Skin and Bones
Introduction by Lorraine Hammond, with Jon Pickow
October’s song will be a spooky one! I learned this long ago from Jean Ritchie, of Viper, Kentucky. I have sung it for hundreds of children, delighting as they jump, startle, and then collapse with laughter and relief. And grown-ups are not exempt either! Perfect Hallowe’en musical fare.
Skin and Bones has a venerable British Isles legacy. The Roud index at the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library lists more than sixty sources. One early print source is “Halliwell, Nursery Rhymes of England (3rd edn. 1843) pp.85-86, There Was A Lady All Skin and Bone.”
I asked Jean Ritchie’s son Jon Pickow about his childhood memories of the song, and he offered the following great anecdotes:
“The first time I remember hearing Skin and Bones was when mom sang it at a children's concert at our local library here in Port Washington. I was very young, and reacted just like all the other kids: scream first, then laugh hysterically. I loved watching her sing it for new audiences and seeing their reactions, although I always jumped at the end, even though I knew what was coming.
“Mom always warned sound men and engineers after singing it on the radio once and seeing the engineer jump up and throw the headphones across the room.
“Several generations have learned it from the singing of Raffi. Even though more people knew the surprise, audiences were still delighted to hear mom sing it.”
You can hear Jean Ritchie singing this, with her lovely dulcimer accompaniment, in the YouTube video on this page.
Lorraine Lee Hammond is a member of the CDSS board, and a humanities lecturer at Lasell College in Newton, Massachusetts.