Bards Old Time Fiddle Tunebook Supplement/The Arkansas Traveler
"The Arkansas Traveler" was the state song of Arkansas from 1949 to 1963, and has been the state historical song since 1987. The music was composed in the 19th century by Sanford Faulkner|Colonel Sanford C. 'Sandy' Faulkner (1806–1874); the current official lyrics were written by a committee in 1947 in preparation for its naming as state song.
Arkansas' other official state songs are "Arkansas (song)|Arkansas" (state anthem) as well as "Arkansas (You Run Deep In Me)" & "Oh, Arkansas" (both state songs).
The bumble bee verse has become a popular children's song, but has altered lyrics from the original:
I'm bringing home a baby bumble bee Won't my mommy be so proud of me? I'm bringing home a baby bumble bee Ouch! It stung me!
Tune for Arkansas Traveler
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The song has had several sets of lyrics which are far older than the original composition. The official lyrics as state historical song of Arkansas are under copyright, but can be found on the website of the Arkansas Secretary of State. The words were composed by the Arkansas State Song Selection Committee, 1949
On a lonely road quite long ago,
A trav'ler trod with fiddle and a bow;
While rambling thru the country rich and grand,
He quickly sensed the magic and the beauty of the land.
For the wonder state we'll sing a song,
And lift our voices loud and long.
For the wonder state we'll shout hurrah!
And praise the opportunities we find in Arkansas.
Many years have passed, the trav'lers gay,
Repeat the tune along the highway;
And every voice that sings the glad refrain
Re-echoes from the mountains to the fields of growing grain.
A more traditional lyric (first two stanzas were used on the version on the Peter Pan children's record label except for "on" instead of "it's" just before "a rainy day") is
Oh, once upon a time in Arkansas,
An old man sat in his little cabin door
And fiddled at a tune that he liked to hear,
A jolly old tune that he played by ear.
It was raining hard, but the fiddler didn't care,
He sawed away at the popular air,
Tho' his rooftree leaked like a waterfall,
That didn't seem to bother the man at all.
A traveler was riding by that day,
And stopped to hear him a-practicing away;
The cabin was a-float and his feet were wet,
But still the old man didn't seem to fret.
So the stranger said "Now the way it seems to me,
You'd better mend your roof," said he.
But the old man said as he played away,
"I couldn't mend it now, it's a rainy day."
The traveler replied, "That's all quite true,
But this, I think, is the thing to do;
Get busy on a day that is fair and bright,
Then patch the old roof till it's good and tight."
But the old man kept on a-playing at his reel,
And tapped the ground with his leathery heel.
"Get along," said he, "for you give me a pain;
My cabin never leaks when it doesn't rain."
There's another set of lyrics about the traditional situation of a fiddler who only knows the first part of a two part tune. This one seems to be for a slightly different tune.:
Oh, 'twas down in the woods of the Arkansaw,
And the night was cloudy and the wind was raw,
And he didn't have a bed, and he didn't have a bite,
And if he hadn't fiddled, he'd a travelled all night.
But he came to a cabin, and an old gray man,
And says he, "Where am I going? Now tell me if you can."
"Oh, we'll have a little music first and then some supper, too,
But before we have the supper we will play the music through.
You'll forget about your supper, you'll forget about your home,
You'll forget you ever started out in Arkansaw to roam."
Now the old man sat a-fiddling by the little cabin door,
And the tune was pretty lively, and he played it o'er and o'er,
And the stranger sat a-list'ning and a-wond'ring what to do,
As he fiddled and he fiddled, but he never played it through.
Then the stranger asked the fiddler, "Won't you play the rest for me?"
"Don't know it," says the fiddler. "Play it for yourself!" says he.
Then the stranger took the fiddle, with a riddy-diddle-diddle,
And the strings began to tingle at the jingle of the bow,
While the old man sat and listened, and his eyes with pleasure glistened,
As he shouted, "Hallelujah! And hurray for Joe!"
Another set of traditional lyrics, about a boy and a fiddling bear, inspired Albert Bigelow Paine to write the children's novels The Arkansaw Bear (1898) and The Arkansaw Bear and Elsie. It also apparently inspired Aurand Harris in the 1970s to write a play about a circus and a child confronting death named The Arkansaw Bear, with a totally different storyline and bear. It also was probably the origin of the name of the ventriloquist dummy that gave Hank Williams, Jr. his nickname of "Bocephus".
Oh, there was a little boy and his name was Bo,
Went out into the woods when the moon was low,
And he met an old bear who was hungry for a snack,
And his folks are still a-waiting for Bosephus to come back.
For the boy became the teacher of this kind and gentle creature
Who can play upon the fiddle in a very skillful way.
And they'll never, ever sever, and they'll travel on forever,
Bosephus and the fiddle and the old black bear.
