“The Blue-Tail Fly”


A young slave is made into a household servant, with the particular task of keeping away the (stinging) blue-tail flies. One day the master goes out riding; a fly stings his pony; the master is thrown and dies.

Supplemental text

Blue-Tail Fly, The [Laws I19]
  Complete text(s)

          *** A ***

Jim Crack Corn

From sheet music published by F. D. Benteen. The sheet music is on
two pages rather than the usual four, and has no title page, merely
a heading
         No. 5
 or the Blue Tail Fly
   Composed for the

When I was young I us'd to wait
On Massa and hand him de plate;
Pass down de bottle when he git dry,
And bresh away de blue tail fly.

Jim crack corn I don't care,
Jim crack corn I don't care,
Jim crack corn I don't care,
Ole Massa gone away.

Den arter dinner massa sleep,
He bid dis niggar vigil keep;
An' when he gwine to shut his eye,
He tell me watch de blue tail fly.
   Jim crack corn &c.

An' when he ride in de arternoon,
I follow wid a hickory broom;
De pony being berry shy,
When bitten by de blue tail fly.
   Jim crack corn &c.

One day he roade aroun' de farm,
De flies so numerous dey did swarm;
One chance to bite 'im on the thigh,
De debble take dat blu (sic) tail fly.
   Jim crack corn &c.

De poney run, he jump an' pitch,
An' tumble massa in de ditch;
He died, an' de jury wonder'd why
De verdic was de blue tail fly.
   Jim crack corn &c.

Dey laid 'im under a 'simmon tree,
He epitaph am dar to see:
'Beneath dis stone I'm forced to lie,
All be de means ob de blue tail fly.*
   Jim crack corn &c.

Ole massa gone, now let 'im rest,
Dey say all tings am for de best;
I nevver forget till de day I die,
Ole massa an' day blue tail fly.
   Jim crack corn &c.

* There is no indication of where the quote closes.


Sometimes credited to Dan Emmett (e.g. by Spaeth), and one of the earliest publications was in a series credited to him -- but the absence of his name on the earliest copies goes far toward discrediting his authorship. - RBW

The subtext for this song is that the slave in fact killed the master himself, blaming it on the blue-tail fly. This is hinted at, to varying degrees, in some versions of the song. -PJS

Cross references


  • Bob Atcher, "Blue Tail Fly" (Columbia 20538, 1949)
  • Doc Hopkins, "The Blue Tailed Fly" (Radio 1410A, n.d., prob. late 1940s - early 1950s)
  • Bradley Kincaid, "The Blue Tail Fly" (Majestic 6010, 1947)
  • Pete Seeger, "Jim Crack Corn" (on PeteSeeger03, PeteSeegerCD03); "The Blue Tail Fly" (on PeteSeeger17)
  • Riley Shepard, "The Blue Tail Fly" (King 523, 1946)


  1. Laws I19, "The Blue-Tail Fly"
  2. BrownIII 414, "Jim Crack Corn" (1 text plus 2 mixed fragments and 2 excerpts)
  3. Friedman, p. 453, "The Blue-Tail Fly" (1 text)
  4. Lomax-FSNA 267, "The Blue-Tail Fly" (1 text, 1 tune)
  5. RJackson-19CPop, pp. 91-92, "Jim Crack Corn or the Blue Tail Fly" (1 text, 1 tune)
  6. Scarborough-NegroFS, pp. 201-203, "De Blue-Tail Fly" (1 text plus some fragments, 1 tune); also p. 190, (no title) (1 fragment, with a verse of "The Jaybird" and the chorus of this piece); also p. 224, (no title) (1 short text, with the "Jim crack corn" chorus and the "My ole mistus promised me" verse)
  7. Arnett, p. 66, "Jim Crack Corn (Blue-Tail Fly)" (1 text, 1 tune)
  8. Botkin-SoFolklr, p. 709, "The Blue-Tail Fly" (1 text, 1 tune)
  9. PSeeger-AFB, p. 12, "The Blue-Tail Fly" (1 text, 1 tune)
  10. Silber-FSWB, p. 30, "The Blue-Tail Fly" (1 text)
  11. Fuld-WFM, p. 312, "Jim Crack Corn"
  12. cf. Gardner/Chickering, p. 477, "The Blue-Tailed Fly" (source notes only)
  13. DT 669, BLUETAIL
  14. ST LI19 (Full)
  15. Roud #4185
  16. BI, LI19


Alternate titles: “Jimmie Crack Corn”
Author: unknown
Earliest date: 1844
Keywords: bug servant death
Found in: US(SE,SW)