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AUNT CAROLINE DYE

aunt-caroline-dye-book

Aunt Caroline Dye was a famous hoodoo woman or two-headed doctor who lived in Newport, Arkansas. Details of her life are fairly sketchy. According to one blues historian (Stephen C. La Vere), she was born in 1810 and died in 1918 at the age of 108; according to another (Paul Oliver) she died in 1944. Neither story completely fits the evidence, however. In the photo shown here, distributed as Dye's business or souvenir card (and published by La Vere in 1999), she wears clothes of early 20th century vintage and appears to be a strong woman in her 60s, not the tottering 90- to 100-year-old she would have had to have been to have been born in 1810. La Vere's 1918 death date does not seem correct, for in Harry Middleton Hyatt's massive collection of interviews with hoodoo practitioners collected during the 1930s, one informant clearly remembers having seen Dye perform a cure on her own cousin in 1929 at Newport, Arkansas (this story is given in full below). Furthermore, the Memphis blues singer Will Shade wrote a song about Dye in 1930, and seemed content in the fact that she was living at that time. Oliver's 1944 death date, however, also seems suspect, for in 1938, in the second interview Hyatt conducted with a Memphis conjure woman named Madam Collins, they discuss the fact that Dye had passed away. (This too is given in full below.)

To complicate matters, it is possible that after her death, another hoodoo woman may have taken the name of Aunt Caroline Dye. I have no evidence that this actually happened, but such appropriation of a famous doctor's name does confuse the documentation of a long line of competing male root doctors, both black and white, who have given themselves the name of the famed white conjure Doctor Buzzard of Beaufort, South Carolina. Likewise, the history of conjure is complexified by the tales of an assortment of black women who named themselves after the celebrated Seven Sisters of New Orleans. Such name-borrowing may have given rise to an informant of Paul Oliver's supplying a 1944 death-date for a second or "Little" Aunt Caroline Dye, but to be perfectly clear, i have no evidence that this was the case. More likely, judging from her age in the picture, which can be roughly dated by her clothing, Aunt Caroline Dye passed in the mid-1930s, at around the age of 80 to 85.

In any case, from this photo one can infer something else -- Aunt Caroline Dye was a spiritualist as well as a root worker, for the crudely sketched aura around her head and the winged, dog-headed figure with its hand or paw on her right shoulder -- which, like her name, were drawn on the film negative before making prints -- indicate that she maintained some form of contact with other-worldly spirits. It is possible that the standing figure may represent a "spirit guide" or the Devil's black dog one meets at the crossroads in an Afro-European ritual of empowerment. Dye's status as a spiritualist and clairvoyant is confirmed by both the Madam Collins interview and the "Little" Doctor Buzzard interview, given below.

On May 29, 1930, Will Shade and the Memphis Jug Band recorded a famous blues song honouring Aunt Caroline Dye. An error by the recording company, probably due to someone misunderstanding Shade's strong regional accent, resulted in the record being released as "Aunt Caroline Dyer Blues." This transcription is my own:

AUNT CAROLINE DYER BLUES
The Memphis Jug Band

(Will Shade, guitar and vocals; Ben Ramey, kazoo;
Charlie Burse, guitar [and spoken interjections], Hambone Lewis, jug)

I'm going to Newport News
        just to see Aunt Caroline Dye
I'm going to Newport News
        just to see Aunt Caroline Dye
                [What you gon' ask her, boy?]
She's a fortune-telling woman, oh Lord,
        and she don't tell no lie
                [I'm gon' to see her myself]

I'm going to Newport News, partner,
        catch a battleship across the doggone sea
I'm going to Newport News,
        catch a battleship across the doggone sea
Because bad luck and hard work, oh Lord,
        sure don't agree with me

Aunt Caroline Dye she told me,
        "Son, you don't have to live so rough"
                [Yes...]
Aunt Caroline Dye she told me,
        "Son, you don't have to live so rough
"I'm going to fix you up a mojo, oh Lord,
        so you can strut your stuff"
                [Go on and strut yo' stuff!]
                {fancy guitar duet}

Aunt Caroline Dye she told me,
        "Son, these women don't mean you no good"
Aunt Caroline Dye she told me,
        "Son, these women don't mean you no good
                [Yes, i know that]
Said, "Take my advice
        and don't monkey with none in your neighbourhood"

