UKULELE MUSINGS 2020, No. 16, 11 April 2020–An Old Melody All Dressed Up, “Easter Parade”

By whatever authorities seem to be in charge of these things, it’s been confirmed that the Easter Bunny (as well as the Tooth Fairy) have been declared “essential workers” during this season of sequestration.

That being the case, it behooves me to do my bit to keep Easter alive on our screens and in our hearts, if not in our churches and parade routes. So, let me, once again, dip into postings past to help us (and me) through these days with a little history and a little musical mind-candy. We all could use some of that!

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Hidden away in the back of Liz and Jim Beloff’s “365 Days of Ukulele” songbook, among other so-called holiday songs, is that old favorite “Easter Parade.”  Basically, it’s a boy-girl romancing song written around that depression-era fashion parade on New York’s most fashionable street—5th Avenue. 

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It was written by Irving Berlin, among many other tunes in our book, and published in 1933. 

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Not being one to waste a good thing, however, Berlin had originally written the melody in 1917 for another song called “Smile and Show your Dimple”—a “cheer-up” song for a girl whose guy had gone off to fight in World War I.

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Tap or click on the next image for a musical treat (of sorts).

This tune achieved modest success by the singer/actor Sam Ash in 1918, but was soon forgotten—by everyone except Berlin.  He resurrected it with a few modifications and new (quite secular) “holiday” lyrics and title for the 1933 Broadway revue “As Thousands Cheer.” 

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As with most of Berlin’s songs, it later appeared in movies of which the 1948 musical “Easter Parade,” with Judy Garland and Fred Astaire, remains the quintessential version. 

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In fact, the whole film was written around the song.   

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Click or tap on the next image for a cinematic treat.

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UNSPECIFIED – JANUARY 01: (AUSTRALIA OUT) Photo of Fred ASTAIRE and Irving BERLIN; w/ Fred Astaire (Photo by GAB Archive/Redferns)

Irving Berlin (1888-1989) was widely considered one of the greatest songwriters in American history.  Born Israel Beilin in Imperial Russia, Berlin arrived in the United States at the age of five. He published his first song, “Marie from Sunny Italy“, in 1907, receiving 33 cents for the publishing rights. 

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Click or tap on the next image for a listen to this oldie by Irving.

The publisher misspelled his name on the sheet music and, ever after, “Beilin” became “Berlin.” His first major international hit was in 1911, “Alexander’s Ragtime Band.”  

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It is commonly believed that Berlin couldn’t read sheet music and was such a limited piano player that he could only play in the key of F-sharp. With six sharps, it’s not an easy ukulele key so our book gives it to us in F.  

So, as a kickoff to Easter Sunday, coinciding this year with Passover, we have a Jewish songwriter, an immigrant born in Russia, who gave us this quintessential Easter song—only in America! He also wrote “White Christmas,” and of course, “God Bless America.”   Now, it’s time to take our favorite little instruments in hand,  don our protective masks, and

make our hideaways the interior equivalent to 5th Avenue.

Stay home, stay well, and STAY TUNED! This too shall pass.

Next year in Pulaski Park anyone?   

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Author: NohoBanjo of Northampton and, now, Easthampton, Mass.

Hi friends, neighbors, and 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. Needless to say, your thoughts and comments are, as always, welcome.

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