Shuffle Off To Buffalo and Other Parts Unknown

Sometimes we recognize old songs without realizing they were originally songs from a musical before they became radio hits.  I love songs by Harry Warren (music) and Al Dubin (lyrics), and 42nd Street is a musical that spawned a number of Warren and Dubin radio hits (who also had cameo roles in the movie version of the musical).

In a nutshell, 42nd Street is about small-town Pennsylvania Peggy Sawyer (played by Ruby Keeler in the movie) who hits out by moving to New York City in the hopes that she’ll make her mark in Broadway.

Peggy Sawyer finds herself as a member of the chorus much to the dismay of Broadway diva Dorothy Brock (played by Bebe Daniels in the movie) who is romantically involved with the financial backer of the production, the very wealthy Abner Dillon (played by Guy Kibbee in the movie) who, unlike the director Julian Marsh (played by Warner Baxter in the movie), didn’t lose all his money in the stock market crash of 1929.  But behind Abner’s back, Dorothy is seeing her Pat Denning (played by George Brent in the movie) and thus the stage is set (pardon the pun).

The 42nd Street Special was a train that left Los Angeles on 20 February 1933, headed to President  Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s inauguration on 4 March 1933 – the day after the movie version of the musical premiered in New York.  On board the train were stars such as Ruby Keeler, Ginger Rogers, James Cagney, Bette Davis, Loretta Young, and Douglas Fairbanks Jr.  It was an amazing way to draw attention to the film and captured the attention of the country in the middle of a bleak period in American history.

 

The train trip extravaganza began as an idea courtesy of Warner Brothers studios publicity chief, Charlie Einfeld.  The Depression had seen the number of moviegoers drop by more than fifty percent in the three years since the Crash, and Warner Brothers studios was dealing with huge losses to the tune of $14 MILLION USD.  This publicity stunt was going to set the studio back another $400,000 USD.

During the election campaign, the Warner brothers had backed Franklin Delano Roosevelt while MGM studios’ Louis B. Mayer had backed Herbert Hoover.  The spectacle was promoted in the media as “the greatest train ride since Paul Revere.”

General Electric, seeing an opportunity to get in on the publicity, co-sponsored and fully equipped the six-coach express train with outdoor lights, speakers, and an all-electric kitchen with what was then considered to be a state-of-the-art electric oven, refrigerator, and dishwasher.  At every stop (which totaled 30 in the space of 17 days), the public was invited to tour the kitchen car and see for themselves what these amazing appliances looked like.

With so many wonderful songs to choose from to include in this entry, I’ve gone with these for this article.  “Come and Meet Those Dancing Feet” sung by Ruby Keeler is mesmerizing.

 

You’re Getting To Be A Habit With Me” sung by Bebe Daniels is fun and cheeky.

I’m Young And Healthy” sung by a very young Dick Powell (who in later years was known for his role as Nick Charles in the Thin Man movie series).

 

The song that first introduced me to 42nd Street was one I heard courtesy of the Bugs Bunny cartoons.  As a child, I had no idea where Buffalo was exactly, but the song was something I recognized and sang along to before I was old enough to attend kindergarten.    “Shuffle Off To Buffalo” was the kind of song that resonated with children as much as it did with adults.  The scene with this song in the movie version of 42nd Street makes the song even more fun than the Bugs Bunny segment (which was absolutely memorable and completely amusing).

The golden age of musicals may have been decades ago but the songs from that era still stand up to inspection in this generation, don’t you agree?

Elyse Bruce

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Ice Under Pressure

Back in 1981, David Bowie (8 January 1947 – 10 January 2016) and the members of Queen co-wrote “Under Pressure” that was included on Queen’s album “Hot Space” that was released the following year. It hit the top spot on the charts in the UK, but peaked at the 29th spot in the U.S. The song was a staple of Queen concerts until the band stopped touring in 1986.  Even though David Bowie was instrumental in the song’s creation, he chose not to include it in his live performances until 1992 when he sang the song as a duet with Annie Lennox at the tribute concert for Queen lead singer Freddie Mercury (5 September 1946 – 24 November 1991).

