When Do I Get To Be Called A Man?

Album: The 1955 London Sessions (1955)
  • songfacts ®
  • Also recorded as "When Will I Get To Be Called A Man?" this is on the face of it an autobiographical song, and Broonzy presented it to the world as such, including his biographer Yannick Bruynoghe, whose book was published three years before the bluesman's death.

    The song includes the lines:

    When Uncle Sam called me, I know'ed I'd be called a real McCoy
    But it was no diff'rent, they just called me soldier boy...
    I've worked on farms, levee camps, and axer gangs too
    But a black man's a boy, I don't care what he can do...

    The above wording is taken from the 1955 London Sessions.

    The reference to "black man's a boy" relates to whites in the Deep South who would address the Negro as "Boy," regardless of his age. That may be true, but the rest of the song is not.

    Broonzy claimed he was born in 1893, however his later biographer Bob Riesman was able to show that he was in fact born ten years later than he always claimed. The first plate between pages 166 and 167 of Riseman's 2001 book is a copy of Broonzy's entry in his family records which gives his date of birth as June 26, 1903. Broonzy himself lets the cat out of the bag in this particular recording because in the song he gives his age as 53 - ten years younger than he claimed. He was actually 52 when he recorded the London Sessions.

    This means that Broonzy did not serve in the American Army as claimed in the song, nor did he work on the levees. It is also debatable if anyone ever called him Boy. Early on in his career, Broonzy left the Deep South and relocated to Chicago where he made a decent living as a musician, cutting his first records, and paying his dues so that by 1938 he was sufficiently well-known to be invited to participate in a major concert at Carnegie Hall.

    Riesman believes Broonzy based the song on other people's experiences like the inveterate storyteller he was. >>
    Suggestion credit:
    Alexander Baron - London, England
Please sign in or register to post comments.


Be the first to comment...

Charlie Benante of AnthraxSongwriter Interviews

The drummer for Anthrax is also a key songwriter. He explains how the group puts their songs together and tells the stories behind some of their classics.

Oliver LeiberSongwriter Interviews

Long before she was judging contestants on American Idol, Oliver was producing Paula Abdul. Here's how he helped turn this unknown choreographer into a star.

The End Of The Rock EraSong Writing

There are no more rock stars - the last one died in 1994.

Elton JohnFact or Fiction

Does he have beef with Gaga? Is he Sean Lennon's godfather? See if you can tell fact from fiction in the Elton John edition.

Kip WingerSongwriter Interviews

The Winger frontman reveals the Led Zeppelin song he cribbed for "Seventeen," and explains how his passion for orchestra music informs his songwriting.

Barney Hoskyns Explores The Forgotten History Of Woodstock, New YorkSong Writing

Our chat with Barney Hoskyns, who covers the wild years of Woodstock - the town, not the festival - in his book Small Town Talk.