Songs of the Sea, part 2

Bobbin' Up and Down


Music by: Theodore Morse
Lyrics by: D.A. Esrom
Cover artist: E.H. Pfeiffer

The lighter side of this month's issue includes this delightful and playful tune by the great Theodore Morse. A really happy song with an infectious melody, this one should get your toes a-tappin'. In this cute novelty song about sailing, the captain, the crew, the dishes and chairs all have fun bobbin' up and down and the music is a perfect accompaniment to the lyrics. Music is one of the greatest ways to communicate a mood or idea without words. Just listen to this tune (as well as some of the others this month) and notice how the music really conveys the feeling of being at sea. It is amazing how a well conceived melody or musical passage can convey a mood, a feeling or a visual image. This song manages that quite well.

     Theodore F. Morse (b. 1873, Washington, D.C., d. 1924, New York, N.Y.) was one of the most important composers of the period before and up to the First World War. He wrote many, many popular songs as well as the scores to several popular stage shows. His wife, Theodora Morse was also an accomplished composer and performer who often composed under the name of Dorothy Terriss. Theodore Morse was a privately tutored student of piano and violin and began his education at the Maryland Military Academy. At age 14 (1887), he ran away from the Academy and went to New York where he became a clerk in a music store. His first song was sold when be was only 15 and by age 24 he had his own publishing house, The Morse Music Co, which was in existence from 1898 to 1900. Morse is well represented on ParlorSongs and has a long list of popular hits to his credit. Among his most famous works are, Blue Bell (1904), M-O-T-H-E-R (1915), Down In Jungle Town (1908) and Hail, Hail, The Gang's All Here (1917). In 1903, Morse wrote Hurray For Baffin Bay for a new stage show that would become the basis for a blockbuster movie, The Wizard of Oz.

Hear this wonderful old song. (Scorch)

MIDI version

I'm Like a Ship Without A Sail


Music by: James Kendis & James Brockman
Lyrics by: Kendis & Brockman
Cover artist: Rose

The writers of this song, were also the writers of the famous, I'm Forever Blowing Bubbles, a smash hit song also published in 1919. When you listen to the beginning of this song, you will hear that they clearly intended to capitalize on that connection. When I first started the song I thought I had picked up the wrong score! The song makes liberal use of the melodic components of "Bubbles". Of course that was a fairly common practice; the use of another popular melody to stimulate sales of another. Regardless, it is a very pleasant tune with a nice lyrical sentiment. I think you will enjoy it.

     James Brockman (1886 - 1967) studied music at the Cleveland conservatory and early in his career was a comedian in stage musicals. His most lasting hit, I'm Forever Blowing Bubbles was introduced by June Caprice in the Passing Show of 1918. Among his other hits were, Down Among The Sheltering Palms, Feather Your Nest and the great novelty song, I Faw Down An' Go Boom. Brockman had a long and successful career, turning to film scores later in his life. His partner, James Kendis (b. 1883, St. Paul, MN, d. 1946, Jamaica, NY) had some of his greatest success in his collaborations with Brockman. Kendis formed his own publishing company, Kendis Music Company. Some of his other hits not collaborated with Brockman include, If I Had My Way, Angel Eyes, and Come Out Of The Kitchen, Mary Ann.

Hear this great old tune  (scorch)

MIDI version

Waiting For The Robert E. Lee


Music by: Lewis F. Muir
Lyrics by: L. Wolfe Gilbert
Cover artist: DeTakacs

Another of the famous "toe tappers" is this great Jolson hit from 1912. Perhaps THE definitive paddle wheeler song, Waiting For The Robert E. Lee is one of America's greatest songs about river boat travel. Though we are no longer out on the ocean with this song, the influence and romance of the water is still very much with us. According to Sigmund Spaeth, author of A History of Popular Music In America (see our resources page for details), The Gilbert-Muir combination's "classic for the year and for all time, was Waiting For The Robert E. Lee. It is not only topnotch ragtime, with an irresistible sweep of words and melody, but it has so much of the spirit of the New Orleans levee and of Negro music in general that it is hard to believe it was written by two white men. No other song has done as much to immortalize the Mississippi steamboats of the old days."

     Composer Lewis Muir (1884 - 1950) was a pianist and famous ragtime composer of the period. He performed at honky tonks in St. Louis on 1904 and in New York City n 1910. He was also an acclaimed performer in London. His credits include, Play That Barber Shop Chord (1910), When Ragtime Rosey Ragged The Rosary (1911) and Cowboy Joe in 1912. His partner in this song, Louis Wolfe Gilbert (1886 - 1970) was born in Odessa, Russia and was brought to America by his parents when he was only one year old. He was a vaudeville actor and toured with the great John L. Sullivan. During the heyday of radio, he wrote for Eddie Cantor's radio show. Aside from Muir, he also collaborated with Abel Baer (Lucky Lindy, 1927) and other famous lyricists of the period. Some of his other hits include, Ramona, O, Katharina, Hitchy Koo and Down Yonder.

