Sunny songs, funny stories warmed the heart

Published 12:05 am Saturday, November 9, 2013

Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah Zip-A-Dee-A. My oh my, what a wonderful day.

Is there a sunnier song you can “play” in your head? A random message that landed in my inbox this week set me humming that 1946 classic and traipsing down memory lane.

This coming Tuesday, it seems, marks the 67th anniversary of the opening of Disney’s Song of the South, based on the Joel Chandler Harris’ Uncle Remus stories.

I barely remember watching Song of the South, which includes a blend of live action and animation. It is set in the Old South after the Civil War, and is the story of young boy Johnny (Bobby Driscoll) who is sent to live on a Southern plantation with his grandmother (Lucile Watson) while his parents are considering divorce. The movie also stars Hattie McDaniel of Gone with the Wind fame.

Little Johnny is cheered up by a Black-Southern storyteller Uncle Remus (James Baskett) who tells the young boy and other children tales about Br’er Rabbit, Br’er Fox and Br’er Bear whose delightful adventures are illustrated in cartoon form. Each story has a morale that Johnny carries into his daily life.

Unlike most Disney movies, there hasn’t been a re-release of this one in 30 years. The book is out of print. We’re a racially-sensitive society now, and that’s a good thing.

The sad part of that is that generations of children have missed the lessons in the Uncle Remus stories. They were a favorite request when Daddy read aloud to us.

Harris was born in Eatonton, Ga., where he served as an apprentice on a plantation during his teenage years. He spent the majority of his adult life in Atlanta working as an associate editor at the Atlanta Constitution.

There he was known as Joe Harris., the editor and journalist who supported a vision of the New South with the editor Henry W. Grady (1880-1889), stressing regional and racial reconciliation after the Reconstruction era.

As Joel Chandler Harris, fiction writer and folklorist, he wrote his ‘Brer Rabbit’ stories from the African-American oral tradition and helped to revolutionize literature in the process.

‘Now, this here tale didn’t happen just yesterday, nor the day before.’Twas a long time ago. And in them days, everything was mighty satisfactual. The critters, they was closer to the folks, and the folks, they was closer to the critters, and if you’ll excuse me for saying so, ’twas better all around.’

Aside from the perceived slurs of racial dialects, who can argue with that?

Have a Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah day.