Irish-American Standards: My Wild Irish Rose

"My Wild Irish Rose," photo of sheet music by modernpoetry on Etsy.

“My Wild Irish Rose,” photo of sheet music by modernpoetry on Etsy.

“My Wild Irish Rose” was written by Irish-American songwriter Chauncey Olcott in 1898. Olcott was also the author of “When Irish Eyes are Smiling.”

From the Saginaw News, October 15, 1904.

From the Saginaw News, October 15, 1904.

The song was composed for a musical titled “A Romance Of Athlone,” which debuted at the Fourteenth Street Theatre in New York in January of 1899. The play is set in Athlone in the year 1800, a turgid romance set, in part, in an Irish Traveller’s camp.

 

From the Muskegon Chronicle, August 21, 1903.

From the Muskegon Chronicle, August 21, 1903.

 

Grand Rapids Press from October 24, 1903 told the following story of the creation of the song:

Five years ago when Mr. Olcott and his mother were in Ireland spending the vacation months, they were sailing on a pretty Irish lake. The mother spied some beautiful flowers. She asked the boatman what they were. He told her they were wild Irish roses.

“What a pretty name for a song,” she said.

“It is that,” the actor cried, “and I’ll write one to fit the title.”

“My Wild Irish Rose” was the title of a 1922 silent film, but the film was based on “The Shaughraun” by Dion Boucicault, and not Olcott’s play.

Olcott died in 1932 in Monte Carlo at 71. His funeral services were held at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York. On his death, it was revealed that Olcott had spent his life collecting cigar store wooden Indians.

A jubilee of joy, apparently.

A jubilee of joy, apparently.

There was also a film titled “My Wild Irish Rose” in 1947; this one retold the life of Olcott, based on “Song in His Heart,” a memoir by Olcott’s widow, Rita. Despite some dismal reviews, the film was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Music, Scoring of a Musical Picture.

Although the film starred Dennis Morgan, Olcott’s singing voice was provided by singer and radio personality Dennis Day.

Irish-American Standards at a Glance: It’s a Great Day for the Irish

It's a great day for Judy Garland.

It’s a great day for Judy Garland.

“It’s a Great Day for the Irish” is Judy Garland’s song. The song was specifically written for her, and she debuted it in 1940 in the film “Little Nellie Kelly.”

Little Nelly Kelly.

Little Nelly Kelly.

Although Garland had already made 16 films, including “The Wizard of Oz,” she was most often in supporting roles. “Little Nellie Kelly” was intended to test whether she could she could sustain a lead career. The film was based on George M. Cohan’s 1922 Broadway show and capitalized on Garland’s Irish-American identity. (She was 1/4 Irish, and had a maternal grandmother from Ireland.)

“Little Nellie Kelly” tells the story of two generations of romantic struggle, starting in Ireland, when the title character marries a man her father objects to and he promises never to speak to her husband again. She dies in America, and her daughter likewise grows up to fall in love with a man her father objects to. Both mother and daughter were played by Judy Garland.

“It’s a Great Day for the Irish” was written for a scene taking place in New York’s annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade on Fifth Avenue, during which Garland marches with her family and points out the various Irish-Americans also in the parade. As a result, the song has become a St. Patrick’s Day favorite.

Roger Edens and Judy Garland.

Roger Edens and Judy Garland.

The song was authored by Scots Irish composer Roger Edens, one of the great arrangers during Hollywood’s Golden Age. He was Judy Garland’s original vocal trainer and worked with her over her entire career.

Leavenworth Bulletin, March 16, 1870

Leavenworth Bulletin, March 16, 1870

The use of the phrase “great day for the Irish” is older than the song. It dates back to at least 1870, when The Leavenworth Bulletin of Leavenworth, KS, used the phrase in reference to St. Patrick’s Day that year. In fact, there were earlier songs with the same title, although there is little documentation about them.

The 1940 song has been extensively covered; according to Wikipedia, singers include Bing Crosby, Ruby Murray, Daniel O’Donnell, and The Clancy Brothers.

