'Pick a Bale of Cotton' dropped from Iowa junior high concert program

Published: Wednesday, April 17, 2019 @ 12:12 PM

An Iowa junior high school removed the song
An Iowa junior high school removed the song "Pick a Bale of Cotton" from an upcoming spring concert.(Mary Turner/Getty Images)

An Iowa junior high school dropped an American folk song from an upcoming spring concert after a parent complained the lyrics were racist, the Des Moines Register reported.

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Students at Indian Hills Junior High School were practicing the song “Pick a Bale of Cotton” but were told it was being removed from the April 30 program, the newspaper reported.

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Bernice Thompson contacted the school two weeks ago after her seventh-grade daughter, Taishon Graham, told her the class was singing the song, the Register reported. Taishon, who is black, told her mother she did not want to sing the song.

"It made me feel sad because you want to sing happy songs at a spring concert, not songs about picking cotton," Taishon told the newspaper.

"She pulled it up on the internet so I could see all the lyrics, and I couldn't believe it," Thompson told the Register. "To have them sing that song, I just thought it was very insensitive, and I thought it was wrong."

The song, which contains racial epithets in its original lyrics, has been condemned as a glorification of slavery in the United States. The more sanitized lyrics read, “I’m gonna jump down, turn around, pick a bale of cotton.

“Gonna jump down, turn around, pick a bale a day.”

School district spokesman Aaron Young said the school’s principal and choir director pulled the song from the program selections, KCCI reported.

In 2005, the song was pulled from a high school music program in a predominantly white Detroit suburb after complaints,  CBS News reported.

“Pick a Bale of Cotton” was recorded in 1935 by blues musician Lead Belly, Harry Belafonte, Johnny Cash, Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee, ABBA and Derek Ryan have also recorded versions.

In the opening and closing credits of e 1979 American movie, “The Jerk,” Navin R. Johnson (played by comedian Steve Martin) dances along as his entire adoptive black family sings the song on the house porch.

Kameron Middlebrooks, president of the Des Moines chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said he was glad the school decided to drop the song,

"I'm almost speechless," Middlebrooks told the Register. "I'm glad that they decided to change it, but sad that it took a parent to force that decision upon them."