Q: I recently heard a very old song called “The Same Old South.” Two lines of lyrics are: “Let the Northerners keep Niagra / We’ll stick to our Southern polygra.” I’ve tried googling “polygra” with no success. Do you know what it is?
A: The lyric, from the song “It’s the Same Old South,” actually goes like this: “Let the Northerners keep Niagra, / We’ll stick to our Southern pellagra.”
Pellagra is a disease caused by a dietary deficiency (the lack of niacin), and it was common in the South at the turn of the 19th and early 20th centuries. Black field workers were particularly hard-hit by pellagra.
The blues singer Jimmy Rushing recorded the song, a sarcastic commentary on the Jim Crow South, with Count Basie and his orchestra in 1940.
The song, with lyrics by Ed Eliscu and music by Jay Gorney, was originally part of a satirical labor revue called Meet the People, which opened in Los Angeles in 1939. Here are the final lines of the song:
“Oh, honey, shut my mouth / Where the bloodhounds that once chased Liza / Chase a poor old CIO organizer / It’s the same old South.”