Cover image for Brown girl in the ring : an anthology of song games from the eastern Caribbean
Brown girl in the ring : an anthology of song games from the eastern Caribbean
Lomax, Alan, 1915-2002.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Pantheon Books, [1997]

Physical Description:
xvi, 220 pages : illustrations, maps, music ; 29 cm
1. Song games from Trinidad and Tobago -- 2. Song games from Dominica and St. Lucia -- 3. Song games from Anguilla and Nevis -- 4. Pass-play songs from Carriacou -- 5. I recall: growing up in Tobago -- 6. Observations on the song game.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
M1681.A1 L65 1997 Musical Score Grosvenor Room-Oversize

On Order



Award-winning author Alan Lomax has dedicated his life to recording the music of cultures that are largely ignored, thereby preserving forever a magnificent musical heritage. In the words of Studs Terkel, Lomax is "one of America's most imaginative and daring musicologists." Together with J. D. Elder, a former minister of culture of Trinidad and Tobago, and his sister Bess Lomax Hawes, Lomax collects here sixty-eight children's song games--the music, the lyrics, and the stories behind them--from countries throughout the eastern Caribbean. Also included are personal essays that detail Lomax's experiences while recording the music, and his and Elder's encounters with the traditions upon which the songs are based. Through words, music, and pictures, Brown Girl in the Ring captures a fascinating and essential part of life on the islands of Trinidad, Tobago, Dominica, St. Lucia, Anguilla, Nevis, and Carriacou. And as they have criss-crossed the world in the wake of the great migrations of the last four hundred years, these songs have taken on as well a life of their own, becoming a cherished part of many different cultural traditions.

Author Notes

Born in Austin, Texas, and educated at Harvard University, the University of Texas, and Columbia University, American folklorist Alan Lomax is one of the most dedicated and knowledgeable folk-music scholars of the twentieth century. Lomax became interested in collecting and recording folk songs through the work of his father, John Avery Lomax, a curator at the Library of Congress and a pioneer in the field of folk music. After college, he toured prisons in the South, recording folk song performances for the Archive of American Song of the Library of Congress. During his travels, he met the great blues singer Huddie Ledbetter ("Leadbelly"). Lomax later became responsible for introducing radio audiences to a number of folk and blues artists, including Woody Guthrie and Burl Ives.

Between 1951 and 1958, he traveled throughout Europe, recording hundreds of folk songs in England, Scotland, Italy, and Spain. His most important work is, perhaps, "The Folk Songs of North America" (1959). He also published a number of works with his father, including "American Ballads and Folk Songs" (1934) and "Folk Song: USA" (1946). In addition to his work with folk songs, Lomax was very interested in the historical and social origins of jazz, and he wrote a notable biography of the early jazzman Ferdinand "Jelly Roll" Morton entitled "Mister Jelly Roll" (1950).

(Bowker Author Biography)



Miss Mary Mack Sung and played by a group of girls aged fourteen at El Socorro Central Government School, Port of Spain, Trinidad. This classic rhyme has a marvelous swing. Thousands of English-speaking children in the Caribbean and elsewhere have clapped, swung, skipped, and danced to it as, no doubt, will thousands more to come. Miss Mary Mack, Mack, Mack, All dressed in black, black, black, With silver buttons, buttons, buttons, Upon her back, back, back. She asked her mother, mother, mother, For fifty cents, cents, cents, To see the elephant, elephant, elephant, Jump over the fence, fence, fence. It jumped so high, high, high, It started to fly, fly, fly, It was so funny, funny, funny, Like bread and honey, honey, honey. And that's the end, end, end, Of Mary Mack, Mack, Mack, All dressed in black, black, black. The rhyme may continue, if desired, with the next line "With silver buttons," et seq., so that play need never end. TO PLAY: Trinidadian children clap to this rhyme, facing partners, either as pairs or in parallel lines. Unlike those clapping games in which a steady clap is maintained throughout, Trinidadian children clap here only on the repeated words at the end of each line, using a series of three movements repeated in order. This pattern continues throughout the song. 1. On "Mack, Mack, Mack," partners clap hands straight across three times (right hand to partner's left; left to partner's right). 2. On "black, black, black," the same clap is used except that between each clap each player crosses her wrists on her own chest before reaching forward to clap again. 3. On "buttons, buttons, buttons," each slaps his own knees with both palms three times. ABOUT THE SONG: The rhyme "Miss Mary Mack" is everywhere different and everywhere the same. From Great Britain to Georgia to Trinidad, this chant (used variously for jumping rope, marching, and clapping play) consists of a series of wandering couplets combined and recombined in hundreds of different patterns; the initial four lines are almost the only ones to remain unvaried. The universal popularity of this perfect song and its endless variations provide the most convincing possible evidence of the ineradicable strength, the sheer inevitability, of oral tradition. Excerpted from Brown Girl in the Ring: An Anthology of Song Games from the Eastern Caribbean by Alan Lomax, J. D. Elder, Bess Lomax Hawes All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.