UKULELE MUSING 2020: No. 43, 10 October 2020: Colorful Days and Songs in New and Old New England

Those of us who live in New England—whether or not we grew up here or chose to live here—recognize it as a special place in American culture as well as history. It wasn’t just the Mayflower of 1620; remember the Winthrop Fleet of 1630 as well as those who arrived well before and well after! 

We can take pride in the fact that many of our towns date back to the 1600s and that New England has long been a leader in manufacturing, commerce, and education.  All this with a colorful, rolling landscape from the hills and valleys to the shore. 

Needless to say, a lot of musical pride has been exhibited over the years giving us a nice segue into this week’s musing.

Here’s an early take on romantic New England from one of the original “crooners” of the 1930s. Click or tap on the next image or link to listen and look at the full moon!

Alas, we don’t have a period sheet music cover for this next one, probably because it dates from about 1630! In fact, it’s considered by some historians and scholars as “America’s first folk song.” It doesn’t paint that pretty a picture of New England but here it is! Click or tap on the next image or link to be taken way, way back in time to learn about “New England’s Annoyances.” Have things changed that much?

Make’s you want to ask: “Tell me again why we chose to live in New England.” Just kidding, of course . . .

Let’s just move on to other New England states and their contribution to musical lore. There are so many tunes to choose from so I’m going to cull down to just a few. That gives me more to post at a later date!

Let’s start a counterclockwise musical “bus tour” through New England pivoting around our home state of Massachusetts. As we make those twists and turns–no Midwestern grid system here in New England–so don’t forget to “USE YA BLINKAH!”

Heading due south . . .

This song doesn’t have much to do with the State of Connecticut but it is a fun reminder of the Bing Crosby film of the 1950s based ever so loosely on Hartford dweller Mark Twain’s opus. Click or tap on the next image or link to make yourself “busy doing nothing.” I guess that musing is a form of not doing much of nothing.

Here’s a version of this one by Judy Garland and Bing Crosby. Sweet. Click or tap on the next image or link for this one.

And, of course, the Connecticut state song–a ukulele version, no less. Click or tap on the next image or link to strum along. It’s pretty much an all-New England tune but Connecticut claims it as their own. I guess they get the “macaroni.” Go figure.

Continuing our tour east along the coast . . .

Here’s the Guy Lombardo version from 1945 of this most well known of all Rhode Island songs. Click or tap on the next image or link to hear it on an early 78.

Alas, nothing about Rhode Island from the state’s most famous musical son–George M. Cohan. Go figure. Moving on . . .

But, click or tap on the next image or link to hear a rather silly song of the 1950s but, it’s about Rhode Island, of sorts.

Moving a bit farther north around Cape Cod, Boston, and the North Shore of our home state on our musical trek . . .

Alas, pretty fuzzy photos with this one but the early wax recording doesn’t sound that bad. To be transported back to the 19th century, click or tap on the next image or link.

Now, I’m going to break my musing rules a bit and add a new New Hampshire song that’s too good not to include. Click or tap on the next image or link to see what this state is all about!

Moving way up north now, even if it is known as “down east” . . . Again. Go figure!

Here’s a jazzy version of this 1920s musical Maine treat. Click or tap on the next image or link for the music, lyrics, and visuals!

Sometimes a “state” song has more to do with something other than nostalgia and more with real history. Folks probably “Remember the Maine!” more than they think about the State of Maine. Such is the power of song, history, and a famous American rallying cry.

This isn’t a recording of the above song but it is one of the more famous old-time folk songs and, after all, it does have something to do with the sinking of the battleship Maine! Click or tap on the next image or link for a nice version of this one.

And, of course, we need the quintessential Maine song from the 1930s. Here it is performed in sequestration this pandemic year by none other than a bunch of “Mainiacs” (I guess they prefer “Mainers”)! Click or tap on the next image or link, grab a stein of Harpoon or Alagash, and join in on this campus rouser!

Time to sober up, buuurrrp, and head southwest . . .

A bit scratchy but a true period take on this old musical homage. Click or tap on the next image or link for a listen.

Now here’s another song from a few hundred years ago, again without a period sheet music cover. But, click or tap on the next image or link for a ballad of Vermont’s own “Green Mountain Boys.

Here is what has become a jazz standard in daylight as well as moonlight, played on the ukulele, no less! Click or tap on the next image or link to float away on a moonbeam of sorts.

As a bit of a digression, we folks from Northampton, Massachusetts, can proudly claim Calvin Coolidge as one of our own, but the folks in Vermont can hang on to the mere fact that he was born and grew up there. We have the Massasoit Street home and the Presidential Library; they can have the birthplace. Credit goes where credit is due! Besides, Massachusetts has better Maple Syrup! Nya, nya, nya . . .

And now, let’s “flip the blinkah” and head back home to Massachusetts!  

There are a few relatively new songs that are decidedly Massachusetts in origin and lore if not in title. Suffice it to say that if you want to dig into these on your own, head over to our friends at YouTube and there will be all sorts of fun waiting for you!

Back to our favorite little musical instrument and musing.

Here’s a nice ukulele version of this Massachusetts tune played on an eight-string baritone uke. Nice sound! Click or tap on the next image for a listen.

While “Alice’s Restaurant” is probably Guthrie’s most well known song about Massachusetts, did you know that he wrote the official state FOLK song? Click or tap on the next image for his rendition of “Massachusetts.”

Now, to put the cherry on top of our Massachusetts part of our musical tour, here is one of the strangest ukulele performances you’ll ever see. Click or tap on the next image or link to take the statewide tour!

Now that we are back home, gentle readers, we need to talk a bit about our favorite little musical instrument–the ukulele. Besides good musical instrument stores throughout the state where some really nice ukuleles can be purchased, there are some beautiful ukuleles being built right here in Massachusetts.  I’m sure that there are other ukulele builders in New England that our friends at Google can help you find.  But, here are a couple of in-state products –good people making great sounding (and looking) ukes!

Here’s my “Art Deco” style koa tenor made by the Snowshoe Ukulele Company (snowshoeuke.com) in nearly next door Chicopee:

And here’s my “Fluke” tenor, also koa but with an engineered polycarbonate body, made by the Magic Fluke Ukulele Company (magicfluke.com) in nearby Sheffield:

Go online and check both of these builders out–beautiful looking and sounding instruments!

And, of course, there are a couple of long ago ukulele makers from Massachusetts. Alas, neither of these vintage beauties is mine! First, the Vega Company, of Boston, and probably their most popular uke, the so-called “Arthur Godfrey” baritone of the 1950s:

And then, for you really serious collectors out there with a coouple of thousand dollars or so to spend, here is a well decorated “B&D Silver Bell” banjolele made by the Bacon and Day Banjo Company of Groton, Connecticut, in the 1920s. Here it is on Antiques Road Show. Wow!

So, as the sun sinks slowly in the west (non-New England New York), we end our musical bus tour of our New England.

And, even if we remain sequestered and safe, we can look out the windows of our bus (or home) and take in New England in all its Autumnal glory, and strum on (or wish to strum on) some of those great New England tunes on one of those great Massachusetts ukes!

Stay safe, stay socially distanced (that’s just about the length of four soprano ukes, just over three tenors, or a bit longer than two baritones),—stay masked . . .

. . . and STAY TUNED! And, remember, in New England we welcome folks of all proclivities and persuasions, particularly ukulele players!

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.

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