“Where did you come from, Cotton eyed Joe?” Do you remember this line? You got it right! It’s from the Rednex. Outside of sporting events, the Rednex tune is rarely heard these days, but the lyrics of their songs marked on people’s minds.
The song “Cotton-Eyed Joe” is mostly remembered with its fascinating question, Where did you come from? There are no records about the author and origin of the fiddle-fueled song, but there are a lot of historians who knew about this enduring ditty. The song became a massive hit for Rednex in 1995. Rednex is a group of Swedish techno musicians playing dress-up in straw hats and dirty over-all.
The song’s genesis
“Cotton-Eyed Joe” originated with black slaves well before the Civil War. Regardless of where exactly the song was born, it spread quickly throughout the South, becoming a square-dance favorite. An 1875 issue of The Saturday Evening Post contains a story referencing the song, and in 1884, The Firemen’s Magazine dubbed the tune “an old, familiar air.” The first 78 rpm recordings of “Cotton-Eyed Joe” began surfacing in 1927 when the string band Dykes Magic City Trio cut the earliest known version.
The song leaves the listeners a mystery about what “cotton-eyed” means. According to the Random House Historical Dictionary of American Slang, the term describes “prominent whites of the eyes.” For some, they interpreted the song as an old man named Joe, who was wasted on moonshine. He became blind from wood alcohol, or other possible instance, he may have been suffering from medical conditions like trachoma, glaucoma or cataracts. Urban legend, agrees that “Cotton-Eyed Joe” is really about STDs in general, there needs a little more proof to support the theory though.
On the other hand, one online archive records noted that there have been more than 130 recorded versions since its first release.
So if you feel like dancing with the song or just listening to it, here’s the video for you.
American Folk Song, Cotton-eyed Joe, line dance, Rednex