It’s never been a secret that American rapper Robert Matthew Van Winkle aka Vanilla Ice sampled the bass line from “Under Pressure” for his hit, “Ice Ice Baby.”  The Vanilla Ice song was released on his 1989 debut album “Hooked” and a year later, on his national debut album “To The Extreme.”

Now this was back in the early days of sampling.  Legal precedent wasn’t carved in stone yet.  Things weren’t playing out very well in most of the industry’s opinion.

Neither David Bowie now Queen were credited as co-writers of the “Ice Ice Baby” and they saw none of the royalties … that is, until the lawsuit was settled. Vanilla Ice argued that he had added a beat between notes and because of that, the two songs were completely different songs. Of course, in later years, he admitted that he wasn’t serious about using that as a defense. Still, the situation was serious enough for Queen and David Bowie to threaten to sue Vanilla Ice for copyright infringement.

At the end of the day, Vanilla Ice thought it was more prudent to settle out of court for an undisclosed sum of money and to give David Bowie and Queen songwriting credits on the “Ice Ice Baby” track.  For Vanilla Ice, because “Ice Ice Baby” was making a name for him as a rapper, losing all rights to his song could prove disastrous to his career which is why he opted for the out of court settlement.

So whether you’re a fan of David Bowie or Queen, or a fan of Vanilla Ice, you have to admit that the bass line is catchy with enough punch to carry two songs to the charts.  What do you think?

What Do Cows and Capitol Records Have In Common?

Sometimes popular musicians and singers go out with great fanfare and fans remember them for decades.  Sometimes their names fade into obscurity despite a large catalogue of quality recordings.

Ella Mae Morse  (12 September 1924 – 16 October 1999) was a big band vocalist whose 1942 hit “Cow Cow Boogie” was responsible for giving Capitol Records (at that point, a new label) its first million seller.  Although Ella Mae was 18 years old at the time, she was already a veteran vocalist having sung in her father’s nightclub band since she was nine years old.

She had drive and ambition, and auditioned for the Jimmy Dorsey band when she was 14 years old (although she claimed to be 19 to make sure she was allowed to audition).  She passed the audition and got the job, but the jig was up when the school board informed Mr. Dorsey that as his band’s vocalist, he was responsible for her care.  He fired her instead.

When she signed with Capitol Records as a soloist when she was 18 years old, on the strength of the success of “Cow Cow Boogie” her path was set.

She remained with Capital Records for 15 years before taking time off to marry and start a family.  Lucky in her professional life, she wasn’t quite as lucky in her personal life and wound up marrying four times although most blogs and Wikipedia incorrectly state she was married twice.

She married pianist Richard “Dick Walters” Showalter in 1941.

Her next husband was U.S. Navy doctor Marvin Leonard Gerber.

Her third husband was Glen Kendall.

Her fourth husband and last husband (to whom she was married for forty years) was Jack Bradford — a carpenter by trade.

Her recordings stand the test of time, and to prove this, I’m including three YouTube videos of her other well-known hits.

 

Tell Me Why I Don’t Like Mondays

Bob Geldof “I Don’t Like Mondays” after reading a telex report about a shooting incident at an elementary school in California, while at Georgia State University’s campus radio station, WRAS, on  January 29, 1979.  The shooter was 16-year-old Brenda Ann Spencer.

Speaking with a San Diego Evening Tribune reporter, she stated her reason for shooting elementary school students was simply: “I don’t like Mondays. This livens up the day.”   She told police negotiators: “It was a lot of fun seeing children shot.”

In all, she injured eight students and one police officer, and killed the school principal as well as the school custodian both of whom had rushed out to protect the students as Spencer fired off rounds.

