Inquiries into the early years of SJI
Showing posts with label sheet music. Show all posts
Showing posts with label sheet music. Show all posts

Friday, August 31, 2018

The FIRST sheet music for SJI

The cover for Gambler's Blues, 1925
I had been looking for this sheet music for years. It was as if the object did not exist. It was a legendary thing.

But eventually I did find it ... it was a stroke of luck, for I've never seen it again.

This is an important historical document. It had been printed in such small numbers that it must have become a collectors' item. I was certain of that.

I bought it for ninety-nine cents. Obviously, others were not as eager as I was.

The composing credit was to Carl Moore and Phil Baxter - both of whom are major characters in I Went Down to St. James Infirmary. The sheet music was published privately by Phil Baxter in Little Rock, Arkansas in 1925. Soon after, the publisher Harry D. Squires picked it up.  Squires convinced Fess Williams to record it (February 1927). That was the first recording of the song - which was next released by Buell Kazee in January 1928, and then - definitively - by Louis Armstrong in December 1928.

The sheet music with lyrics can be found elsewhere on this blog - just enter "Gambler's Blues" in the search box. 

Monday, August 21, 2017

The Original Sheet Music for SJI???

This, to the left, is the generic cover of the 1929 sheet music for "St. James Infirmary." The cover was designed so that a performer's image could be inserted without breaking the flow, as in the next picture. In those days images had to be set physically - that is, with an editor's hands placing the components in place. And so it was important for the Mills organization - and everybody else - to create flexible background images.

This is the first music score ever released for "St. James Infirmary." In the same year Mills Music (aka Gotham Music Service) also released an orchestral arrangement for SJI (which you can find elsewhere on this blog - search "sheet music"). The Mills music machine was fully engaged. The song had been subsumed.

Ahhh. But while it's the first music score for "St. James Infirmary," the sheet music for "Gambler's Blues," an earlier title for the song, had been printed four years earlier. The composer credits were to, not Joe Primrose, but Phil Baxter and Carl Moore. I wrote a bit about it here: The Golden Grail - you'll find more in the book.

"St. James Infirmary" aka "Gambler's Blues" had been around for many years before being taken into a recording studio. There were a ton of variations. There were many verses. The song, chameleon-like, changed its colour for the environment it stumbled into. The sheet music below, the first of its kind, gives us a taste of the song. But the song was more than this. It assumed many shapes; there were many versions.

This was just one of them.





Thursday, August 3, 2017

SJI on Ukulele

While researching the book I Went Down to St. James Infirmary, I collected quite a few sheet music scores for popular songs of the 1920s and 1930s. While all contained the piano score, most included the chords for ukulele accompaniment. None of this sheet music refers to guitar accompaniment.

The ukulele is a relatively recent creation, Hawaiian in origin, it probably developed in the late nineteenth century - although with precedents in the Portuguese machete, which is probably related to the European lute (dating back about 800 years), which is probably related to the Arabic oud (dating back thousands of years) ... and so on.

It's doubtlessly a truism, but it bears reiterating: everything - including musical instruments and musical composition - is related to something that came before.

Following concerts in the U.S. by some Hawaiian bands, the ukulele became intensely popular in the early years of the jazz era. So, whether the sheet music was for  Phil Baxter's "I'm a Ding Dong Daddy from Dumas," or Cab Calloway's "Minnie the Moocher," or "St. James Infirmary," it was likely to have the ukulele chords included.

Now, what does SJI sound like as played on ukulele?

I recently exchanged some brief emails with Toronto ukulele player, Jennifer Schmitt. She had just posted a recording of the song on YouTube, and was curious about how to credit the composer ... "it was a favourite of my father's. He died ten years ago today, and I used some of my Lake Opinicon time to record this in his memory."

I like Schmitt's treatment of the song. Direct, expressive, and sweetly melodic.
(To view in its proper aspect ratio, watch it on the YouTube channel.)

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Copyright entries for SJI, etc.

I have been searching Library of Congress copyright records for an article I am writing about the original Carter Family. I took some detours into "St. James Infirmary" territory; here are actual song copyright entries for some of these songs.

