Noho Banjo and Ukulele Musing–“Ain’t She Sweet”


Ain’t She Sweet” is a song composed by our old friend Milton Ager (1893-1979), with lyrics by Jack Yellen (1892-1991).  This is probably one of the most prolific songwriter pairs of the Tin Pan Alley era and our Blue and Yellow Books are well-salted with their work.  This bright little tune was published in 1927 and epitomized the Flapper Era of the Roaring Twenties.  

Like their song “Happy Days are Here Again,” a tune we talked about a few weeks ago, it became popular in the first half of the 20th century and became an oft-performed standard over the years.

The Flapper Era:

We’ve talked about Ager a few times before, but it’s worthwhile to touch a bit on Yellen.

Born to a Jewish family in Poland, Yellen emigrated with his family to the United States when he was five years old. He was raised in Buffalo, New York, and began writing songs in high school.  After college, he became a reporter for the Buffalo Courier and continued to write songs on the side.  Early on he collaborated on a number of “Dixie” songs including “Alabama Jubilee,” “Are You From Dixie?,” and “All Aboard for Dixieland”—contributing to Tin Pan Alley’s nostalgic (by the standards of the day) perception of bucolic life in the “Old South.” 

Yellen’s collaboration with vaudeville star, Sophie Tucker, for whom he was retained to write special material, produced one of her most well-known songs, “My Yiddishe Momme,” a song in English with some Yiddish text.  Sorry, this one is in neither our Yellow or Blue Books!

But, here is a nice 1920s version of “Ain’t She Sweet” by ukulele virtuoso Johnnie Marvin.

Johnnie Marvin:

Probably one of the more interesting musical links from the past to the near present was the 1964 version of “Ain’t She Sweet” by, of all groups, The Beatles.  This rock and roll arrangement was recorded in Germany with John Lennon on lead vocals. 

Popular also in Europe, it reached number 19 on the US Billboard Hot 100 at the time.  Go figure!

The Beatles:

So, here we have a song most of us hear as a celebration of a 1920s fellow’s flapper sweetie.  Actually, Ager’s musical inspiration was his daughter Shana, age 4. 

Sweet!  (Later in life, she became the author and TV journalist Shana Alexander.) 

Anyway, here is—perhaps—a more age-appropriate interpretation of the song. 

Shirly Temple:

Now, gentle readers and fellow ukers, I can’t leave you without a serious, contemporary ukulele version—with all the verses, no less!

Ukulele with Verses:

Now I ask you very confidentially to  . . .

Stay Tuned!

Noho Banjo and Ukulele Musing–“I Ain’t Got No Body”


To avoid an accusation of being “un-woke,” let me preface this musing with a bit of musical history. 

The early part of the 20th century saw a rise in the popularity of African-American blues and jazz.   At that time music by African-American composers and performers was classified by publishers and recording studios as “race music.”  

This was also the era when African-American contributions in the fields of visual, literary, and musical arts became known as the “Harlem Renaissance,” a time rooted in the history of cross-cultural communication among the races in America. 

Jazz blended African and European musical traditions into a distinctly American style of music. Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington were popular jazz musicians.

This was when black musicians and music were embraced by white audiences, who—before the age of jazz and ragtime—would seldom have accepted African-American performers and their music as more than minstrelsy or, at best, a novelty.

Such were the turbulent, but formative days in the evolution of American popular music.  In its heyday, so-called “race” music both celebrated and popularized the work of African-American composers and performers. 

This category was a recognition of the growing demand for this musical genre by both black and white sheet music and record buyers—as well as performers—and was the antithesis of those comic Tin Pan Alley songs mostly (but not all) written by white songwriters that mocked and caricaturized immigrant and racial groups, particularly African-Americans. 

This, then, is the genesis of many of the enduring songs of this era that are found in our Yellow and Blue books. †

Now, on to a tune in our Yellow Book that helps tell this story.

