ANOTHER MUSICAL MUSING, 14 May 2023–“Mothers’ Day Tunes From Those Sweet Old Days”

In these days of families spread all over the country and the world, a lot of mothers and their offspring will not be able to spend as much time together on Mothers’ Day as they would like. So, gentle readers, as a musical musing for the day I am drawn to the plethora of “Mom Songs” out there. These, just like all our mothers, are found in different styles and with different personalities.

Mothers’ Day is one of those holidays where those of you who are mothers, and all of us who have or have had mothers, can celebrate in person if we can, or in remembrance if we must. And, gentle readers, there are songs, songs, SONGS!

Let’s start with one about a young man gone astray who only wants to come home to the comfort of his mother.

Click or tap on the triangle in the next image for this tearjerker of a start, by the great Country singer Eddie Arnold.

And, of course, there are others of this ilk.

Anyway, the word “mother,” or some infantile singsong form of it, was probably the first intelligible word most of us spoke.  Needless to say, the world of popular song is replete with references to “mother” in all its many linguistic forms.

And, of course!

Now, gentle readers, for another musical treat here’s one I’m sure we all know. It’s the most repeated nostalgic “m-o-t-h-e-r” song ever!

Click or tap on the triangle in the next image for a listen to this oldie from 1916. A bit scratchy, but there it is.

And, then, there were some pretty maudlin “mother” songs–particularly during the World War I years. These were, of course, always popular tearjerkers when played on folk’s parlor pianos or on the wartime vaudeville stage. 

Here’s a more modern, barbershop take take on this Jolson tune. Click or tap on the triangle in the next image to see and hear these sailors sing.

And then, there are all the “remember your greyhaired mother” songs, another category of “tearjerker.”

Here’s a great song–a jazz favorite still today– that alludes to a grey-haired Mother even though the words are not in the title.

Tap or click on the triangle in the next image for jazzy interpretation of this old standby by The Ink Spots.

And, of course, there were many ethnic “Mama” tunes,

Click or tap on the triangle in the next image for a listen to this Irish chestnut.

And another!

Click on the triangle in the next image to give a listen to the great Sophie belt this one out!

And, needless to say, many examples of what we might call “linguistic appropriation” today.

Click on the triangle in the next image to hear Al Jolson, America’s most popular entertainer in his day, belt out this most popular song of his. And, if you want to see him do this in his signature blackface makeup, just go to YouTube on your own and search.

Now, just to wipe the tears away, there were some comedy “Mother” songs.​

Click or tap on the triangle in the next image for a listen to this one from the 1950s, sung by a greyhair (not a mother) of today.

And, needless to say, the “slangification” of the word “Mama”–much like “Baby” and “Babe”–was a stalwart of the Jazz Age and gave new meanings to the words.

Instead of a scratchy, 1920s recording of this musical chestnut, here is a more up-to-date version played on one of my favorite non-ukulele instruments–a plectrum (four-string) banjo. Click on the next image for a real treat!

And then, here’s a red hot version of another “Mama” song of the period:

Click or tap on the next image to hear the great Sophie.

​Anyway, remember your mothers on this day and send them a message of what they are, or were, to you—whether or not it involves flowers.

Maybe just a Zoom, a Facebook, or even the old-fashioned letter or telephone!   

Click or tap on the triangle in the next image to hear this wartime favorite by Bing himself.

And, just for fun, click or tap on the triangle in the next image for a 21st Century musical Mother’s Day song. Smile!

Stay safe, stay healthy, stay in touch with Mom, stay as masked as you need to be . . .


ANOTHER MUSICAL MUSING, 6 May 2023: “My Old Kentucky Home,” An Anti-Slavery Song Reimagined for Today.

Besides being “Pride Day” here in our happy valley, the first Saturday in May is the traditional “Derby Day” at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky.  That’s the day the city and the horse racing world goes crazy with the annual running of the Kentucky Derby, this year the 149th!

In keeping with the day, I find myself musing about one of America’s most familiar songs:  Stephen Foster’s “My Old Kentucky Home, Good Night”—a beautiful, sentimental, easy-to-sing song that has become a traditional highlight, along with big hats and bourbon, of the race day festivities at the Derby. 

I think it’s worth going “’round the track” on this theme, however, so let’s start with our song as it as has been reimagined for today. Click or tap on the triangle in the next image for a look and listen.

Probably few folks among those singing their hearts out in the stands at Churchill Downs—Black or White or Other—know of the song’s original lyrics and are aware of its deep anti-slavery message. So, let’s go back and take a look at Foster’s song as HE imagined it.