The full music sheets are
elsewhere on this blog

Gambler's blues ; w C. Moore, m P.
Baxter, of U. S. © Jan. 15, 1925
2 c. Jan. 15 ; E 605070 ; Phil Baxter
and Carl Moore, Little Rock, Ark.
1159

The first version of SJI to enter the copyright books was "Gambler's Blues," in 1925. While credited to Carl Moore and Phil Baxter, this (under the title "Those Gambler's Blues") was collected as a traditional song by the poet Carl Sandburg, in his 1927 book The American Songbag. Hmmmm.

Phil Baxter and Carl Moore


St. James' infirmary ; words and musicby Joe Primrose. © Mar. 4, 1929 ; 2 c. Mar. 26; E pub. 4595; Gotham
music service, inc., New York. 6527

This copyright, to the fictional Joe Primrose, was registered in March, 1929.
The recording, by Louis Armstrong & His Savoy Ballroom Five, was recorded in December, 1928 - three months earlier than the copyright. Something was afoot.

Irving Mills aka Joe Primrose

Porter Grainger

Dyin' crap shooter's blues ; words and
melody by P. Grainger. © 1 c. July
27, 1927; E 672418; Porter Grainger,
New York. 13674

"Dyin' Crap Shooter's Blues" was recorded three times in 1927, and then abruptly forgotten ... until resurrected by Blind Willie McTell in the 1940s. McTell was very convincing when describing how he wrote this song - but, obviously, he didn't. Bob Dylan's lyric for his song, "Blind Willie McTell" - "I'm standing in the doorway of the St. James Hotel" - was partly responsible for the writing of this book, I Went Down to St. James Infirmary.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Sheet music for second trumpet

A reader let me know that, in posting the 1929 orchestral score for St. James Infirmary, I had neglected to include the part for second trumpet.

This score, probably the first published orchestration, included parts for piano, alto sax, bass, trumpet, drums, violin. trombone, banjo. You can find the other sheets scattered through this blog (search "sheet music").

Selling for 50 cents, the score was arranged by famed banjoist Fred Van Eps, and published by Gotham Music Service, an arm of Mills Music, Inc. Mills Music was co-owned by Jack and Irving Mills. Irving Mills was Joe Primrose, who didn't write the song.

Clicking on the image should enlarge it.

Friday, March 14, 2014

When Our Brown Skin' Soldier Boys Come Home From War

Sheet music cover for a 1919 Porter Grainger song
This is the oldest sheet music by Porter Grainger that I have found. Dated 1919, Grainger would have been about twenty-seven. It is a patriotic song of soldiers returning home after World War I.

Let's go down to the station, people,
Our boys come home today
With great honors won in a grand and noble fray.
Do join us,
There'll be great politicians waiting,
Taxis all in a row.
See Old Glory!
Waving as down the streets they go.

In an era that gave rise to such patriotic favourites as "It's a Long Way to Tipperary," "Over There," "Oh, How I Hate to Get Up in the Morning," and "When the Boys Come Home," there cannot have been many that celebrated the contributions of black soldiers to the WWI United States war effort. (The armed forces did not integrate until 1944, twenty-five years later.) And considering that this was still a year away from the first black blues recording, it is probably a wonder that the sheet music was published at all - that is, music companies were not yet convinced of the financial viability of marketing to an African-American population.

Kudos to Porter Grainger - one gets the feeling that he was not taking the easy route with this song.


(If you are interested in the sheet music, you can find it here)

Friday, January 17, 2014

Last of the orchestral sheet music: trombone, violin, and bass

A reader recently asked about the trombone parts for the 1929 orchestra score that appears elsewhere on this blog. I had obviously lost track of which sections I had already included, thinking I had posted them all. But, no, I had omitted the trombone, the violin, and the bass parts. So this should do it. Piano. Trumpet. Saxophone. Banjo. Drums. And now, trombone, violin, and bass.

Trombone
Violin
Bass

Friday, October 4, 2013

Porter Grainger: Sheet Music

Some time back I posted both an MP3 and the lyrics to a 1927 Porter Grainger song called "Song From a Cotton Field." You can see those postings here. The MP3 features Grainger as both pianist and vocalist.