Hear this great hit song  (scorch)

MIDI version

Star of the Sea


Music by: Amanda Kennedy
Lyrics by: none, piano solo
Cover artist: unknown

Stepping back to the 19th century, we want to present you with another of the great classics about the sea. Though no lyrics exist for this wonderful piano reverie, the music is another example of how a composer can evoke visions of the sea and ships. The cover is another of those gorgeous lithographs from that period by an, unfortunately, unidentified lithographer. This work was "immensely popular" according to the cover, and in reality it was. The song continued to be published by Feist over a period of almost 30 years. This first edition states "10,000" already sold. A 1910 issue using the identical cover states, "Over Two Million Sold". This song may hold a record for one of the longest runs for a piece of music from that period, especially one without lyrics. It is interesting to note that the cover states that this work was also published under three other titles; March Funebre, Waltz Elegante, Stars of Our Union and Star of The East. I guess Kennedy kept changing the title till she hit on one that stuck!

     Amanda Kennedy had a successful career as a composer, unusual for a woman during these times. Her greatest hit is this piece but she also wrote a number of other works such as the Adrienne Polka (1885), Beyond the Stars (1883) and I'll Sleep 'Neath the Soft Grassy Turf also published in 1883. One thing I have discovered in researching composers and lyricists from this period is the tremendous gap of information related to women composers. Whereas men of feeble ability and few publications are sometimes easily found in books from the period, feminine composers are almost entirely ignored, no matter how accomplished or successful. It is only grudgingly that we find reference to women composers and then only when they simply cannot be ignored due to their towering accomplishments. I find this shameful but worse, we have lost valuable musical history and have done the memory of these wonderful composers a terrible injustice.

Hear this great song  (scorch)

MIDI version

The Fate of the Titanic

Music by: Delbert Rhoades
Lyrics by: Rhoades
Cover artist: unknown

Our final work this month is one we have not seen at ParlorSongs since way back in December of 1997. Whenever we think of ships and the sea, thoughts of the Titanic cannot be far from mind. Several of the songs this month speak to the dangers of the sea (Des Seemanns Los, The Ship That Never Returned, We Were Shipmates, Jack and I) and of course those who go down to the sea in ships face the prospect of never returning home. This work is one of many songs written in 1912 to commemorate the loss of the Titanic. It is one of the rarer works as it was published by the author as publisher in Mendon, Ohio. Mendon is a small town in Northwestern Ohio near the Indiana border. Mendon boasts a population of 717 and covers a land area of less than a square kilometer.

     The song carries a wonderful sentiment but I have to admit that musically I can see why it has not survived. Though the melody is a very pleasant one, the song suffers from the continued repetition of the short phrase and wears thin very soon. As an historical document, this song is an important part of the transportation category of sheet music. Obviously Mr. Rhoades was moved by the incident and wrote this touching song as a tribute to those who died. We offer you this piece in the same way, as a tribute to the sea and those who have risked and lost their lives. We began this month's feature with a song that saluted a ship that never returned, we end it with the same.

     Delbert Rhoades was a longtime resident of Mendon, and was a piano tuner by trade. He also repaired watches, even though he was legally blind! In searching for information about Mr. Rhoades, I did make contact with some current Mendon, Ohio residents who were kind enough to find some information for us. The following information was kindly provided by Mr. Rex Emans;

    "John Maurer (78 years old) Still runs the Hardware Store in Mendon, remembers (Del) playing cards in the furniture store ( morgue in back room). He was legally blind ,but could see some if held cards REAL close to his eye, He ALWAYS wore a Derby hat , suit and vest , dressed up all the time. Was clean shaved. Never married , but rumor has it he dated Clara Rager. He lived with a John Maurer who said Del also was a watch repairman , Said he held the watch real close to his eye and could fix them., but was a good piano tuner and repairman."

Hear this song  (scorch)

MIDI version

Now that you have seen our featured songs, be sure to read our Essay On Work Songs and Sea Shanties for an interesting look at another aspect of popular song. Work songs and sea shanties flourished during the 19th century and helped workers and seamen perform repetitive tasks and build morale. See and hear four traditional sea shanties as well as yet another great old song of the sea from the past, We Were Shipmates, Jack and I.

     We hope you have enjoyed this month's feature. We appreciate your interest in our efforts to bring you the best American popular music history site on the web. Be sure to tell your friends and family about us. If you have suggestions for themes or issues you would like to see in the future, please contact us. We will see you back next month for a new feature about a different subject area of American popular music, songs about the moon including the greatest moon song ever, Moonlight Bay. You won't want to miss it so stay tuned! Have a great month.

To see the other songs featured this month again, go back to part A.

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