Sing me a Lullaby

Why is that lullabies have such enormous power to soothe?  I have sung lullabies to my children since they were tiny babies and it is such a special time, just before sleep, all warm and quiet and cuddled up.  I remember my grandmother singing this one:

Go to sleep my baby
Close your pretty eyes
Angels round about you
Peeping at you from the skies
Great big moon am shining
Stars begin to peep
Time for little picaninnies to go to sleep
Time for little picaninnies to go to sleep

I have never heard this song anywhere else and I wonder if any of you are familiar with it?  My grandmother was from Lancashire and her family worked in the cotton mills and we have often wondered whether, with its talk of ‘moon am shining’ and ‘picaninnies’ it might have come across from the West Indies.

However, this is my absolute favourite lullaby of all time and I still sing it to both my boys, despite the fact that Boy the Elder is speeding towards 14.  It is sung by Harry Nilsson and is on his astonishingly beautiful album ‘A Little Touch of Schmilsson in the Night’ which came out in 1973.  It is a collection of old ballads given a big smoochy orchestra, generously topped with his sleepy, sensual vocals.  Wrap your ears round this:-


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84 Responses to Sing me a Lullaby

  1. wartimehousewife June 4, 2013 at 23:16 #

    Nice to hear from you again Alison. I will definitely look this up as I really like the sound of it. Maybe if it was Creole it had some pirate connection? I’d love to hear the tune….

  2. Claire Baxter October 9, 2013 at 22:37 #

    My Nan is from the East End of London and would sing to me in the 80’s:

    Go to sleep my baby
    Close your little eyes
    Angels up above you, peering at you deary from the skies
    Great big moon keeps shining
    Stars begin to peep
    Time for little girls/boys like Claire (child’s name) to go to sleep

    Makes me feel warm and safe singing it :)

  3. wartimehousewife October 9, 2013 at 22:47 #

    Welcome Claire. Isn’t it interesting how these songs turn up everywhere and they continue to be comforting as long as we remember.
    I still sing it to my ten year old except that we have to sing endless variations eg the cat, his favourite bear, the hamster etc etc.
    Hope you keep reading.

  4. Stefanie Oliver April 23, 2014 at 12:15 #

    My grandma also used to sing this to me, was also from Lancashire (Nelson) and also worked in the mills!!

  5. Lindsey Riley May 17, 2014 at 10:22 #

    My Dad who is from the potteries used to sing the lullaby about the picaninnies to me when I was little and I used to sing it to my kids…along with another one called the little drummer boy

  6. Alison O June 11, 2014 at 22:04 #

    I stumbled across this thread looking up the origins of this lullaby. I’ve just been singing it to my daughter and I’ve never seen or heard it anywhere else, I just remember my Granny singing it to me when I was little and she said her mum sung it to her. They are my Great Grandmother is from Lancashire and my Gran lived in Cheshire all her life. She was born in 1915. I notice some of the other have asked about the origins of the word picaninnies and I think I can help with this. I’m married to a Nigerian man and the pidgin english word for babies / small children is ‘pikin’ (pronounced pik-in). It seems very likely to us that that word travelled to the americas / carribean during the slave trade and evolved.

    The version of the lullaby my Gran sung to me was:

    Go to sleep my baby, close those big blue eyes*
    Angels are above you, peeking at you darling from the skies
    Great big moon in shining, stars begin to peep
    Time for little picaninnies to go to sleep

    (I’ve adapted this to brown eyes for my children and so I suspect my Gran adapted the lullaby to fit my blue eyes). I’d love to be able to ‘date’ this lullaby it has to be at least from the late19th century. Thoughts?

  7. wartimehousewife June 13, 2014 at 09:18 #

    Welcome Alison. Thanks so much for your comments and I was very interested to hear about the African route of picaninnies and, of course, this falls in with my theory about the song having cotton connections with the mills and the cotton trade. I love that this article has brought up so many memories and stories from people!

    As for the date, my grandmother sang it to us and she learned it from HER mother who was born in 1860. If the cotton mill thread (?) is valid, then it may well date from the late 18th century when cotton was coming over from the Americas. I go down to the Cecil Sharpe Folk Archive in London from time to time and I’ll see if I can track it down there.

  8. Saras Ganapathy June 30, 2014 at 15:51 #

    I’m delighted to find this thread. I’m Indian and my mother sang this to me in India in the 1940s. As I now sang it to my grandson in Nairobi I began to wonder about it. Wonderful how these lullabies cross the world!

  9. wartimehousewife June 30, 2014 at 16:02 #

    Welcome Saras. Not only do these songs cross the world but they also reach loving arms across the generations and give us a sense of connection. My father grew up in India but I don’t know whether his mother sang this to him; perhaps I’ll ask his sister. Despite Boy the Younger being eleven, I still sing this to him at bedtime when we’re in a cuddly frame of mind! And you also have the honour of being the first person to comment on this blog from Nairobi! Hope you keep reading.