Six months later, “I Don’t Like Mondays” was released and it became a Number One hit single in the UK for Irish band “The Boomtown Rats” for four weeks in the summer of ’79.  The song also did well on the music charts in other countries.

Brenda Ann Spencer’s family launched a lawsuit to prevent the song from being released in the U.S.   They were unsuccessful in blocking its release. That being said, the single only reached #73 on the US Billboard Hot 100 before falling off the charts.  But whether it was on the charts didn’t stop it from being recognized the world over for decades afterwards.

Spencer pleaded guilty to two counts of murder and assault with a deadly weapon and was sentenced to 25 years to life in prison. She has been up for parole four times (1993, 1998, 2001, and 2005 although she withdrew her request for appeal filed in 1998) and can apply for parole again in 2019.

Art — whether it’s literature or music or any other discipline — records moments in time for posterity.  Sometimes what it records is beautiful.  Sometimes it’s horrific.  But let it never be said that what’s recorded lacks pieces of facts and grains of truth.

Elyse Bruce

Hoop Appropriation

Pitzer College in California was the recent victim of cultural appropriation shaming.  A group of Latino students was responsible for graffiti painted on the wall of a campus dormitory that made it clear how they felt about what they felt was cultural appropriation.


The Latino students believe that hoop earrings are part of their heritage and as such, white students should not be wearing hoop earrings.  Ever.

I guess no one told these outraged students that hoops have been around for hundreds of years.  Even William Shakespeare wrote of hoops of steel in Act 1, Scene 3 of “Hamlet.”  I suppose the argument could be made that Shakespeare heard about hoops of steel from explorers to the New World upon their return to England if someone cares to make that argument.

Except that even with excluding Shakespeare from the discussion, there are going to be problems justifying how hoops – and most specifically hoop earrings – are the sole property of the Latino culture.

Hoop earrings are found in ancient Rome and ancient Greece.   The earliest archaeological evidence that exists when it comes to hoop earrings date back to Sumeria and 2500 B.C.

It’s doubtful that Sumerians traveled to this continent, saw hoop earrings on women over here, then journeyed back to Sumeria just so they could appropriate culture in the name of being fashionable.

NOTE 1:  According to archaeologists, Sumeria is the name given the historical region of southern Mesopotamia which is now modern-day southern Iraq.

NOTE 2:  Sumerians also were among the first to brew beer so technically speaking, brewers in Europe and North America might be guilty of cultural appropriation as well.

Native American Indians also had a sport with varying rules that incorporated a hoop.  A hoop three inches to a foot in diameter was rolled along the ground and players tried to knock it over with spears or arrows.  Points were scored by how the hoop fell when it was struck down.

And in many cultures, circles – or hoops – have been a part of their identity outside of the concept of jewelry.   You see, the sacred hoop (sometimes referred to as the circle of life) is something that many cultures have at the center of their teachings.

But more importantly, the world is one great big hoop.  So are the other planets.  These planets travel in hoops be they round or oval or elliptical.  The wind whirls about in hoop shapes.  Water drains in hoop shapes.  The seasons form a hoop as they move from one to the other and return to the beginning of the cycle — a never-ending hoop the cycles endlessly through the years.

In the end, hoops belong to us all whether it’s a matter of spirituality or a matter of fashion, don’t you think?

Elyse Bruce

 

SOURCES:

COLLEGE SAYS IT RECEIVED THREATS AFTER EARRINGS DISPUTE
http://www.kctv5.com/story/34789674/college-says-it-has-received-threats-after-earrings-dispute

EARRINGS
http://fashion-history.lovetoknow.com/fashion-accessories/earrings

NINE THINGS YOU MAY  NOT KNOW ABOUT THE ANCIENT SUMERIANS
http://www.history.com/news/history-lists/9-things-you-may-not-know-about-the-ancient-sumerians

TREND IN FASHION: A HISTORY OF THE HOOP EARRING
http://www.finishtheoutfit.com/blog/hoop_earring/

The Coin Conundrum

When it comes to determining what constitutes an Asian-American, the U.S. Census Bureau provided an accurate picture thanks to the 2010 Census.   Asian-Americans were those Americans who were either immigrants or descendants of immigrants.