How to Start an Irish Band: Celtic New Age

Celtic new age performer Anya.

Celtic new age performer Anya.

WHAT IT IS

Of all the categories so far, this is the most nebulously defined. On the other hand, there is an awful lot of music that could be called Celtic New Wave, and I would be remiss not to mention it, especially since it produced Enya, who is one of the world’s best-selling artists.

Since the category is so broad, I will mention a few things associated with it, but know that the genre is not limited to these things, or bound to them. Celtic new age tends to draw from traditional Irish, Scottish, and other Celtic music forms, but combines them with contemporary instrumentation (especially folk instruments from elsewhere in the world and electronic instruments). The arrangements tend to be meditative, dreamy, or hint at an occult sensibility. Celtic new age musicians have made extensive use of drones, which have a long history in traditional Irish music but are rarely found in other popular forms of the music.

HOW TO LEARN THE MUSIC

A strong grounding in traditional Irish music will help, but Celtic new wave brings in a diverse range of influences, including music from elsewhere in the world and minimalist styles of classical composition. Because of the use of a drone, familiarity with Indian classical music can be helpful here.

Unlike other genres of Irish music, Celtic new age performers are rarely expected to cover standard songs or other musician’s work, but instead artists are encouraged to develop their own style and their own collection of songs.

WHAT SORTS OF INSTRUMENTS ARE COMMON TO THIS FORM

This is a genre that has proven to be enormously experimental and wide-ranging in choice of musical instruments, from sophisticated electronic synthesizers and beat pads to folk instruments from around the world, as well as traditional Celtic instruments. This is the genre where you are more likely to hear a flute than a penny whistle, but this is also a genre where it is possible to find albums that consist of nothing but chanting, piano compositions, and field recordings of the natural world.

WHERE CAN I PERFORM THIS

It’s worth pointing out that some new age music is made in the studio and is not intended to be performed live — indeed, it might actually be impossible to recreate the music live. With that being said, new age music has shown itself to be adaptable to a range of performance venues, including performance spaces mostly used for folk or classical performance. Additionally, depending on the style of music, new age performers can sometimes find gigs at religious events, life cycle events, and annual celebrations.

SOME EXAMPLES OF THE MUSIC

  • Afro-Celtic Sound System
  • Clannad
  • Enya
  • Iona
  • Márta Sebestyén (Album: “Kismet”)

How to Start an Irish Band: Irish-American Standards

Bing Crosby, perhaps the most famous performer of Irish-American standards.

Bing Crosby, perhaps the most famous performer of Irish-American standards.

WHAT IT IS

During the early years of music publishing in the United States, dating back to the mid-to-late 19th century, there was an enormous amount of Irish-themed material created. Some of these songs went on to be standards of American popular music for the next century, but this is a genre that is very much in decline. Few contemporary artists perform more than a few of these songs, and because they are typically Irish-American, rather than Irish, some consider them inauthentic expressions of ethnicity.

Nonetheless, this is rich soil for artists who with to explore it. There has been a revival in recent years of early American popular music, especially jazz-infected songs that are suited for crooning. These songs often represent the Irish-American yearning for Ireland, and represent (often humorously) the experience of Irish immigrants to America. Additionally, this sort of song was written well into the jazz era, and so there is an extraordinary assortment of styles and themes to draw from.

HOW TO LEARN TO MUSIC

There is not now a decent collection of original recordings of Irish-themed Tin Pan Alley music and the like, but several contemporary collections contain samples of the music, such as Uri Caine’s “The Sidewalks of New York,” released in 1999.

However, it is relatively easy to find the original recordings on places like YouTube. The albums are often and cheaply available through online auction services like eBay, as is the original sheet music. Additionally, one of the projects on this blog is an examination of this style of music, and each entry includes a recording of the song and the history of the composition.

WHAT SORTS OF INSTRUMENTS ARE COMMON TO THIS FORM

Many of the early songs were written to be performed by a small piano combo or by a minstrel show, and can be performed today by a small jazz combo or by individual instrumentalists playing hollow-bodied guitar, banjo, ukulele, or other instruments that recall the early, unamplified years of American music. Arrangements tend to be jazzier, often with Irish-sounding figures added in as intros and fills, but generally performed by jazz instruments and not folk instruments.

