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All the Pretty Little Horses facts for kids

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"All the Pretty Little Horses" (also known as "Hush-a-bye") is a traditional lullaby from the United States. It has inspired dozens of recordings and adaptations, as well as the title of Cormac McCarthy's 1992 novel All the Pretty Horses.


The origin of this song is not fully known. The song is commonly thought to be of African-American origin.

The author Lyn Ellen Lacy is often quoted as the primary source for the theory that suggests the song was "originally sung by an African American slave who could not take care of her baby because she was too busy taking care of her master's child. She would sing this song to her master's child". However, Lacy's book Art and Design in Children's Books is not an authority on the heritage of traditional American folk songs, but rather a commentary on the art and design in children's literature. Still, some versions of "All the Pretty Little Horses" contain added lyrics that make this theory a possibility.

One such version of "All the Pretty Little Horses" is provided in the book American Ballads and Folksongs by prominent ethnomusicologist Alan Lomax, though he makes no claim of the song's African-American origins. "Way down yonder, In de medder, There's a po' lil lambie, De bees an' de butterflies, Peckin' out its eyes, De po' lil lambie cried, "Mammy!"" Another version contains the lyrics "Buzzards and flies, Picking out its eyes, Pore little baby crying". The theory would suggest that the lyrics "po' lil lambie cried, "Mammy"" is in reference to the slaves who were often separated from their own families in order to serve their owners. However, this verse is very different from the rest of the lullaby, suggesting that the verse may have been added later or has a different origin than the rest of the song. The verse also appears in the song "Ole Cow" and older versions of the song "Black Sheep, Black Sheep".

A generation before Alan Lomax, writer Dorothy Scarborough, educated at Oxford University and holding a Ph.D. from Columbia University, researched folk songs throughout the American South and devoted four pages of her book On the Trail of Negro Folksongs (1925) to variations of this song, all of which were provided, directly or indirectly, by African-Americans.


Dorothy Scarborough, 1925

Hush you bye, Don't you cry,
Go to sleepy, little baby.
when you wake,
You shall have,
all the pretty little horses.
Blacks and Bays,
dapples and grays,
Coach and six a little horses.
Hush-a-by, Don't you cry,
Go to sleep, my little baby.

Additional verse (included in some versions)

Way down yonder
In the meadow
Poor little baby crying momma
Birds and the butterflies
Flutter 'round his eyes
Poor little baby crying momma"

Popular version

Hush you bye, Don't you cry
Go to sleep-y, my little ba - by.
When you wake, you shall have
All the pretty lit-tle hor-ses
Blacks and bays, Dap-ples and grays,
Coach---------- and six-a lit-tle hor - ses.
Hush you bye, Don't you cry,
Go to sleep-y lit-tle ba - by
When you wake, you'll have sweet cake, and
All the pret-ty lit-tle hor-ses
A brown and a gray and a black and a bay
and a Coach and six-a lit-tle hor - ses
A black and a bay and a brown and a gray and a Coach______________________
and six-a lit-tle hor-ses. Hush you bye,
Don't you cry, Oh you pret-ty lit-tle ba - by. Go to sleep-y lit-tle
ba - by. Oh________________ you pret-ty lit-tle ba-by.____
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