I Ain’t Got Nobody, and Nobody Cares for Me” is a popular blues song copyrighted in 1915 that fits right in to the music publishers and record producers catalog category of “race music.”  It became a perennial standard, recorded by many artists of many generations—both white and African-American—in styles ranging from pop to jazz to country music.  In the loosey-goosey music publishing business of the time, some credit Roger A. Graham (1885–1938) with the lyrics and Spencer Williams with the music—both African-Americans. 

On the other hand (and as attributed in our Yellow Book), Chicago and St. Louis ragtime pianist and blues composer Charles Warfield (1878–1955) claimed to have originally written the song and copyrighted it in 1914, with himself as the composer and David Young and Davy Peyton as the lyricists—again, all African-Americans.  Because of the growing popularity of African-American jazz and blues in Chicago, Frank K. Root & Co., a white music publisher based in that city, acquired both copyrights and published the sheet music in 1916.  Ah, the music business in the sweet old days!  

1920s Jazz Band Version:

Many artists had hit records with the song, starting with Marion Harris in 1917. Famous hit versions in the 1920s included those of Bessie Smith,

Fats Waller, Sophie Tucker, and Louis Armstrong.  In the 1930s, it was a hit for Bing Crosby, the Mills Brothers, Cab Calloway, and Chick Webb.  Later it was even recorded by Bob Wills, Merle Haggard, Sammy Davis, Jr., Coleman Hawkins, Rosemary Clooney, and many others—white as well as African-American.

Bessie Smith:

Needless to say, musical funsters liked the “bodyless” title. Marty Feldman, as Igor, sang the first few bars in a scene from the movie Young Frankenstein,

where only his character’s head appears in a line of skulls, thus making it appear as if he literally “had no body.”

In the 1950s Louis Prima and wife Keeley Smith paired “I Ain’t Got Nobody” with the tune “Just a Gigolo” and that musical pairing was copied my many including—of all people—the Village People in a disco version of the medley in 1970s.  The two tunes didn’t have a thing to do with each other; they just became one of those musical “couplings.”  Go figure! 

Louie Prima & Keely Smith Medley:

What was stacked on and sold from the “race music” shelf over a hundred years ago, I Ain’t Got Nobody, and Nobody Cares for Me,” has transcended musical boundaries and remains a simple, bluesy jazz standard with a long, long life—well worth listening to and playing. 

It has a relatively simple chord progression in the key of F, and is right at home in our Yellow Book.  There are many more where this one came from! 

This is not a ukulele version but features a tenor guitar—four steel strings that can be tuned DGBE like a baritone uke.  Follow the bouncing ball!

Mills Brothers with Tenor Guitar:

If you want to learn more about this musical era, I recommend Arnold Shaw’s book: BLACK POPULAR MUSIC IN AMERICA—The Singers, Songwriters, and Musicians who Pioneered the Sounds of American Music.  Another good read is Phillip Furia’s and Michael Lasser’s book: AMERICA’S SONGS—The Stories Behind the Songs of Broadway, Hollywood, and Tin Pan Alley.   Check them out—history you can listen to!


Noho Banjo and Ukulele Musing–The Dark Side of Collecting


At the halfway point of the year, I thought I’d take a break from my stroll through the backstories of songs found in our Yellow and Blue Books and look again at our favorite little musical instrument—the ukulele.  In particular, I want to focus on a few ukes in my collection that, as some purists might contend, are of a clouded ancestry—i.e., FAKES.  Or rather, to me, HOMAGES.

Since I began my personal exploration of ukulele lore and collecting a dozen or so years ago, I have managed to acquire, restore, and display a goodly number of vintage ukes—well over a hundred at last count—thanks to the tolerance and forbearance of my wife, to say nothing of empty spaces in our house suitable for display.  These have come into my hands via swaps, tag sales, antique shows, and—needless to say—the internet. 

A tiny part of my collection.

Many of these are, of course, nice examples of fairly common, so-called “novelty” ukes from the 1920s through the 1950s that, when I started collecting, could be had for just a few dollars.  Several others in the collection are much more uncommon.  When and if they ever come to market, these command a significantly higher price.  But all are fun to own, restore, display, and—at times—play. 