A couple of months ago the sheet music for a number of Grainger songs came up for sale. I could only afford to bid for one of them, and this is it.

There are a few things about the cover that catch my attention. First, of course, is the photograph of the performers. "The Record Boys" (good luck trying to find them in any music database today) are dressed in tuxedos, looking very sophisticated, in order to represent a song with lyrics like:

All my life I've been makin' it
All my life white folks takin' it
This old heart they jus' breakin' it
Ain't got a thing to show for what I've done done

(Of course, in those days publishers would design these covers with an empty frame where the photograph of a performer could be inserted before reprinting the music sheets. It could very well have been another performer of the song, Bessie Brown, who was pictured there. What I mean is, the photograph of The Record Boys was probably their standard publicity photo, and was not chosen with the theme of the particular song in mind. Even so, I still find the contrast jarring.)

The second is the subtitle. "A Southern Classic." There was nothing classic about this song. It was written by Porter Grainger not long before this sheet music was released. But its lyric hearkens back to the cotton fields, and I guess the publishers felt this was a good marketing ploy. I doubt Grainger would have objected; he wrote songs in order to make a living.

And then there is the publisher's stamp at the bottom of the page. None other than Gotham Music Service - the publishing arm of Mills Music, of which Irving Mills was vice-president; his brother Jack was president. (For those new to this subject, Irving Mills was Joe Primrose, the fictional - in more than one way - composer of "St. James Infirmary.")

So, back in 1927 Mills was actually publishing the music of Porter Grainger. This is the same Porter Grainger who, at about this time, wrote "Dyin' Crapshooter's Blues," which was long considered a Blind Willie McTell composition and a tribute of sorts to "St. James Infirmary," but which was not written by McTell and was recorded before "St. James Infirmary."

The images here should enlarge if you click on them. Pay attention to the small advertisements on the bottom of the pages - which are kind of like intrusive Internet ads. For instance one of them features songwriter Rube Bloom, who had a hit for Mills with "Soliloquy" and who was one of the many who recorded SJI under the Mills umbrella in 1930.




Sunday, September 8, 2013

A cappella SJI: sheet music from Everett Howe

From E. Howe's a cappella version of SJI
(Click to enlarge)
Many years ago I worked with a woman whose son was a math prodigy. When he was in grade school he and a friend would spend recess (for example) determining the height of a pole by calculations based upon the length of its shadow. This is what they preferred to do, what they enjoyed doing, while other kids played baseball or tag. One year he wanted to go to summer camp, to math camp. The questionnaire he had to fill out asked the question "What musical instrument do you play?" Note, the question was not "Do you play a musical instrument?" but "Which instrument do you play?" Which, of course, suggests an intimate correlation between mathematics and music.

Still, there are many mathematicians who are not particularly interested in music. There are those who are interested only in the mathematical problems presented by music, not in the music itself. And there are those who are both born mathematicians and natural musicians.

Which brings me to Everett Howe. Mr. Howe is a mathematician, a graduate of Caltech and of the University of California in Berkeley, who has written papers with titles like, oh, "Characteristic Polynomials of Automorphisms of Hyperelliptic Curves," or "On the Distribution of Frobenius Eigenvalues of Principally-polarized Abelian Varieties." He plays the piano. He is starting to learn clarinet. He sings in an a cappella group. He writes music.

"St. James Infirmary" has been a touchstone for Mr. Howe. He wrote, "My interest in 'St. James Infirmary' led me to arrange a choral a cappella version of the song . . . and, surprisingly enough, the a cappella group that I belong to will be singing this arrangement in October as part of a church service."

Mr. Everett Howe has been kind enough to share the link to his 2013 arrangement of this song, which was first recorded 86 years ago, which is Lord-knows-how-old, and which continues to shift and change well into the 21st century. So, to read the sheet music, here is the link to: Everett Howe's a cappella arrangement of St. James Infirmary. Thank you, Everett.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Minnie the Moocher: the "controversy" over the Hi-De-Hos

I have a few posts waiting in the wings, so you will be seeing them in close succession. I have chosen this one as the first of these because it refers to the previous post, about a rambunctious, startling, and thoroughly captivating modern New Orleans version of SJI. In that post I wrote that this version by the New Creations Brass Band contains "nods to the 1930s Cab Calloway with the call and response and the Hi-De-Hos."

