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Johnny Be Fair

[Buffy Sainte-Marie]

Buffy Sainte-Marie wrote in an email posted to Mudcat in 2000:

When I was a kid, somebody told me a joke, which was essentially the story as retold in my song Johnny Be Fair song. I'm glad to see you wondering about the origins of the story. When I first wrote the song, so many people were taken by surprise, I realized that not everybody had “heard that one”. Very few people have ever told me that they'd heard it as a joke or story.

I've often heard that true folk songs are like antiques: they are preserved and reused because they continue to be useful and appreciated, generation after generation; and their themes are cross cultural and make a sort of “ring true” sense in lots of communities.

A similar plot line can be found in Harry Belafonte's song Shame and Scandal in the Family.

Debra Cowan sang Johnny Be Fair in 2001 on her CD The Long Grey Line. She noted:

I first heard this from the late folklorist David Ingle. This is an old Irish joke that somehow found it’s way into a song. Buffy Saint-Marie recorded a version of this long ago with a few more verses. This version gets right to the point.

Roth Notman sang Johnny Be Fair on her 2009 album The Life of Lilly.

The Norfolk Broads sang Johnny Be Fair on their 2017 CD In the Valley of the Flowers.

Lyrics

Debra Cowan sang Johnny Be Fair The Norfolk Broads sing Johnny Be Fair

O Johnny be fair and Johnny be good
And he wants me for to wed.
And I would have married Johnny
But me father up and said,
“I hate to tell you daughter,
But your mother never knew:
That Johnny he’s a son of mine
And so is kin to you.”

O Johnny be good and Johnny be fair
And he wants me for to wed.
And I would have married Johnny
But me father up and said,
“I hate to tell you daughter,
For your mother never knew:
Johnny he’s a son of mine
And so he's kin to you.”

O Willie be fair and Willie be good
And he wants me for to wed.
And I would have married Willie
But me father up and said,
“I hate to tell you daughter,
But your mother never knew:
That Willie he’s a son of mine
And so is kin to you.”

O Willie be good and Willie be fair
And he wants me for to wed.
And I would have married Johnny
But me father up and said,
“I hate to tell you daughter,
For your mother never knew:
Willie he’s a son of mine
And so he's kin to you.”

Jimmy be fair and Jimmy be good
And he wants me for to wed.
And I would have married Jimmy
But me father up and said,
“I hate to tell you daughter,
But your mother never knew:
That Jimmy he’s a son of mine
And so is kin to you.”

O Jimmy be good and Jimmy be fair
And he wants me for to wed.
And I would have married Johnny
But me father up and said,
“I hate to tell you daughter,
For your mother never knew:
Jimmy he’s a son of mine
And so he's kin to you.”

So I went home to me mother
And I hung me head in shame.
Of all the lads in the village,
I couldn’t change me name.
My mother said, “If your father knew,
It’s me he’d surely kill.
For your father’s not your father,
So marry whom you will.”

So I went up to me mother
And I hung my head in shame.
For all the lads in town
And me name I couldn’t change.
She said, “My dearest girl,
Your father me will surely kill.
But your father’s not your father,
So marry who you will.”

O Johnny be good and Johnny be fair
And he wants me for to wed.
Now I'm to marry Johnny
Since me mother up and said,
“I hate to tell you father,
For I'm sure you never knew:
Johnny he's no kin of mine
And nor am I to you.”

Links

See also the Mudcat Café threads Origins: songs about girl w/ promiscuous father and Origins: Johnny Be Fair.