I am leaving in the morning,
        I don't want no one to accuse me
Yes, I am leaving in the morning,
        I don't want no one to accuse me
                [Lordy]
I'm going back to Newport News
        and do what Aunt Caroline Dye told me to

In addition to the error in the title, an error in the lyric is Shade's alone: he confuses the seaport town of Newport News, Virginia, with Aunt Caroline Dye's actual home in Newport, Arkansas. It may be for this reason (or because of it) that he set the melody of "Aunt Caroline Dyer Blues" to his own earlier composition "Newport News Blues" and borrowed from that topical song about World War One (first recorded in 1927) the second verse, which incongruously brings a "battleship" into a lyric that is ostensibly about getting a mojo hand fixed up. By way of contrast, in Johnnie Temple's 1937 blues song, "Hoodoo Women," transcribed below, Dye is correctly located in Newport, Arkansas. Likewise, in an interview transcribed below, an eyewitness places her in Newport, Arkansas, in 1929. (For a fourth opinion, see the Madam Collins interview below, in which Dye apparently bilocates between Newport, Arkansas, and Newport News, Virginia.)

People unfamiliar with The Memphis Jug Band may need one further piece of information to fully understand this song: The name "Son," by which Aunt Caroline addresses the narrator, is in this case not a generic term of endearment from an old woman to a young male client; rather, it refers to Will Shade himself. "Son" is regional slang for "grandson" and Shade was raised by his grandmother, Annie Brimmer, so in Memphis he was known as Son Brimmer, a fact that engendered the title of his very first record, "Son Brimmer's Blues."

On July 20, 1960, thirty years after recording "Aunt Caroline Dyer Blues," Will Shade was interviewed about this song and remembered Aunt Caroline Dye. (Thanks to Chris Smith (chris@skerries.demon.co.uk) for identifying the interviewer as Paul Oliver and the text from Oliver's book "Conversation with the Blues.") Said Shade:

"Aunt Caroline Dye was a fortune-tellin' woman. See, 'Aunt Caroline Dye, she's a fortune-tellin' woman, never tol' no lie' -- I made that up, my own right, my own song; nobody knowed it but me.

She was a fortune-tellin' woman -- two-headed woman. She call you, she'd fix you, so you better come; she didn't have to come to fetch you. That's the kind of woman she was; had that much power -- 'fore she died. White and Colored would go to her. You sick in bed, she raise the sick. Conjure, hoodoo, that's what some people say, but that's what you call it, conjure.

"Yeah, she could make a hand so you could win anybody's money. Take her hand wit' ya, win everybody's money wit' that spell. Had that much brains -- smart lady. She break up all kinds of spells you had. She could have you walkin' like a hawg; any kinda which-way, she could make you walk on two legs again.

"That's the kind of woman she was. Aunt Caroline Dye, she was the worst woman in the world. Had that much sense. Seven Sisters ain't nowhere wit' Aunt Caroline Dye; she was the onliest one could break the record with the hoodoo."

Shade describes a type of cure that Dye specialized in, that of taking off jinxes and tricks that had victims going "crazy," crawling on all fours, "walkin' like a hawg", and "howling like a dog." As we shall shortly see, he is not the only person who attested to her power in this regard.

Another blues singer, Johnnie Temple, also mentioned Aunt Caroline Dye in one of his compositions. (Temple is likewise my source for lyrics referencing the Seven Sisters of New Orleans.) Here, in a transcription by Gorgen Antonsson (antonsson.se@mbox304.swipnet.se), is Temple's October 6th 1937 recording of "Hoodoo Women."

HOODOO WOMEN
Johnnie Temple


Well, I went out on the mountain,
        looked over in Jerusalem
Well, I went out on the mountain,
        looked over in Jerusalem
Well, I'd see them hoodoo women, oh Lord,
        makin' up their lowdown plan

Well, I'm going to Newport,
        just to see Aunt Caroline Dye
Well, I'm going to Newport,
        just to see Aunt Caroline Dye
She's a fortune teller, oh Lord,
        she sure don't tell no lie

And she told my fortune,
        as I walked to her door
And she told my fortune,
        as I walked to her door
Said, "I'm sorry for you, buddy, oh Lord,
        the woman don't want you no more"

Yes, I turned around,
        said, "I believe I'll go downtown"
Yes, I turned around,
        said, "I believe I'll go downtown
"To Chicago River, oh Lord,
        and jump overboard and drown"

The hoodoo said, "Son,
        please, don't act no clown"
The hoodoo said, "Son,
        please, don't act no clown,
"Because it's a many more women, oh Lord,
        layin' around in this no-good town"

The hoodoo is all right,
        in [they] lowdown plan
The hoodoo is all right,
        in [they] lowdown plan
But they will take your woman, oh Lord,
        and put her with another man.

