My father is an excellent whistler and ever since I can remember I have associated this ability with masculinity. His pure tones made him seem all the more competent in his ‘daddy-ness’, much like my mother’s skill with the cosmetic brush and her naturally long nails solidified her status as ‘feminine Mommy’. On occasion, he and I have these long conversations where I pick his brain about his childhood, to investigate family history/folklore and marvel at the differences and parallels of time, place, and experience.
On time my father related a whistling tale that contextualized a significant moment in the developing civil rights movement. He thinks he was “around 6 or 7” and he and his siblings were tending to Mama Hodge’s yard. Mama Hodge is my father’s paternal grandmother- with a reputation for crotchety orneriness, but some say she was just plain mean. In either case, my father was perhaps just growing into whistle-hood and used this as accompaniment to his chores. A few bars later Mama Hodge let it be known that “you better stop that whistling boy!” and cut him down with that look that is apparently generational, cross cultural, and effective at shutting down kid antics. I wondered why it was so imperative that whistling be curtailed- that is untill I ciphered the time period. My father was born in 1950, a mere five years before the murder of Emmett Till. I’m sure this influenced my great-grandmother’s forceful caveat. Could this moratorium on mouth melody be a survival skill? I cannot know for sure, but I will speculate that Emmett’s tragedy wasn’t far from her mind, and maybe this level of censorship was connected to how you moved in North Central Florida (otherwise known as the Deep South) during the 1950’s.
untill, is an sonic examination of whistling within a continuum of context. Whether it is the assertion of male privilege imposing itself and reacting to the female body, or a vernacular expression of personal creativity, I believe the collecting of these individual melodies can transcend on their own merit as art objects.
Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more information and to schedule a studio session. Recordings will take place at Harvestworks: Digital Media Arts Center (596 Broadway | #602 | NY, NY 10012).
“Emmett Louis "Bobo" Till (July 25, 1941 – August 28, 1955) was an African American boy from Chicago, Illinois, who was murdered at the age of 14 in Money, Mississippi, a small town in the state's Delta region, after reportedly whistling at a white woman.”
“I ENJOY BEING A GIRL”
By R. Rogers + Oscar Hammerstein
With someone with eyes that smolder | Says he loves every silken curl | That falls on my ivory shoulder | I enjoy being a girl
When I hear a complimentary whistle | That greet my bikini by the sea | I turn and I glower and I gristle | But I’m happy to know the whistle’s meant for me
"THERE IT GO (THE WHISTLE SONG)"
By Juelz Santana
There it go [whistling] | There it Go |Damn shorty look good and I'm thinkin bout gettin at her (okay) | Time to whistle at her | Aye girl you make my whistle blow
“WHISTLE WHILE YOU WORK”
By Frank Churchill + Leigh Harline
“On Wednesday of that week--Aug. 24--Emmett Till, his cousins and several of their friends went to Bryant's Grocery and Meat Market for candy and pop. Something happened inside the tiny country store, though no one knows exactly what. Maybe Till, eager to impress his country cousins, sassed Carolyn Bryant, the white store owner's wife. Or maybe he commented on a bad move made by a man who was playing checkers there.
"Emmett thought he was a slicker when it came to checkers," his mother says.
Or maybe he whistled. That's what the papers said, that 14-year-old Emmett Till was lynched because he "wolf-whistled" at a white woman. It's what Mrs. Mobley thinks, too.
"Around age 5, he had a bout with polio," she says, "and after that, he began to stutter. That was a great concern, and we tried everything to help him. Finally, we taught him to whistle to relieve the tension. If he couldn't say a word, he was just supposed to whistle."