Songs of The Moon

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"

     Enjoy this original song now (SCORCH format)

listen to MIDI version

Teasing Moon


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.

     Hear this great moon song (scorch format)

listen to MIDI version



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.

     Listen to this cute moon song (scorch format only)

Listen to MIDI version

Moonlight On The Mississippi


Music by: Grace LeBoy
Arranged by: Gus Kahn
Cover artist: Starmer

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 composers?

     Hear this wonderful old song (scorch)

Listen to MIDI version

Underneath The Cotton Moon


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 song.

     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.

(Deagon biographical information used with permission from the excellent site, The Canadian Theater Encyclopedia )

Enjoy this great Southern moon song (scorch)

     Listen to MIDI version

WAIT!More Music and Covers? Go to part B.

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