So, about these Hi-De-Hos (or Ho De Hos . . .). I have written about these before. And I shall add a few more words about them here. But I do want to emphasize that, when I talk about the controversy, I am only talking about a pop song, and that the word "controversy" resides within that realm.

So here we go:

First, "Minnie The Moocher" was based upon two or three other songs - one being SJI (Calloway used SJI as his signature tune in his early days at the Cotton Club and insisted that its replacement should stay close, in the instrumental arrangement, to SJI) and another being an old song from the Wild West, "Willie The Weeper" (from which Calloway and Irving Mills borrowed very heavily). In Cab Calloway's autobiography, "Of Minnie The Moocher And Me" (1976) Cab (with his co-writer Bryant Rollins) said:

"The 'hi-de-ho' part came later, and it was completely unexpected and unplanned. ... During one show that was being broadcast over nationwide radio in the spring of 1931, not long after we started using 'Minnie the Moocher' as our theme song, I was singing, and in the middle of a verse, as it happens sometimes, the damned lyrics went right out of my head. I forgot them completely. I couldn't leave a blank there as I might have done if we weren't on the air. I had to fill the space, so I just started to scat-sing the first thing that came into my mind.
"'Hi-de-hi-de-hi-de-ho. Hi-de-hi-de-hi-de-ho. Ho-de-ho-de-ho-de-hee. Oodlee-odlyee-odlyee-oodlee-doo. Hi-de-ho-de-ho-de-hee.' The crowd went crazy. And I went right on with it - right over the live radio - like it was written that way. Then I asked the band to follow it with me and I sang, 'Dwaa-de-dwaa-de-dwaa-de-doo.' And the band responded. By this time, whenever the band responded some of the people in the audience were beginning to chime in as well. So I motioned to the band to hold up and I asked the audience to join in. And I sang and the audience responded; they hollered back and nearly brought the roof down. We went on and on for I don't know how long, and by the end the rafters were rocking and the people were standing up and cheering."


That sounds pretty straight forward. But, in his introduction to the same book Calloway also wrote, referring to Minnie:
"I don't know how it got started, really, the scat singing. I think one night in the Cotton Club I just forgot the words to a song and started to scat to keep the song going ..."


Hmmm. His manager and co-writer (Irving Mills), on the other hand, was adamant that he, Mills, wrote most of the song, basing it upon "Willie The Weeper," and that the call-and-response had always been an integral part of it, as it had been with "Willie The Weeper." From the link above: "Irving Mills claimed he wrote 'Minnie the Moocher' himself. He completed it in a couple of hours, using one of the Mills Music house musicians to transcribe the melody." Calloway then, according to the 1933 newspaper interview with Mills, “injected his catching musical personality into the piece.”

The image accompanying this post is from one of the first sheet-music covers for "Minnie The Moocher." (Sheet music sales were still a major commercial enterprise.)  The date is 1931, the year Calloway started performing the song and, as you can see in the image below, the scat-singing was already integrated into the song sheet. (Clicking should enlarge the image.) Calloway became known as "The Hi-De-Ho Man," audiences loved responding to his Hi-De-Hos and - from the perspective of his career - "Minnie The Moocher" and its call and response were very important.

This doesn't, by any means, settle the "controversy." But it might help to give it an outline.



Friday, June 14, 2013

The Golden Grail - found! Gambler's Blues (aka St. James Infirmary), the first sheet music


Ahhhh.

I have been looking for this sheet music for years. Dare I say, for at least a decade?! And it escaped me. It was as if the object did not exist. I mean, I read about it, and I even found evidence that it was locked in the archives of the New York State judicial library, as evidence in a 1930s lawsuit. But it was rare as the Dickens and I could never find the actual thing.

But two months ago I did.

I found it on ebay. The starting price was ninety-nine cents (plus postage), and there were two weeks left in the bidding. "Oh dear," I thought, "this is such an important historical document, one that has eluded me for a decade, and I am sure many people will be bidding for this. There is no chance that, with my meager resources, I shall be able to actually get my hands on this item." But, as you can see, I did win it. For ninety-nine cents (plus postage).