There are, however, a few ukuleles out there that, among serious collectors, are known as “Holy Grails.”  These are the ones that rarely show up on the market; but when they do, can command prices that are way, WAY beyond the reach of my impecunious fingers!  What to do? 

To be quite honest, being a craftsman as well as a collector, I FAKE IT.  Scratch that!  I PAY HOMAGE.  I do research, work out designs and patterns, gather bits and bobs of vintage instruments, and—Bob’s your uncle!— the result is what I call an “Un-Holy Grail” for my collection.   I don’t do this to fool folks with a “counterfeit”; all are clearly acknowledged and labeled.  Rather, these additions help me to study and tell in a hands-on way the often strange, always interesting stories of the “royalty” within the family of our favorite little musical instrument.

More from the collection.

Here are four examples from my collection, with pics of some originals.


Here’s an original with the S/V ad.

In 1927, America went gaga over the aeronautical adventures of Charles Lindbergh.  This coincided with the same level of craziness Americans were showing for the ukulele and the Stromburg-Voisinet Company of Chicago hurried to touch both bases. 

Expect to pay well over $1000 for an example in good, original condition—whew!  Here is my humble effort, mahogany with a spruce top in a concert scale.  No; the propeller doesn’t work. 

Here’s my take on this one. It sounds pretty good!


Before World War II, Hawaii’s Kamaka Ukulele Company made a variety of well-crafted, high-quality instruments.  One of their signature products was a vaguely oval shaped uke dubbed “the Pineapple.”

Made of locally harvested koa wood, some were decorated with a waterslide decal of—what else—a pineapple.  This caught the fancy of tourists flocking to the islands in those days, particularly those interested in bringing home a high-quality ukulele.  The decal was, so to speak, the frosting on the cake and a koa Kamaka Pineapple in good, original condition—with an intact decal, of course—can sell for around $600 or so.  

An original Kamaka Pineapple.

Here is my lower-case pineapple, of koa but by an unknown maker, with a decal made with the magic of today’s computer technology.  A fun project that’s a bit better than a wall hanger, it sounds pretty good. 

Never underestimate the power of a decal!  A future project will be to make a copy of the still rarer, and much pricier, hand-painted Kamaka Pineapple.       

My next project!


This fabric-covered uke was made by the Regal Company of Chicago back in the 1950s.  I can’t imagine that they sounded very good with that layer of leopard-skin fabric glued to the sound wood.  That’s probably why very few were sold and why fewer survive today. 

If you run across one in good, original condition, expect to pay at least $500. 

I started my project with a beat up, bottom-of-the-line Hilo soprano.  I found some fabric from a remnants bin at the craft store and, once again, made an appropriate decal.  No.  It doesn’t sound very good, but it does attract attention! 

This is my humble effort from the remnant bin.

The fringe is an added touch from the selvage of the remnant—a design step above the original!  I guess it’s a Style-2 Jungle!   


Back in the 1920s, the Gibson Company offered these as a special order and very few—probably only five or six—were made.   

This is a $10K original . . .

They used their higher-quality soprano uke models and had an artist on their staff hand-paint them with—of all things—a poinsettia theme.  My guess is that these were meant to be a Christmas thing but became a dud on the non-holiday market.  Nonetheless, there are only a couple of these that have survived over the years with the latest selling at auction for over $10,000! 

This is my $10 effort . . .

I had fun taking a beat-up mahogany soprano with a pearloid fingerboard and peghead (definitely NOT a Gibson) and, with a few tubes of acrylic paint and some gold and India ink pens, came up with this fun fooler.  Mele Kalikimaka!

So, for the purpose of transparency, I thought it worthwhile to discuss with you—my gentle readers—my drift to what some may call the “dark side” of collecting.  Done for fun, not for profit, I will keep at this as long as I have holes in my collection that only craftsmanship rather than cash can fill.  Alas, such is the life of one suffering from Ukulele Acquisition Syndrome! 

But I digress from my 2019 mission.  So, now, back to the Yellow and Blue Books for the rest of the year.

