This song from Act I of the musical Barnum
has music by Cy Coleman and lyrics by Michael Stewart, like all the others. It is sung by Joice Heth, the oldest woman in the world. Although the performance - if not the song itself - is laced with comedy, there was nothing humorous about the way Phineas T. Barnum treated the real Joice Heth, the woman who launched his career as a showman.
In the musical, Joice is represented as 160 years old; the real Joice was said to have been 161 years old; a former slave, it was also claimed she had been the nurse of a young George Washington. Barnum exhibited Joice from 1835 until her death on February 19, 1836. Then he had an autopsy performed on her in public, selling tickets to it. The doctor who carried it out claimed she had been no more than eighty years old.
Barnum is said to have paid a thousand dollars for the right to exhibit his charge while she was alive - an astronomical sum in the 1830s. If Barnum was duped by the claims and apparently authentic documentation about this woman, there can be no doubt that was because he allowed himself to be.
Alexander Baron - London, England