones, and if they have heard her music. Ask them what they know about her, and her legacy, why she is an important figure in the contemporary history of American music?
  2. Offer the students some background information about Ms. Bessie Jones:
    • Alan Lomax met and heard Bessie Jones in 1959 in St. Simons Island, and recognized her as a major artist. Bessie Jones was born in 1902 in North Georgia, where she learned the songs and stories of her grandfather, a former slave who was part Native American. As a very young girl she married into St. Simons Island and eventually became a leading tradition-bearer in the community of Frederica.
    • Ask the students if they know where St. Simons Island and Frederica community are. Have a map ready in class (either use a physical map on the wall, or find a map online and project it on the screen/board)
    • In the 1960s, with the assistance of Alan Lomax, Bessie Jones, together with John Davis, Peter Davis, Mable Hillery, Emma Ramsey, and Henry Morrison, formed the Georgia Sea Island Singers and traveled to colleges and folk music venues throughout the country.
    • In 1961, Bessie traveled to New York City and asked Alan Lomax to record her biography and repertoire. The present recording is the result of one of those sessions on September 27th, 1961.
  3. Ask the students whether they know what Juba means. Ask them to try to guess what it sounds like. Tell the students that it could have originated from one word and have changed within the community it was used over time.
  4. Explain for the students the meaning of ‘Juba’ and its origins:
    • This play song and dance perhaps originated from West Africa, and is a very old song. There are accounts of African slaves doing a dance called ”the Juba”, in New Orleans, before emancipation. But nowadays the dance is long lost in the United States.
    • Ask the students why, they think, the dance has been forgotten (or lost). (answer: Because slaves were not allowed to practice their cultural activities, such as rituals, dances, prayers, or play music or express themselves in any artistic way that was a reminder of their African homelands and their African origins. They were prohibited from doing so, because slave owners were afraid that such cultural and artistic expression brings the slaves closer to each other and might have sparked a revolt).
    • Go back to the meaning of the word Juba: Ms. Bessie Jones remembers her grandfather telling them about “Juba”. To African-Americans (children and adults alike) Juba meant leftover food. They used to call the leftover food jibba, which is another form for giblets, and Juba comes from there.
    • Now go over the lyrics with the students one more time and ask them to interpret the lyrics with this context in mind:
      A little bit of this and a little bit of that.
      The leftovers might kill the while folks but they’re OK for us.
      Some day we might get over this troubled life.
      (Evidence that they cooked the meat and gave us the skin, baked the bread and gave us the crust)
      Juba up and Juba down: This happened all over the country
      Juba for ma and Juba for pa: It was the same for everybody.
  5. Tell the students that there is another version of Juba on the ACE website, from the Caribbean, and how that version is danced to. As an optional activity play the other version for the students and ask them to identify the differences between the two versions (Juba from the Caribbean is played on drums). Explain to them how in the American South slaves were not allowed to play percussion instruments, and as a result the American version of Juba is accompanied by body percussion as an innovative way of keeping the rhythm and music alive. Explain to the students that is why as a challenge, they were asked to only re-create the rhythms of the song, not using any instruments, but using their own bodies as percussive instruments. This is a way for the students to gain a deeper understanding of the importance of innovation in difficult times, when members of a community need to become creative in order to maintain their cultural heritage, especially the intangible cultural heritage such as music, dance, play songs and games.
  6. In an attempt to create the play, while singing the song and rhythmicking, tell the students to form a circle. Ask four students to come to the center of the circle. Begin by listening to the song and tapping the rhythms on their knees and clapping/tapping the rest. Then ask those in the center to clap their hands on the 1st and the 3rd beats, and on each other’s hands on the 2nd and the 4th beats (one student’s right palm to the other’s right palm, then the left hands). They will do this with the person standing opposite of them, then with the rhythm changes, or with the cue from the teacher, they turn to the person next to them and play the clapping game.
  7. Now ask the students to sing the song, without the recording and play the clapping game. Ask them to improvise various rhythms for the song on their own bodies, such as trying to make a higher pitched percussive sound when the melody goes high and a lower-pitched sound when the melody goes down.
  8. For more clapping song sand plays refer to the book Step It Down, a study of African-American children’s game songs. This book was the result of a collaboration between Bess Lomax Hawes and Bessie Jones, and remains a classic in its field.

Lesson plan designed by Solmaz Shakerifard

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