Chicken on a Fencepost (Can’t Dance Josie)

This song has potential issues involving race and racial slurs. Please consider what you read here and do your own research to determine if it is appropriate for your students.

Chicken on a Fencepost has been the center of debate for music teachers for quite awhile now. Some believe that it has racist origins, some believe that there’s nothing wrong with teaching it…what should we do with this song?

I taught Chicken on a Fencepost during my first year of teaching and have not taught it since. This is partially due to not having time to teach/play it and my personal need to reflect on why I should teach it in the first place. My students love the game, but as of now I need to decide whether it does more good or harm in my classroom. Please see the article “Racist Songs in my Kid’s Music Class, Part 2” in the resources section for more insight through the eyes of a parent on why this may not be an appropriate song for the music room.

Suggested Grade Levels: Kindergarten, 1st grade, 2nd grade, 4th grade

Analysis:

History:
The Library of Congress has a Texas recording of Jump Josie from 1939, which has the same melody as Chicken on a Fencepost. It’s the same song, just with a different name and a different verse. With that being said, I have several verses from the original song posted below.

Chicken on the fencepost, can't dance Josey,
Chicken on the fencepost, can't dance Josey,
Chicken on the fencepost, can't dance Josie,
Hello Susan Brown!

Choose your partner and come dance Josie, 
Choose your partner and come dance Josie,
Choose your partner and come dance Josie,
Hello Susan Brown!

Chew my gum while I dance Josie,
Chew my gum while I dance Josie,
Chew my gum while I dance Josie,
Hello Susan Brown!

Shoestring's broke and I can't dance Josie,
Shoestring's broke and I can't dance Josie,
Shoestring's broke and I can't dance Josie,
Hello Susan Brown!

Hold my mule while I dance Josie,
Hold my mule while I dance Josie,
Hold my mule while I dance Josie,
Hello Susan Brown!

This was a play-party game and people would adapt it to suit their needs with the lyrics, the dance or game, etc., hence many of the silly lyrics in the original song. From my research, it appears that any additions of racial slurs were added after the song was originally performed.

Game:
Children begin in a circle (or two concentric circles) with hands linked and a rubber chicken in the center. Two “foxes” close their eyes and hide in a corner while 2-4 students are selected to be the “fenceposts.” After the fenceposts are chosen, the foxes may turn around. The rest of the children will move the circle(s) and sing the song. Once they finish the songs, the fenceposts will raise their arms and the foxes must race under them to get the chicken. The first one to grab the chicken is the winner.

Classroom Applications:
–16th notes
–Discuss the history of play-parties
–Half note
–Lyric improvisation

Resources:

–Fellin, K. (2013, October 18). Music teacher resources – chicken on a fencepost [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m5m_ifwWzRI

–Leftilicious. (2006, March 9). Racist songs in my kid’s music class, part 2. Daily Kos. https://www.dailykos.com/stories/2006/3/9/192849/-

–Lomax, J. A., Lomax, R. T., & Wood, R. (1939). Jump Josie [Audio]. American Folklife Center, Library of Congress. https://www.loc.gov/resource/afc9999005.1928.0

–McDougle, L. (2019, July 5). Chicken on a fencepost (dance Josey (Josie)). Songs with a Questionable Past. https://docs.google.com/document/d/1q1jVGqOgKxfiUZ8N3oz0warXefGIJill2Xha-3X5nUY/mobilebasic?fbclid=IwAR3s8_zEtc97xSL7P0AdOPjxRhJg8D4BIz9Ky6HtmHJbEiAPnmwvEEFTZb4

–Miracle, A. (n.d.). Five songs I’m no longer using in my music room. Mrs. Miracle’s Music Room. https://www.mrsmiraclesmusicroom.com/2020/02/five-songs-im-no-longer-using-in-my-music-room.html

–Owens, B. (2015, March 24). Play-party songs and dances in Texas. The Field Recorders’ Collective. https://fieldrecorder.org/play-party-songs-and-dances-in-texas/

–Powell, A. (2013, August 14). Chicken on the fence post (information & lyrics). Pancocojams. http://pancocojams.blogspot.com/2013/08/chicken-in-fence-post-information-lyrics.html

–Stafford, P. (2020, June 15). Determining racist roots of popular folk songs: Sources for uncomfortable but necessary introspection. Dr. Staffor’s Musical Cures. http://www.drstaffordsmusicalcures.com/2020/06/determining-racist-roots-of-popular.html

–Thompson, B. (n.d.). Chicken on the fence post. Beth’s Notes. https://www.bethsnotesplus.com/2012/01/chicken-on-fence-post.html

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