What an odd thing!! This was something of considerable importance to me. And I was the only one to enter a bid. Nobody else in the world cared. It was my golden grail. And nobody else cared. There were no other bids. And so I now possess (what I thought to be) a great historical document at a cost of ninety-nine cents (plus postage).

I must be deluded. I have been pursuing this story, this history of "St. James Infirmary," for over a decade. One of the critical links in the saga of this song appeared for sale, and . . . well . . . it sold for ninety-nine cents.

I shall have to ponder this.

Maybe history depends upon who writes the story.

The year on this music sheet is 1925. It was published by Phil Baxter in Little Rock, Arkansas. My research had informed me that "Harry D. Squires, Inc." was the original publisher of this song, and that Squires was the person who convinced Fess Williams to record it. So it is possible that Baxter released this edition before finding a bona fide publisher. Also, I had noted that Baxter and Moore neglected to copyright the song (thereby leaving the way open for "Joe Primrose" to take ownership of it). But "International Copyright Secured" is printed on these pages. I had found no evidence of this when I contacted the U.S. copyright offices, so I am not sure what this means.

The sheet music with lyrics is below - the pages should expand when you click on them. I leave it to you to compare this music with the versions of this song in Carl Sandburg's "American Songbag," published in 1927. Whatever this comparison tells you, it will be clear that neither Phil Baxter nor Carl Moore nor Joe Primrose nor anybody else wrote "St. James Infirmary."




 




Monday, December 24, 2012

. . . So God Took Caruso Away - sheet music

Cover of  the 1921 sheet music from Jack Mills Inc.
I am posting this as a kind of Christmas gift to you, readers of this blog. This post will contain a bit of history, related to (what else?) "St. James Infirmary." And - with a nod to all those who come here for my occasional postings of sheet music - there will also be some, well, sheet music.

I suspect that most readers of this blog know that Irving Mills was intimately entangled with the history of the song "St. James Infirmary" - as the fictional "composer" of the song (Joe Primrose), as the manager of various performers who recorded the song, as the impresario who publicized the song, and as the vice-president of the company that published the sheet music.

In the years prior to the rise of Elvis Presley, sheet music routinely outsold records, and was a major source of revenue for those involved with its publication. It was much more important to retain revenue from sales of sheet music than from the sales of records.

In 1921, the Mills brothers (not the singing group) were struggling publishers. Rising from poverty in New York City, largely on the strength of their ability to promote - or plug - other people's songs, Jack and Irving Mills eventually became owners of one of the most productive and important music publishing companies in North America - Mills Music. Formed in 1919, it was initially called "Jack Mills Inc." and in 1921 the company struck gold. The opera singer Enrico Caruso was the most beloved, revered, and top-selling artist of the era. He had just died, and Jack Mills Inc. bought the rights to a song titled "They Needed a Songbird in Heaven (So God Took Caruso Away)."  The song became so popular that in 1925 Time magazine described it as: "a ditty that was scratched from every phonograph, mewed through the sinus cavities of every cabaret tenor who could boast a nose, caroled by housewives at their tubs and business men at their shaving." (I should emphasize here that "housewives at their tubs" refers not to bathtubs, but to washing tubs -where the laundry was done by hand.)

It is possible that, were it not for this ditty, Mills Music would not have survived to, seven years later, discover and promote a gritty folk song called "St. James Infirmary."

Popular as "They Needed a Songbird in Heaven" was then, I have been unable to unearth a single vocal recording of this song, either by contemporary artists or on CD compilations of old songs. So . . . while it once enjoyed the heights of popularity, it has been forgotten today and, thus, is probably new to you.

So, without further ado, below you can see the three pages of the sheet music from 1921 (which should enlarge if you click on them). Merry Christmas.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Saxophone sheet music for St. James Infirmary


I recently had a request to show the sheet music scans I have for the saxophone section of the orchestra, in the 1929 arrangement that Fred Van Eps made for the Gotham Music Service - aka Mills Music.

