Mary Was a Redbird


This is a great song to welcome students. Notice someone wearing a bright shirt or another remarkable piece of clothing. Sing a verse about them. Certain students will feel more engaged if they are personally welcomed and made to feel special from the first moments of class.

Analyzing Structure

Ask the students, "Who should we sing about next, and what should we say about them?" In order to answer, the students must analyze the piece's form, meter, and melody: The students will notice the repetition of the lyrics, the length of the phrases, and the contour of the melody - while also being creative.

In the field notes, Mr. Truvillion suggests making up additional verses with cake ingredients. What ingredients could students choose to sing about? Where did the singer get the new ingredient from?

Remembering History

If students are developmentally ready, discuss the information Henry Truvillion Jr. presents at the end of the recording: This was a song sung to the babies way back in the cotton fields of slavery back down in about 1845, handed on down from man Jim (?) Truvillion down through his line to old man Jim Haddon down through old lady Hannah...settin' to come on down into Henry Truvillion Jr., the man that's singing it at the present, him and his little 8 year old baby, Ruby Lee by name. What can we learn about the experiences of enslaved people, especially children and parents, by keeping this song tradition alive?

Learn more about Henry Truvillion, his music, and his family through his son Jesse's recollections in the Journal of Folklore Research.

Transcription from the Kodaly Database

Lomax, Ruby T, photographer. Henry Truvillion and wife, in his garden, Rt. #1, Newton, Texas. Newton Texas United States, 1940. [Oct. 3] Photograph.

Lomax, Ruby T, photographer. Henry Truvillion's children 4 of the 5, in his flower garden, Newton, Texas. Newton Texas United States, 1940. [Oct. 3] Photograph.

In 2017, Ruby Lee celebrated her 70th wedding anniversary, surrounded by 3 generations of her descendants. The beat goes on...