November 1999 Edition
Throughout most of history women generally have had fewer legal rights and career opportunities than men. Wifehood and motherhood were regarded as women's most significant professions. In the 20th century, however, women in most nations won the right to vote and increased their educational and job opportunities. Perhaps most important, they fought for and to a large degree accomplished a reevaluation of traditional views of their role in society.
Women have been featured in countless songs over the last 100 years. These songs were also a direct reflection of the composer's beliefs and prejudices about women as well as women's roles during the times when the songs were composed. This month we are presenting you with a survey of songs across a period of less than 30 years, from 1896 to the mid 1920's. During that time sweeping social changes were seen, especially in the area of women's rights and freedoms. The songs of this very short period span a period in women's history that chronicled massive changes in women's rights and their place in American society.
Join us now for a whirlwind tour of the changing images of women as reflected in the songs from the golden age of popular music.
The Harmless Little Girl With The Downcast Eyes|
Music by: Gustave Kerker
Lyrics by: Hugh Morton
Cover artist: A. Gunn
We begin with a song from before the turn of the twentieth century. In the late 1800's, women's role was clearly that of a mother, wife and servant of man. Women had few rights and few career options. They could not vote in elections, were virtually barred from certain professions and were hard pressed to find much fulfillment beyond the drudgery of housework.
Men's view of women during these times was highly idealized and beauty, humility and above all, innocence were important virtues. The cover image of this work and the title of the song speak volumes about women's place in society.
Listen to this original work.
Yet, this song's lyrics speak not only of the coveted virtues of womanhood but also recognize the gentle power within that women have always had and point the way to the rapid changes that women would experience over the next 30 years.
Speaking to the virtues and what may be behind them, the lyricist says:
I know a lit-tle girl who is ver-y, ver-y shy
Be care-ful of the girl that's shy.
She goes a-bout so mod-est-ly withdown-cast eyes,
Be care-ful of the down-cast eye!
The song goes on to speak of other virtues but ends with the warning to watch out for the harmless looking girls with downcast eyes. Of course the downcast eyes speaks to the expected deferential behavior of a proper young lady of the times. The music is quite nice and I found it to be a delicate and pleasant tune, we hope you do too.
Sadie, My Creole Lady|
Music & Lyrics by: Max Hoffmann
Cover Artist: J. Frew
Now the century has turned and in just a very short time, women have begun to push the envelope and step out of the "downcast eyes" mold and are attempting to play a greater part in society. In spite of that they are still cast in certain roles and music still holds them in an idealized state.
Hear this "raggy" old song.
Though the cover on this title shows a woman in a more "liberated" view, less harmless, less well behaved,(actually, a pretty risque pose for the times) the lyrics still hold fast to the traditions of the prior century.
"My heart is beam-in', all night I'm dream-in'
Of my ba-by's soft brown eyes, with love light a stream-in'
No stars are bright-er, My heart is light-er
All the time I think of you, I do, I do.
For you're the sweet-est lit-tle gal I ev-er, ev-er knew, oo-oo-oo-oo"
The song is very much a product of the Ragtime era in which it was written. You can hear the ragtime tempos, and bass line clearly. It is a very upbeat and toe-tapping kind of song.
Music & Lyrics by: Geoffrey O'Hara
Cover artist: Unknown
The period from 1900 to the great War of 1914-1918 were years where women were struggling to seek the right to vote and to gain equality in the professions. By the 1910s, women were attending many leading medical schools, and in 1915 the American Medical Association finally began to admit women members. Women also had not greatly improved their status in other professions. Before 1930 less than 2 percent of all American lawyers and judges were women.
Hear Jimmy's "stuttering cry" to K-K-Katy.
The War created career oppotunities that would not have probably opened up in less stressful times. Women actually were enlisted as ambulance drivers and had other high risk jobs in front line areas. In spite of the clear capability women showed during these times, they continued to be typecast as caregivers and in the traditional idealized images. Many of the songs speak to the nurses and casts them as gentle heroic angels of mercy.Songs such as "The Rose of No Man's Land" and "Salvation Lassie of Mine" were composed by the dozens.
The other primary image cast during this time was the girl back home. The loving wife, sweetheart and even friend who stoicly waits patiently for her man to return. Among the most famous of these songs is this one, a song still sung today and another of those that is instantly recognized. The cover states it is the "stuttering song sensation". Indeed, it was and still is.
Just A Girl Like You
Music by: Harold B. Freeman
Lyrics by: Charles L. Reddy
Cover artist: S. Lielke, Jr.
You would think that by 1919 there would have been some major changes (and there actually were) yet we men just could not cast off that female ideal. The war is over, prohibition is enacted and women finally have the vote but we just can't let go. This song's cover represents a giant step backward in the depiction of women. It is totally garish and in my opinion, overdone. As a work of art, it is somewhat outlandish, even laughable in today's light yet shows prodigeous talent. It has an almost photo-realistic quality. Here we have a step back to earlier times. Perhaps the artist was seeing the direction of things and hoping to hold on to old ideals.
Listen to this lovely waltz.
The lyrics of this song harken back to the earlier times and may represent one of the last gasps of the victorian female image.The music is one of those dreamy waltzing love songs that we all enjoy from time to time. If ever there was a hymn to women, this is it.
