Cups, You’re Gonna Miss Me: Evolution of a Song   42 comments

Anna_Kendrick_CupsA few weeks back an intensely cute song came over my car radio as I was making my way home from the office.  The diabetes-inducingly-sweet track, Cups (When I’m Gone) performed by Anna Kendrick, comes from the second volume of the Pitch Perfect soundtrack, More From Pitch Perfect.  I am not a fan of a cappella, and as such had no desire to see Pitch Perfect, but the song is undeniably catchy. Correctly assuming that it had not originated from the film I wanted to know more about it.

I found a lot of people arguing as to who wrote the tune and deserved credit for it.  It reminded me of the Glee/ Jonathan Coulton Baby Got Back controversy.    It took me all morning (and well into the afternoon) to untangle all of the misinformation out there about the song, and I figure there were probably other people who wanted to know the surprisingly long and interesting history of this very cute song.

So I present my findings to you, Dear Reader!

A quick check of the soundtrack listing * for Pitch Perfect reveals that Cups was written by A.P. Carter  and Luisa Gerstein.  We start in the American south, way back during the Great Depression…

1931

The Carter Family

A.P. Carter, born in 1891 in Virginia, was a founding member The Carter Family, one of the most prolific country acts ever.  The earliest recording of the song, then titled When I’m Gone, comes from 1931 (Not to be confused with their 1928 song Will You Miss Me When I’m Gone?).  Carter’s career spanned decades, until his death in 1960, and members of his family are still putting out music.

UPDATE:12/21/13: I have learned that the song may in fact go back even further! Carter was known for recording old mountain tunes, so although The Carter Family are the first to have made a record and thus have gotten the writing credit the true writer and original singer may be lost to time.

Luisa Gerstein’s contribution to the track didn’t happen for another 78 years, and it bounced around a few times before that.

1937

J. E. Mainer’s Mountaineers

This version of the song, with its blue grass tune, sounds like it belongs on the O’ Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack.  It was performed by Joseph Emmet Mainer, a banjo/ fiddle player from North Carolina.   His band, The Mountaineers, formed in 1933 and recorded it as Miss Me When I’m Gone in 1937. They when through a few line up changes but continued recording music until disbanding at the start of World War II.

This version of the song is often incorrectly identified as original, seemingly due to an error on Wikipedia. **

1938/1940s

Charlie Monroe

Charlie Monroe started out playing with his younger brother, Country/ Blue Grass legend Bill Monroe, touring the American south in the 1920s and 30s.  They gained enough success to get their own TV show, broadcast daily in North Carolina. They parted ways in 1938 and Charlie struck out on his own playing with many other country artists until his retirement in 1957.

He initially recorded a version of You’re Gonna Miss Me When I’m Gone in 1938, but I would place the version above from around 1945 considering that he refers to someone named Lester at the beginning.  I assume this to be Lester Flatt, a band mate of his from that time (and co-writer of the Beverly Hillbillies Theme).

2009/ 2012

Landshapes (aka Lulu and the Lampshades)

Luisa Gerstein and and another member of the band Landshapes, then known as Lulu and the Lampshades (they changed their name in May of 2012) uploaded a video of themselves performing the song with heavily reworked and brand new lyrics under the title You’re Gonna Miss Me.  They famously utilized the “Cup Clap” for percussion. The video went viral after a Reddit posting, prompting dozens of other budding musicians to record cover versions of the song using the Cup Clap technique.  It was soon dubbed ‘The Cup Song.”

Lulu and the Lampshades later recorded a more polished version of the song, titled as You’re Gonna Miss Me (Cups).

2012/ 2013

Anna Kendrik

This scene in Pitch Perfect capitalized on the online popularity of the Lampshades’ version of the song.  The extended pop version of song was released in March of 2013 under the title Cups (Pitch Perfect’s “When I’m Gone”).  The video soon followed.

This quirky version of the tune introduced it to a whole new audience 80+ years after The Carter Family first recorded it. It now it is so popular that if you flip on the radio during your ride home from work today I just bet you are going to hear it.

* Update: Link to the soundtrack listing on IMBD was added to this post. 7/2/13

** Update: The error on Wikipedia has since been corrected on the page for Cups, but not on the page for J.E. Mainer.  I don’t have a Wikipedia account so if someone is so inclined please give it an update! 7/2/13

That, so far as I can tell, is the long and fascinating history of this popular tune! If I missed something tell me below! Or tell me what your favorite cover song off a movie soundtrack is!

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42 responses to “Cups, You’re Gonna Miss Me: Evolution of a Song

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  1. What an interesting story! I am a big fan of anything pertaining to The Carter Family, so I was delighted to learn of Anna Kendrick’s version of the song. Having known Maybelle and Sara Carter, I’m sure this story and Anna’s video would have brought a smile to their faces.

