Lady Gay

Buell Kazee

'Lady Gay' is an American variation of the Scottish ballad "The Wife of Usher's Well" (Child #79). I heard it first from Pete Seeger and was reminded when I saw him teach his banjo arrangement on his Homespun Tapes instruction video. Pete learned the song and the banjo tuning from Buell Kazee. You can also hear a remarkable instrumental treatment on 'Nonesuch and Other Folk Tunes' the Folkways album that Pete made with Frank Hamilton.

Buell recorded this and over sixty other records in the 1920's. My guess about why he was popular with the record companies is that, although a truly authentic country singer, Buell Kazee had a voice like an Irish tenor. I suspect that they could sell Kazee records to both the country audience and appeal to the more "refined" tastes of the audience that liked the tenors. Along with the likes of Dock Boggs, Clarence Ashley and John Hurt, Buell Kazee was one of the "rediscovered" old time masters and recorded again in the 1960's. Be sure to see the wonderful little video, part 1 and part 2 on YouTube, made in 1968 of Buell Kazee demonstrating banjo styles and talking about the music.


There was a lady and a lady gay
And children she had three
She sent them away to the north country
For to learn their grammarie

They had not been there very long
Scarcely six months and a day
Till death, cold death, came hastening along
And took those babes away

'There is a king in heaven', she cried
'He wears a golden crown
Pray, send me down my three little babes
Tonight or in the morning soon'

It was just about old Christmas time
The nights being long and clear
She looked and she saw her three little babes
Come running home to her

She set a table both long and wide
And on it she put bread and wine -
'Come eat, come drink, my three little babes
'Come eat, come drink of mine'

'We want none of your bread, mother
Neither do we want your wine
For yonder stands our Saviour dear
And to Him we must resign'

She fixed a bed in a little back room
And over it she put white sheets
And over it the golden spread
Where those three babes might sleep

'Take it off, take it off', cried the oldest one
'Take it off, take it off', cried she
'For yonder stands our Saviour dear
And with Him you soon will be'

'Green grass grows over our bed, mother
Cold clay lies under our feet
And every tear you shed for us
It wets our winding sheet'