“The Bayou Sara”

Alternate titles: “The Burning of the Bayou Sara”; “The Bicera”
Author: unknown
Earliest date: 1914 (Belden)
Keywords: ship river fire death disaster
Found in: US(So)

Description

The Bayou Sara (Bicera) is a fine boat, but catches fire and burns down, taking many people with her. The song may mention all the crew she lost, or the singer's own escape and watching for angels to come for him.

Supplemental text

Bayou Sara, The
  Complete text(s)

          *** A ***

B'y' Sara Burned Down

From Mary Wheeler, Steamboatin' Days, pp. 40-41. From the singing
of Colin Robinson, once a Mississippi rouster but a resident of
Ohio at the time the song was collected.

Way down the rivuh an' I couldn't stay long,
B'y' Sara burned down,
She burnt down to the water's edge,
B'y' Sara burned down.

The people began to run an' squall,
B'y' Sara burned down,
When they begun to look they was about to fall,
B'y' Sara burned down.

Look away over yonder, what I see,
B'y' Sara burned down,
The captain an' the mate wuz comin' after me,
B'y' Sara burned down.

There's two bright angels by my side,
B'y' Sara burned down,
'Cause I want to go to heaven when I die,
B'y' Sara burned down.

Notes

As "The Burning of the Bayou Sara," this song is item dG39 in Laws's Appendix II.

Belden, who collected the version known to Laws, reported that a ship called the Bayou Sara burned at the dock on December 5, 1885. Mary Wheeler, however, reports that the name of the ship was the "City of Bayou Sara," built in 1884; she burned at New Madrid. All passengers were reportedly saved, though a few crew members died.

The versions of this song are extremely diverse in form (apart from the confusion that caused the ship to be called "The Bicera" by Belden's informant), and it's possible that there are two ballads involved. Laws, for instance, failed to identify Wheeler's text with Belden's, and Roud gives the pieces two numbers. But since the texts are all unique, I place them all here without rendering a final judgment on the matter; this may be just a piece that went through a lot of blues metamorphosis. - RBW

Recordings

References

  1. Belden, pp. 423-424, "The Burning of the Bayou Sara" (1 text)
  2. MWheeler, pp. 40-41, "B'y' Sara Burned Down" (1 text, 1 tune)
  3. DT, BAYOUSAR* BAYOUSA2
  4. ST DTBayous (Full)
  5. Roud #10010 and 4139
  6. BI, DTBayous