WHERE CAN I PERFORM THIS

Various genres of early Americana have increasingly found a home in folk and jazz venues, including festivals. Because these songs evoke a great deal of nostalgia, they may also find a venue at community centers as well as non-traditional venues, such as retirement homes, Veteran’s Administration hospitals, and VFA halls.

SOME EXAMPLES OF THIS MUSIC

  • Bing Crosby
  • Dennis Day (the album “Irish Favorites”)
  • Connie Francis (the albums “Sings Irish Favorites”)
  • Roger Whittaker (the album “Danny Boy & Other Irish Favorites”)

 

How to Start an Irish Band: Celtic Punk

The Pogues: Folk music made punk.

The Pogues: Folk music made punk.

WHAT IT IS

Although Celtic punk is really a subgenre of Celtic rock, it’s a large enough subgenre to deserve its own entry, and is one of the dominant forms of Irish-inflected music being made just now.

This style of music started to appear in the UK in the early 80s, although even then there were two ways to approach it: One might play fairly standard punk or new wave music that addressed Celtic subjects and included some folk elements, as did bands like The Skids, or you might play traditional Celtic music with punk arrangements and attitudes, as did The Pogues and Roaring Jack.

HOW TO LEARN THE MUSIC

Although punk is famous for its deliberate amateurism (the Sideburns fanzine once published an illustration that read “This is chord, this is another, this is third … now form a band!”), Celtic punk music can sometimes feature strikingly proficient instrumentalists. It depends on how you wish to approach it, however — there is no shame in playing a few chords as loudly as possible and shouting over it.

However, if you plan to follow the route mapped out by The Pogues, it will help to have a good working knowledge of the sorts of instruments used in mainstream Irish folk music. Celtic punk will often feature adroit penny whistle melodies or sonic blasts of howling bagpipes, along with rapid-fire bodhran drumming, and if this is to be your approach, remember that you are going to have to play these instruments as well as if you were in an Irish folk band, but sometimes much faster.

WHAT SORT OF INSTRUMENTS ARE COMMON TO THIS FORM

Depending on the approach, either the instruments you would find in a typical punk band (guitars, bass, drums), sometimes with Celtic folk instruments added in, or the instruments you would find in a Celtic folk band (acoustic guitars, banjos, penny whistle, fiddle, etc.), sometimes with electric instruments added in.

WHERE CAN I PERFORM THIS

Celtic punk is equally at home in Irish pubs (especially the more raucous ones) and in rock venues. Celtic punk bands might find it difficult to take part in folk festivals, but should be able to find a home at rock festivals, and are often also featured at Irish festivals./

SOME EXAMPLES OF THIS MUSIC

  • Black 47
  • Dropkick Murphys
  • Flogging Molly
  • The Pogues
  • The Tossers

Irish-American Standard at a Glance: If I Knock the “L” Out of Kelly

"If I Knock the 'L' Out of Kelly": Ignore the delightful caricature of an Irish man.

“If I Knock the ‘L’ Out of Kelly”: Ignore the delightful caricature of an Irish man.

“If I Knock the ‘L’ Out of Kelly” was written in 1916, with lyrics by Sam M. Lewis & Joe Young and music by Bert Grant. The song was written for a musical called “Step this Way,” which debuted at Broadway’s Shubert Theater. The show was a rewrite of an earlier musical called “The Girl Behind the Counter,” and told of an heir to millions of dollars and plans to marry his daughter to a broke Lord to make his family titled gentry.

Lew Fields and Marguerite Farrell in "Step this Way."

Lew Fields and Marguerite Farrell, seated, in “Step this Way.”

Lyricist Sam M. Lewis was one of Broadway’s greats, having coauthored songs including the English adaptation of “Gloomy Sunday,” “Has Anyone Seen My Gal,” “How Ya Gonna Keep ’em Down on the Farm (After They’ve Seen Paree)?”, and “Rock-a-Bye Your Baby with a Dixie Melody,” among many others.

