UKULELE MUSINGS 2020, No. 45, 24 October 2020: A Train Song of the Sunny South in a Film About the Snowy North. Go Figure (Skate)!

One of the most forgettable movies of the 1940s gave us one of the most unforgettable songs of the era.  The movie was that rom/sno/com called “Sun Valley Serenade” . . .

. . . and the song was “Chattanooga Choo Choo,”

not the much earlier Hamlin/Craig song . . .

. . . or even Irving Berlin’s still earlier ragtime song “Down in Chattanooga.”  

The movie was more about skiing and girl chases–and catches–boy stuff . . .

Sun Valley Serenade (20th Century Fox, 1941). Half Sheet (22" X | Lot  #52370 | Heritage Auctions

. . . and didn’t have a thing to do with the city of Chattanooga and relatively little to do with trains—certainly not one from New York City heading south to Tennessee. Maybe there is one, though. Made by Lionel. 

But it did feature the Glenn Miller orchestra and their lively rendition of the song considered by many to be one of his best. 

Oh yes, the movie also gave us some great ice-skating choreography starring that three-time Olympic and ten-time World Champion figure skater, the Norwegian ice pixie –and one of Hollywood’s highest paid stars—Sonja Heine.

The song opens up with the band, sounding like a train rolling out of the station, complete with the trumpets and trombones imitating a train whistle, before the instrumental portion.  

The main song opens with a dialog between our singer—a passenger—and a shoeshine boy:

“Pardon me, boy, is that the Chattanooga Choo Choo?”

“Yes, yes, Track 29!””Boy, you can give me a shine.”

“Can you afford to board the Chattanooga Choo Choo?”

“I’ve got my fare, and just a trifle to spare.”

Our singer then describes the train’s route, originating from New York through Baltimore and “dinner in the diner” in North Carolina . . .

. . . before reaching the Chattanooga Railroad Terminal. 

There, a woman he knew from an earlier time in his life will be waiting for him.  WHOO WHOO! 

The song is very conjectural as no train went directly from New York to Chattanooga, and Penn Station at the time had only twenty-four tracks.  Ah, Hollywood! But, gentle readers, the folks in Chattanooga don’t seem to care that much about historical accuracy.

Oh yes, the Chatanooga (Choo Choo) Station is now a hotel. How time goes by when you’re having fun and have a song in your heart!

Moving on, I usually avoid relatively long YouTube segments in these musings, but this one is special—it has it all!  Not only does it have an extended production version of this song but it also includes the whistling and singing of band members, the voice of Tex Beneke, and the glissando of Glenn Miller himself. To many folks, including those around the world, “Choo Choo” is considered the quintessential Glenn Miller song.

To me, an added highlight toward the end of the clip is the singing and dancing segment with Dorothy Dandridge, in one of her first film appearances both singing and dancing, and the acrobatic Nicholas Brothers. 

Tap or click on the next image or link and sit back and enjoy the show! Our song was on the top of the charts back in 1941 and was the first certified Gold Record ever.  It was even nominated that year for an Oscar!

You can skip this next YouTube since it doesn’t have a thing to do with ukuleles or our “Choo Choo” song. It is, however, one of the great ice-skating choreography scenes on film starring, of course, Sonja herself.  Click or tap on the next image or link if you have the time for a chilly Sun Valley treat!

Now, back to ukuleles! Here’s a wonderful finger-picking version of the song in German and on a ukulele! Click or tap on the next image or link for a musical treat.

 “Choo Choo” has become such a singable, playable swing/jazz standard that it has found its way into the repertoire of a lot of ukulele groups around the country and around the world.  Tap or click on the next image or link to hear some of what the British lovingly call “Eldies” doing their ukulele thing.  Don’t we grey-heads have our fun!

Oh yes, at least one “Choo Choo” uke is out there, and a banjolele to boot!

So, I don’t know the next time any of us will take a trip on a train anywhere, much less Chattanooga, but, until that happy day, stay well, stay safe, stay masked,

and STAY TUNED!

Oh yes, remember the (earworm alert!) lyrics.

And, our favorite “Eldie” has a point . . .

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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