Stay Tuned!

Noho Banjo and Ukulele Musings–“Ja-Da”


“Ja-Da (Ja Da, Ja Da, Jing, Jing, Jing!)“—found in our Yellow Book—was written in 1918 by a piano player, Bob Carleton (1894-1956), while he was serving in the US Navy during World War I. 

He was stationed at the Great Lakes Naval Training Center, just north of Chicago, and performed with a trio on the base and in local bars. 

The simple tune became a jazz standard over the years and was recorded by just about every performer from that day to this—a simple 16-bar tune with a long, long life.    

In his definitive American Popular Songs, Alec Wilder writes about the song’s simplicity: “It fascinates me that such a trifling tune could have settled into the public consciousness as “Ja-Da” has. Of course, it’s bone simple and the lyric says almost nothing.  Perhaps the explanation of its success lies in the lyric itself—”That’s a funny little bit of melody—it’s soothing and appealing to me.” It’s cute, it’s innocent, and it’s “soothing.” And, wonderfully enough, the only other statement the lyric makes is “Ja-Da, Ja-Da, Ja-Da, Ja-Da, Jing, Jing, Jing.”  There are, however, more verses!

Sheet Music Verses:

Here it is again but this time for we Ukers!


Carlton went on to be a prolific songwriter/performer and published over 500 songs.  He wrote ditties like “Teasin'”, “I’ve Spent the Evening in Heaven”, “I’ve Got to Break Myself of You”, and “Where the Blues Were Born in New Orleans.” 

 Ever hear any of these?  Thought not.  But, just for fun, here is Carlton himself at what he describes as his “Bar Room Baldwin”

Bob Carlton, Ragtime Piano:

At least we and the rest of the musical world still have “Ja-Da, Ja-Da, Ja-Da, Jing, Jing, Jing!”  A simple song by a sailor.

Stay Tuned!

Noho Banjo And Ukulele Musing No. 23: “We’ll Meet Again”


During the celebration this week of the 75th Anniversary of the Normandy landings during World War II, I would be remiss not to touch on one of the most meaningful songs of that era and one that is in our Yellow Book.  “We’ll Meet Again” is a 1939 British song made famous by singer Vera Lynn. 

The song is one of the most famous of the era, and resonated with soldiers going off to fight as well as with their families and sweethearts on the home front.  The nostalgic lyrics (“We’ll meet again, don’t know where, don’t know when, but I know we’ll meet again some sunny day.“) were very popular during the war and made the song one of its emblematic hits.  Here’s her version:

Vera Lynn:

In 1941, during the darkest days of the Second World War, Lynn began her own radio program, Sincerely Yours, sending messages to British troops serving abroad. 

She also visited hospitals to interview new mothers and send personal messages to their husbands overseas. 

Because of her work with the troops, Vera Lynn became known in Britain as “the Forces’ Sweetheart.”

Those were the days of parting and meeting and parting, hopefully, to meet again.  “We’ll Meet Again” became a standard finale on both sides of the Atlantic for musical theater and music hall performances, and even movie theaters with their “bouncing ball” sing-alongs.   

Vera Lynn is 102 years old today and still singing, if only in the hearts of those who remember those war years.

“We’ll Meet Again” lived on beyond the war years and found its way into many films and television shows, particularly as a “closer.”  Probably the most well-known version—if not the most depressing—was in the ending to the blackly satirical 1964 film “Dr. Strangelove.” The film ends with an ominous montage of nuclear explosions accompanying Lynn’s song of hope (?).  

Dr. Strangelove Finale:

Even Stephen Colbert used it to end his show “The Colbert Report” a couple of years ago.

Stephen Colbert:

Not to be outdone, there are a few dozen ukulele versions, plus the song in our book.


Lynn herself sang the song in London on the 60th Anniversary of VE Day in 2005 and it was sung just this week at the Normandy Invasion Anniversary Celebration in Portsmouth, England—the departure port for the many American, British, Canadian, and other Allied troops boarding their ships to cross the English Channel to land on the beaches of Normandy.

