UKULELE MUSING 51, 28 DECEMBER 2019: “There’ll Be Some Changes Made” as we move on to a New Year!
Well, fellow strummers. This is the last weekly musing (Number 51!) that I’ll be posting for 2019. This year I have delved into the back stories of some of the songs from our Blue and Yellow Books and, because of my chronological age and musical interests, I have focused mostly on songs from the mid-twentieth to mid-nineteenth centuries. I have tried to explore these within their historical as well as musical contexts.
At times that history might seem a bit too sharp or too flat for today’s ears; but, while facts and history don’t evolve over time, most music and many of our thoughts about it do. Nearly all of the songs in our books that I have mused about have morphed into so-called “standards”—fun to strum, fun to sing, and—to me—fun to know and learn a bit more about. All of this is what I have mused about over the past year.
So, thanks to those of you who have joined me for the ride. Rest assured, my musings will continue next year in one form or another!
Anyway, as we make this transition to the New Year, there is a song found in our Blue Book appropriate for the occasion: “There’ll Be Some Changes Made.” This was written by William Benton Overstreet (1888-1935), music, and William Wendall “Billy” Higgins (1888-1937), lyrics. Published in 1921, this is a good example of a popular song that has flourished in several genres, particularly as a jazz standard.
The song and its recording debut were revolutionary in that the composers, publisher, vocalist, record label, and the leader and musicians in the orchestra were ALL African-American. Musicologists identify this song and recording as a notable milestone of the Harlem Renaissance.
Overstreet was a songwriter, bandleader and pianist who worked in Kansas City, Chicago, and Harlem and early on used the word “jass” to describe his music. When he wrote and published the tune “Jazz Dance” in 1917, he changed things a bit and it was the first known use of the word “jazz” in a song title.
As a songwriter, Overstreet was rated by Langston Hughes, a chronicler and leader of the Harlem Renaissance, as one of the “better poets of jazz.”
Higgins, on the other hand, was an entertainer, and stage comedian. He was a singer as well as a songwriter—critically acclaimed as one of the most popular African-American comic actors of the 1920s. Often, as was done in those days, he performed in “blackface” makeup. Langston Hughes named him as one of the “Golden Dozen” black comedians of the Harlem Renaissance. He started his entertainment career in the South and achieved recognition performing in so-called “soldier shows” when he served in World War I.
After the war, he moved on to a vaudeville and musical career in Harlem where he linked up with Overstreet.
In the 1920s, “Changes” was recorded by vocalists Ethel Waters, Sophie Tucker, and others.
Ethel Waters: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=idtm0vGa01A
Sophie Tucker: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mw2bZFEztjc
In the 1930s, it was Fats Waller, Benny Goodman, Fletcher Henderson, and others,
Benny Goodman: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yWgOyfYYJPk
The Boswell Sisters, 1932: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yWgOyfYYJPk
in the 1940s, Vaughn Monroe and Peggy Lee and the movie “Play Girl,” which used our song as one of its themes, kept “Changes” alive.
Peggy Lee: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qpPnDB2-PRk
In the 1950s and ‘60s there were recordings by Billie Holiday and Tony Bennet.
Tony Bennett: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YElXtJelYWk
There were other movies that used the song and even Country and Western recordings by Bob Wills and Chet Atkins. In all, there have been over 400 recordings since the 1920s!
Bob Wills, The Texas Playboys: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nbC2Pce4HRc
Chet Atkins (“updated” lyrics): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=clLZqfQXsg4
And, how about some dance? Fosse Choreography: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KcSE7fKYqk0
And, of course, Banjo Ukulele: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EfPIckBeh4Y
I began my postings on ukulele lore and music back in 2016 by focusing on some of the more interesting ukuleles in my collection.
The next year I mused about ukulele history and ukulele culture. The following year I wrote about ukuleles and ukulele music relative to holidays and calendar events. And, of course, this year was about songs in our Blue and Yellow Books.
Believe it or not, these add up to a posting nearly every week–almost 200 postings over the past four years! Whew! Saved, of course, the old fashioned way.
This might be all for this year but, all I can say is “STAY TUNED!”