It is important to note that "Hoodoo Women," was recorded in 1937 and treated of Dye as alive at the time. Temple's second verse is essentially the same as Will Shade's 1930 lyric, which may have been the reason Shade was so insistent in 1960 on making a composition and copyright claim ("my own right, my own song; nobody knowed it but me"). However, unlike Shade, Temple properly locates Aunt Caroline Dye in Newport, Arkansas, and in the first verse mentions as well the small town of Jerusalem, Arkansas. Temple was living in Chicago at the time he recorded this song, and his mention of jumping into the Chicago River would seemingly refer to that city.

The theme of Johnnie Temple's "Hoodoo Women," borrows heavily from Shade's earlier presentation of Dye as a potent worker of love spells. The charge that such conjures will play one client against another, making and breaking love affairs to suit the highest bidder, is a common notion.

The following documentation on Aunt Caroline Dye comes from "Hoodoo - Conjuration - Witchcraft - Rootwork," a 5-volume, 4766-page collection of folkloric material gathered by Harry Middleton Hyatt, primarily between 1935 and 1939. Note that Hyatt also gives his informants' phonetic pronunciation of her name as "Dyer;" this was no doubt the same regional pronunciation that tripped up the executives at the Victor recording company when they released Shade's song as "Aunt Caroline Dyer Blues.")


IMPORTANT: If this is the first time you have encountered Hyatt material
at this web site, please take a moment to open and read the supplementary page called
"Hoodoo - Conjuration - Witchcraft - Rootwork" by Harry Middleton Hyatt.


ADAM-AND-EVE CALLED EVE-AND-ADAM-ROOT
{AUNT CAROLINE DYE BREAKS A JINX}

1092. [The term Eve-and-Adam is more frequently used than Adam-and-Eve, a proper name for the plant, but what an informant means by either name I do not know -- it could be a plant from six or seven genera. Since one informant calls this root (possibly a corm) Adam-and-Eve-and-Their-Son, I would identify it as puttyroot, common name for Aplectrum hymenale, a North American orchid producing annually a solid corm, "two or three of which remain strung together." When there are two, we have Adam and Eve; when three, the Son is added. This could suggest The Trinity or The Holy Family, but as often as I heard the plant named, I remember the Son once. Adam-and-Eve, like lodestone and some other objects, is one of those He-and-She ingredients -- see Index.]

{Puttyroot orchid is very rare now, and it is what i too know as Adam-and-Eve Root; it is most generally used in love charms. The "Index" to Hyatt's work was never completed, so there's no use trying to locate it here or anywhere.}

Ah knows that. Ah had a cousin, she lived in Oil Town, Arkansas {Oil Trough, Arkansas; see my note below}. She got poison, see. {She was poisoned by some sort of trick or spell.}. Dis woman had her howlin' [like a dog -- see No. 775, p. 256, and second cure under Dog in this subsection later]. Now, Ah know this fo' a pus'nul fac'. She wus howlin' an' sometimes she jis' crawlin' on her knees, see. Stood up diff'rent times, though. Mah uncle taken her tuh her daddy -- he [daddy] taken her out heah tuh Newport, tuh Ca'line Dyer. He taken her out theah.

She {Aunt Caroline Dye} got some rattlesnake dust -- Ah nevah will fo'git this, and she made some little bags an' she hung one undah dis arm an' one undah dis one, an' she went an' got some dat Eve-an'-Adam dust -- an' she place it on cousin right heah [demonstrates]. Now, mah cousin wus crazy -- she wus stone crazy.

(Right on her breast?)

Yes, she wus crazy.

One [bag] wus made outa rattlesnake dust an' one [bag] wus Eve-an'-Adam's dust. Dis one right heah {demonstrates}, dat's Eve-an'-Adam's dust on yore chest, an' dat whut she put undah her arm, dat wus rattlesnake dust, yo' see. She put one undah each one of her arms. An' when she got that Eve-an'-Adam's dust, she put that little bag an' swung it right there {demonstrates}.