There are actually several saxophone parts, so I shall include them all here. At the top of this entry is the 1st saxophone part, written for alto sax.

The also sax also served as the third saxophone, and that music is immediately below:


And, finally, the music for the 2nd saxophone, written for tenor sax:


All these images should enlarge if you click on them.

Monday, April 23, 2012

More sheet music for St. James Infirmary: drums, banjo, piano, trumpet

By a very long margin, the most popular posts on this site are the ones that offer the sheet music for "St. James Infirmary." From what I can tell, these visits are increasing in frequency; perhaps this reflects a corresponding increase of interest in this song?

The first music I posted from the orchestral arrangement was the piano score. The only other sheet music for "St. James Infirmary" that I have so far posted, the trumpet music, is the second most popular item.

I doubt many of the people who visit this site to download the music stay to contemplate the history of the song - which, of course, is what this blog is all about. But that's okay. Since this is the first orchestral score that was published for SJI, just by looking at the sheet music you are gazing into the past, into the early days of the song's commercial popularity.

The sheet music I have posted comes from an orchestral score published in 1929 by Gotham Music Service, Inc., a branch of Mills Music. After all the arguments have been exhausted, Mills Music was primarily responsible for popularizing this song and ensuring its survival. The arrangement of the score is attributed to the legendary banjoist Fred Van Eps (1878 - 1960).

Aside from the piano music and the trumpet music, I have scanned (but not yet posted) the sheets for bass, drums, banjo, saxophone, trombone, and violin. So, for all those who are looking for the sheet music I have already posted, you can click to find the piano sheet music or the trumpet sheet music.

I shall post other music sheets later. To start, here is the banjo music sheet:



And here is the drum music from that 1929 score (clicking on the sheets should give you a larger version):


Tuesday, December 20, 2011

"Stack O' Lee Blues" - the first sheet music (and more)

I have recently had some very interesting email exchanges with Max Morath, who I urge you to look into. I encountered him while ordering some sheet music that Mills Publishing produced back in 1924.

Irving Mills was, of course, Joe Primrose, pseudonymous and imaginary composer of "St. James Infirmary." Irving, along with his brother Jack, was also the proprietor of Mills Music, which early established itself as a purchaser and publisher of "blues" music. As I wrote in the book, I Went Down to St. James Infirmary, "Once it became clear to Irving and Jack Mills that there was money to be made from song copyrights, they were buying songs from black writers and reaping the profits from this newly popular musical form. . . . Musicians hoping to sell songs tramped the byways of Tin Pan Alley. They knew that if no one else would buy their songs, there was a good chance Irving Mills would."

As we know, Irving made a bundle off "St. James Infirmary" even though nobody in particular wrote it.

So I was intrigued when I saw this sheet music. This was the first time "Stack O' Lee" (or Stagger Lee, Stagolee, etc.) had been published, and I wondered if the Mills brothers were, back in 1924, attempting the same obfuscation they later performed with "St. James Infirmary." I mean, here was this old blues song, one that had arisen from the streets with no discernible original composer, being offered for sale as written by Ray Lopez and Lew Colwell. In fact, in a kind of synchronistic fashion, I had also been reading the recent book by Cecil Brown titled Stagolee Shot Billy (Harvard University Press, 2003) - an account of the history of the Stagolee song. Colwell wrote that, "In 1924 songwriters Ray Lopez and Lew Colwell published a sheet-music version called 'Stack O' Lee Blues.' This fact alone attests to the popularity of the song." (p 135).

I was surprised to find that this original publication of the "Stack O' Lee" song had almost nothing to do with its title. It is a silly dance tune which only mentions its supposed protagonist in the chorus: "Stack O' Lee Blues I don't know what it means. Come on honey let's be stepping, 'cause my feet won't keep still, I've just got to dance until I've had my fill. Stack O' Lee Blues. Play it over for me, I go crazy when I hear it, anywhere I may be, I long to hear them play that Stack O' Lee."

Here are some other lyrics: "Eeny, meeny, miney mo, they'll play some more, now let us catch a nigger by the toe, one more encore. We've got to left foot, right foot, hop and skip, Oh Lordy! hear that tune, ain't that a pipp . . ."