  10. Saras Ganapathy June 30, 2014 at 17:11 #

    How nice to hear of the India connection! Wouldn’t it be funny if your grandmother was the source of it getting to my mother (I’m 71, so don’t know how likely that would be), I’ll be following this blog with great delight!

  11. Anne July 4, 2014 at 12:26 #

    I’m in my 50s, and my mum sang it to me, her mother to her. None of my friends have ever heard of it! I sang it to my children and now my grandson. The version I know is

    Go to sleep my baby
    close your little eyes
    Angels up above you
    are looking at you sweetly from the skies.
    the great big moon is shining
    stars begin to peep
    time for little baby
    to go to sleep.

    Nan was from Norfolk born 1889, Mum was born and bred in South London (1920). I now sing it to my Scottish grandson- It’s my favourite.

  12. wartimehousewife July 4, 2014 at 12:54 #

    Welcome Anne. Gosh this song has really travelled. Maybe I should do an investigative piece for Radio 4 about it! I wonder if your grandson will sing it to HIS children? I do hope you keep reading.

  13. Sam July 15, 2014 at 11:40 #

    The lyrics lula lula bye bye are from a Paul Robeson piece of music called “curly headed baby”

  14. wartimehousewife July 15, 2014 at 20:29 #

    Welcome Sam. Thanks for that. Do you suppose there’s a recording of that anywhere?

  15. Joseph B August 23, 2014 at 08:29 #

    At a tender age my father would put me over his shoulder – firemans lift- position, and to the tune of the Cuckoo song (Laurel and Hardy theme), carry us up the stairs to bed.

    This being about 66 years ago.

    On Sunday mornings, i’d lay in bed with him, as it was his lay -in morning. I nestled in the crook of his arm, and he’d sing all the old songs to me.

    The one you mention being one of them.

    There were many of course. We were a large family – and on occasions even now when we get together we all sing those same songs,to the grand kids.

    My favourites include ‘Oh by gosh, by gum , by golly , by gee’- (real title unknown), and the Umbrella song , Also- We took our Albert to the zoo. among many others, which have dimmed with the years.

    Happy days those which we shared in the past, When a day seemed forever, and ever to last.

    Especially the boring Sundays when everything ground to a halt, and you got up to the smell of bacon and eggs frying, and the Billy Cotton Band Show on radio. Wakey- Wakey

  16. wartimehousewife August 23, 2014 at 11:02 #

    Thank you for this lovely memory, Joseph, you talk about your father with such warmth and affection; you’ve also made me crave a plate of bacon and eggs!. I, too, remember snuggling up with my grandmother while she read bits out of the Express with the light coming through the floral patterned curtains. Such lovely moments.

  17. Margaret Walton November 14, 2014 at 18:19 #

    Looking for the lyrics of this song my mom use to sing to me.
    Curley headed picaninnies coming in from play
    Crying if your heart would break
    Climb on mammies lamp and take a little nap
    Don’t care what those white folks say

    I don’t remember the rest of the words but would love to have them

  18. wartimehousewife November 14, 2014 at 19:54 #

    Welcome Margaret. I have never heard of this song before and I wonder if it comes from America. Have you Googled it? Has anyone else come across this one?

  19. Biddy Greene February 22, 2015 at 01:04 #

    My mother sang this to me in the 1940s and early 50s. She grew up in Galway
    But *her* mother was from Scotland (Fife). And – interestingly – her father grew up in Barbados.

  20. wartimehousewife February 23, 2015 at 18:25 #

    Welcome Biddy. Isn’t it amazing how these things travel and rather lovely that so many of us share such loving memories. And the Barbados connection again…..

  21. Nicola Bailey April 10, 2015 at 18:37 #

    My Nana used to sing this to my baby sister, she said she had learnt it from her mum who had sung it to her when she was a child and told her it was one she had had sung to her. My Nana was born in 1921, She always thought it was an old victorian lullaby as her mum was born in 1884. I sing it to both my boys they both regularly ask for it and they are 3 and 6.

  22. wartimehousewife April 10, 2015 at 22:30 #

    Welcome Nicola – I think it probably is late Georgian, Early Victorian. Isn’t it lovely that you family is still singing it several generations later?

  23. Janet June 12, 2015 at 15:51 #

    How thrilled I was to find this site when looking for the words to this lullaby. My grandmother was from Lancashire and woked in the cotton mills as did most of the family. She used to sing this to me, as did my Mum. I am 64! I had forgotten about it, so unfortunately didn’t sing it to my own children, but I had a light bulb moment just now when singing to my granddaughter and it all came flooding back. Another lullaby they sang was…

    Go to sleep my little picaninni
    Mama’s going to smack you if you don’t. (Not very pc)
    Hush a bye, hush a bye
    Mama’s little darling
    Mama’s little lalabala coon. (No offence intended)

    Anyone else heard this one?

