Little Birdie in the Tree
My niece turns two this week! I can’t believe how quickly these past two years have gone.
When she was a newborn, I had the privilege of helping rock her to sleep on many occasions. Like any good aunt, I would sing to her all the songs my mother used to sing to me.
One of my favorites is a little tune called Little Birdie in the Tree. Mom sang it to us, Grandma sang it too−at the time, I thought it was as common as any other childhood lullaby.
I mentioned it once to a coworker, and I was shocked to discover that she, a children’s librarian, had never heard of it. Neither had any of my other coworkers (at the time). In fact, the more people I polled, the more I realized that nobody knew what I was talking about.
So, being the good little librarian that I am, I hit Google to find out more. 😉
After a few hours of searching for an audio sample (no joke), I came across a partial recording of the song that was fairly similar, from Lyon College’s John Quincy Wolf Folklore Collection:
Good, I think, I’m not crazy! But I still had no idea where this song came from. Clearly not from Texas, so I assumed. I’ve since found a 1939 recording of a man from Houston, but there’s no information on who introduced the song to him. The woman in the audio above was from Arkansas, but if you listen closely at the end, even she is unsure of its origins.
My grandmother was born in Pennsylvania, however, and she said her mother sang it to her as well, so I directed my search there.
Finally, I stumbled across my answer: the song came from an old Sunday School hymnal, published in 1871, by Philip Paul Bliss. It circulated around Ohio and west Pennsylvania, but not any further than that, as far as I could find. (Let me know if you’ve discovered more information! My search is not complete.)
My theory now is that this lullaby was passed down from my great great grandmother, who was born in Butler Pennsylvania in 1879. Of course, it could have come from her husband, born 1871. Hmm…
The best part of this story? I found one of these original hymnals on eBay!
See the full lyrics here on Google Books
So thank you, Penelope, for inspiring Aunt Sarah to track down a cool piece of family history. Happy Birthday, my sweet girl! 🙂
I’m curious to see if anyone else is familiar with this little song, or its history. Let me know in the comments!