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See-Line Woman
by Nina Simone
#NoDudeVember

Leslie Feist's "Sea Lion Woman" (or "Sea Lion"), which I put up yesterday, is one of the ways this American folk tune has come to be titled -- an odd image, maybe, but not out of place for a children's song.

I was already familiar with Feist's version, but unaware of its source (since Feist took the writing credit for the song). When I heard Nina Simone's "See-Line Woman" a couple of weeks ago, the similarities led me to think there was a history to the song. And indeed there is.

The song was "discovered" during one of the many American Library of Congress field recordings done is the early decades of the 20th century. The earliest recording of the song has Katharine and Christeen Shipp, the two young daughters of a minister and his wife in rural Mississippi, singing a few verses as if it were playtime.

Nina Simone's recording points to a very different origin story. According to the website Jazz.fandom.com:

The exact origins of the song are unknown but it is believed to have originated in the southern United States. The theory: Nina Simone’s “Sealine Woman” is a 19th century seaport song about sailors and prostitutes. The sailors would come into port (Charleston or New Orleans perhaps). Women of the pleasure quarters would be waiting, lined up dockside. Their dress colors signified the specific delights they offered. That is what the song is really about. This would explain the term 'Sea line' (a line of women by the sea) or alternatively, 'See-line' (women standing in a line to be seen).

The lyric:

"See-line Woman"
by Nina Simone and George Bass[8]

See-line woman
She drink coffee
She drink tea
And then go home
See-line woman
See-line woman
Dressed in green
Wears silk stockings
With golden seams
See-line woman
See-line woman
Dressed in red
Make a man
Lose his head
See-line woman
See-line woman
Black dress on
For a thousand dollars
She wail and she moan
See-line woman
Wiggle wiggle
Turn like a cat
Wink at a man
And he wink back
Now child
See-line woman
Empty his pockets
And wreck his days
Make him love her
And she'll fly away
See-line woman
Take it on out now
Empty his pockets
And she wreck his days
And she make him love her
Then she sure fly away
She got a black dress on
For a thousand dollars
She wail and she moan

The children's song lyrics:

Sea lion woman (sea-la)
She drinks coffee (sea-la)
She drink tea (sea-la)
In the candle light (sea-la)
Way down yonder (sea-la)
'Hind a log (sea-la)
And the rooster crowed (sea-la)
And the gander lied (sea-la)

There isn't much in the way of music scholarship on the song out on the web, so who knows how accurate this is. But it's interesting reading and great listening either way.
1964 - United States
Posted: About 7 hours ago
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