Hi neighbors and fellow strummers. These “musings” are intended to share some of the things I have learned over the years of banjo and ukulele history and lore, as well as some of the songs we find, listen to, and play. My goal is to both educate and enlighten by sharing what I have learned within the broader musical and historical context—with honesty and, at times, a bit of humor. Needless to say, your thoughts and comments are, as always, welcome.
BRUCE’S UKULELE MUSING NUMBER 19: 11 MAY 2019—ONE FOR THE LITTLE ONES, “ON THE GOOD SHIP LOLLIPOP”
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.
We often forget that Shirley Temple Blackserved 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.”
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!