Lewis frequently partnered with lyricist Joe Young, himself the author of a number of classics, including “I’m Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter.” The pair of them were frequent songwriters for Al Jolson, and both collaborated on “My Mammy,” one of Jolson’s signature songs.

Rocky Road to Dublin

Along the Rocky Road to Dublin

Composer Bert Grant wasn’t as well-known as the song’s lyricists, but had a solid career as a Broadway composer, and, with Joe Young, authored a song titled “Along the Rocky Road to Dublin” in 1915, which shares its name with a popular 19th century Irish song, but little else.

One of the popular early recordings of the song was a 1916 Columbia record, sung by soprano Marguerite Farrell, who was also responsible for a recording of “Along the Rocky Road to Dublin” that same year.  Farrell was a stage singer who worked extensively with theater impresario Lew Fields, a former vaudevillian whose partnership with acting partner Joe Weber reportedly inspired Neil Simon’s “The Sunshine Boys.” Both Fields and Farrell were in “Step this Way,” which Fields produced.

There's no actually fisticuffs to be found in the song.

There’s no actual fisticuffs to be found in the song.

Despite a title that suggests hooliganism, the song itself details a sign painter who accidentally misspelled the name Kelly with a single letter L in a sign.

 

Irish-American Standards at a Glance: Kathleen Mavourneen

Kathleen Mavourneen sheet music -- possibly pirated.

Kathleen Mavourneen sheet music — possibly pirated.

“Kathleen Mavourneen” was  composed by Frederick Crouch with lyrics by Mrs. Crawford in 1837. Although both hailed from overseas — Crouch was English, while Crawford was Irish or English — the song became one of America’s most popular parlor songs.

There is some question about exactly who Mrs. Crawford was. According to “‘Twas Only an Irishman’s Dream,” she may have been Miss Anthony Barry Crawford, an English poet, or Julia Crawford, the wife of Frederick Crouch, who was born in County Cavan.

A photo of Frederick Crouch; at least, according to the Internet.

A photo of Frederick Crouch; at least, according to the Internet.

Crouch also fell into obscurity. Although his song was enormously popular, he collected almost no money for it, possibly having sold the rights for almost nothing, possibly being the victim of sheet music piracy. Crouch came to America in 1849. He entered the Civil War as a trumpeter for the Confederacy and eventually wound up in Baltimore, likely spending his last days as a music teacher.

Irish singer Catherine Hayes.

Irish singer Catherine Hayes.

The song, which translates as “Kathleen My Beloved” and tells of a man begging his lover to wake before he leaves Ireland, became a signature song for  Irish soprano Catherine Hayes, who performed the song for Queen Victoria in 1849.

Hayes toured extensively in the United States, and, as a result, “Kathleen Mavourneen” became a popular American standard. It was especially beloved among recent Irish immigrants. James Parton wrote of opera singer Adelaide Phillips performing the song in the parlor of a “fashionable house” in New York, which caused a young Irish maid to stop in her duties and sit down, sobbing.

The song inspired at least one “answer song,” titled “Dermot Astore” and credited to Anne Barry Crawford. In it Kathleen wakes and tells her beloved that she hopes to meet him someday again.

The song was often adapted into other forms: A poem by Tom Moore, a play by Dion Boucicault, and an unrelated series of silent films, the first dating back to 1906.

The Vamp as an Irish lass: Sheet music from Theda Bara's disastrous film inspired by the song.

The Vamp as an Irish lass: Sheet music from Theda Bara’s disastrous film inspired by the song.

Famous film vamp Theda Bara starred in a film named “Kathleen Mavouneen” in 1919, in which she played an Irish woman kidnapped by the “evil Squire of Tralee,” who forced her to wed him. The film’s representations of poverty in Ireland drew complains from Irish groups. Crowds rioted across the country, damaging theaters — reportedly some of the objections were that Bara was Jewish. The film was quickly pulled.

A lyric from the  song was paraphrased by James Joyce in “Ulysses,” in which Molly Bloom at one point says “May be for months and may be for never,” when the original song says “May be for years and maybe forever.”

