Nelly Bly

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Nelly Bly  (1850) 
by Stephen Foster
Sheet music cover, 4th edition, 1850
"Nelly Bly" is a minstrel song published in 1850 by Firth, Pond & Co. of New York. According to Ken Emerson, the titular character was a servant who poked her head out of a cellar door to listen to Foster serenade friends. The name struck Foster’s fancy, and she appeared as a guest at a ball in "Oh! Lemuel!" (1849). "Nelly Bly" anticipates the joys of marriage and housekeeping, according to Emerson, and its melody has a “merry, nursery-rhyme charm”. He describes the song as a “sweet, domestic idyll, and apart from the blackface dialect, there’s not a hint of condescension toward the object of the singer’s affection”. "Nelly Bly" was later adapted to a campaign song for Lincoln, and, in the 1870s, journalist Elizabeth Cochran used the name as her byline. Harold Vincent Milligan declares the song one of the few happy songs Foster wrote, and notes that the composer “turned instinctively to sentimental melancholy, the yearnings of homesickness and sad memories of the past. “Nelly Bly“ is a song of contentment and plenty, and more truly characteristic of the negro than "Brudder Gum", or "O Susanna" Because the chorus is set for two sopranos, Richard Jackson suggests that "Nelly Bly" may be imagined as a song for two kitchen maids who sing and play the banjo as they sweep the floor, stoke the fire, and cook.
  • Ken Emerson. 1998. Doo-dah!: Stephen Foster and the rise of American popular culture. Da Capo Press. pp. 158-9
  • Richard Jackson. 1974. Stephen Foster Song Book Dover Publications, Inc. p. 177.
  • Harold Vincent Milligan. Stephen Collins Foster: a biography of America's folk-song composer. p. 52.

Nelly Bly! Nelly Bly! Bring de broom along,
We'll sweep de kitchen clean, my dear, and hab a little song.
Poke de wood, my lady lub, and make de fire burn,
And while I take de banjo down, just gib de mush a turn.
Heigh! Nelly, Ho! Nelly, listen lub, to me,
I'll sing for you, play for you, a dulcem melody.
Heigh! Nelly, Ho! Nelly, listen lub, to me,
I'll sing for you, play for you, a dulcem melody.

Nelly Bly hab a voice like de turtle dove,
I hears it in de meadow, and I hears it in de grove:
Nelly Bly hab a heart warm as cup ob tea,
And bigger dan de sweet potatoe down in Tennessee.

Nelly Bly shuts her eye when she goes to sleep,
When she wakens up again her eye-balls 'gin to peep:
De way she walks, she lifts her foot, and den she brings it down,
And when it lights der's music dah in dat part ob de town.

Nelly Bly! Nelly Bly! Nebber, nebber sigh,
Nebber bring de tear-drop to de corner ob your eye,
For de pie is made ob punkins and de mush is made of corn,
And der's corn and punkins plenty, lub, a lyin' in de barn.

This work was published before January 1, 1926, and is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.