Song Analysis “Doin’ What Comes Naturally” Dinah Shore

Folks are dumb where I come from,
They ain’t had any learning.
Still they’re happy as can be
Doin’ what comes naturally (doin’ what comes naturally).

[Irving Berlin wrote this song for the musical, “Annie Get Your Gun,” about the life of Annie Oakley. Annie Oakley was a talented sharpshooter from Ohio. Her parents were Quakers and had six children together. In the musical, Annie sings “Doin’ What Comes Naturally” to explain her simple backwoods ways.

The speaker criticizes people from her town, stating in a matter-of-fact way that they are stupid. Ironically, she uses the pseudo-contraction “ain’t,” reflecting her own lack of education. She seems convinced that ignorance is bliss, that people with less intelligence are happier than people with more intelligence.]

Folks like us could never fuss
With schools and books and learning.
Still we’ve gone from A to Z,
Doin’ what comes naturally (doin’ what comes naturally)

[She argues that people like her could not “fuss” with schools. She implies that schools are a hassle. Others might argue that school, with its demands on time and money, is a beneficial investment. Also, notice how she conflates “schools, books, and learning” as if they are all essentially the same. Yet I have taught students who loved books and disliked school. In addition, I know of many opportunities to learn outside of school like travel, employment, and volunteering. But to the speaker, “learning” means formal education. She asserts that a person “doin’ what comes naturally” has no need of education. In the next section she will elaborate on what she means by this phrase.]

You don’t have to know how to read or write
When you’re out with a feller in the pale moonlight.
You don’t have to look in a book to find out
What he thinks of the moon and what is on his mind.
That comes naturally (that comes naturally).

[In simple, plain language, the speaker conveys one of the key problems of modern education. She is saying that education does not prepare us for relationships. Most people know how to behave around the opposite sex, not because of education, but because of instinct, experience, and culture. Instinct tells people how to use body language and nonverbal communication to express love. Experience guides people to do things that are pleasing to others and to avoid things that are not. Culture teaches us what is taboo and what is accepted among people like us. It’s not that this same information cannot be conveyed in books; it’s that most people learn it and learn it more effectively from observation and conversation.]

My uncle out in Texas can’t even write his name.
He signs his checks with “x’s”
But they cash them just the same.

[The speaker pokes fun at her unlettered uncle. Taking her point to an absurd extreme, she shows that even the most basic elements of literacy are not as vital as we might think. But is the speaker really saying that education is useless? I doubt it. Perhaps she wants to remind educated people not to look down on those who are uneducated. Uneducated is not the same as stupid. In fact, there are numerous examples of people with amazing knowledge but little education – the agile sherpas of Nepal, the fakirs of India, and even the cabbies of New York.]

If you saw my pa and ma,
You’d know they had no learning,
Still they’ve raised a family
Doin’ what comes naturally (doin’ what comes naturally)

Cousin Jack has never read an almanac on drinking
Still he’s always on the spree
Doin’ what comes naturally (doin’ what comes naturally).

[How many generations of parents raised successful, moral children without ever reading a book on parenting? Those books are not very impressive when you consider the many problems that affect children of book-parents. The speaker knows that the uneducated are not perfect, so she presents the example of Cousin Jack. Drinking is a serious addiction and it affects people regardless of education.]

Sister Sal who’s musical has never had a lesson,
Still she’s learned to sing off-key
Doin’ what comes naturally (doin’ what comes naturally).

[Again, uneducated people aren’t perfect. They might sing off-key. But if someone loves to sing and conveys that joy through music, does it really matter if it’s off-key?]

You don’t have to go a private school
Not to pick up a penny near a stubborn mule,
You don’t have to have a professor’s dome
Not to go for the honey when the bee’s not home.
That comes naturally (that comes naturally).

My tiny baby brother, who’s never read a book,
Knows one sex from the other,
All he had to do was look,

[This part has to do with understanding nature. Some people spend years studying biology in school. Others learn about nature by farming, raising animals, beekeeping, etc. Interestingly, many educational reformers support the idea of a school garden or even a school farm. The knowledge children gain from interacting with plants and animals is invaluable.]

Grandpa Bill is on the hill
With someone he just married.
There he is at ninety-three,
Doin’ what comes naturally (doin’ what comes naturally).

[Think about all the wisdom a person could gain in 90 years. How much of this wisdom would come from books and how much would come from life?]



  1. is just fantastic

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