Girl with the Blue Dress On (1) (The)
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GIRL WITH THE BLUE DRESS ON , THE. AKA and see "Babes in the Woods (1)," "Din Tarrant's," "Pat McNicholas' Polka," "Quadrille des bûcherons: 2ème figure," "Quadrille "Laurier" 1ère partie," "Reel de la fermière," "Tony Lowe's Polka (1)." English, Polka and/or Morris Dance Tune (2/4 time). G Major. Standard tuning (fiddle). AABB. A standard in the English country and morris dance repertoire, it is often heard played (under alternate titles) at Irish ceilis and American contra dances as well. The melody is used for a polka step in the North-West morris dance tradition of England. The second strain is melodically similar to the "Redowa Polka (The)."
There is some (unsubstantiated) speculation that the title "Girl with the Blue Dress On" is a nautical analogy, with 'girl' alluding to a ship's figurehead and 'blue dress' referring to the 'deep blue sea'. If true, there is no information on whether the phrase predates its use as a tune title. The phrase and title of a song (set to a different melody) also appear in Sea Shanty repertoire.
O wake her, O shake her,
O shake that girl with the blue dress on,
O Johnny come to Hilo;
Poor old man. ... [Sharp, English Folk-Chanteys, p. 19.]
However, the "girl with the blue dress on" also is mentioned in non-nautical musical literature as well, including African-American and blackface minstrel song literature. For example, the phrase "girl with the blue dress on" is documented in a Black muledriver's song [Scarborough, Dorothy and Ola Lee Gulledge, On the Trail of Negro Folk-songs, (1925) p. 231], and in a minstrel song, [Peterson's Christy’s and White’s Ethiopian Melodies, 1855, p. 65 in White's New Illustrated Melodeon]. That it was a phrase the was in common usage in the 19th century is illustrated by this passage from Benjamin F. Taylor's remembrance of the Civil War, entitled Pictures of Life in Camp and Field (1875):
PICTURES OF LIFE looked as if they had been out in a storm of it. Over the fence beyond I beheld the cotton field. It was late in the season and the green had faded out; the earth showed dark beneath, and the cotton thickly sprinkled the landscape. It was as if the first great flakes of a snow-fall should be halted a foot or so from the ground, and should hang obedient there. And so I looked my first at the field whence they had picked the fabric worn by "the girl with the blue dress on," and gathered the folds of the star-lit flag. I was looking upon a deposed monarch without thinking of it; for cotton is no longer king. I saw four hundred of the mothers of Ethiopia —and about every one of them a nursing mother-" doing" the woolens of the army in the morning shadow of the mountain, the dingy crowd freckled a little with yellow girls, and nothing sweet about any of them but the laugh of the women. It almost startles you to hear light, musical laughter from a pair of lips that might have exuded from the india-rubber tree. I have heard the originals of some of the songs that jumped "Jim Crow" into much smutty immortality and clean money, but I heard them from the poor, ragged performers with a feeling of pain rather than amusement. "Way down in Alabama" had lost its power to charm, and so had the rollicking Sambos and die-away Dinahs of old... ... [p. 244]
See also J.O. LaMadeleine's "Quadrille des bûcherons: 2ème figure," a version of "Girl with the Blue Dress On " with parts reversed.