NOHO BANJO AND UKULELE MUSING–“IT’S A SIN TO TELL A LIE”

UKULELE MUSING 39, 5 OCTOBER 2019: “IT’S A SIN TO TELL A LIE” A SHAPE-SHIFTING SONG 

Talk about an earworm!  Here is another one of those songs from our Blue and Yellow Books that has been around forever and recorded by just about everyone. 

The YouTube list seems endless!  “It’s a Sin to Tell a Lie” is a popular song written in 1936 by one Billy Mayhew.  It began its recording odyssey with several dance bands

1936 dance band:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OuhUZ0m1uVE

and a couple of years later was jazzed up and popularized by Fats Waller. 

Fats Waller:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q9IQb_sKTEg

The Ink Spots made this one of their standards.

Ink Spots:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WODPk0obZLk

Recording data bases list over ninety versions!  Whew.

Originally written as a waltz, Waller made it a fast jazz tune, and—in the 1950s—it began being played by almost everyone in a fast four/four tempo.

Four/four tempo:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xLJiOP29M6s

To me, however, it’s a bluesy, message tune—what I often call a “whiskey and cigarette” song—best heard in in darkish, smallish, oldish place with a piano, bass, and singer.  Maybe just a scratchy old 78 RPM disk.  A fast four/four?  I don’t know; I’m a bit too old for that!   Here’s a version first recorded during World War II, a time of liaisons and partings and, I’m sure, promises made and broken.

Vera Lynn:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G-6aSU2UBWA

And, of course, the ultimate jazz singer of the day.

Billie Holiday:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N1nbQlSI_H0

To me, an intriguing part of the song’s backstory is the composer, Billy Mayhew.  After a search on Google, Wikipedia, and my dozen or so books on the history of popular music, there is NO reference to be found other than his full name of William P. Mayhew—no biography, no obituary, no amusing anecdotes, no mention other than dozens of references to him as the composer of “It’s a Sin to Tell a Lie.”  It doesn’t look like he wrote anything else and no one out there in musical history land seems to have pursued his story.  Go figure.

Anyway, there are a lot of recordings of the song in a variety of interpretations–its a real “shape-shifter. You choose your favorite! 

Elvis:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PMCdc4nIvW4

Bluegrass:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gkofE_pkK5U

Burlesque:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YE6IRQ24zko

Ukulele Parody:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MycyhiVspsM

Alas, I don’t have a YouTube of this, but one of the best renditions I’ve heard of “It’s a Sin to Tell a Lie” was the musical theme—and all-cast finale—of a jazzed up, 1920s version of one of the Shakespeare comedies as presented by Shakespeare and Company, in Lennox, Massachusetts, a couple of years ago.  With accompaniment by—what else—a ukulele!  Perhaps Billy Mayhew and Billy Shakespeare are one and the same!

Do you have an earworm yet?  Three/four time or four/four?

Stay Tuned!

Author: NohoBanjo of Northampton, Mass.

Hi Fellow Strummers. These “musings” are based on my interest and study of Banjo and Ukulele history, lore, and music. My goal is to both educate and enlighten by sharing what I have learned within a broad musical and historical context—with honesty and, at times, a bit of humor. These are my personal thoughts, not those of any group or sponsor. Needless to say, your thoughts and comments are, as always, welcome.

One thought on “NOHO BANJO AND UKULELE MUSING–“IT’S A SIN TO TELL A LIE””

Leave a Reply to Luke Kurata Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: