Monday, February 9, 2015

The Yankee Doodle Boy - Billy Murray (1904)

The Yankee Doodle Boy - Billy Murray (1904) - College Football 1890-1920
Akshaya Arjunan, Divya Gupta, & Dajunonna Mikulin 
Song: "The Yankee Doodle Boy" (1904)
Writer: George M. Cohan
Singer: Billy Murray 

Source: Google Images
The 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.
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The 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 proficiently.
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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 differing eras.
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