The song was often recording; one of the earliest recordings was from Edison in 1911, sung by opera singer and silent movie actor Thomas Chalmers.

Irish-American Standards at a Glance: Where the River Shannon Flows

Where the River Shannon Flows

Where the River Shannon Flows

“Where the River Shannon Flows” was written by James Russell at the turn of the century. The song is copyrighted about 1906, but newspaper sources indicated Russel had performed it several years before it was published.

The Russel Brothers.

The Russel Brothers.

James Russell and his brother John were vaudevillians and performed a routine called “The Irish Servant Girls” in drag, which is where they debuted “The River Shannon.” Their performance was one of the first targeted by “The Society for the Prevention of Ridiculous and Pervasive Misrepresentation of the Irish Character,” an anti-defamation group  composed of 91 Irish organizations.

According to “Street Scenes: Staging the Self in Immigrant New York, 1880-1924,” the Society’s tactics included “flooding the theater and drowning out offensive acts by catcalls, boos, hisses, and the singing of Irish songs while throwing objects such as eggs, potatoes and bricks.”

The brothers protested from the stage, reminding audiences that they were Irish-Americans as well and supported Irish causes. They also eliminated elements of the act that were deemed objectionable, and eventually changed the act altogether to Swedish girls.

Matt J. Keefe

Matt J. Keefe

Despite the controversy about the brothers’ act, the song proved to be popular. One of the first credited performers was Irish-born minstrel Matt J. Keefe, who was also famous for yodeling. Harry Macdonough, a prolific early recording artist, also recorded a version of the song for Edison in 1906.

Another early performance was by recording artist Henry Burr, born Harry Haley McClaskey, who was born in Canada and first toured with a Scottish repertoire. He moved to New York and started recording with Edison, and his repertoire quickly absorbed many Irish songs (he was likely Scots Irish). Novelty performer Tiny Tim would draw extensively from Burr’s recordings for his act.

Other recordings of the song were offered by Irish tenor John McCormack in 1913, several times by popular singer Morton Downey (“The Irish Nightingale”), and Irish singer Birdie Gallagher.

Irish-American Standards at a Glance: Who Threw the Overalls in Mrs. Murphy’s Chowder?

    All sorts of things were thrown into all sorts of things belonging to Mrs. Murphy.

All sorts of things were thrown into all sorts of things belonging to Mrs. Murphy.

“Who Threw the Overalls in Mrs. Murphy’s Chowder?” was written in 1898 by George L. Giefer. Not much is known about Giefer, although a man of his name ran as a candidate for Congress in New York in 1906 as a socialist.

The song has long been both popular and criticized, both for it’s presentation of Irish as ready-to-fight and ignorant, and because the chorus includes “I can lick the mick that threw the overalls in Mrs. Murphy’s chowder.”

The song was recorded, perhaps for the first time, in 1901 by vaudevillian Edward M. Favor, famous for his “Irish-American piping tenor.” Favor had started performing as a boy, doing German dialect comedy, and then partnered with a man named Shields as “The Irish Emperors.” Favor was one of the first recording stars. In the early days of recording there was no process for duplicating records, and every single record was from a live performance; Favor was famous for doing as many as 50 recordings per day.

From the State Times Advocate, Thursday, June 17, 1954.

From the State Times Advocate, Thursday, June 17, 1954.

Despite the fact that the question in the title of the song is answered in the lyrics, through much of the mid-20th century it was treated as an unanswerable mystery, a stand-in for all questions that have no answers.

The song has been the subject of many parodies, including “Who Put the Hand Grenade in Mrs. Murphy’s Orangeade?” by Woody Herman and the Blue Flames in 1946.

Another satire was “Who Put the Benzadrine in Mrs. Murphy’s Ovaltine” by stride and boogie woogie pianist Harry “the Hipster” Gibson, recorded in 1947. Depending on who you ask, the song was either unexpectedly popular or was banned from broadcast and sent Gibson’s career into a tailspin.