75th Anniversary:

So, let’s remember the boys and men, girls and women of the “Greatest Generation” who fought, lived, and sang throughout the war.  “We’ll Meet Again!”

Stay Tuned!

Noho Banjo and Ukulele Musings–“San Francisco Bay Blues”


Today’s the day many will gather to celebrate the life of Steve Jewell, one of our good ukulele friends who passed away a couple of months ago.  This is one of Steve’s favorites that we often played during our Saturday morning strum sessions at the Forbes Library here in Northampton. It’s a great blues tune written by a great performer.  Let’s give it a go one more time for Steve!   

A one-man-band rendition of the song—featuring a kazoo solo—was recorded by Jesse “Lone Cat” Fuller (1896-1976) in 1962 and included in a Smithsonian Folkways compilation title “Friends of Old Time Music.”  

Jesse Fuller, One-Man Band:

“San Francisco Bay Blues” is considered an American folk/blues song and is the best known—and most often performed—composition by Fuller who first recorded the song in 1954.  The song was brought into wider popularity in the early 1960s by club performances by Ramblin’ Jack Elliot and Bob Dylan.  Covers have been performed by many artists including Jim Croce, Eric Clapton, The Weavers, and Peter, Paul, and Mary just to touch on a few.

 Peter, Paul, & Mary:

Fuller was born in Jonesboro, Georgia, and, growing up, worked at numerous jobs: grazing cows for ten cents a day; working in a barrel factory, a broom factory, and a rock quarry; working on a railroad and for a streetcar company; shining shoes; and even peddling hand-carved wooden snakes.   By the age of 10, he was playing the guitar. In the 1920s he worked his way to California and settled in Oakland, across the bay from San Francisco, where he worked on the railroad for many years as a fireman, spike driver, and maintenance man.  During World War II he worked as a shipyard welder, but when the war ended he found it increasingly difficult to find work.  So, around the early 1950s, Fuller began to consider the possibility of making a living as a musician.

Up to this point, Fuller had never worked as a professional musician, but he was an accomplished guitarist and had busked for money by passing the hat. He had a good memory for songs and had a large repertoire of crowd-pleasers in diverse styles from blues to country.  He began to compose songs, many of them based on his experiences on the railroads, playing them in his syncopated style. When he set out to make a career as a musician, he had difficulty finding reliable musicians to work with. Thus, his one-man-band act was born.

Richie Havens:

Fuller could play several instruments simultaneously, particularly with the use of a headpiece to hold a harmonica, kazoo, and microphone. In addition, he would generally include at least one tap dance, soft-shoe, or buck and wing in his sets, accompanying himself on a 12-string guitar as he danced.

His style was open and engaging. In typical busker’s fashion, he addressed his audiences as “ladies and gentlemen,” told humorous anecdotes, and cracked jokes between songs.

During those one-man-band years, Fuller also devised a new kind of instrument he called a “fotdella”, a big six string bass viol that he played with his foot via a system of pedals and levers.   To complete his rig, he had a right foot pedal for the fotdella, a left foot pedal to run a high-hat cymbal, and a harness to hold a harmonica and kazoo. While sitting down in the middle of all this, he also sang and played a twelve-string guitar.  Whew!  No ukulele, however.

Here, however, is a one-man-band version—with ukulele:

Ukulele, One-Man Band:

In the late ’50s and early ’60s, Fuller became one of the key figures of the blues revival, helping bring the music to a new, younger audience. Throughout the ’60s and ’70s he toured America and Europe, appearing at numerous blues and folk festivals, as well as countless coffeehouse gigs across the U.S.  He continued performing and recording until his death in 1976.

So, let’s celebrate the life of Steve Jewell, his ukulele, and one of his—and our—favorite songs  . . .

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!

Noho Banjo Ukulele Musings


The Great Depression of the 1930s gave us many songs that touched on the hard times of the era, including the iconic “Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?,”

and one from our Yellow Book, “Pennies from Heaven.” This was written in 1936 with music by Arthur Johnson (1898-1954) and lyrics by Johnny Burke (1908-1964).

