The letter below was written by Kween a leader in the Guelph community and a leader at the Guelph Black Heritage Society (GBHS). The letter was written with the intent to educate and advocate for the retirement of the song “Cotton Eyed Joe” which was often played at Storm games. As a result of the letter, the song was retired however Kween and Denise, the ladies at GBHS have received significant negative backlash from some in the community.
In the spirit of solidarity and education, we are posting this here so that folks who want to learn more about this can.
Hello Storm and Lynn,
Thank you for taking some time to look into the ways we connect, change and grow within the OHL. Spike has a long history of spreading joy and fun within the Storm games and really supports community and family connection. As we look towards becoming a more diverse, anti racist and intersectional community we must look at all facets. This includes the work we do to educate from the ice to entertainment.
And we believe it is time to create a new playlist for Spike and Stormi. For years, and as long as I can remember Spike danced to “Cotton Eyed Joe” by the group Rednex. In fact, when we think of Spike, Cotton Eyed Joe is almost like his theme song because of how consistently he dances to this piece. And while this song seems catchy and fun in nature, it’s dark history leaves a burden on the Black communities to have racism acknowledged in all forms.
The history of the song pre-dates the Civil War and is believed to be associated with a caricature depiction of enslaved peoples forced to pick cotton on southern plantations. You can read a bit more about the history of the song on Wikipedia here and where it’s believed the title name comes from.
There was an article written for Medium called Dinah, Put Down Your Horn: Blackface Minstrel Songs Don’t Belong in Music Class (link here) that has been circulating in her educator groups over the last few years. Cotton Eye Joe isn’t called out specifically in the article, but it is part of this group of “American folk songs” which were born out of American slavery and written/popularized by Blackface Minstrelsy in the late 1800s.
The actual lyrics of ‘Cotton Eye Joe’ were about how a Black man comes to town and steals people’s wives. And no one knows where Cotton Eye Joe is except for dad. Apparently the singer’s dad murdered Cotton Eye Joe for sleeping with the singer’s mom.” It is an extremely racist story.
In fact, the history of “Cotton Eye Joe” is murky, as is the case with most songs that came out of the folk and hymnal traditions of the antebellum South. Its origins are a racist tune that utilises awful, racist stereotypes about Black people, who were enslaved in America when it was initially written.
If you are looking to read and understand more this article by Huffpost is helpful https://www.huffpost.com/entry/cotton-eyed-joe-origins_n_55b8ffade4b0a13f9d1b1b15
With those points said, it is so clear that this song should be retired and removed for music that is more inclusive and more positive.