It is a lullaby that makes children sleepy and grown men and women weep. The words wrap themselves around our cares and sorrows giving the song a very personal meaning. The one constant feeling is the love of a mother for her child.
Hush you bye, Don’t you cry,
Go to sleep, little baby.
when you wake, You shall have cake,
all the pretty little horses.
Paint and Bay, Sorrel and gray,
All the pretty little horses.
Hush-a-by, Don’t you cry,
Go to sleep, my little baby
The earliest written recording of the lyrics comes to us from a woman identified as Mrs. George Scarborough*, who learned it as a child from her African-American nanny in Grimes County, Texas, and she sang it to her own children. (Scarborough, Dorothy. On the Trail of Negro Folk-Songs. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1925.).
*Who was first to write down the lyrics of Hush a Bye/All the Pretty Horses?
The song has an oral tradition dating back to before the Civil War and no doubt originated on the Southern Plantations. Credit therefore must go to an unnamed woman who loved her child dearly.
Dorothy identifies her source as Mrs. George Scarborough and says it is her sister. The question is does she mean sister-in-law, Anne Saunders Scarborough, first wife of George Scarborough? Or, does she mean Martha McDaniel Scarborough, wife of George McDaniel. This sister was herself an author. George Scarborough was a playwright and he divorced and remarried to playwright, Annette A. Westbay, giving us another possibility. Perhaps, she has the best claim for Dorthy acknowledges, among others, one, “Anne Scarborough.” Ah, but then, she has acknowledged Mrs. George W. McDaniel, too, but if this is her real sister, why did not Dorthy hear the song herself as a child?
One last piece of the puzzle is her acknowledgement of John A. Lomax, father of Allan Lomax, who is sometimes given credit for writing down the lyrics to the song.
Alan Lomax would later write down a version of the lyrics and record the song himself, found on Youtube.
As Dorthy acknowledged in her introduction, If you wish to capture the spirit of a lullaby, you must sneak up behind one, unbeknownst, sprinkle salt on its tail, and even then, it may saucily fly off.