A reading of its history tells us that “My Old Kentucky Home, Good Night” was written in 1852, and that Foster was inspired by reading the book “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.” His thought was to put the message of the book into music and he initially named his song “Poor Old Uncle Tom, Good Night.”

The song as Foster wrote it wasn’t meant to tell a pretty story of a pretty place, nor did it lend itself to minstrelsy as so many of his other so-called “plantation melodies” did. 

Rather, it’s a musical lament that was embraced by the anti-slavery, pro-abolition movement of the times and its leaders, including Frederick Douglass.  It’s a song that many historians say made a difference in its day. 

There are three verses and a chorus in Foster’s original song.  The first verse speaks of an elderly slave’s looking back in time and recounting the loss of his former home and community, albeit in the slave quarter of a Kentucky plantation.  

Then “hard times come knocking at the door” and our narrator tells that, to get enough cash to pay off his master’s heavy debts, he and his wife and children had been sold “down the river.” 

The chorus has our narrator pleading with his wife to “weep no more” for our old Kentucky home “far away,” while in the second verse, he remembers his former friends and family who “sing no more” by the “old cabin door.” 

He then tells of the heavy burdens of his harsh new life toiling in the sugarcane fields of the deep South, far away from their “old Kentucky home.”  In the last verse, he laments that “the head must bow and the back will have to bend,” wherever the slave is forced to go, and that he, himself, has only a “a few more days to tote the weary load.”  

Foster’s song was not meant to be a nostalgic homage to a contented and bucolic life in ante-bellum Kentucky.

Rather, it focused on the unfair and inhumane treatment of slaves.  It strived to bring awareness to its listeners of the unspeakable hardships that slaves and slave families were forced to endure as property rather than people.

Now let’s take a listen to our song as Foster intended it to be.  Needless to say, you didn’t hear it quite this way in today’s Derby version, rinsed of both original intent and the language of the day. Click or tap on the triangle in the next image to hear his message.

Think how, in its day and in its small way, a song about a STOLEN homeplace could became a tool to help end the scar of slavery in America.  And think how, today, our song lives on but reimagined into a celebration of a NOSTALGIC homeplace. It’s a beautiful song sung heartfully in the bright sunshine of a world-watching sporting event. But, it’s a song tinged with a dark, shape-defining shadow. When the light of history is shone upon it, we are helped to see into the past. And, hopefully, to learn from it.

Now, having done my musicological preaching for the day, Alison and I will still enjoy a mint julep, watch the beauty of horses running ‘round the furlongs on Derby Day, and muse about the beautiful blue grass and fast horses of Kentucky today . . .

. . . and the not so beautiful history of the old Kentucky of slavery days—”My Old Kentucky Home, Good Night,” a song from the past rinsed and reimagined for today.

So, let’s “weep no more” and pause to reflect with a traditional mint julep in hand, not the watery $13 souvenir glassful sold at the Kentucky Derby today. But, I digress.

Our recipe for the real thing: Over crushed ice in a silver julep cup, add a scant teaspoon of simple syrup flavored with crushed mint from your garden.  Top this with as much Kentucky bourbon (100 proof, if you have it) as the cup and you can handle, and garnish with a fresh mint sprig.  Sip through a thin straw.  Repeat as often as you like—for tradition and to reflect on what history can teach us.

And, yes, STAY TUNED!

Noho Banjo & Ukulele Musings–“Princess Poo-Poo-Ly . . .”


Most of us have glanced (askance?) at the tune “Princess Poo-Poo-ly Has Plenty Pa-Pa-Ya” in our yellow book as we flip past while looking for other tunes we actually play.  I don’t think that many of us have heard this one performed so it has never been chosen at any of our strum sessions.  While musically obscure, I do think that it’s worth a listen, if not a strum.  And, it does gives us an interesting back-story.

Princess Pupule has plenty papayas
She loves to give them away
And all of the neighbors they say
Oh me-ya oh my-ya you really should try-ya
A little piece of the Princess Pupule’s papayas ….

Published in 1939, the sheet music for “Princess Poo-poo-ly Has Plenty Pa-pa-ya” credits the song to Harry Owens (1902-1986), well-known conductor of the then popular Royal Hawaiian Band.  But did he really write it?  

A tradition of the time was that a few music publishing experts, like Owens, would assist local songwriters in publishing their works in exchange for a co-writing credit that would then get them a share of any royalties.  It was actually written by one Donald McDiarmid (1898-1977), a member of Owen’s orchestra and a songwriter who, in a bar, wrote the whole tune in one evening.    

