Since the dawn of mankind we have been fascinated by the moon.
The moon has been the subject of awe, fear and folklore for as long as man has been able to look to the heavens. The bringer of tides and lovely light of the night has been the subject of worship as well as contempt. We all know of the supposed negative effects of the full moon, crime, strange behavior, lycanthropy and ultimately lunacy have been blamed on moonlight.
But what about the good side? Songwriters have exploited the love attraction of the moon for about as long as there has been music. In
the golden age of song, we see hundreds of titles related to the attraction
of the moon and its connection to love. This month, we will explore several
songs that were written about the moon. We will look at moons that tease,
mellow moons, cotton moons, Cuban moons and moonlight on various bodies of
water, including the greatest moon light song of them all, Moonlight Bay. So, sit back, snuggle up to your honey and enjoy a full measure of moonlight and romance from the last century.
This month's "In
Search Of" article is about a popular song phenomenon that swept
the country from 1880 till 1920, "Coon
Songs". This is a follow on article to our earlier feature in 1999
about racism in music. Be sure to see this article but be advised, the subject matter is offensive.
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Underneath The Mellow Moon
Music by: Wendell W. Hall
Lyrics by: Hall
Cover artist: unknown
Though not as old as most of the songs in our collection, I felt
this songs was a wonderful tune and a fine representation of the "moon
song" genre. With a dreamy and beautiful waltz melody using arpeggiated
chords, the song is a great example of how a well written song can convey an
emotion or express a feeling. The lyrics are well written too With phrases like,
"drifting in a birch canoe" and "magic moon beams tantalize"
the lyrics are a soothing experience that fits the music perfectly. Imagine
a beautiful moonlit night and enjoy this beautiful example of songwriter art.
The composer, Wendell W. Hall, billed as "the singing xylophonist" on the sheet music, was born in 1896 in St. George Kansas. The biographical material I have does not say a word about him being a xylophonist! Hall was educated at the University of Chicago Preparatory School and served in W.W.I. He became known as "the redheaded music maker" on radio and made a world radio tour from 1924 to 1927. He was a singer, guitarist (later, ukeleleist) and composer. His most popular and lasting composition was a song based on a Negro spiritual, It Ain't Gonna Rain No Mo', composed in 1923. He also wrote a song titled The Redheaded Music Makerin 1924. Underneath The Mellow Moon was made into a piano roll by US Best Piano Rolls and the box title lists it as a "Waltz - Marimba"
Music by: Henry Marshall
Lyrics by: Stanley Murphy
Cover artist: Starmer
From a mellow moon we go to one that teases. Over the centuries,
man has often attributed human properties to the moon as well as other inanimate
objects. Here we have a case of the moon being accused of teasing. In the chorus,
the author speaks of the man in the moon, "hiding his face" and "playing
hide and seek in the sky." The song is an obvious "coon song"
from the era. The concept of the coon song is one that is pretty offensive today
but it was a mainstay of vaudeville and the performing arts from about 1880
to 1918. For a more in depth look at the Coon song, see our latest installment
of our essay series "In search of American Popular Song", the
American Coon Song.
Henry Marshall and Stanley Murphy were a successful song writing team from
the early 1910s. In addition to this song, they also collaborated to write
Be My Little Baby Bumble Bee, also in 1912. Alone, Marshal wrote a
popular train related song titled On the 5:15 in 1914. In 1915, Marshal
and Murphy again were together for Loading up The Mandy Lee, a song
that saw a rather short lived success. Murphy also collaborated with Harry
Von Tilzer (They Always Pick On Me, 1912), Percy Wenrich (Put On
Your Old Gray Bonnet, 1909) and Albert Von Tilzer with Oh,
How She Could Yacki Hacki Wicki Woo, in 1915.
Music by: Con Conrad
Lyrics by: Conrad
Cover artist: Barbelle
Just plain moonlight here but certainly not very plain as far as the music goes.
Con Conrad has done a masterful job of creating a seamless blend of lyrics and
music to convey a musical mood that works very well. The opening lines speak
of creeping shadows and the world sleeping and with a very catchy staccato descending
phrase, manages to make you imagine someone or something creeping in the darkness.
The music has an almost skulking quality. I think this is a very enjoyable tune
by one of the masters of early American popular music.
