"She's got herself some irons
She's been working on her hair
She's got herself some kalsomine
To help to make her fair
She's getting more like the white folks every day
Tryin' to do like 'em every way
Once she was stuck on calico patterns
Now all she wants is silks and satins
Getting more like the white folks every day"
I'm just saying- the more things change, the more they stay the same.
These powerful lyrics were written in 1901 by the premier performers of the 19th and 20th centuries- Williams and Walker. The duo wrote the lyrics and composed the music; the sheet music was published by Shapiro, Bernstein, and Von Tilzer. In the song, the author is lamenting that a woman he is courting (an archaic term for dating) was once satisfied with their usual routine- wearing certain patterns and eating chicken. However, after a white woman employs her as a maid, she's now obsessed with doing things like her white employer- including lightening her skin, straightening her hair, and eating porterhouse steaks.
The rest of the song lists other ways in which she is becoming more like the white folks, which goes to show the notion of "acting white" is over a century old.
Bert Williams (1874-1922) and George Walker (1873-1911) were the top African American vaudevillians in the late 1800s and early 1900s. They were largely known for their minstrel shows, which were billed as "Two Real Coons"; Williams who was lighter skinned would put burnt cork on his face to appear darker while Walker, who was also darker skinned, did not.
However, they were gifted also songwriters and astute businessman. They wrote numerous songs with provocative titles (by today's standards), including "I Ain't Bliged to Stan' No Nigger Foolin", "Not A Coon Came Out The Way He Went In", and the aforementioned "She's Getting More Like The White Folks Every Day."
While their company, Williams and Walker Co. was not the first blackface minstrel company to exist, it was the first to bring Black musical theatre to a mainstream white audience. This made them two of the highest paid Black performers at the turn of the century.
This song appears on Edison wax cylinder and 78 RPM. To hear the song, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r5gPdvnQ_6I
To learn more about Williams and Walker and their impact on Black music, visit: https://aaregistry.org/story/williams-and-walker-debuts/