Owens and his orchestra recorded it, but rarely if ever played “Princess . . .” at any of the sophisticated tourist hotels in Waikiki.

Owens considered it as “low-brow, mildly ribald, comic hula,” and was simply content with the royalty money.  He and his hotel band stuck with the sweet and haunting island ballads and love songs that Mainland tourists came to Hawaii to hear and dance to.

Owens was not just another big band leader, however.  He tried to learn all he could about the local culture by mixing and working with native Hawaiians and local musicians.  He wanted “a marriage between the music of Hawaii and the Big Band sound on the mainland.”  His best-known song is “Sweet Leilani, written for the 1934 movie “Waikiki Wedding” starring Bing Crosby. 

The song, which became the first Hawaiian song to win an Academy Award, was named after Owen’s daughter.   

Owens was an early devote of what became known as “hapa-haole.”  Literally “half foreign,” this was music with a Hawaiian theme and sound written and performed by non-natives.  

Ensconced at the Moana Hotel in Waikiki, his live shortwave radio broadcasts were transmitted around the world.  

Using tricks like a microphone planted on the beach to underscore his show with surf sounds, his show was instrumental in building up the Hawaiian mythos—and attracting ship- and plane-loads of tourist cash.  

 At the same time, however, a lot of hapa haole perpetuated a somewhat benign, but still stereotypical, view of Hawaiians and island visitors.  Among many other tunes, think of our Yellow Book favorite: “Ukulele Lady.”  

In retrospect, the period from 1900 to 1940 was a period in which hapa haole ripened into its own in all the popular styles of the day—ragtime, blues, jazz, foxtrot and waltz tempos—often with a hula tempo, but jazzed up a bit. 

It was a unique period marked by the enormous response by mostly Tin Pan Alley songwriters (who seldom set foot on a beach let alone one in Hawaii) to write, and Mainland bands to perform, songs—a few tasteless, many simply humorous, and a lot quite romantic—about life and love in the islands and, particularly, with those lovely hula girls.

Pearl Harbor and World War II eased this a bit as comic and caricature songs about Hawaii were seen as unseemly in wartime.  Since the 1970s, however, there has been an increasing effort by Hawaiian musicians and Mainlanders to focus on those songs that reflect the indigenous music of the Hawaiian people and the beauty and traditions of the islands—even if hapa haole

In recognition of his pioneering contribution to this, the Hawaiian Academy of Recording Arts awarded Harry Owens its 1987 Lifetime Achievement Award.  

Anyway, our song, “Princess . . . ,” had legs, so to speak, and while it wasn’t played that often in the upscale hotel ballrooms of tourist Hawaii, it did find a home in Honolulu “tiki-tonks” and with increasingly popular “Hawaiian” bands on the Mainland.   

It’s a catchy tune with novelty lyrics and in a style described by some as “Hot Hula”—certainly not indigenous Hawaiian music but, nonetheless, a song of the islands. 


Still, many observers and critics writing today point out that many Hawaiians themselves celebrate hapa haole for helping to preserve their history and language. 

There were silly, wacky songs in the 20s, swing in the 30s, rock ‘n’ roll in the 50s, surf-style in the 60s and so on.  It’s a testimony to the Hawaiians’ grace, humor, and sense of perspective that they make room for this music in their polyculture society of today.

After all, we mainlanders still play ukuleles and wear Hawaiian shirts.  Go figure. 

Oh Yes.  “Poo-Poo-Ly” is a play on the Hawaiian word “pupule” (pu-PU-lee) which translates as “crazy; mad; insane.”  Also, her “papayas” is Hawaiian slang for, well, your guess is as good as mine . . .

Stay Tuned!

MUSICAL MUSING: No. 2, October 2022: 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 seasonal musing.

Here’s an early take on romantic New England from one of the original “crooners” of the 1930s. Click or tap on the triangle in 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 triangle in 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.

And, of course, the Connecticut state song–a ukulele version, no less. Click or tap on the triangle in 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 triangle in 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, don’t chicken out. Just 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 triangle in 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 triangle in 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 triangle in 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 triangle in 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 by a bunch of “Mainiacs” (I guess they prefer “Mainers”)! Click or tap on the triangle in 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 . . .

Now here’s another song from a few hundred years ago, again without a period sheet music cover. But, click or tap on the triangle in 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 triangle in 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 do 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!

But, 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 triangle in the next image for a listen.

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

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

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

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.

So, STAY TUNED! And, remember, in New England we welcome folks of all proclivities and persuasions!