YWW 008 - Diamond Joe

Hi Worksongers!Your Weekly Worksong is... Diamond Joe   Background There are actually several songs that people refer to as Diamond Joe.  One is a cowboy song, another is a Woody Guthrie classic, and then there is this one, which has been referred to as a river shanty.  It was recorded first in 1937 at the Mississippi State Penitentiary, also known as Parchman Farm, a prison that is notorious for prisoner abuse and also for the extraordinary music of the inmates who were incarcerated there.  In this case, Diamond Joe was sung by an inmate named Charlie Butler for a Library of Congress collector named Duncan Emerich.   Diamond Jo was the name of a steamer on the upper Mississippi River, the Chicago, Fulton and River Line, commonly called the Diamond Jo line.  The owner of the company was Joseph “Diamond Jo” Reynolds, and the logo of the company was a diamond with the letters JO inside, and it was painted on the boat.  The flagship steamer was named “Diamond Jo” and along with 19 other steamboats they transported cargo and passengers.   We don’t know if Charlie Butler ever saw these steamships (the company sold in 1911), if he wrote the song or just passed it along, but his recording is epic, mysterious, subtle and haunting.  He probably would’ve sung it in the fields at Parchman, which was the home of a prison labor system that David Oshinsky calls “worse than slavery.”  Worksongs were a tradition that helped crews weed fields and chop wood as long as the sun was up.     Where I learned it I learned it from Max Godfrey, who was on the crew at Sylvester Manor in 2010 and 2011.  He has the most incredible rendition, which draws heavily on Charlie Butler but carries his unique style and emphasis.  Definitely check out the film that Andrew Plotsky made of him on worksongs.org   Why it’s a great song: - Great harmonies in the the chorus  - Simple lyrics  - Rhythm doesn’t have to be rigidly locked in - works for big fields    If you try it: - Holler like you mean it!     Check it out: Here is a link to the song on worksongs.org   -  This includes:  - a link to Charlie Butler Version  - lyrics from Mudcat.org  - a video of Max leading the song at the Plant & Sing festival on Shelter Island.  - a recording of Max leading it at NOFA-NY Conference 2012 - the original Diamond Jo logo Here is a great discussion on mudcat.org Worse than Slavery: Parchman Farm and the Ordeal of Jim Crow Justice by David Oshinsky Wake Up Dead Man: Hard Labor and Southern Blues by Bruce Jackson 

Holler back with any questions or ideas!   And let me know if you decide to sing it... -Bennett 

PS.  If you missed past weeks of Your Weekly Worksong, I’ve posted them here...