Oh dear me.

So, while this sheet music for Stack O' Lee wasn't an out-and-out ripoff, at least one of the authors had a history of entanglement in copyright issues. As recounted by one of the best music sites on the Web, www.redhotjazz.com, Ray Lopez had tried to copyright what is generally recognized as the first jazz record, "Livery Stable Blues," later known as "Barnyard Blues." The Original Dixieland Jass Band had neglected to copyright their smash hit, and Lopez scrambled to profit from it - although testimony showed that the Dixieland Jass Band had based their song on one of Lopez's earlier compositions.

Songwriting was like gold and prospectors everywhere were hoping to profit from it.

Here is the score for "Stack O' Lee Blues" as published in 1924. The pages should enlarge if you click on them.





Saturday, January 29, 2011

Does anyone know of Rita Arnold?

I recently received a letter from Walter J. Morrison III informing me that he owns quite a few pieces of sheet music that were handwritten by Porter Grainger. Many of these were made specifically for a Rita Arnold, who Mr. Morrison believes was a vaudeville/broadway singer. He purchased the music . . . wait, I'll let Mr. Morrison tell the story:

"I don't know much about Rita Arnold. I bought from the estate of - if I remember correctly - her granddaughter, many many years ago, a box of sheet music. It had to have 400-500 pieces. Most I traded off. These were period music sheets, marked with addresses in the NYC Tin Pan Alley, of which I'm sure you're familiar. I was told by the auctioneer that Rita Arnold had been a Broadway/vaudeville actress and singer, but I never pursued it because at the time I didn't know what was in the box.
"In the pieces I've kept, I have a typewritten lyric sheet for the song 'Fit to be tied,' the title of which was edited down from "I'm fit to be tied" (edit is on the page), and is copy-written 1934 . . . I also have typewritten lyrics for a song called 'Try gettin a good nights sleep.'

"In original hand written music, I have the following titles,
HOT MAMA, - SIGNED
HE JUST DONT APPEAL - SIGNED
COME UP AND SEE ME
MAKE ME LOVE YOU - SIGNED
MECHANICAL MAN
NO MANS MAMA
TIRED BUSINESS MAN
GOOD NIGHTS SLEEP
BABY HAVE A DREAM ON ME
POOR LITTLE GIGOLETTE
CIGARETTES, CIGARS
SUGAR HILL JAMBOREE
HOLLYWOOD
NEVER MARRY A TIRED BUSINESS MAN
TIRED O SAVIN - SIGNED
DOWN BY THE VINEGAR WORKS


"The ones that are signed, state they are by Porter Grainger. The ones that are not signed are definitely written by the same hand, but I assume they may not be by him but are adaptations of songs for Rita Arnold, done by him."

It seems that Mr. Grainger wrote some music specifically for Ms. Arnold, and hence the hand written pages. I have searched for information about Rita Arnold, but nothing has turned up. If anyone out there has knowledge of Ms. Arnold, please drop a line. Meanwhile, Walter J. Morrison III was kind enough to send me scans of several pages of this sheet music (one of which you see here) as written by Porter Grainger.

Friday, August 28, 2009

On the Trail of "Let Her Go, God Bless Her"

Just when I thought we were done with tracking the "Let her go, God bless her" lyric from St. James Infirmary, correspondent Richard Matteson sent me a number of emails. Thanks to Richard I have purchased a copy of the 1902 Harvard University Songs. It arrived in the mail today.

In an introductory note the compiler E.F. DuBois wrote that he "has tried to make a collection of songs that are actually sung at Harvard, by the Glee Club, by the crowds at the football games, and by the undergraduates and graduates." The result is a collection of twenty-seven songs starting with "Fair Harvard" and ending with "The Marseillaise." Sprinkled in between are titles such as "The Levee Song," "Jolly Boating Weather," "Bring the Wagon Home, John," and "The Mulligan Musketeers."