  • 2% are Chinese-American
  • 7% are Filipino-American
  • 4% are East Indian-American
  • 0% are Vietnamese-American
  • 9% are Korean-American
  • 5% are Japanese-American
  • 3% are of some other variation Asia-American

It’s an insult to insist that those from one group have the same physical features as those from any or all of the other groups.  And yet, CBS News reported on January 13, 2017 that the U.S. Treasury Department is issuing a commemorative coin series honoring the 225th anniversary of the U.S. Mint with a twist.  According to CBS News, the coins will depict Lady Liberty in a “variety of contemporary forms” and these forms would include “designs representing Asian-Americans, Hispanic-Americans, and Indian-Americans among others.”

The images on these coins will be representative of cultural groups as opposed to being images of individuals as was the case with the Susan B. Anthony dollar or the Sacagawea dollar or the Helen Keller quarter in Alabama or the Eleanor and Virginia Dare half-dollar in North Carolina.  The images proposed for the Lady Liberty coins are generalized images of individuals from groups that are defined by their heritage … more or less.

More or less because the Chinese are as different from the Japanese as the Australians are different from Canadians.  Is it offensive to create a generalized stereotyped image of an Asian-American Lady Liberty and place that generalized stereotyped image on a coin from the U.S. Treasury Department?

And which culture will be excluded from the Asian-American Lady Liberty coin?  After all, she can’t be representative of all Asian cultures all at once, can she?  That being the case, which Asian-American groups will be excluded to make way for the Asian-American groups to be included?

Of the one or more Asian-American groups excluded, will this not be segregation?  The flip side of this coin is that of the one or more Asian-American groups included, won’t they suffer cultural appropriation?

Imagine the uproar when the Hispanic-American coin hits the marketplace.  After all, the U.S. Census Bureau has determined that a Hispanic is “a person of Cuban, Mexican, Puerto Rican, South or Central American, or other Spanish culture or origin regardless of race.”  As a side note, did you know that Portugal is part of that other Spanish culture mentioned?  Awesome!

Also, don’t forget that the Western Sahara, the Philippines, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, Palau, and Micronesia are all areas with Hispanic cultural influences so that might be another thing that could be considered when creating this coin image. There’s going to be a lot of excluded people with hurt feelings, and a lot of angry included people with watered down culture made to fit a generalized stereotype that fits the overall population’s image of what a Hispanic-American Lady Liberty is supposed to look like!

As if that’s not going to be bad enough, that Native American Indian Lady Liberty is going to be a doozie to come up with considering there are 566 Federally recognized Native American Indian tribes in the United States.  As with the other hyphenated-American groups, that generalized stereotype Indian image is going to be a hotbed of problems when Indigenous Lady Liberty gets minted.

Perhaps a subscriber or visitor to the blog has suggestions that will resolve this conundrum.

Elyse Bruce

Melting Pot or Puzzle Pieces

America is thought of as a melting pot by many but perhaps it’s more of a jigsaw puzzle with specific pieces being withheld by some making it impossible to create a complete picture.  If cultural appropriation is to be stopped dead in its tracks, it has to be a complete effort.  It cannot be a solution that is only applied in part when convenient.

If America is to wipe out cultural appropriation completely, perhaps it’s best to begin with the Preamble to the Constitution of the United States of America.

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

First off, the word people has to be removed.  Although it’s a Middle English word, it’s from the Anglo-Norman French word peupel which is from the Latin word populus.  Strike people from the preamble.

Union has to be removed as well.  Although it’s a 15th century Middle English word, it’s from the 12th century Anglo-Norman French word unioun which, in turn, is from the ecclesiastical Latin word unio which is from the Latin word unus meaning one.  Strike union from the preamble.