An' she tole mah uncle tuh buy a bottle of turpentine an' say, "Now, fo' nine mawnin's straight yo' git up an' fix yore water in a washpan an' let her wash her han's fo' nine mawnin's straight an' throw it to de east."

An' mah cousin wus jis' crazy -- she wus jis' howlin', she didn't have bitta sense. An' when dat woman {Dye} put that on her, she come back home an' she tole her mama, she say, "Ah feel lak a diff'rent pusson." Dat wus in Newport, [Arkansas]. Strictly brought her back to her min' an' she didn't have sense 'nuff even to entertain mama.

How did he {the uncle} fix this water in the morning?

Ah'll tell yo' whut chew do. See, yo' git some watah an' yo' put it in de pan an' yo' put that turpentine in fo' nine mawnin's straight. Yo' see, yo' take it in yore han' jis' lak yo' goin' wash yore face -- co'se lotta folks use a face towel, but yo' use it jis' natural, yo' see. [For use it jus' natural, see also the Uncle Ben Mackey story, No. 918, p. 337.]

Rub it ovah yore han' and stroke it down ovah yore face an' throw it tuh de west. {Note: earlier she said to throw it to the east, which is the most common instruction in this sort of work; i suspect she misspoke herself here.} See, throw it tuh de west {east?}, an' yo' say, "Lawd, heah am Ah. Take all mah troubles an' heal me, In de name of de Father, Son, and Holy Ghost."

Co'se Ah wus with mah cousin when she do that an' ahe wus crazy. She wus jis' as crazy as a rud [red] lizard [see Index]. {No index exists.}

(When did this happen?)

Dis happen in 1929, Oil Town. {Oil Trough, Arkansas; see my note below} An' ah nevah fo'git de woman's name dat did dat [spell] {jinx}. Her name was Lou T. [At a later date we shall meet Caroline Dyer again. See near end of my interview with Madam Collins of Memphis in Interview section.]

[Little Rock, Ark., (?){informant's i.d. number has been lost}, 1460:13.]

{Harry Hyatt often made transcription errors when taking down the statements of people with strong regional accents who introduced phrases with which he was unfamiliar. In the above case, he twice transcribes as "Oil Town" his informant's reference to the town of Oil Trough, Arkansas. My conversation in 1999 with Oil Trough's postmaster, Ron Hardin, disclosed the fact the Oil Trough is 13 miles from Newport, that the population of Newport is at present about 35% African-American, and that Newport is 90 miles from Memphis. Hardin also told me that Jerusalem, Arkansas, mentioned in Johnnie Temple's song, is a small town in the Arkansas Ozarks, about 100 miles from Newport, and that directly above the town, "up in the mountains," there is a long-established black community, situated just as Temple described it in his 1937 song.}


{EXCERPT FROM 2ND INTERVIEW WITH MADAM COLLINS, 1938}

{Lengthy interviews with professional root doctors are not numbered; Madam Collins was informant 926 in her first interview and informant 1538 in her second; she is the only person Hyatt interviewed twice; her compiled interviews occupy pages 992 through 1024.}

Page 1023. (Do you remember an old lady Dyer? Where did she live?

Ca'line Dyer? She's daid. She used tuh be in Newport News. [She knew her name was Caroline, so did I.]

(Virginia?)

Yes, she left Newport, Arkansas, fo' Newport News. She came back to Newport, Arkansas, an' died there.

(But she always lived in Newport, Arkansas. I've heard so much about her.)

Yes, she wus great. She wus a great spiritualist..

[Somewhere I have a story about Caroline Dyer but I am unable to find it at the moment {mid-1970s; and as far as i can tell, he never did find it or publish it, alas.}. Doctor Buzzard of Norfolk, Va., {one of the latter-day "Little" Buzzards} in his interview says that there are only three persons greater than he in his profession; one of them being "Aunt Caroline Dyer .... in Algiers" {Louisiana} -- "ruling queen of our class."]