  2. Thanks for the kind words! I had a lot of fun working on this post!

  3. I remember when the “Lulu and the Lampshades” “Cups” video first went viral a few years back. It was such a catchy little tune. I must have watched it about a hundred times. Then it went away. How interesting it was to see is come back, this time via a mainstream TV show. Luisa and Helloise (the two in the Lulu and the Lampshades youtube video) must be shocked and proud of what they set in motion with this still catchy tune.

  4. Great sleuthing work :)

  5. Thank you for the research. Glad to have found this before I started my own so I didn’t have to. I love not just music but its origins. I fact, I love all the versions of this tune as it has evolved. My wife (now retired) has long taught the ‘Cup’ rhythm to her students for years. Here is at least one positive side of evolution and now in its present updated form, perhaps it will continue to be updated (evolve) and enjoyed while preserving all that came before! Thank you most sincerely, even if you don’t “Miss Me When I’m Gone.” :)

    Dahni

  6. Thank you for the research. I am glad to have found this before I started my own so I didn’t have to. LOL (lazy out loud). : ) I love not just the music you posted here, but its origins especially. In fact, I love ALL the versions of this tune as it has evolved. My wife (now a retired music teacher if that is even possible), has long taught the ‘Cup’ rhythm to her students for years. Here is at least one positive side of evolution and now in its present updated form, perhaps it will continue to be updated (evolve) and enjoyed while preserving all that came before! Thank you most sincerely, even if you don’t “Miss Me When I’m Gone.” :)

    Dahni

  7. Excellent info. Thanks for sharing.

  8. Reblogged this on thehiltonburnellfiles and commented:
    I need to listen to the other version of the song. I heard Lulu and the Lampshades’s version, The Carter Family’s version and Anna Kendrick’s version with the video. Great song. Good blog post.

  9. this is for a different song, but it’s an early appearance of the ‘cup clap’ beat (1987): http://youtu.be/kZ3oVGs3br8

  10. In Anna Kendrick’s music video on Vevo, who plays the chef? He looks very familiar. Is he a professional percussionist?

    Dr. Judith Davidson
  11. Tickled to find this song info. as I had tweeted my version @iWiNKRandoms & @Bryan_Duncan inquired about it’s origin. I will tweet this link: http://tiny.cc/ft4a1w

  12. The song has been translated into the Irish language and performed on

  13. For a language that is not widely spoken, I found this video to be rather amazing!

  14. Pingback: Donnerstag = Multitrack-Video-Tag (32) | Ja gut, aber …

  15. L’ha ribloggato su ungiornounastoriae ha commentato:
    Il post che volevo scrivere oggi l’ha già scritto AtomicSam. Ai video che posta lui aggiungo questo (che è quello da cui sono partita): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OEZHG7IB68I.
    E se ve lo state chiedendo, sì, ho passato il pomeriggio a far ruotare un bicchiere di plastica.

  16. This is an incredible source of information. Thanks for doing all the work and for putting it all in one place. Further, I’d like to say you’ve also done a great job being a catalyst for the links from others.

    All up: superb.

  17. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cups_(song) says that Anna Burden’s homemade cover http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XKcChGsDqnU inspired Anna Kendrick to use the song in “Perfect Pitch”.

    Jackie Evancho http://www.jackieevancho.com/ who performed in “The Company You Keep” with Anna Kendrick, just keek’d her own homemade version: http://www.keek.com/!vhQfdab

  18. You should add this one, it’s truly the apotheosis of this song! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_1zXK27GjIs

  19. Luisa Gerstein.. pure genius!
    I hope she gets just credit monetarily
    and otherwise for making this tune.. sofar little credit is given for a
    tune that is a #1 hit in most of
    North America..
    her version so much stronger than any redo even by Anna K. (although kudos to her for recognizing a brilliant creation)
    done in the true style of early Americana..” here’s a song I made”
    ( listen to any Appalachian tune heck even many of Bob Dylan tunes)
    Bravo Luisa..!

  20. Pingback: When I’m Gone (Cups) | miss tweenster

  21. The Wikipedia page also needs to correct the possible meaning of the lyric, it references the opening line of I got my ticket for the long … Which as you correctly assert here was not added till many years later.

  22. Thanks for this! Love the song!

  23. Have you seen this new version by the Bankesters? And the song has come full circle…

  24. Atomicsam, you wrote: “The earliest recording of the song, then titled When I’m Gone, comes from 1931 (Not to be confused with their 1928 song Will You Miss Me When I’m Gone?)” It is true that there are significant differences in the two songs, but several things make me think it likely that the later one probably grew out of the earlier one — the similarity of the lyrics, the similar pattern of the chorus line, and some similarities in the tune, among other things. In that case, since “Will You Miss Me When I’m Gone?” was not original with the Carters, but came from another song writer around 1900, that pushes the evolution of the song through yet another stage and adds about 30 more years to its history.

  25. Did you noticed in the Anna Kendrik long video version that in one of the booths is Rachael Nedrow who is the girl who shouts Oh My God in the Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites song by Skrillex.