Con Conrad (b. 1891, New York City, d. 1938, Van Nuys, CA.) was born Conrad
K. Dober and came to Tin Pan Alley by way of vaudeville where he had starred
since age 16. His first published song was Down In Dear New Orleans
in 1912. He was a partner in a publishing firm, The Broadway Music Corporation,
with Henry Waterson (later of Berlin, Waterson & Snider) and by 1918 was
associated with other publishers, including Shapiro & Bernstein. Conrad's
1920 hit Margie was a resounding hit and established Conrad as a major
songwriter of the era. Margie was written for Eddie Cantor and the
name came from Cantor's five year old daughter. Cantor introduced the song
at the Winter Garden and later included it in the 1921 revue, The Midnight
Rounders. Conrad wrote a number of other big hits from 1920 through the
30's till his death. Some of his big hits included, Barney Google,
1923 with Billy Rose , Ma! (He's Making
Eyes At Me), 1921 and Prisoner of Love in 1931.
It seems as though moonlight reflecting off some body of water
was one of the more favored themes for moonlight songs. Here we have a very
upbeat raggy sort of song that extolls the virtue of moonlight on the Mississippi
River. A great crooner's song, it starts off right away speaking of moonlight;
"Moonlight sets me dreaming honey, bright stars softly gleaming honey".
The story goes on to tell of a parting where a guy's best gal sailed off down
the Mississippi and now, here he sits with moonlight on the Mississippi reminding
him of her and the times they had. Typically great stuff from the golden age
of song. Alas, for days gone by.
The composer, Grace LeBoy (1908 - 1932) seems to be another
of those casualties of lack of female respect. Though we do know that she
composed a number of very popular songs such as I Wish I Had A Girl
(1908), Everybody Rag With Me (1914), Early in the Morning,
and On The Good Ship Mary Ann, (1914) as well as many others. She also
is credited with several instrumental only compositions. She seemed to have
a long lasting collaboration with lyricist Gus Kahn, about whom much is known.
Interestingly and somewhat rudely, though Le Boy wrote the music for I
Wish I had a Girl, it is listed in one of my reference volumes as "Gus
Kahn's first hit." Duh, wouldn't that make it Le Boy's hit too? Am I
the only one that notices the incredible sexism that exists related to woman
Music by: George W. Meyer
Lyrics by: Sam M. Lewis
Cover artist: Starmer
From a moon on the Mississippi we go to a related southern theme, cotton and river
boats. A thoroughly delightful melody and lyric with a great syncopated "raggy"
style, this song is sure to get you bouncing in your chair and tappin' those
toes so just let yourself go. Another "coon
song" that uses a certain amount of stereotype dialect ("Mammy
is sayin' cover up your kinky head", etc.), it is at least not as overwhelmingly
offensive as some songs of the genre. The song tells the story of a man reminding
his honey of good times back home in "Caroline" with the good memories
of sights and sounds of home underneath a cotton moon. He hatches a plot for
them to go back home, this time on a one way ticket. This is a real gem of a
The rather stern man on the cover is Arthur Deagon, (b. ca. 1873 in Ayr,
Waterloo, Ontario, died in Boston, 1927) a Canadian actor/singer and a fascinating
figure of Canadian and American theatre history. . He was the son of Scots-Irish
parents Hiram and Elizabeth and used his upbringing to great effect in his
career as an "ethnic" character actor and as a storyteller. In an interview,
he claimed to have sung in the church choir and studied singing in Rochester,
New York, to have worked in the lumber camps and mines of Michigan and as
a professional wrestler before launching his career as "The Cowboy Singer"
at age 20. From the start he was a highly physical performer (despite his
huge size), and a singer of the first order. Newspapers from across the United
States and Canada were noticing him as early as 1898. One of his earliest
reviews called him a new Irish star, "the sweetest of all singing comedians"
in a production of Dion O'Dare. Tours were already taking him back
and forth across the border including to cities in New Jersey, to Saratoga,
New York, and to the Toronto Opera House. He played in vaudeville musicals,
comedy and melodramas like The Highwayman (1899), King Dodo
(1900), The Belle (1901) and the smash sensation The Time, The Place
and the Girl (1907) which toured America and Canada. He recreated his
career (c. 1912) as a monologuist, telling stories of his life before and
during his career. He appeared in the Ziegfeld Follies productions from 1909
to 1914. In 1913, he toured to Great Britain with Come Over Here. In
1922 he appeared in the George M. Cohan musical Little Nellie Kelly
and in the 1924 Arthur Hammerstein production of the Oscar Hammerstein II/Rudolf
Friml sensation Rose-Marie which also toured to Great Britain with
its so-called "All-American cast" in an all-Canadian story about Mounties.
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