UKULELE MUSING 2020, No. 30, 18 July 2020–Reflections on Political Songs of the Past

Note: A couple of things about included YouTubes. From time to time you may see an ad for a few seconds before the intended content clicks in.  Alas, in these days of political scrums, its hard to tell just whose face will pop up. I just haven’t popped for the premium service. Sorry. And, from time to time a particular YouTube might seem a bit too long for you busy folks out there.  Feel free to click it off when you want, hopefully after you have enjoyed the point I was trying to make.  Sometimes less is really more! 

Now, off we go!

I am not a clairvoyant but I have become convinced–during these months of introspection, sequestration, and arm’s length association–of one salient fact. To wit: that we dedicated strummers are all working feverishly to push all things from our minds save for our ukuleles. I assume, therefore, that few of you have been bothered enough to look up from your many songbooks to notice the world of cloudiness hovering around us. No, not the nasty, #$%& virus but the nasty, #$%& political shenanigans that are fast afoot! Alas, gentle readers, we must STAY TUNED in!

Therefore, I muse on . . .

Now, of course, this little blog is not the place to opine on the varying shades of reddish or blueish colors of the swirling political clouds.  Suffice it say that I know we will all be bombarded with a full range of punditry and polemic again, again, and still again between now and the presidential election in November.  So, as is my wont to do, let me avoid those clouds by drifting back to childhood memories particularly of MY first president, Franklin Delano Roosevelt—”FDR.”

Franklin D. Roosevelt: Lot of Thirty Prints, Sheet Music, Post ...

Now FDR was not a ukulele player and I doubt that he paid much attention to our favorite little instrument. But, it has been noted that he did play the piano (a bit) and sang soprano (?) in his school choir. 

And, lucky for us, there is a PLETHORA of sheet music extolling his time in office from his first presidential campaign in 1931 through the Great Depression, Prohibition, and World War II to his death in 1945.  While he was reviled by some and revered by many (what else is new in politics?) it was the latter who seemed to write the songs of those days that a few (a very few, alas) of we so-called “eldies” might recall. 

While FDR did, at least in the above photo, show an interest in old-time string bands, here are just a few songs–really quite forgettable musically but nonetheless extant–from FDR’s four (!) successful presidential campaigns.

THREE PIECES OF FDR SHEET MUSIC. Includes: "Veto ... Political ...

Not memorable but, nontheless, available to us. Tap or click on the next image for a quick listen.

His vice-presidential running mate, James Nance Garner, known affectionally as “Cactus Jack,” had a much more colorful musical link! Alas, I can’t find a ukulele version of this one, nor any other recording for that matter, but the sheet music cover is great!

A Western balance to the Eastern Roosevelt, politically speaking.

There were, of course, more dignified songs written for FDR’s subsequent campaigns but, again alas, not particularly noteworthy musically speaking.

For some reason the “R-R-R” trope was the thing. Go figure.

THREE PIECES OF FDR SHEET MUSIC. Includes: "Veto ... Political ...

Tap or click on the next image for a listen to this enthusiastic jingle of a song.

And still another . . .

At least with this one, someone has bothered to remember and record it. Tap or click on the next image for a quick listen.

Just imagine if the Gershwins had written a campaign song for Roosevelt! Click or tap on the next image for a three-syllable “name song” from 1938 that would have worked.

Then there were the songs that simply honored the president during his terms in office.

How about the end of Prohibition? It ended on FDR’s watch.

Finally, a tribute song that someone recorded!

Click or tap on the next image for a song that thanks the president for his so-called “Fireside Chats” by which he periodically radioed his voice (and persona) into the homes of anxious Americans. He reassured them that they really had the freedom to not fear the terrors and travails of the day–imagine a president doing that!

Needless to say, there were many, many more accomplishments during FDR’s terms in office–way too many to trace musically in this brief posting. Perhaps more anon.

Roosevelt was, of course, president during the lead-up and fighting of World War II.

And this is where ukuleles come in! Here is one of the favorites from my collection, a so-called “Victory” uke that was made and sold early in the war years.

Note the “V for Victory” design in Morse code–dit, dit, dit, dah!

He was also honored in death as Word War II was ending–a sad and anxious time for a lot of Americans . . .

. . . who had never thought that much about the possibility of that piano playing haberdasher from Missouri, Harry Truman, becoming “Commander in Chief!”

At least when Truman ran a campaign on his own he had a lively theme song, purloined and adapted from the 1921 Harlem musical review “Shuffle Along.”

There are many, many YouTube recodings of this tune but, since a lively campaign song would be a fun addition to this posting, here’s the revamped (for his campaign) version. Click or tap on the next image to “shuffle along” wildly with Harry.

But, I digress; now, back to FDR. He served not without error, as history points out, but with honor for his time.

And, we can’t leave without a musical homage to the then first lady, Eleanor Roosevelt, who was an unelected but renowned statesperson in her own right.

Someone should write a song on this theme of hers. Now is your chance!

However, I was able to find a YouTube of another “Eleanor Roosevelt tune.” Click or tap on the next image for a look and listen.

Now here is the windup to this posting.

While not originally an “FDR tune,” “Happy Days are Here Again” is the song most of us associate with my first president.  This tune (actually a “saloon standard” associated with the end of Prohibition) was written by our old Tin Pan Alley pals Milton Ager and Jack Yellen and published in 1929. 

The story is that the score was among the house band’s “cheat sheets” reached for by the conductor when he was asked to play a “lively” song during the windup of the Democratic Convention of 1931. It has ever after been associated with FDR and with the Democratic Party.  Tap or click on the next image to see and hear!

Tap or click on the next image to hear a good old country song about good old FDR being elected!

Alas, singable songs and colorful sheet music associated with our latest run of presidents can’t match those of the past.  But, we learn to live with what we have and hope for the best even if today’s politics don’t deliver the tunes of long ago. 

So, stay sequestered, stay safe, stay masked and STAY TUNED! 

Now, for you gentle readers and fellow strummers, here is a bizarre but decidedly non-political interpretation of that great FDR campaign tune. I won’t dignify it with a description; it speaks for itself. Click or tap on the next image and watch out!

I think that he is smiling under that mask!

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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