 It was introduced by Bing Crosby in the 1936 film by the same name and recorded by just about every name in the book.    Johnston and Burke were nominated for an Academy Award for Best Song that year for “Pennies . . ..”    Burke wrote the song “Swinging on a Star” that won the Academy Award in 1944—another great Crosby tune.  

Not only is this song a popular American standard, but two movies used this as a title—the 1936 Crosby film and one in 1981 with Steve Martin. 

The Martin film was actually based on a BBC Television series with the same title starring Bob Hoskins.

The earlier Crosby film had an offbeat story line of a wrongly imprisoned singer who promises a condemned fellow inmate that he will help the family of the inmate’s victim when Crosby is released.  (Whew!)  Needless to say, complications ensue with the best part of this tearjerker of a movie being our song.

The BBC Series and the later Martin film share a totally different and rather bizarre plot of sheet music and record salesmen in the 1930s (Chicago for Martin and London for Hoskins) who fantasize about the songs they sell while lip-synching and dancing to them, along with other characters in the film.  Here’s a fun one with Martin’s co-star Bernadette Peters and a bunch of musical kids:

Don’t watch these for the plot (which, in my opinion, is pretty dreadful!) but fast forward to the music and choreography—much fun! 

Here’s a down-and-out street musician, just given a free meal by Martin, and his take on the title tune.

Here’s the same scene from the BBC:

The best version of this song I ever heard, however, was a couple of years ago when our own AEIOUker David Juno played his uke and sang the song as the offertory hymn at a Northampton Unitarian Society service—truly, pennies from heaven!  Sorry, no U-Tube of that one!  But here is another ukulele version just for fun.


Almost as good as Dave!


Noho Banjo & Ukulele Musings



One of the songs hidden in the back of our Yellow Book hasn’t been asked for that often–”On the Good Ship Lollipop.”  This might be a good tune when we have children in the audience.


Anyway, “Lollipop” was the signature song of child actress Shirley Temple (1928-2014) who first sang it in the 1934 movie “Bright Eyes.”


The song was composed by Richard A. Whiting (1891-1938, composer of “Hooray for Hollywood,” and “Ain’t We Got Fun”) with lyrics by Sidney Clare (1892-1972, credited in 1934 with the earliest usage of the term “rock and roll”).  In the song, the “Good Ship Lollipop” travels to a candy land.


Contrary to general belief, however, the “ship” referred to in the song is an airplane—for your aviation buffs, it was an American Airlines DC-2.


Shirley Temple:

In addition to Temple’s film performance, 400,000 copies of the sheet music were sold and a recording by Mae Questal (the cartoon voice of Betty Boop)

download (2).jpg

sold more than two million copies—a quintessential kid’s song from two or three generations back.

Mae Questal:

We often forget that Shirley Temple Black served her country in vastly different ways. As a child star in the late 1930s, she cheered up a nation suffering the effects of the Great Depression, making 20 movies by the time she was six years old.


As an adult she became a businesswoman and then a diplomat when President Nixon appointed her as a delegate to the United Nations.


President Ford named her ambassador to Ghana in 1974, and later as his Chief of Protocol, the first woman to hold that job.


In 1989, President George H.W. Bush named her ambassador to Czechoslovakia—quite a career move up from the good ship Lollipop!

Now for the hard part. 


In the 1935 Civil War themed film “The Littlest Rebel,” six-year-old Shirley Temple  appeared in blackface briefly.  Not enough, in my opinion, to tarnish the reputation of a beloved child star who became a respected diplomat in adulthood—certainly not enough to tarnish a tune–from a different, earlier movie–as innocent as “Lollipop . . .”   


Also, in my opinion, Tiny Tim—while forever tarnishing the reputation of the ukulele as a serious musical instrument—gives us this falsetto version of “Lollipop.”  

Not as bad as you might imagine:  

Tiny Tim:

Back to ukuleles for those of us with a sweet tooth.



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!