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"Froggy Went A-Courting"

 

Overview: This is one of the most popular folk songs in the English-speaking world. Famous singers such as Bob Dylan have recorded it and it appears in many collections of nursery rhymes, folk songs, and ballads. Many people in Appalachia and elsewhere remember family members singing it to them at bedtime (see Stephenson, below). Mock romances and fables featuring creatures of different species have ancient origins (see examples below). There are many variations on the refrain, sometimes with elaborate nonsense words and sometimes with simpler sounds meant to imitate a frog. At the end, often a predator such as a cat and/or snake interrupts the wedding of frog and mouse and devours the main characters. Sometimes the couple survive and even have children.

"Froggy Went A-Courtin.'" In Chase, Richard. Grandfather Tales. Illus. Berkeley Williams, Jr. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1948. pp. 208-10. After the neighbors in the frame story of this book have stayed up almost all night on Old Christmas Eve telling stories and singing songs, one of the children who is falling asleep asks Old Robin to sing this song (in the section called "Nearly Daylight"). The refrain is "unk" and then "A-kiddely waddely, kiddely waddely, unk, unk, unk!" After the song, there is discussion of how of make a little saw-man toy out of wood and a rock. This version of the song lists many creatures who arrive to perform at the wedding, until a grey cat enters and "put an end to that." The mouse runs up the wall and the frog goes out to the lake, but is eaten "by a big black snake." The ending goes, "The song book's sittin' on the shelf / if you want anymore you can sing it yourself." The Appendix says, "Sources too many to remember. I have been enjoying this song for more than twenty years...This is the usual type of tune for it." The music is given along with the texts of songs in the frame story.

"Froggie Went A-Courting." Three versions collected by James M. Hylton in Wise County, VA. in 1941-42. James Taylor Adams Collection, Blue Ridge Institute. JTA-9483, 9484, 9485. This is a link to the full text in AppLit. Two of these versions have the humorous line, "The way they courted was a sin." Only one of these three is long enough to give details of the wedding and the frog being eaten by a "big black snake."

A Frog Went A-Courting. Sung by Miss Alpha Combs at Hindman School, Knott Co., KY, 1917. English Folk Songs from the Southern Appalachians Collected by Cecil J. Sharp. Ed. Maud Karpeles. Vol. II (London: Oxford UP, 1932). pp. 317-18. This is a link to the full text in AppLit. Sharp's collection contains a number of other versions of this ballad and related frog songs. The lyrics to this ballad are also reprinted in Crosscurrents of Children's Literature: An Anthology of Texts and Criticism. Ed. J. D. Stahl, Tina L. Hanlon, and Elizabeth Lennox Keyser. New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 2006. pp. 310-11.

Langstaff, John M. Frog Went A-Courtin'. Illus. Feodor Rojankovsky. New York: Harcourt Brace, 1955. This retelling of the popular folk song about a frog courting a mouse won the 1956 Caldecott Medal. Langstaff, a New York musician and dramatist, learned folk songs from his parents, who had Cecil Sharp's collections of folk songs (some of which were collected in Appalachia). One of Langstaff's teachers when he was a boy took him to the Whitetop Folk Festival in western Virginia. In the book he combined American versions of the story and used music sung in southern Appalachia.

"The Frog He Went A'Courting." In Kidd, Ronald (comp.). On Top of Old Smoky: A Collection of Songs and Stories from Appalachia. Illus. Linda Anderson. Nashville, TN: Ideals Children's Books, 1992. Contains eleven traditional songs, including "I Gave My Love a Cherry," "Billy Boy," and "The Green Grass Grew All Around." The three folk tales are "Jack and the Bean Tree," "Jack and the Varmints," "Jack and the Cat." Each selection is accompanied by one colorful folk painting by an artist from the tiny Appalachian town of Clarksville, Georgia. Also produced as audio cassette.

Hillchild: A Folklore Chapbook about, for, and by West Virginia Children. Edited by Dr. Judy Byers and Noel W. Tenney, West Virginia Folklife Center, Fairmont State College. Vol. 1, 2002, contains stories, background, and related activities on tall tales and WV hero Tony Beaver. Also contains letters by Cheryl Ware and her fictional character Venola Mae, and a version with illustration of rhyme "The Marriage of the Frog and the Mouse." See also AppLit's Review of Hillchild.

"Froggie Went a' Courtin'." In John McCutcheon: How Can I Keep from Singing? Audio recording. June Appal Recordings. Appalshop, c. 1975. Also includes "Omie Wise," "The Devil and the Farmer's Wife," and other traditional songs. With musicians Tom Bledsoe, Rich Kirby, Gary Slemp, and Jack Wright.

Many versions of the song are recorded at The Bluegrass Messengers Bluegrass Lyrics Page.

See the Digital Library of Appalachia for audio recordings from Appalachian college archives. Appalachian College Association Central Library. As of 5/7/09, three versions of the song can be found by using the search word "froggie."

We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions. American folk songs performed by Bruce Springsteen and other musicians, taped at Springsteen's New Jersey farm. Music CD. Sony, 2006. A 40-minute film also includes performance of "John Henry," "Froggie Went A-Courtin,'" "Shenendoah," and others. Audio clips available at Amazon.com.