Bing Crosby recorded the song several times, first in 1947 and then again in 1956.

In 1957, future  Speaker of the United States House of Representatives Tip O’Neill, then a Massachusetts Representative, called for the song to be banned from broadcast. The circumstance was the broadcast of the Derby, when a Stephen Foster song with racist lyrics was replaced with “Mrs. Murphy.” He was joined by a number of Irish-American politicians. “I, as an Irishman, resent some of the words in the ‘Chowder’ song,” O’Neill was reported to have said in a meeting of the House Rules Committee.

Maureen O’Hara refused to sing the song at St. Patrick’s Day events, but it was less out of offense at the lyrics than a general refusal to sing Irish-American songs. Shen explained this to the Baton Rouge Advocate in 1962, saying “I don’t hear them over in Ireland. The Irish songs that are generally sung in American aren’t even Irish.”

murphycar

The Seattle Daily Times in 1966 credited the song with the wide use of “Murphy” to represent small and questionable things, such as “Mrs. Murphy’s Boarding Houses,” meaning the “type of small businesses that should be exempt from the public accommodations provisions of a civil rights bill.” Another example: “Murphy game,” where a prostitute lures a victim into a place where they can be robbed by an accomplice.

Irish-American Standards at a Glance: Too Ra Loo Ra Loo Ra

Just a simple ditty.

Just a simple ditty.

“Too Ra Loo Ra Loo Ra” was composed in 1913 for a Tin Pan Alley musical called “Shameen Dhu.” The show was scripted by Rida Johnson Young, herself an accomplished songwriter, and wrote the lyrics and book to “Naughty Marietta,” one of the great successes for composer Victor Herbert. The comedy told of an anonymous poet in Kincannon, Ireland, who goes by the pen name Shameen Dhu, meaning “Black Jamie”

The star of the show was Chauncey Olcott, the American Broadway star who specialized in Irish characters and who introduced the world to (and got writing credit for) “When Irish Eyes Are Smiling.” Olcott made a recording of “Too Ra Loo Ra Loo Ra” in 1914, released through Columbia, and it became a number one hit. “When Irish Eyes Are Smiling” and “Too Ra Loo Ra Loo Ra” have strikingly similar melodies, but Olcott’s recording of the former went mostly unnoticed.

“Too Ra Loo Ra Loo Ra’s” composer was J.R. Shannon, whose real name was James Royce, an Irish-American composer from Michigan who also wrote “The Missouri Waltz,” which later became the state song of Missouri. Shannon spent much of his life in Detroit, where he was a drama critic and managed several music businesses, before he died in 1946 by stepping in front of an oncoming train.

It's actually an Irish-American lullaby.

It’s actually an Irish-American lullaby.

The song found new popularity in 1944 when Bing Crosby performed it in the popular film “Going My Way.” Crosby released the song as a single, selling a million copies and spending 100 weeks on Billboard’s charts, reaching the #4 slot. In the late 60s, when Crosby was a guest on the Joey Bishop show. Bishop asked Crosby to sing the song for his sidekick, who was a fan of Crosby’s. The sidekick was a very young Regis Philbin, who is half Irish-American, and who performed one of Crosby’s own songs back to him. The following day Crosby helped Philbin get a recording contract at Mercury Records.

When Crosby was buried at St. Paul’s Catholic Church in Los Angeles in 1977, “Too Ra Loo Ra Loo Ra” was one of the songs played at the church service.

Even if the song was not originally Irish, many Irish musicians have either covered the song or borrowed from it. Van Morrison performed a version of the song with The Band, captured on the documentary “The Last Waltz.”

Dexys Midnight Runners: Too-Rye-Ay.

Dexys Midnight Runners: Too-Rye-Ay.

Dexys Midnight Runners, led by English songwriter Kevin Rowland (whose parents came from County Mayo), not only used the song as part of the chorus for their 1982 hit “Come On Eileen,” but named the album that featured it “Too-Rye-Ay.”

Shane McGowan, formerly of the Pogues, borrowed the song’s chorus for his song “A Christmas Lullaby,” recorded with his band The Popes.