Don’t worry though.  As long as justice passes the test, the preamble is still workable.  Good news, readers!  Justice is from the 12th century English.  Bad news, readers!  It’s from the Old French word justice (spelled as it’s spelled in English) which, of course, is from the Latin word iustus.  Strike Justice.

Surely tranquility will make the grade.  Except that this word was added to the English language in the late 14th century and was from the 12th century Old French word tranquilité which is from the Latin word tranquillitatem so scratch tranquility from the preamble while we’re at it.

Defense was English in the 13th century but it’s from the Old French word defense (spelled the same way as in English), and that’s from the Latin word defensus and well, there’s no way it can be said to be English.  It just isn’t.

So far, we’re not doing very well with making sure only English words are being used in the preamble of the Constitution of the United States of America.  Surely welfare is English through and through though.  And finally, we have a word that’s English from the Old English term wel faran that means “the condition of being, or doing, well.”  Okay, so Welfare gets to stay in the preamble.

Blessings is up next, and yes, the preamble gets to keep blessings as it’s an Old English word from the mid-14th century.  Thank goodness for that!  That makes for two words that get to stay in the preamble.

Unfortunately, liberty is out (sorry Lady Liberty and the Statue of Liberty).  While liberty shows up in English by the late 14th century, it was by way of the 14th century Old French word liberté and like so many other French words, its harks back to the Latin word libertatemLiberty is out.

Posterity.  Maybe posterity can join welfare and blessings in the preamble without worry of being from another language.

This isn’t going very well for the English language at all, no matter how you slice it.

The English word posterity is from the late 14th century by way of the 14th century Old French word posterité which is from the Latin word posteritatem.  We’ll have to remove posterity from the preamble now as we continue to sanitize the sentence.

Hopefully the Constitution can still ordain and establish without worry of appropriating some other culture’s words for this.

And the answer is no.  No it can’t.  The Constitution can neither ordain nor establishOrdain from the late 13th century is from the Latin word ordinare by way of the Old French word ordener, and establish is from the Old French word establiss which is an updated version of the Latin word stabilire.

This isn’t looking very good for the first sentence in the Constitution’s preamble, is it?

And speaking of the Constitution, things aren’t looking very good for the word Constitution either.  Yes, it was a word in the English language in the 14th century but it’s thanks to the 12th century Old French word constitucion, and with the French words that have been the basis for English words, it also goes right back to a Latin word.  This time, the word is constitutio.

Before we go any further, I suppose that the first word of that sentence should also undergo scrutiny since it is a very important first word.  We sounds English but if you think it’s English, start to finish, you’d be mistaken.  Some might try to slip it past the etymology magnifying glass by saying the word is from an Old Saxon word wi and by way of justification, since Anglo-Saxons are English for the most part, then the word is English.

Sorry but the Saxons were a Germanic people.  Yes, it’s true that Saxons moved westward into Wales and England, but the fact of the matter remains they were Germanic first and foremost, and they brought the word wi (pronounced the way the word we is pronounced today) with them to England.  That means we has to be pulled as well.

So let’s take a look at that first sentence in the preamble of the Constitution (Americans will have to find a new word for that) of the United States.  Let’s remove the important words that aren’t English then, shall we?

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.


The United States, promote the general Welfare, and secure Blessings, for the United States of America.


That’s pretty much it in a nutshell.  The first sentence in the preamble of the Constitution of the United States, once stripped of words that are originally from other languages and cultures, reads like a poorly written greeting card.

Suggestions for how this unfortunate situation should be addressed are welcome.  After all, if we don’t want to be segregationist and we don’t want to be accused of cultural appropriation, how should society deal with the first sentence in the preamble of the Constitution of the United States of America?  Do we, as a society, give the preamble a pass, or do we insist that all signs of cultural appropriation be scrubbed from this important document?

Elyse Bruce

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