On May 13, 1939, Herbert Halpert made a series of field recordings in Byhalia, MS, including several with the family of Walter and Mary Shipp. Walter, a sharecropper and minister, and Mary, a choir director, had 14 children, several of whom participated in the archival project, but the couple's two daughters, Christine and Katherine, then 19 and 20 years old, were the real standouts, delivering several rope-skipping rhymes and rhythms that still have an intimate and haunting power all these years later, particularly the eerie and mysterious fragment called "Sea Lion Woman." The lyrics of this song for keeping time are simple enough, mostly about drinking coffee and drinking tea, but there's an ominous, edgy, and unsaid eeriness about it that moves beyond words and meaning. The lyric has been given several variant titles over the years, including "Sea Lion Woman," "See Lyin' Woman," "C-Line Woman," "See-Lye Woman," "See Line Woman" (this is the title used by Nina Simone for her version), and "She Lyin' Woman," all of which only adds to the enigmatic nature of the recording that the Shipp sisters made that day. Greg Hale Jones looped the original field recording of the song to lengthen it, added electronically enhanced ambience, and placed two versions of the modernized version (still containing Christine and Katherine's vocals) on The General's Daughter soundtrack in 1999. The end result was spooky and atmospheric, but then so was the original, which continues to fascinate anyone who hears it.
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