Language of the Blues: WHOOPEE

2019 Beth Hart wide

This is the latest installment of our weekly series The Language of the Blues, in which author and rock musician Debra Devi explores the meaning of a word or phrase found in the blues.

Grab a signed copy of Devi’s award-winning glossary The Language of the Blues: From Alcorub to Zuzu (Foreword by Dr. John) at Also available as an eBook.

Like “having a ball,” the phrase “making whoopee was originally a euphemism for having sex, before it crossed over into polite society as a term for general merriment and carousing. “Making whoopee” came from the word “whooping,” which etymologists have traced back to the old French verb houper, which meant “to cry out.”

Whooping appeared in the blues in the late 1920s in Lil Johnson’s blues song “You’ll Never Miss Your Jelly Til Your Jelly Roller’s Gone”:

Whooping I’ve been whooping
Whooping all night long
Whooping I’ve been whooping
Ever since my man been gone

So was Lil Johnson crying all night long or doing something else while her man was gone? As a star of the lighthearted raunchy urban blues style known as hokum, Lil Johnson loved to play with innuendo, delivering songs like “Let’s Get Drunk and Truck” and “Anyone Want to Buy My Cabbage?” with sass and flare.

Johnson recorded five songs in Chicago in 1929, including her popular tune “Rock That Thing.” She didn’t get back into the studio until 1935, when she began carving out her niche with naughty numbers like “Buck Naked Blues” and “Take Your Hand Off It.”

Eventually, Johnson recorded more than 40 songs, featuring some terrific blues instrumentalists like guitarist Big Bill Broonzy and trumpeter Lee Collins. Lil Johnson also recorded “Keep A-Knockin,” which became a hit decades later for Little Richard.

Pick up a signed copy of The Language of the Blues today!

“Whoopee Blues”- King Solomon Hill (Joe Holmes)
“She’s Making Whoopee in Hell Tonight”- Lonnie Johnson
“You’ll Never Miss Your Jelly Til Your Jelly Roller’s Gone”- Lil Johnson

Lil Johnson – “You’ll Never Miss Your Jelly Til Your Jelly Roller’s Gone”