Bobby Shafto

I used this song with my 2nd grade students when we were working on an aural dictation exercise. They were able to decipher the entirety of the song while working together as a class, which was very exciting to see as a teacher. They really bought into the song when I told them it was about a real person and the questions flooded in. This, of course, made me more curious as to who Bobby Shafto was, so I decided to included the song on this project.

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


2. Bobby Shafto’s fat and fair,
Combing down his yellow hair,
He’s my love for evermore,
Bonny Bobby Shafto!

There are several theories on who Robert Shafto, the muse for the song Bobby Shafto, was. Some people believe he came from County Wicklow in Ireland. Others believe he came from the village Shaftoe in Northumberland in northeastern England. Although the original Bobby Shafto is somewhat of a mystery along with the reason the song was written about him, there is definitive proof that a Robert Shafto of Whitworth used this song for Parliamentary electioneering purposes in 1761. For this occasion, people would sing this verse in his support:

“Bobby Shafto’s looking out,
All his ribbons flew about,
All the ladies gave a shout,
Hey for Bobby Shafto!”

According to all of the information I found, Bobby Shafto was indeed fair and handsome. There is a rumor that he had been betrothed to Bridget Bellasyse, an heiress from the same area as Bobby, but he left her prior to their wedding. Bellasyse unfortunately died of a broken heart soon after.

Aside from the cup passing game video listed below, I have not seen any games for Bobby Shafto. I you wanted to create your own passing game, you could come up with any 4-beat rhythmic motion that has students passing the cups on beats 3 and 4.

Classroom Applications:
–Mi-sol-la song
–Great song to practice low E on recorder
–Good song to identify “la”
–Simple song and chord structure lends itself well to accompaniments (borduns, xylophone/boomwhacker melody, unpitched percussion, etc.)

Video of students playing a cup passing game to Bobby Shafto


–Christensen, L. (2017, May 14). Bobby Shafto cup passing [Video]. YouTube.

–Holy Names University. (n.d.). Bobby Shaftoe. Kodály Center: The American Folk Song Collection.

–Opie, I., & Opie, P. (Ed.). (1951). The Oxford dictionary of nursery rhymes. Oxford University Press.

–Presley, T. (2014, March 6). Bobby Shafto. Blind Pig & the Acorn.

–Thompson, B. (n.d.). Bobby Shafto. Beth’s Notes.

–Zierke, R. (2015, October 30). Bobby Shaftoe. Mainly Norfolk: English Folk and Other Good Music.

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