I's the B'y
Newfoundland folksong, of unknown authorship. The words and music are believed to be indigenous to that province. "I's the B'y" is a lively dance song, the lyrics of which reflect Newfoundlanders' dependence on the sea. Variant spellings of the title, including "I'se the B'y," "I'se da Boy," etc., are seen frequently.
Although the song may have originated in the 1870s, probably in a Newfoundland fishing village, interest in "I's the B'y" did not spread outside Newfoundland until after the song was heard and transcribed by two researchers interested in Newfoundland's folk traditions. The Canadian folklorist Kenneth Peacock collected the song in 1951 from Lloyd Soper of St. John's. Its melody and lyrics were transmitted throughout Canada in the songbook Folk Songs of Canada by Edith Fowke and Richard Johnston (1954), relying on Peacock's transcription. Teachers and students outside Newfoundland were eager to learn about the music of the newest province, which had joined Canada a mere five years earlier, and "I's the B'y" quickly became a favourite of classrooms and choirs across the country. The Peacock version was included again in a 1965 publication of the National Museums of Canada.
The second researcher to collect and transcribe the song was Gerald Doyle, a Newfoundland businessman (b 1892, d 1956). Doyle published "I's the B'y" in Old-Time Songs and Poetry of Newfoundland (3rd edition, 1955, St. John's, Nfld.). He distributed this book free across the province, partly as advertising for his patent medicine business, but primarily in order to make Newfoundland culture more widely known.
Recordings and Arrangements
Concurrent with the publication of Fowke and Johnston's songbook and the urban folk movement, which saw a continent-wide resurgence of interest in folk music, the folksinger Alan Mills recorded "I's the B'y" on his mid-1950s album Folk Songs of Newfoundland (Folkways Records). "I's the B'y" has since been recorded by groups as varied as Great Big Sea (1993) and Ignatius Rumboldt's choirs. It has been arranged for four-part choirs, solos with piano accompaniment, and other combinations, for example by Nancy Telfer. It is one of the most widely recorded Newfoundland songs. A musical group has called itself after the song, and there exist satires of the song. The band Crooked Stovepipe in their 1997 CD Pickin' On the Rock referred to it in their song "I'se the B'y and All That."
Some have (probably mistakenly) called "I's the B'y" a nonsense ditty, but others have recognized the song's role in recording local Newfoundland outport events and personalities. Its lyrics (eg, "Sods and rinds to cover your flakes") reflect terms used in the outports around the time of the song's creation. An Irish influence is obvious, as is the dance-like character. Despite the song's indisputable popularity not only in the province of its creation, but across all of Canada, some experts feel the version of the song that is best known today is an urbanized one, and as such may not be wholly representative of the musical traditions of the Newfoundland outports.