Oh! What A Pal Was Mary
Music by: Pete Wendling
Lyrics by: Edgar Leslie & Bert Kalmar
Cover artist: Barbelle
Ah, good old Mary. This song shows clearly that women were taking a different role and the prospect of equality is raised by the idea of a woman being a man's pal. But wait, maybe it is only an illusion. The implications of the friendship are clear but in the end, the lyrics return us to the image of the woman as an icon of love and in this case, unrequited love.
Oh! what a gal was Mar-y, Oh! what a pal was she,
An an-gel was born on East-er morn, and God sent her down to me.
Heart of my heart was Mar-y, Soul of my soul di-vine,
Though she is gone, love lin-gers on,
for Mar-y old pal of mine
Musically, I think this is one of the finest love song/waltzes I have heard from the period. A very well crafted tune that nicely fits the lyrics and conveys a heartfelt feeling of deep love.
Listen to "Oh! What A Pal Was Mary".
Can You Tame Wild Wimmen?
Music by: Harry Von Tilzer
Lyrics by: Andrew B. Sterling
Cover artist: Barbelle
Ok, we have finally arrived at the point at which the changes in women's rights and roles are being painfully felt by some men. Harry Von Tilzer, one of the period's greatest songwriters in collaboration with Andrew Sterling have managed to express the concern that many a man may have been feeling in 1918. As a result, this good natured novelty song portrays the agony of one man (Jay Augustus Henpeck Brown) who can no longer control his woman as he seeks help from the circus lion tamer! After watching the lion tamer, Mr. Brown said..
Can you tame wild wim-men? Can you tame wild wim-men?
You made a ti-ger stand, and eat out of your hand,
You made the hip-po do the flip-po hon-est it was grand,
but can you tame wild wim-men so they'll al-ways lead a sweet and sim-ple life?
With a wild fer-ro-cious glance, that pierced him like a lance
You made the grizz-ly bear get up and do the hula dance
but can you tame wild wim-men? If you can please tame my wife!
This song adds new meaning to: "I am woman hear me roar"!
Listen to "Wild Wimmen".
I'll Be Your Baby Vampire If You'll Be The Fool That Was
Music & Lyrics by: Grace Doro
Cover artist: unknown
Now we have the emergence of the Vamp, or vampire of the 20's. The "vampire" name was given to the outgoing and forward women of this era. The reason for the vampire title, later shortened to "vamp" was to convey the image of the femme fatale. The coquette and flirt who would attract men and then use them for their own purposes. Hmm, looks like at long last the tables have turned.
The lyrics of this song speak of "Mazie" who had two lovers, one young one old and how she played them off each other. One for the love, the other for the "wealth". Throughout the song she shows us just how bold she is:
"It's the cute lit-tle chick-en with the ba-by stare,
that makes men mort-gage up their homes, and give their wives the air."
And then later:
"Just buy me great big lim-ou-sines, and cast-les by the sea
You may have been vamped quite a lot;
but what it takes to make you buy the ring, I've got;"
Pretty bold stuff. Wouldn't you know that it would take a woman composer/lyricist to finally step out and break the mold?
Listen to Mazie do her thing..
Music by: Con Conrad
Lyrics by: Sidney Clare
Cover artist: Unknown
This song is another lasting classic, still performed to this day. We are well into the flapper days and the roaring twenties are starting to roar yet this song is one where the woman is on the wire between the downcast eyes and the vampire. Using all of her feminine wiles to catch a man (with the help of "Ma") she plays the vampire in snagging him but acts the innocent who is being pursued by the nasty male predator. The two verses of the chorus play off one another to show both sides of our "Little Lilly". Just comparing these two lines tells the story:
Ev-ery min-ute he gets bold-er, Now he's lean-ing on my should-er;
(same spot, second chorus)
Ma I-m meet-ing with re-sist-ance, I shall hol-ler for as-sist-ance
Methinks the lady doth protest too much.
Listen to Lilly's plea to Ma.
You've Got To See Mamma Ev'ry Night (Or You Can't See Mamma At All)
Music & Lyrics by: Billy Rose & Con Conrad
Cover artist: Barbelle
It is 1923, the major changes are behind us and women are settling in to their new found freedoms. All of a sudden you realize that the point of view of songs has swung 180 degrees. A very significant point to this succession of songs is that the first several songs in our edition (up to the vampire song) were all sung from from a man's viewpoint, we are now seeing songs written from the woman's viewpoint. The story tellers are women, they are in control and they are the ones now treating men as icons, love objects or just flat out using them for their own end.
This song takes the viewpoint of a woman telling her man to get with the program, show her some attention or hit the road.
You've got to see Mam-ma ev-'ry night, Or you can't see Mam-ma at all
You've got to kiss mam-ma, treat her right, Or she won't be home when you call
If you want my com-pan-y, you can't fif-ty fif-ty me
You've got to see Mam-ma ev-'ry night, Or you can't see Mam-ma at all
After two repeats of this chorus, this song goes into a section called "Patter". This was a popular device for songs during the 20's. In this section the singer would "talk" through some dialog as the music played. Half sung, half talk, it could be likened to recitative from opera in the past. It's current form would be as rap or hip-hop. In this song, once the patter is complete, the music returns for a repeat of the chorus.
Pay attention, You've got to listen to Mamma..
Be sure to visit this month's gallery for more great songs about women as icons, flappers and liberated members of society, including "No Man's Momma", "Sweet Kentucky Lady", "Girl of Mine!" and more of our favorite featured works you may have missed.
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