However, the best-known lyrics today are probably those of a traditional American children's song which is sung to the first part of the tune only. Various gestures are used to act it out as well.
I'm bringin' home a baby bumblebee
Oh, my mommy be so proud of me
I'm bringin' home a baby bumblebee—Ow! It stung me!
I'm squishin' up my baby bumblebee (same structure as first verse)
...Yuck! It's dirty!
I'm scraping off my baby bumblebee
...Mmm. I'm hungry!
I'm scooping up my baby bumblebee (gestures show scooping into mouth and eating)
...Ow! My tummy!
I'm throwing up my baby bumblebee
...Yuck. It's messy.
I'm bringing home my baby bumblebee....
Here is a version from a 1957 elementary school song book. It has the same tune and rhythm as the official version.
Far and far away down in Arkansas
There lived a squatter with a stubborn jaw.
His nose was ruby red and his whiskers gray
And he would sit and fiddle all the night and all the day.
Came a traveler down the road and asked if he could find a bed
Yes try the road the kindly squatter said.
Then could you point me out the way to find a tavern or an inn.
Down the road a piece I reckon though I've never been.
Then the rain came down on the cabin floor
But the squatter only fiddled all the more.
Why don't you mend your roof said the travler bold
How can I mend the roof when the rain is wet and cold.
Squatter pick a day with weather bright and fair and nice.
Patch up your roof, that is my advice.
The squatter shook his hoary head and answered with a stubborn air
Cabin never leaks a drop when days are bright and fair.
The first known vocal recording of the song was made by Dan Hornsby and Clayton McMichen on 4/12/1928 and commercially released as Columbia 15000D Series #W146039 15253 Part 1 & #W146038 15253D part 2. An instrumental version of the song was recorded as early as 1922 by fiddlers Eck Robertson and Henry C. Gilliland.
Uses in film
"The Arkansas Traveler" was frequently featured in animated cartoons in the 1930s and 1940s, most prolifically by Carl Stalling in music he composed for the Merrie Melodies and Looney Tunes series. It usually was played, sloppily, when a yokel, hillbilly, or "country bumpkin" character would appear on screen.
A slow version of the "Bringing home a baby bumble-bee" version is sung by Beaky Buzzard in some of his Looney Tunes appearances, notably "Bugs Bunny Gets the Boid". This probably use the same yokel image that the tune evokes elsewhere in the Warner Bros. Cartoons|Warner Bros. cartoon series.
The popularity and joyfulness of "The Arkansas Traveler" was attested to in the 1932 Academy Award winning Laurel and Hardy short, The Music Box. In this film, the boys labored to haul a player piano up a long flight of stairs and into a house through a bedroom window. Near the conclusion of their adventure, as they are starting to clean up their mess surrounding the newly installed piano, Stan and Ollie play a roll of "Patriotic Melodies". They dance with much grace and amusement to "The Arkansas Traveler", followed briefly by "Dixie (song)|Dixie". Marvin Hatley, who composed Laurel and Hardy's Cuckoo theme song, was the pianist during this sequence; the player piano was not real.
- Tommy Jarrell and ALy Bain in a memorable rendition of this seminal tune which aired on Aly Bain's 1985 TV Series Down Home . This includes clogging (buck dancing or flat footing).
PRINT LINK: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=urB_EuOb2rY
PRINT LINK: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zi0wstPuncc
- Guitar instructional
"The Arkansas Traveler" was a popular comedy sketch on the Vaudeville circuit. It revolved around the encounter of a (usually lost) traveling city person with a local, wise-cracking fiddle player. Various jokes at the city slicker's expense were interspersed with instrumental versions of the song. In many versions, the city person is also a fiddle player, and as the sketch progresses, eventually learns the tune and plays along with the country bumpkin.
Michelle Shocked includes a Vaudville-style version of "Arkansas Traveler" on her Arkansas Traveler (Michelle Shocked album)|1992 album of the same name. Jerry Garcia and David Grisman also do a version on their 1993 album "Not for Kids Only"
- List of U.S. state songs
- The Ant and the Grasshopper
- The Arkansas Traveler story and a plot summary of a play from the 1850s based on the story.
- Lyrics and audio of "The Arkansas Traveler", from Arkansas Secretary of State's website
- Arkansas Code Section 1-4-116 (State songs and anthem)
- Recording of the song "Arkansas Traveler" from the 1956 Florida Folk Festival (from the Music from the Florida Folklife Collection Cd, available for public use from the Florida State Archives.)
- The Arkansas Traveler sketch in Vaudeville
- Arkansas Traveler|Tommy Jarrell with Aly Bain|Down Home|UK TV|1985| (Note - This was a UK Channel 4 broadcast, NOT BBC as some folks assume)