  26. Did you notice that in the music video that Anna Kendrik did that in one of the back booths is Rachael Nedrow (also known as “speedstackinggirl”) whose shouting “Yes, oh my Gosh!” is a part of Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites by Skrillex

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  28. Pingback: Around The Rink » Blog Archive » A Ride With Bob ——–> The Cup Song ———An Irish Version

  29. you missed one step in the chain Ann Kendrik learned the song because of post on reddit about the Anna Burden video that went viral . (find the interview on letterman for conformation)

  30. I thought you might want to update with this other little tidbit, the “cup part” of Cups (When I’m Gone) is the cup Game and was widely taught to kids on PBS’ Zoom, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qCX_lgF4inI

  31. Thanks for this! Some how I always thought the Carter family had a hand in this song. I thought perhaps it was a rip off of “will you miss me when I’m gone” which happens to be one of my favourite songs! I by chance discovered this song, the Carter family and bluegrass through the Jack W Lewis podcast Bluegrass and Old Time Music Radio. Nice to see music as this open up to new generations (such as myself!)

  32. Pingback: a soundtrack to my life (March 24-30, 2014) | dress drunk, travel tipsy

  33. While doing research on a slave music project, I found an older version of this song in “Befo’ de War Spirituals”,(published 1933) a collection of supposedly pre-Civil War religious slave music. The book doesn’t provide much information about the song itself because most of the songs were passed through oral tradition. However, there is a song titled “W’en I’m Gone”:
    W’en I’m gone
    W’en I’m gone
    W’en I’m gone
    Lord, w’en I’m gone
    Somebody’s goin’ t’ miss me
    W’en I’m gone, gone, gone.
    Goin’ t’ miss me fer ma walk
    Miss me fer ma talk.
    Somebody’s goin’ t’ miss me
    W’en I’m gone.
    W’en I’m gone
    W’en I’m gone
    W’en I’m gone
    Lord, w’en I’m gone
    Somebody’s goin’ t’ miss me
    W’en I’m gone, gone, gone.
    Goin’ t’ miss me fer ma shout
    Fer I’m shoutin’ all about.
    Somebody’s goin’ t’ miss me
    W’en I’m gone.
    W’en I’m gone
    W’en I’m gone
    W’en I’m gone
    Lord, w’en I’m gone
    Somebody’s goin’ t’ miss me
    W’en I’m gone, gone, gone.
    Goin’ t’ miss me fer ma praise
    Miss ma Christian ways.
    Somebody’s goin’ t’ miss me
    W’en I’m gone.
    – – –
    I don’t know who first began singing the song, but it is possible that the song made popular by Anna Kendrick, the Carter Family, and other folk musicians had roots in the spiritual music traditions of Antebellum slaves.
    It’s kind of interesting to see how a song that, today, is a song saying let’s go on an adventure or “you’ll miss me when I’m gone”. The original meaning behind the song was much more dark. Enslaved people faced physical death from overwork or punishment and social death from being sold away from their families and communities. Slaves may have been singing “Somebody’s goin’ t’ miss me w’en I’m gone” because, although they feared being “gone” from family and friends, they will be remembered and missed by those who loved them. #whitepeopleproblems

  34. All of this is a very fascinating read… my daughter and three of her friends learned the song and used cups for the rhythm and performed it in a middle school talent show last year… I am an avid bluegrass fan and play the banjo myself and am aware of the significance of A.P. Carter and The Carter Family and their contributions to early country music and the influence on Bill Monroe and brother Charlie. (by the way, in your subject article you state that the Monroe Brothers has their own TV show. However, I believe that you meant that they had their own RADIO show, as TV would not have been possible for them in the early to mid 1930s)… None the less, excellent article and great job on your research. Now I can’t wait to show my wife and daughter the origins of the song, as they are not really fans of bluegrass or early old time music.

  35. Great article. Thanks for the sleuthing.

    I’ve got a bit more information to add:

    According to Billboard Magazine (http://www.billboard.com/articles/news/1569794/anna-kendricks-cups-timeline-how-her-pitch-perfect-song-became-a-top-10-hit) It wasn’t the Lulu and the Lampshades version that got the reddit treatment, it was actually a cover by Anna Burden (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XKcChGsDqnU) that went viral and got posted on the front page of reddit.

    As well, this article on FastCompany.com (http://www.fastcompany.com/3029211/most-creative-people-2014/anna-kendrick) says that Kendrick saw the Burden version and was prompted to learn it. When the producers of Pitch Perfect wanted proof that all cast members could sing, Kendrick performed the song/routine for them (I guess her Tony nomination wasn’t sufficient proof). In any case, they liked it and decided to incorporate it into the movie.

    Just a bit more information to add to your already great article.

    P.S. So glad you made the clarification that the Carter Family’s 1931 “When I’m Gone” is different from the 1928 “Will you miss me when I’m gone?”. I had found the latter on YouTune and couldn’t figure out how such a different song was the inspiration until I found your article. I’ve added your clarification to a couple of relevant Wikipedia articles.

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