Label: Philips - 6382 124 • Series: International Series • Format: Vinyl LP, Album, Mono • Country: UK • Genre: Folk, World, & Country • Style: Folk
The Drinking Gourd is another name for the Big Dipper asterism. Folklore has it that slaves in the United States used it as a point of reference so they would not get lost. While the song may possibly refer to some lost fragment of history, the origin and context remain a mystery. A more recent source challenges the authenticity of the claim that the song was used to help slaves escape to the North and to freedom.
Follow the Drinking Gourd was collected by H. Parks, an entomologist and amateur folkloristin the s. Parks reported that Peg Leg Joean operative of the Underground Railroadhad passed as a laborer and spread the song to different plantations, giving directions for slaves to escape. The song was published by the Texas Folklore Society in The cover spells the title "Foller de Drinkin' Gou'd. Familiar with African-American music and culture,  Hays stated that he himself had heard parts of the song from an elderly This Thing - Various - Beats And Pieces Volume Three woman named Aunty Laura.
Hays described the melody as coming from Aunty Laura, while the lyrics came from anthologies — probably the Parks version. Insinger Randy Sparks heard the song from an elderly street singer named John Woodum. These lyrics diverged greatly from the Parks and Hays versions and included no geographical information. Sparks later founded The New Christy Minstrelswith whom he recorded a version of the song based on Woodum's lyrics. Two of the stars in the Big Dipper line up very closely with and point to Polaris.
Polaris is a circumpolar starand so it is always seen pretty close to the direction of true north. Hence, according to a popular myth, all slaves had to do was look for the Drinking Gourd and follow it to the North Star Polaris north to freedom.
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