Baa Baa Black Sheep: Sing-Along Song Video for Kids

Let your kids skip around in the backyard while singing this nursery rhyme.

Let your kids frolick in the field while singing this nursery rhyme.

Baa, baa, black sheep,
Have you any wool?
Yes sir, yes sir,
Three bags full.

One for my master,
One for my dame,
One for the little boy
who lives down the lane.

Baa, baa, black sheep,
Have you any wool?
Yes sir, yes sir,
Three bags full.

The history of many children's sing-along songs is vague. In the case of the familiar nursery rhyme "Baa, Baa, Black Sheep," however, people seem to agree that the lyrics date back to the 1200s. They were written as a comment on the wool export tax imposed by the British government in 1275 (called the Great Custom, with proceeds going directly to the Crown). The average sheep farmer was bitter about the tax because he also had to pay hefty taxes to the Church.

Black sheep were less valuable than white, because their wool was harder to dye. This concept goes back to Biblical times, when Jacob was allowed to take only the black, spotted, and speckled sheep and goats from the herd as wages for his labors. Jacob increased his income by deliberately allowing the dark-colored sheep to breed with the main herd, ensuring more "marked" offspring would be born that he could lay claim to. Some historians speculate that English farmers may have also bred black or spotted sheep to thwart the hated tax.

Between the export tax and the taxes levied by the Church, a farmer was lucky to be left with a third of the income from the sale of his wool. The three bags signify the farmer's shearings for the year. The children's rhyming song references the "master" (the Crown) who took one bag, the "dame" (the Church) who took another, and the "little boy who lives in the lane" (the farmer), who was left with the final bag, or third share.

In some versions, the lyrics are even more bitter, ending with "None for the little boy, who cries in the lane." Another version starts: "Bah! Nanny Black Sheep." Still other versions answer the question with "Yes, marry, have I -- three bags full." In this instance, "marry" means much the same as "truly" or "verily."

Although some people credit Mozart with composing the melody -- probably because he did write a 1781 piano composition of 12 variations on the tune -- historians generally agree that the melody belongs to an old French song called "Ah! Vous dirai-je, Maman." The tune has been adapted to a number of children's nursery rhyme songs and sing-along lyrics, including "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star" and "The Alphabet Song."

Copyright © 2011 Meredith Corporation.

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