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Is You Is or Is you Ain’t My Baby 

Dinah Washington

This song features another great example of a lyric that points to the complicated racial chemistry animating pop music from the 1940s through to the 1960s. The exaggerated black dialect, “Is you is or is you ain’t,” originated with a white, Jewish writer who meant it to be amusing to white audiences. 

However, in Dinah Washington's virtuosic hands, the song ceases to be a joke. She makes it personal by subordinating the writers' voices to her own by pouring herself into the words, molding them to fit her expressive whims.  Both belting the lyrics and teasing them out, she takes ownership of the composition by making it her plaything.

Her expressive style obliterates the context of the song’s origin: we hear her as an empowered black woman rather than a racial caricature. She is not minimized by the black-faced lyric because she takes control of it. She doesn’t allow the dialect to seem shameful by singing in a voice full of confidence and pride.


Is You Is Or Is You Ain’t My Baby” is a 1944 Louis Jordan song, released as the B-side of single with “G.I. Jive”. “Is You Is or Is You Ain’t My Baby” reached #1 on the US folk/country charts.[1] The Louis Jordan recording also peaked at number two for three weeks on the pop chart and peaked at number three on the R&B charts.[2]

It was co-written by Jordan and Billy Austin. Austin (March 6, 1896 - July 24, 1964) was a songwriter and author, born in Denver, Colorado. The phrase “Is you is or is you ain’t” is dialect, apparently first recorded in a 1921 story by Octavus Roy Cohen, a Jewish writer from South Carolina who wrote humorous black dialect fiction. Glenn Miller recorded this song on a radio broadcast from Europe during World War II.