"She's Gone, Let Her Go," with its chorus that is so familiar from SJI, appears on page 72. The melody is utterly ordinary, a kind of parlor ditty that one could imagine being sung by hearty fellows in argyle sweaters, gathered around a piano with drinks in their hands. The lyric is the same as that identified in a March 21st entry on this blog, from the 1909 Harvard song book. The fact that it has appeared in at least two of these books, and that it is joined by only twenty-six others in this 1902 book, attests to its popularity at the time - at least among students at Harvard.

If you click on the music sheet here, you should view a larger copy that is easier to read.

While in "St. James Infirmary" this lyric gives the song a sinister quality, here it is as if the singer is saying about a woman who has left him, "It's your loss, Toots." Regardless of the fickleness of love, the singer remains constant: "There may be a change in the weather . . . but there'll never be a change in me." One can get the impression that this verse was indiscriminately, to use modern terminology, cut and pasted into SJI - and that the sinister shadow it casts is little more than a careless mistake. Had "St. James Infirmary" waited another ten years for its first recording, perhaps this verse would have dropped away, or been altered.

Of course, the 1902 date of this song does not help in tracking the birth of "St. James Infirmary." In that case, even circumstantial evidence does not take us much further back than, say, 1916.

Many thanks to Richard for this. (Mr. Matteson has a number of interesting areas on the web, including a series of entries on different versions of SJI - one of those pages can be found here: St. James Infirmary - Version 4 Jimmie Rodgers 1930.)

Sunday, December 28, 2008

St. James Infirmary piano sheet music

As you know, St. James Infirmary was composed by "Joe Primrose," who didn't exist. The song had been circulating for years, was firmly ensconced in the public domain, until copyrighted by the impresario and music publisher Irving Mills under the pseudonym of Joe Primrose. That was in 1928, the very early days of the song's commercial trajectory. The piano sheet music you see here, by far the most popular download on this site, was produced in 1929. I scanned this sheet music from an orchestral score, published by Mills Music, Inc. Clicking on the score should open a larger image, in which the notes can be clearly read. With all the people downloading this score - about 9,500 at the last count (March, 2012) - it would be good to read some of your impressions.

Friday, November 14, 2008

St. James Infirmary trumpet sheet music

The page of sheet music you see here was scanned from a 1929 orchestral score, published by Gotham Music Service Inc., sole selling agents for Mills Music, Inc., 148-150 W. 46th St., N.Y.C.

Clicking on the image should give you a larger, readable version of the page.

This particular score was almost certainly used by an orchestra of the period. An instruction pencilled in at the bottom of the page tells the player when to "stand up" during the performance.

In this orchestral score, music is included for drums, piano, 1st and 3rd alto saxophones, 2nd tenor saxophone, violin, trombone, 1st and 2nd trumpet, tenor banjo, bass, and 1st violin. The price for the entire score was 50 cents.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Charleston Cabin - our earliest link?

Although “St. James Infirmary” is undoubtedly a very old song, very few traces can be found that predate Louis Armstrong’s 1928 recording. There is the Fess Williams recording of “Gambler’s Blues” the previous year, of course. And Carl Sandburg’s inclusion of two versions of “Those Gambler’s Blues” in his book The American Songbag – also from 1927. A song with lyrical similarities can be found in song collector Dorothy Scarborough’s On the Trail of Negro Folk-Songs. We shall no doubt discuss that one further in a future post, but even if we acknowledge a direct connection that only takes us back to 1925, the year her book was copyrighted.

When researching “St. James Infirmary” I found anecdotal evidence that placed the song in minstrelshows around 1916, but not much that was more substantial than that. A little over two years ago, though, Rob Walker posted an interesting discussion about a song titled “In a Charleston Cabin.” It's well worth reading. "In a Charleston Cabin" was recorded – extensively – in 1924. Nothing in the lyric is reminiscent of our song, but the melody reminds one of “St. James Infirmary.” We don’t know, of course, if the melody was borrowed from SJI - but at the very least this extends our excavations back to 1924. (Since writing this over four years ago, I have uncovered much that places the SJI lyric much closer to the turn of the 20th century - RwH.)

For those of you who can read music, I am posting the sheet music to “Charleston Cabin” below. I would be most interested in any comments regarding how closely you find it resembles “St. James Infirmary.” By clicking on the images, you should be able to view larger, readable versions of the files.