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"Down in dear old New Orleans," by Conrad and Whidden. Jerome H. Remick & Co., 1912.

The East Coast is bracing for another major snowstorm this weekend, but some readers may already have plans to stay glued to the television Sunday night. Today my colleage Donna Scanlon takes a look at Super Bowl ads on Inside Adams: Science, Technology, & Business, while In the Muse delves into the musical origins of one team’s  fan chant. The following is a guest post by Judith Graves and Peter Armenti, Digital Reference Section.

It’s Mardi Gras time in New Orleans.  Even more importantly, this is the year the New Orleans Saints are going to the National Football League’s championship game, Super Bowl LXIV.  In a city known as much for Hurricane Katrina as for being the birthplace of jazz and the Louisiana Purchase, celebrations are at a fever pitch.

“Who dat?” – the rallying cry of Saints fans – can be found across the World Wide Web, from YouTube to the Wall Street Journal.  What, you might ask, is “Who dat?”  It’s not a chant or cheer normally associated with football games.  The answer lies in the city’s rich cultural and musical heritage of almost three hundred years.

An early textual reference to the phrase ‘Who dat?’ can be found in Uncle Remus, His Songs and His Sayings: Folklore of the Old Plantation, (Joel Chandler Harris, 1880, in chapter 7, “Mr. Fox is again Victimized.”)  But it is in minstrel music that ‘Who dat?’ appears in the titles of songs.  In 1899, “Who Dat Say Chicken in Dis Crowd,”  was published, with music by Will. Marion and lyrics by noted African-American poet, Paul Laurence Dunbar.  Paul Owens, of Allen’s New Orleans Minstrels, included it in his performance repertoire in 1899.  Listen to an instrumental version of  the song as recorded by John Philip Sousa’s band here.  View the stock arrangement here.

The transformation of this phrase into the Saints fans’ favorite chant, and its incorporation into the musical traditions of the city, are documented in the New Orleans’ Times Picayune article of January 13, 2010.  True to New Orleans’ jazz heritage, is maintaining a growing playlist of songs created by members of the Who Dat Nation.

And, lest we forget Indianapolis Colts‘ fans:

"Indiana," by James F. Hanley. Shapiro, Bernstein & Co., 1917.
“Indiana,” by James F. Hanley. Shapiro, Bernstein & Co., 1917.

Comments (6)

  1. White big-band leader Woody Herman recorded a song called “Who Dat Up Dere?” in 1943 or so, which was protested by the NAACP, most likely for the negative and retro associations you outline above.

    The incident was probably a learning for Herman, who was not naturally predisposed to prejudice (tenor sax master Ben Webster appeared on the same record, fresh from Duke Ellington’s band). But Herman and the Herd continued to cover at times-questionable “race” material into 1946 and beyond (with decreasing frequency), particularly songs made into jive hits by Louis Jordan and the Tympani Five, culminating in the hit “Caldonia.” Herman also covered “Don’t Worry ‘Bout Dat Mule,” G I Jive,” and “Is You Is Or Is You Ain’t My Baby?” — all Louis Jordan hits.

  2. Not to be confused with phrases pronounced by “yats.” We lived in New Orleans and had friends who were yats, from certain areas of New Orleans…or Nawlins. Not unlike Balmers from areas of Baltimore.

    Thanks for the Sousa link–wonderful!

    Stay warm and dry this weekend, and take lots of breaks to dig out before the game.

  3. Thanks for the comment djll! You stay warm and safe too Rebecca!

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