LITTLE BROWN BABY

Music and lyrics by Paul Laurence Dunbar


Little Brown Baby with the sparkling eyes,
Whatcha been doing, there? Making mud pies?
Look at that bib. You're as dirty as can be.
Come to mama and sit on my knee.
Look at that mouth. That's sugar, I bet.
Bees are gonna come and eat you up yet.
Get over here. Let me wipe off your hands.
Little Brown Baby, my sweet little man.

There's something happening here
But what it is ain't exactly clear
There's The Man with a gun over there
Telling me I got to beware

Stop, Children, what's that sound?
Everybody look. What's going down?

Little Brown Baby with sparkling eyes,
Looking at me with that great big smile.
Where did you get that dimple on your chin?
And when did those sparkling teeth come in?
Buggah Man, Buggah Man, come in de do'.
Mama and Papa don't want him no mo'.
Here's a sticky boy you can have to eat.
Swallow him down from his head to his feet.

There're battle lines being drawn
Nobody's right if everybody's wrong
Young people speakin' their minds
Getting so much resistance from behind

Stop, Children, what's that sound?
Everybody look. What's going down?

C'mon now. Hug me up close.
I was just teasing 'bout the bees, of co' se.
Go back, Buggah Man. You can't have this boy.
He's my sparkling eyed pride and joy.
Close your eyes now. Go to sleep.
I wish you'd just stay a child on my knee.
I wish you always ease and clear skies.
Little Brown Baby with sparkling eyes.

There's something happening here
And what it is is exactly clear
There's The Man with a gun over there
Telling us we got to beware

There's battle lines being drawn
Nobody's right if everybody's wrong
Our young people losin' their lives
They're getting so much resistance from all sides.

Stop, Children, what's that sound?
Everybody look. What's going down?



Paul Laurence Dunbar published in such mainstream journals as Century, Lipincott’s Monthly, the Atlantic Monthly, and the Saturday Evening Post. A gifted poet and a precursor to the Harlem Renaissance, Dunbar was read by both blacks and whites in turn-of-the-century America.
Dunbar, the son of two former slaves, was born in Dayton, Ohio, and attended the public schools of that city. He was taught to read by his mother, Matilda Murphy Dunbar, and he absorbed her homespun wisdom as well as the stories told to him by his father, Joshua Dunbar, who had escaped from enslavement in Kentucky and served in the Massachusetts 55th Regiment during the Civil War. Thus, while Paul Laurence Dunbar himself was never enslaved, he was one of the last of a generation to have ongoing contact with those who had been. Dunbar was steeped in the oral tradition during his formative years and he would go on to become a powerful interpreter of the African American folk experience in literature and song. He would also champion the cause of civil rights and higher education for African Americans in essays and poetry that were militant by the standards of his day.
Scholarly performance and repeated readings of John Keats, William Wordsworth, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and Robert Burns saw Dunbar's poetry become more sophisticated. He also searched for an authentic poetic diction that would incorporate the voices of his parents and the stories they told.
After graduating from high school in 1891, racial discrimination forced Dunbar to accept a job as an elevator operator in a Dayton hotel. He wrote on the job during slack hours. He became well known as the "elevator boy poet" after James Newton Mathews invited him to read his poetry at the annual meeting of the Western Association of Writers, held in Dayton in 1892. In 1893 Dunbar published his first volume of poetry, Oak and Ivy, on the press of the Church of the Brethren. That same year he also attended the World's Columbian Exposition, where he sold copies of his book and gained the patronage of Frederick Douglass and other influential African Americans.
Much of the controversy surrounding Paul Laurence Dunbar concerns his dialect poetry. While he sought an appropriate literary form for the representation of African American vernacular expression, he was also deeply ambivalent about his undertaking in this area. He recognized that many of his experiments yielded imperfect results and he was concerned that prominent white critics praised his work for the wrong reasons, setting a tone that other Dunbar critics would follow for years as they virtually ignored his standard English verse and his published experiments with Irish, German and Western regional dialects.
In the second half of the twentieth century Paul Laurence Dunbar was rediscovered. Poet Nikki Giovanni suggested that Dunbar's "message is clear and available ... if we invest in Dunbar the integrity we hope others will give us."

Joanne M. Braxton, ed., The Collected Poetry of Paul Laurence Dunbar, 1993.