An in-depth examination of the music of the 78 era.
18 May, 2010
"I Woke Up One Morning In May" - Didier Herbert
Set Three: Songs; Disc One; Track Four: "I Woke Up One Morning In May" performed by Didier Hébert. "Vocal solo with guitar." Recorded in New Orleans on December 10, 1929. Original issue Columbia 40517F (111390).
Almost nothing is known of guitarist Didier Hébert, other than the fact that he was blind and from Louisiana. He accompanied accordionist Dewey Segura on three selections recorded for Columbia in 1929. During that session, Hébert cut one solo recording, "I Woke Up One Morning In May." His birth and death dates are unknown.
Hébert's name is misspelled as "Herbert" in the original Anthology liner note and therefore, one presumes, on the original record label.
"I Woke Up One Morning In May" tells a story of a young woman's unhappy marriage to a man who abandons her and their young children to drink and gamble in the tavern.
Je me suis levé matin dans Mai Mais bien de bon matin C'était pour passer Mais un beau jour dans ma vie.
Oh j'ai trouvé mon père en train de pleurer, Ma mère qui pleurait dans ses bras. C'est adieu pour longtemps, Je me donnes à un jeune garçon.
Oh moi je l'aimais beaucoup, Beaucoup plus que ma vie. Il m'avait fait une promesse, Et cette promesse c'est d'être sa femme
Oh j'ons ferait des enfants, Il m'a quitté d'un abandon; Moi bien malade dans mon lit, Et mes enfants là crèvent de faim
Et mon mari à la table après gambler, Et moi je ne souhaît que la mort; C'est tous ces jeunes bébés, grand Dieu, Dans les jambes de moi
Oh mettez-vous tous vous autres à méfier De tous ces jeunes garçons; Ça, ça conte autant de menteries Qu'en a d'étoiles dans le ciel.
Oh depuis dans l'âge de quatorze ans J'après misèré avec toi, Et dès de jour en jour Mais moi je m'en vas dans l'abandon.
Oh moi je connais je m'en vas dans ces grands chemins, M'y serai moi toute seule, Et dès je suis une délaissée Mais que personne en veut de moi.
I woke up one morning in May, very early; It was to spend a fine day of my life.
Oh I found my father crying, my mother crying in his arms. Farewell for a long time, I'm giving myself to a young man.
Oh I loved him very much, much more than my life. He made me a promise that I was his wife.
Oh we had children, he left me a year ago nevertheless. Me sick in bed, and my children dying of hunger;
And my husband in the tavern gambling, and I just wish I was dead; It's all those young babies, great God, around my legs.
All you girls, don't trust those young men -- They tell as many lies as there are stars in the sky.
When I was fourteen years old, I was always with you; Since then, from day to day I'm left more alone.
Oh I know I'm going on the highways, I'll be there all alone, And since I'm a deserted wife, I wish someone would make me a widow.
The lyric transcription and translation come from a conversation on the Mudcat Cafe message board. Unfortunately, the identities of the individuals who provided the transcription and translation are hidden behind screen names. I thank email@example.com and mathias for their efforts.
The detail of the husband spending his time in a tavern rather than with his wife and family recalls the story of the female suicide in "The Butcher's Boy."
The warning to other young girls to avoid the same fate also recalls "The House of the Rising Sun," famously recorded by Dave Van Ronk, Bob Dylan, and the Animals.
Smith's notes mainly address the "almost conversational" and "restrained" performance of this song, noting that it is atypical of Acadian singing. While perhaps not as extreme as other Cajun singers, Hébert's voice is almost toneless to ears not accustomed to Acadian singing. I will freely admit that it took me a long time to even begin to appreciate Cajun music.
Smith's fondness for drawing parallels between songs is quite clear with this particular sequence of songs. "I Woke Up One Morning In May" is the third song in a row to feature unhappy lovers. While the speaker in "Minglewood Blues" is a rounder who boasts of his sexual exploits, especially with married women, the speaker in "I Woke Up One Morning In May" is the wronged wife. While the song itself is not set in any particular place, the very fact of it being sung in French (and the fact that it was recorded in New Orleans) suggests an Acadian setting. This will prove significant, as the next song in the sequence (Rabbit Brown's "James Alley Blues") is also set in New Orleans.
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I would like to announce that beginning May 9, 2010, I will be hosting "Doin' The Thing," a weekly jazz program on KRML 1410 AM and 94.7 FM in Carmel, California. The show airs from 8 PM to 10PM (Pacific Time) on Sunday nights. You can also listen online by visiting the KRML website at 8 PM Pacific, 11 PM Eastern Time. Please tune in and give me feedback!
Unable to find any video of a modern interpretation of "I Woke Up One Morning In May," I present a clip of the legendary Ann Savoy and her family performing "The Separation Waltz," another Cajun song that fits thematically with Hébert's song of lost love and heartbreak. In his notes to the 1997 reissue of the Anthology, Jeff Place tells a brief story about how Hébert happened to get invited to his sole recording session. The source of this story is none other than Ann Savoy.