John the Rabbit on Throwback Thursdays

Dugald Steward Walker (1883-1937)

John the Rabbit is by far one of my most favorite songs. It comes from the American South, and is a wonderful example of  the African American call and response style. It has a long history, in fact, some say it refers to John Brown.

The call and response structure is easily and endlessly modified to fit nearly any situation. I have used this song as an easy way to get everyone participating and as a main activity in an early childhood classroom. I have had older kids jump the “yes mam”s, clap them, stomp them, wiggle them, whisper them and shout them. In some versions, you say “oh yes” instead of “yes mam” but I am partial to the mams.

Member Susan Salidor taught me a wonderful version where you use a small parachute and a toy bunny. The kids can help the bunny hop on the “yes Mam”s by bouncing it with the parachute. It never gets old, and the delighted giggles have made it one of my favorite classroom activities.

Here is my version from my album, If I Were a Little Bird.


This is a more low-key version from Elizabeth Mitchell for the Smithsonian Folkways Label:


Tell me about your variations in the comments!



  1. Have been using this great song and never thought of the rabbit/parachute activity! Awesome!!! Can’t wait to try it! Thank you Alina and Susan Salidor!

  2. CMNer shared with ME her take on John, The Rabbit, which was to pair it with a parachute!! Not sure I introduced Brig to the song (because she already knows so much), but I know each of us gets lot of mileage out of it in our classes. Several years ago I was performing this song in Memphis at an all-girls’ elementary school, and the 500+ plus responses of “Yes, Ma’am!” sent me into a fit of giggles! Those southern-tinged “Yes, Ma’ams” were the finest I’d ever heard, then and since.

  3. I love the parachute idea. I have a rabbit puppet, that comes with carrot attached. The body sinks into the center and each time we sing ‘Yes, ma’am’, I pop it up. I also use this to encourage solo singing with individual children. The rabbit will only pop up when they sing, hum or think deeply yes ma’am….

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