Billy Magee Magaw

TITLE: Billy Magee Magaw
AUTHOR: unknown
CATEGORY: Traditional, Public Domain
KEYWORDS: death, bird, food
EARLIEST PRINTED OR RECORDED REFERENCE: 1611 (Thomas Ravenscroft). Ravenscroft (c. 1588 – 1635) was an English musician, theorist and editor, notable as a composer of rounds and catches, and especially for compiling collections of British folk music.220px-The-Twa-Corbies

This is a minstrel show version of The Three Ravens (Child #26). It’s the most common US version.  The crudity of the song reflects the milieu from which it came.  (A good minstrel show joke was shooting someone.) (from Abby Sale) 

OTHER TITLES AND VARIATIONS:

  • The Three Ravens
  • Billie Magee Magaw
  • Willie McGee McGaw
  • Two Old Crows
  • Three Black Crows

RECORDINGS: (mp3’s available through Amazon.com)

YOUTUBE VIDEO: 

YOUTUBE AUDIO: download
LYRIC & CHORD PRO CHART: download
PPT LYRICS FOR THE CLASSROOM: download
BONUS YOUTUBE VIDEO: Peter, Paul & Mary, “Three Ravens”

Billy Magee Magaw

There were three crows sat on a tree,
Oh, Billy Magee Magaw.
There were three crows sat on a tree,
Oh, Billy Magee Magaw.
There were three crows sat on a tree,
And they were black as crows could be.
And they all flapped their wings and cried:
“Caw, caw, caw! Billy Magee Magaw!”
And they all flapped their wings and cried:
“Billy Magee Magaw!”

Said one crow unto his mate,
Oh, Billy Magee Magaw.
Said one crow unto his mate,
Oh, Billy Magee Magaw.
Said one crow unto his mate,
“What shall we do for grub to ate?”
And they all flapped their wings and cried:
“Caw, caw, caw! Billy Magee Magaw!”

And they all flapped their wings and cried:
“Billy Magee Magaw!”
“There lies a horse on yonder plain,
Oh, Billy Magee Magaw.
“There lies a horse on yonder plain,
Oh, Billy Magee Magaw.
“There lies a horse on yonder plain,
Who’s by some cruel butcher slain.
And they all flapped their wings and cried:
“Caw, caw, caw! Billy Magee Magaw!”
And they all flapped their wings and cried:
“Billy Magee Magaw!”

We’ll perch ourselves on his backbone,
Oh, Billy Magee Magaw.
We’ll perch ourselves on his backbone,
Oh, Billy Magee Magaw.
We’ll perch ourselves on his backbone,
And pick his eyes out one by one.
And they all flapped their wings and cried:
“Caw, caw, caw! Billy Magee Magaw!”
And they all flapped their wings and cried:
“Billy Magee Magaw!”

The meat we’ll eat before it’s stale,
Oh, Billy Magee Magaw.
The meat we’ll eat before it’s stale,
Oh, Billy Magee Magaw.
The meat we’ll eat before it’s stale,
Till naught remains but bones and tail.”
And they all flapped their wings and cried:
“Caw, caw, caw! Billy Magee Magaw!”
And they all flapped their wings and cried:
“Billy Magee Magaw!”

SOURCES:

  • Folk Song Index: A Comprehensive Guide to the Florence E. Brunnings Collection, Florence E. Brunnings, Garland Publishing, Inc., New York and London 1981—Amazon Books
  • Country Music Sources: A Biblio-Discography of Commercially Recorded Traditional Music, Guthrie T. Meade, Jr. with Dick Spottswood and Douglas S. Meade, Southern Folklife Collection, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Libraries, NC 2002—Amazon Books
  • Frank C. Brown Collection of North Carolina Folklore (1952), Volume 2: Folk Ballads from North Carolina. Edited by Henry M Beldin and Arthur Palmer Hudson. Duke University Press.
  • The English and Scottish Popular Ballads (Francis James Child) Loomis House Press, 2001, original 1857. & The Traditional Tunes of the Child Ballads (Bertrand, Harris, Bronson) Loomis House Press, 2009, original 1959.

SONGBOOKS:

NOTICE: I’m not the best guitar player or vocalist, but no one loves these songs more than I do. The tune and lyrics are in the public domain unless otherwise noted. The recording © copyright 2013 by Stephen Griffith and may be used by permission of the copyright holder. The variation of the song I’m posting is the version I perform and is not exactly replicating the sources cited, but is always in the same song family. If anyone has more details about this song, or believes I’ve stated something in error, please let me know. I’m also open to suggestions to improve the site. Thanks. sgg

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