UKULELE MUSINGS 2021, No. 7, 13 February 2021: “A Valentine, But In a Minor Key”

Every mid-February over the past three or four years I’ve done a musing pertaining to Valentine’s Day.  Needless to say, there are tons of songs, sheet music covers, ukulele-oriented cards, and YouTube recordings to give some sparkle to these. 

This year, however, I’ve decided to do things a tad differently and focus on just one song, probably one of the most familiar and most covered songs of the “heart-shaped” genre—“My Funny Valentine.”

My Funny Valentine” is a show tune from the Richard Rogers and Lorenz Hart musical “Babes in Arms” . . .

. . . in which it was introduced by popular teen-aged actress and singer Mitzi Green. 

“Babes in Arms” opened at the Shubert Theater on Broadway in 1937 and ran for 289 performances.  In the original play, Mitzi Green’s character, “Billie” sings the song to her boyfriend “Val”—whose name matched the lyrics of the song.   

In the song, “Billie” describes “Val’s” characteristics in unflattering and derogatory terms (at one point she describes his looks as “laughable,” in keeping with the title), but ultimately affirms that he makes her smile and that she doesn’t want him to change. 

Alas, gentle readers, there seems to be no YouTube of her performance in the role.  You may click or tap on the next image or link to see and hear her a couple of years before “Babes in Arms.” A teenager heading into adulthood!

She went on to an on-again, off-again career that faded by the 1950s.  Some folks still remember, however. 

My Funny Valentine” lasted much, much longer and has become a jazz standard appearing in over 1300 albums performed by over 600 artists!  Not too shabby for a minor-key show tune from the Depression Era.

Here’s one of the earliest stand-alone recordings of this song, probably in the Mitzy Green style. Tap or click on the next image or link for a listen.

What has given the song a long, long life in the musical world is that the lyrics are sufficiently gender-neutral to allow the song to be sung by or about either gender, and a large proportion of the cover versions are by men describing a hypothetical woman.  What’s not to like?

Click or tap on the next image or link for a guy’s version of our song.

And, of course, there are innumerable jazz versions. Click or tap on the next image for one by Sarah Vaughan.

In addition to “My Funny Valentine,” several songs from the Broadway production of “Babes in Arms” have become jazz or pop standards—”Where or When,” “The Lady Is a Tramp,” “Johnny One Note,” and “I Wish I Were in Love Again.”  

Back to Broadway in 1937.

Basically, the plot of the musical centered on a group of precociously talented teen-age children of impoverished vaudevillians (their so-called “babes in arms”) banding together to oppose the closing of their small-town theater by stuffy local authorities by doing—what else?—“putting on a show!”

That was Broadway; then along came Hollywood. Sorry Mitzi; hello Judy!

Delightful in its own right, the 1939 film version of “Babes in Arms” starred Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney and was directed by the inimitable choreographer Busby Berkeley. However, it was, as Hollywood was wont to do, massaged and rewritten. So, in the movie, the “babes” band together to prove to their theatrical and vaudevillian parents that they had real talent and could make it to Broadway on their own. Needless to say, they did this by “putting on a show!” So much for helping out the theater in their home town.

The movie script — as significantly revamped, restructured, and rewritten to accommodate Hollywood’s take on things — left out much of the mildly leftist political slant of the original musical. And — tragedy of tragedies — almost all of the Rogers and Hart songs from the Broadway musical were discarded, including “My Funny Valentine.”  Go figure.

Just for fun, however, click or tap on the next image or link to hear bits of songs that survived from 1937 to 1939–with the full Hollywood treatment!

But, I digress . . .

Now, as far as ukuleles are concerned, there are quite a few out there in ukulele land with a valentine or sweetheart theme–minor or major key. Here for fun are just a few.

And, of course, a favorite “sweetheart” from my collection:

Now, before we go and spend the better part of the day opening all of our valentines that we’ll be getting from our sweethearts on the 14th, here is one of many, many YouTube ukulele versions of “My Funny Valentine.” Click or tap on the next image or link for one showing off a rather rare member of the uke family–a “Harp Ukulele.” Our song is also in our Yellow Book if you want to follow along

And of course, there are a lot of vintage cards that could easily fall into the “funny valentine” category. Sadly, there are way too many that, in my humble opinion, may be a tad to prurient for the eyes of many of you gentle readers. But just for fun let me focus on a few that fall into the more benign genre of “What Were They Thinking?

Whew!

So stay safe, stay sequestered (from everyone except your strumming valentine!), . . .

. . . stay masked . . .

. . . and STAY TUNED!

And, without question, STAY FUNNY!

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.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: