Ladies Breast Knot (The)

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LADIES BRIEST/BREAST KNOT(S). AKA - "Lady's Breast Knots." AKA and see "Breast Knot (2) (The)," "Bonny Breast Knot (The)." Scotland, Shetland, England, America; Reel and Country Dance Tune, Shetland Reel. Shetland, Whalsay and Unst districts. USA, New England. D Major. Standard tuning (fiddle). AABB. The title refers to the decoration of ribbons worn on the bodice of a gown. A very popular in England and mainland Scotland in the early 18th century, from whence it spread throughout the British Empire and the colonies. It appears to have been first published as "The Lady's Breast Knot" around 1750 in London in David Rutherford's Choice Collection of Sixty of the Most Celebrated Country Dances. The familiar English tune "Bobby Shaftoe" borrows the second strain of "Ladies Breast Knot." In America the tune is best known as the old-time tune "Jaybird" and the play-party song "Skip to My Lou," although as "Ladies Breast Knot" it has been known in New England from the last half of the 18th century. It was included in the 1777 fife manuscript of Giles Gibbs (East Windsor, Ellington Parish, Connecticut), the common place book of William Williams (1775), George Bush's copybook (1779), and Elizabeth Van Rensselaer's music book (Boston, 1782). In England, it was included in the John Rook music manuscript collection, c. 1840 (Waverton, Cumbria). Dance directions appear in Clement Weeks' copybook of 1783 (Greenland, New Hampshire), and it was among the manuscript notes of New York musician Micah Hawkins (1794--Hawkins has been credited with composing the first American opera). "Ladies Breast Knot" also appears in the music manuscript copybook of Henry Livingston, Jr. Livingston purchased the estate of Locust Grove, Poughkeepsie, New York, in 1771 at the age of 23. In 1775 he was a Major in the 3rd New York Regiment, which participated in Montgomery's invasion of Canada in a failed attempt to wrest Quebec from British control. An important land-owner in the Hudson Valley, and a member of the powerful Livingston family, Henry was also a surveyor and real estate speculator, an illustrator and map-maker, and a Justice of the Peace for Dutchess County. He was also a poet and musician, and presumably a dancer, as he was elected a Manager for the New York Assembly's dancing season of 1774-1775, along with his 3rd cousin, John Jay, later U.S. Chief Justice of Governor of New York. John Glen (1891) finds the earliest appearance of the tune in print in Robert Bremner's 1757 collection of Scots Reels.

Source for notated version: the music manuscript of Captain George Bush (1753?-1797), a fiddler and officer in the Continental Army during the American Revolution [Keller].

Printed sources: Bremner (Scots Reels), c. 1757; p. 31. Keller (Fiddle Tunes from the American Revolution), 1992; p. 16.

Recorded sources: Tangent TNGM 117, Andrew Poleson - "Scottish Tradition, vol. 4: Shetland Fiddle Music" (1973. In medley with "Black Jock" & "Bruntfoot").




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