Stephenson, R. Rex. In Stephenson's dramatic adaptation of "Mutsmag," he added a humorous scene in which the heroine tries to keep her sisters awake in the giant's house by loudly singing "Froggy Went a Courtin.'" When the other girls suggest that she count sleep, Mutsmag jumps around and counts loudly to wake them up. The script is published in Grandmother Tales: Mutsmag and Ashpet, Traditional Tales from the Blue Ridge Mountains. Charlottesville, VA: New Plays for Children, 2004. Reprint Woodstock, IL: Dramatic Publishing [2012]. In Crosscurrents of Children's Literature: An Anthology of Texts and Criticism (ed. J. D. Stahl, Tina L. Hanlon, and Elizabeth Lennox Keyser. New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 2006. 401-09), the script of "Mutsmag" appears in Part 3, Oral and Written Literary Traditions, with a reprint of "Munsmeg," the oral tale collected by Richard Chase from the James Taylor Adams Collection (as well as A Frog Went A-Courting from Cecil Sharp and the fable about the mouse and frog copied below). 

Related Appalachian Tales:

The Frog King

Frogs also appear in Jack and the Frogs - or - The Three Feathers

"To the Fair" is about Mr. Frog and Mr. Turtle going to the County Fair at the village of Gap. This is a pourquoi tale about how frog voices changed from "mellow, smooth voices" to croaking ones, when Mr. Snake swallows Mr. Frog but he jumps out during a belch In Griffin, Peggy Ann. Talking Treasures. Illus. Darrell Pulliman. Chicago: Scribes, 1995. Collection of five African American folktales from far southwest Virginia.

Compare "Froggy Went A-Courtin'" with:

"A Froggie Would A-Wooing Go," in Mother Goose: A Scholarly Exploration, Rutgers University Eclipse project. This web site contains versions by Sabine Baring-Gould (1895) and Iona and Peter Opie's Oxford Dictionary of Nursery Rhymes (1951), as well as illustrations with interpretations. Caldecott's highly acclaimed picture book is reproduced with background music and an audio reading of the text, as well as animated movement through Caldecott's illustrations. Caldecott's book is also reproduced in University of Florida Digital Collections. George A. Smathers Libraries. This digital collection also contains a parody of this rhyme ("A frog he wooed a flam-in-go") in L. J. Bridgman's picture book Mother Wild Goose and Her Wild Beast Show. Boston: H. M. Caldwell, 1900 (see pp. 32-33).

"The Mouse, the Frog, and the Hawk" in Aesop's Fables:

A MOUSE who always lived on the land, by an unlucky chance formed an intimate acquaintance with a Frog, who lived for the most part in the water. The Frog, one day intent on mischief, bound the foot of the Mouse tightly to his own. Thus joined together, the Frog first of all led his friend the Mouse to the meadow where they were accustomed to find their food.  After this, he gradually led him towards the pool in which he lived, until reaching the very brink, he suddenly jumped in, dragging the Mouse with him. The Frog enjoyed the water amazingly, and swam croaking about, as if he had done a good deed.  The unhappy Mouse was soon suffocated by the water, and his dead body floated about on the surface, tied to the foot of the Frog. A Hawk observed it, and, pouncing upon it with his talons, carried it aloft. The Frog, being still fastened to the leg of the Mouse, was also carried off a prisoner, and was eaten by the Hawk.

 Harm hatch, harm catch.

From Aesop's Fables Translated by George Fyler Townsend, 10th Edition, 1880.

"The Owl and the Pussy-cat" by Edward Lear is online at http://www.the-office.com/bedtime-story/owlpussycat.htm, with some background and illustrations. Also available at http://edwardlear.tripod.com/ns/pussy.html with Lear's illustrations. See also Jan Brett's illustration at http://www.janbrett.com/owl_book.htm. Lear's Victorian nonsense poem is another example of mock romance/animal fantasy with different species as lovers.

Frog Kings: folktales of Aarne-Thompson type 440 about slimy suitors translated and/or edited by D. L. Ashliman, gives the texts of a number of versions from different countries. Other animal-groom tales, variants of tale type 425C, are reprinted in D. L. Ashliman's Beauty and the Beast

The Frog King, or Iron Henry. Annotated text (from Grimm Brothers, Household Tales. Margaret Hunt, translator. London: George Bell, 1884) with background, illustrations and links to related tales and literature, at Sur La Lune Fairy Tale Pages by Heidi Anne Heiner.

Animal Brides and Animal Bridegrooms: Tales Told by North American Indians, edited by D. L. Ashliman. Includes "The Girl Who Married the Crow" (Ntlakyapamuk—British Columbia).

 "The Frogge and the Mouse." In Crawdads, Doodlebugs and Creasy Greens: Songs, Stories and Lore Celebrating the Natural World by Douglas B Elliott. Musical score. Folk music. Pacific, MO: Mel Bay Publications, 1997. Also includes ""Me and Davy Crockett."

"The Cat and the Mouse," from Thomas Crane's Italian Popular Tales, 1885. reprinted at Sur La Lune Fairy Tale Pages by Heidi Anne Heiner. A nonsensical tale in which a cat wants to marry and chooses the mouse, who sings better than other animals. But after the mouse gets boiled in the kitchen, there is a chain of grieving reactions from the cat tearing his hair to the door slamming itself and on up to the queen sifting the meal and the king simply taking his coffee.


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