Yankee Doodle Boy is derived from the well-known song Yankee Doodle Dandy. The
exact origin of the song is unknown, but it is commonly thought to be first
written by Richard Shuckburgh. Shuckburgh was a British army surgeon who wrote
the song to make fun of the American soldiers during the French and Indian War.
The song later became popular with Americans when they played it after General
Cornwallis surrendered at Yorktown to end fighting in the American Revolution.
The song heard during the presentation was written by George M. Cohan for a
musical known as Little Johnny Jones (1904). This musical was inspired by a
jockey named Tod Sloan who had traveled to England a year earlier to
participate in the English derby. This goes along with the theme we see in the
revisions of this song. This version of the song solely got its popularity from
this musical. Each time the song is rewritten, it is changed to fit the events
going on during the time period, hence, the English Derby in Cohan’s version.
Cohan is known as one of the greatest in Broadway history not only as a
composer, but also a playwright, singer, and actor. The song is sung by Billy
Murray who was well-known for singing fun, upbeat songs, including patriotic
songs, “coon” songs and ethnic dialects.
New York Public Library - http://www.nypl.org/blog/2012/07/21/musical-month-little-johnny-jones
song does not fit in just one period of time in history. It was first sung as
“Yankee Doodle Dandy” in 1781 by the British during the war in Revolutionary
America. By 1781, the “Yankee Doodle” insult was more of a point of pride and
the song was like the unofficial national anthem. During the French and Indian
War, the British used the insult to make fun of American troops. “Yankee” was a
dismissive reference towards Americans and “doodle” was a word for a fool.
George Cohan made a musical in 1942 called “Yankee Doodle Dandy”; from there
this song, “Yankee Doodle Boy” came along. The film is known as one of
Hollywood’s greatest. It was entertaining and patriotic, so it supported the
war effort in the early 20th century. The only controversial thing about it is where
and when it originated because there are endless reproductions and versions of
it. The general public who attended the musical enjoyed the songs, including
“Yankee Doodle Boy”. The song is usually played at patriotic events and even
sporting events sometimes. It serves as a patriotic song in society, one that
stands for the love and pride we have for our American independence. In terms
of U.S. popular culture in this particular moment, this song tells us that we
do not know much about its history or its origins. People have made different
versions of songs, but I think the initial ones should be tracked more
of Congress - http://www.loc.gov/teachers/lyrical/songs/yankee_doodle.html
Folk Music - http://folkmusic.about.com/od/folksongs/qt/YankeeDoodle.htm
Broadcasting Service - http://www.pbs.org/wnet/broadway/stars/george-m-cohan/
This particular song is extremely unique
because of the long history that precedes it. Specifically, from the 1700s to
now, the lyrics have been modified to fit the social change of that era. For
example, the song “Yankee Doodle” supposedly began during the French and Indian
war as a way to ridicule the American soldiers. However, after the American’s
victory in the Revolutionary War, this song became a patriotic song for the
Americans as a means to taunt the British for their loss. Moreover, it became a
way for Americans to build morale. Therefore, during this time period, this
song was very representative of this specific era.
As mentioned previously, this song was
inspired by the jockey, Tod Sloan. In the 1890s, the world of racing was amazed
to find this young man who rode horses unlike any other professional jockey
they had ever come across. Sloan was continually made fun of because of the
unique way he rode the horse. He thrust his weight as far forward as he could
rather than placing his weight towards the back. Although he was made fun of
initially by traditional horse riders, his “forward seat” method became widely
popular. It was George Cohan who cemented Sloan’s popularity by writing the
musical Little Johnny Jones and the song Yankee Doodle Boy about Sloan’s
experiences. Moreover, it is pertinent to notice that the writings of both the
initial and current version of Yankee Doodle that you heard today were a result
of two individuals/groups being mocked or made fun of. During this era, Yankee
Doodle was considered an extremely patriotic song, so for Cohan to attribute
the characteristics of a “Yankee” to Sloan would be considered highly
emblematic and honorable.
When observing the lyrics of this song, it
reminds us of the song “I’ve been working on the railroad”. Two unique points
that this group brought up about this song is that the lyrics are racist,
especially because of the use of words like “Dinah” and that the lyrics have
underlying meaning that we do not always think about when we sing. For example,
the initial intent of this song was to mock the Americans. The lyrics were
purposely written to make fun of American soldiers during the French and Indian
War. However, the Americans then took this song and sang it right back at the
British after defeating them in the Revolutionary War. Although this was meant
to mock the British for losing to “macaronis”, it is interesting to note that a
song mocking Americans is still popular today. In addition, many of the lyrics
have underlying meanings that we don’t always think about. For example,
macaroni is not a type of pasta, but it refers to a fashion style that is
attributed to pretentious individuals. Thus, calling Americans “macaronis” is a
way of insulting Americans and their pretentiousness. The term doodle refers to
a fool or gullible person. It is very interesting how these two songs, despite
its potentially demeaning meaning, have became symbolic icons of our country.
In fact, Yankee Doodle is actually a state song for Connecticut.
Why do you think this particular song was
adapted into so many different styles throughout the past couple of centuries?
Was it the origin, the tune, or the original lyrics that made people want to
recreate this specific song?
There were several opinions as to why this song became
so popular during so many different eras. Primarily, the origin of this song
played a significant role in why it initially became popular during wartime
eras. The fact that this song was a morale booster and patriotic song for the
Americans led to the idea of being called a "Yankee" a compliment.
Thus, this song became a good basis for reinterpretations during different
eras. For example, in the song by George Cohan, a jockey named Tod Sloan was
referred to as a Yankee in order to praise him for overcoming negative remarks
from professional jockeys and revolutionizing the horse riding circuit.
Moreover, the up beat tune and general rhythm of the song also contributed to
the popularity of its spread. Despite not completely understanding what the
lyrics mean, people enjoyed the ridiculousness of the words and the positive
atmosphere that the music exhibited. For example, the words
"macaroni" and "yankee doodle" are just fun, silly words
that are enjoyable to sing and dance to thus popularizing this song throughout
different generations. In summary, I believe that are two main reasons as to
why this particular song was adapted into so many different versions. First,
the different writers chose this song because of its origin. It was a patriotic
song that holds prideful meaning for the Americans. Second, the fun sounding
lyrics, up beat tune, and rhythm make it something that individuals of all ages
can enjoy therefore popularizing it in the difference generations throughout the