I suspect that it is highly unlikely that Madam Collins was correct in supposing that toward the end of her life, Aunt Caroline Dye briefly relocated from Newport, Arkansas, to Newport News, Virginia, where she met Will Shade prior to his 1930 recording session, and then returned home to die. (If she did, she must have moved immediately after treating the woman who was "crazy as a red lizard" in 1929 in Newport, Arkansas!) Rather, i suspect that Collins, a Memphian, had heard the Memphis Jug Band's 1930 recording of "Aunt Caroline Dyer Blues," which probably moved Dye's home for the simple purpose of allowing the re-use of a familiar and popular melody ("Newport News Blues") and that she tried to integrate this song lyric into her better knowledge that Dye had lived -- and recently died -- in Newport, Arkansas.

Hyatt's statement that the "Little" Doctor Buzzard said Dye was from Algiers is clarified by a closer reading of the interview in question. On page 4166, this faux Doctor Buzzard states that Dye will be attending an upcoming convention of spiritualists, root workers, and "black arts" magicians in Algiers. ("She's in Algiers ... that's where we will hold our convention.") This "Little" Doctor Buzzard claims to be the "president" of the organization staging the convention. Later, on page 4170, he refers to Dye in a list of superior "clairvoyants," again helping us to understand that she worked both a spiritualist or "fortune telling woman" and as a root doctor. Unfortunately, his interview is undated, but on page 4179, he again mentions the Algiers conventions, saying they are held every five years, and adding that the last one was held in 1931. Since all of Hyatt's interviews were recorded between 1936 and 1940, if Dye was shortly going to be at an Algiers convention, as the "Little" Doctor Buzzard claimed, it would have been in 1936, one year before Johnnie Temple's 1937 recording, and two years before Madam Collins of Memphis told Hyatt that Dye was dead.

On the whole, i think that Shade met Dye in Newport, Arkansas, around 1930, but changed the locale for "creative" reasons. Certainly Hyatt's first, unnumbered informant, tells a very reliable story of Dye residing in Arkansas in 1929, and as late as 1937 Temple was also aware of her location in Newport, Arkansas. As best i can determine from these sources, Dye probably died in 1937, after Hyatt's 1936 interview with the "Little" Doctor Buzzard and before his 1938 interview with Madam Collins.

Further information on the life and death of Aunt Caroline Dye would be appreciated and will be credited in any future revisions made to this web page.

Update, January, 2000: Other folks are looking for more information on Aunt Caroline Dye, too. Here is the text of an email message i received; if you can help, contact Mr. Clark directly, please.

Subject: Aunt Caroline Dye
Date:  Sat, 29 Jan 2000 17:35:11 -0500
From:  "Leonard T. Clark Sr." (tommie52@indy.net)

I am Leonard T. Clark Sr. of Indianapolis, Indiana.
My father David N. Clark Sr. was born in Newport, 
Arkansas, in 1894. He died here in 1981 and had a 
very large family in Newport and Hoxie, Arkansas; 
the Clarks and Pattersons. Dad's Mother was Lucy Dye 
and he told us that she was raised by a Gypsy Woman 
who practiced voodoo and was well known. I am assuming 
this is the same person and would like to find out 
more of her family, etc.  

I have a good record of the Clark Family Tree back to 
Stephen Clark who was born in 1854, in Newport or Hoxie. 
If you could lead me to more articles on Caroline Dye, 
I probably can make the direct connection. Please send 
me all reference material and help me check my ancestors.

Thanks, Leonard T. Clark Sr.
4312 East 46th Street
Indianapolis, In. 46226-3012    
lclark@sigmaduke.com
or
tommie52@indy.net
The above letter has led me to make some quick speculations on dates: Mr. Clark's Dad was born in Newport in 1894; his Dad's Mother Lucy Dye was probably born circa 1870-75 (19-24 years old when Dad was born). If Lucy was raised by (or was the child of) Caroline Dye, then Caroline was born circa 1850-55 (19-24 years old when Lucy was born). Caroline would have been around 60-65 years old in 1910, which is the era of the clothes she wears in the photo and accords with her appearance; she would have been around 80-85 years old in 1929 when she cured the "crazy" woman; and she would have died around the age of 85-90 in the mid to late 1930s. I'm not saying that's how it was -- i'm just saying that Mr. Clark's information about his family tree reinforces the dates given by Harry M. Hyatt's informants and Will Shade, and that those dates make more sense than the 1810 birthdate given by Stephen C. La Vere or the 1944 death date given by Paul Oliver.

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