  24. wartimehousewife June 12, 2015 at 23:47 #

    Welcome Janet
    I’m so pleased to have rekindled those memories for you. I spend quite a bit of time up in Lancashire these days and I’m gathering all the information and detail I can about mill life.

    I haven’t heard the second lullaby – wish I could hear the tune! I’d be delighted to hear any stories you have about your mother and your family… really

    We also had a clapping game that went

    My mother said I never should
    Play with the gypsies in the wood
    If I do she will say
    Naughty little girl to disobey

    It would then descend into random mad clapping as we squealed ‘disobey! disobey! etc etc’

  25. Nansi September 24, 2015 at 21:03 #

    I also came across your page accidentally. I was looking for lullaby quotes to put in some framed pictures I’m making.I googled the first line as I can remember my mother singing this lullaby to me. She sadly died when she was 33 and I was 6 years old, and this lullaby is one of the few things I remember of her. We lived in Wales but I have no idea where she learnt it from.

  26. dawn sherwin January 2, 2016 at 03:34 #

    my nan annie peggrem was from bethnel green born 1924 and has just passed on new years eve 2015 and I’ve just remembered this lullaby she used to sing to us as kids I would love to do it at her funeral if any one has any leads on where its from please it goes .
    and when the stars begin to peep ,
    I used to count the little sheep ,
    and then she’d rock me off to sleep ,
    so tenderly ,
    it was a true love story ,
    a bedtime story ,
    that mother used to tell me on her knee ….

    and when I said again she would repeat that verse , any info would be very , very grateful thank you

  27. Mary Maillou February 29, 2016 at 09:47 #

    My mum born in London in the early 30’S sang this to my children. Go to sleep my little picaninni, nanny’s/ mama’s going to love you if you do. Hush a bye don’t you cry, nannys little picaninni moon (not sure of last word)

  28. Sam April 16, 2016 at 15:17 #

    I’m 28, and from the Potteries and I sing a similar version to my children. My mum herself only knows the first line, so I wonder if my grandma or aunty used to sing it to me. Its a song that I’ve always just ‘known’. I’m surprised to read of so many others across Britain and beyond to know a variation of thus song too! My five and three year old boys now know the words too. I hope they sing it to their own children :)
    Go to sleep my baby, close your big blue eyes.
    Angels up above you look down from pearly skies.
    Great big moon is shining, stars begin to peek,
    It’s time for babes like Reuben (insert name here)
    To all be fast asleep

  29. Sam April 16, 2016 at 15:25 #

    I’m also familiar with the gypsies in the wood piece. Although we learnt it in school drama class from a play called ‘My mother said I never should’

  30. Ruth April 27, 2016 at 13:28 #

    My gran used to also sing it,and my mum and i now sing to my babies. My granny was originally from Northern Ireland and moved to Dublin in the 40’s.
    Here’s our version:
    Go to sleep,my baby,
    Close your pretty eyes,
    Angels all around you,peeping at you dearly from the skies,
    The great big moon is shining, stars begin to peep
    And it’s time for little (child’s name) to go to sleep.

  31. Debbie June 22, 2016 at 22:46 #

    My gran used to sing the lullaby to me….and she was from Wales. I also remember the gypsy clapping rhyme

  32. Helyn July 23, 2016 at 21:55 #

    My mum used to sing this to me and the gypsies in the wood poem She is 84 and her mum sang it to her I was worried about using the word picaninny but it meant such happy things to me Have always sung it to my children
    Go to sleep my baby
    Close your pretty eyes
    Mamas arms are round you holding you so tight
    Great big moon above you high up in the sky
    Time for little picanninis to go sleep bye

  33. Ella August 17, 2016 at 19:03 #

    I always wondered if it was just our family who sang this but obviously not! I absolutely adore it! My mum sang it to me and my grandmother sang it to her and I now sing it to both my children! Our version is:
    Go to sleep my baby
    Close your pretty eyes
    Angels from above you
    Gaze at you dearly from the skies.
    Great big moon is shining
    Stars begin to peep
    Time for all the girls and boys to go to sleep
    Time for (name) to go to sleep.

    My 5 year old son asks for it every night (he calls it “The Moon Song” but he asked me to change the lyrics for him to “Go to sleep my big boy, close your big boy eyes” because he says he’s a big boy now,not a baby!

    My mum and grandmum also used to sing the gypsies in the wood. It was inspiration for the play mentioned above.


  34. wartimehousewife September 9, 2016 at 14:48 #

    These times are so precious, aren’t they Ella x

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