The Three Bears

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The Three Bears is a 1946 Bobby Troup composition with original music, and words adapted from the fairy tale The Story of the Three Bears or Goldilocks and the Three Bears, possibly from a rhymed verse form. The song was recorded first by the Page Cavanaugh Trio c. 1946. The trio, with two members replaced, also performed it in the short film Record Party, released in 1947.

A recently popular children’s version, often called “The Three Bears Rap,” uses modified words and music adapted from the 1946 Bobby Troup original. The children’s version, as demonstrated in the arrangements performed by kindergartners in a couple of videos included below, is a significantly modified adaptation of the Troup song. The odd thing is that, in apparent efforts to simplify the song for children, in some ways it has been made more complex. See, for example, the arrangement performed by “Haley and her graduating kindergarten class,” which seems to me infinitely more complex structurally than any jazz version I’ve heard. Good luck putting accurate time signatures on that.

(above) The Page Cavanaugh Trio in 1946: l. to r. Al Viola, Page Cavanaugh, and Lloyd Pratt.

Page Cavanaugh Trio

RCA Victor 20-2085A, b/w “All Of Me” — late 1946? Have not yet been able to precisely date this single, but Billboard magazine reviewed it in the January 4, 1947 issue.

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From the short film Record Party (1947) — This is a different, longer recording. Both guitarist Al Viola and bass player Lloyd Pratt have been replaced for the film. I haven’t identified the replacements, but presume that they were only hired to lip-sync for the short since the original trio of Cavanaugh, Viola, and Pratt are seen in at least two 1948 films, Romance on the High Seas, and A Song is Born (see “Daddy-O” below, from the latter).

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Daddy-O (I’m Gonna Teach You Some Blues) – music: Gene de Paul, words: Don Raye

“Daddy-O” has nothing to do with “The Three Bears,” though the style is similar. I just want to show you what the original Page Cavanaugh Trio looks like. The clip is from the film A Song is Born (1948). The song is performed by Virginia Mayo, dubbed by Jeri Sullivan (spelled Sullavan at IMDb), accompanied by the Page Cavanaugh Trio — Page Cavanaugh: piano, Al Viola: guitar, Lloyd Pratt: bass —  and an uncredited orchestra.

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More versions of The Three Bears:

Ray Ellington Quartet1948

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Bobby Troup — from the 1953 LP Bobby Troup!, Capitol Records H-484

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Leon McAuliffe & his Cimarron Boys

studio recording, c.1957

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Live TV performance, 1957 or 1958. The clip, hopefully of better quality, is available on a DVD titled Hillbillies on TV – The Ozark Jubilee TV Show 1957-58

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Chali solo performance dated 10 October 1986

This represents the earliest instance I have found of the inclusion of cha cha chas in the vocal. The embellishment is frequently heard in later renditions, though its origin is obscure. The video provider describes the performance as an “impromptu rap” by Chali, but it’s evident that she was taught the arrangement, or learned it from a prior performance or recording.

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Zoom kids — performed during an episode of the second Zoom TV series (1999-2005)

I don’t know where the tradition of wearing sunglasses, or “shades,” while singing the song began. These props are probably a nod to a style of dress and adornment commonly associated with the bebop era in which the song was written. Perhaps the tradition began in schools or youth camps, where the song is frequently performed by large groups of children. Shades are conspicuously worn by all in the following clip.

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Haley and her graduating kindergarten class, posted 30 May 2007

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SEEC Bears – 24 June 2010

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Related, but not incorporating Troup’s song:

  • Both Steve Allen (1953) and Al Jazzbo Collins and the Bandidos (1967, with Steve Allen among the group, on piano) recorded spoken hipster-style recordings of the Goldilocks and the Three Bears tale over jazz music. The principle connection between these and Bobby Troup’s song would be the employment of bebop or hipster slang and references. I don’t know the title of the cool jazz music behind the tale told by Collins.

Goldilocks and The Three Bears (Bebop’s Fable) — “Adapted, Played and Told by Steve Allen” — issued in August 1953 on the single Brunswick 9-80228, as the B-side of “Cinderella”

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  • Ruffus the Dog and his crew rock shades (sunglasses), black turtlenecks, black berets, and goatees, in this episode. Each prop is associated with early bebop fashion. Ruffus the Dog is not to be confused with Rufus the dog of The Muppets. Muppet Wiki says, “Rufus is a fluffy white dog…”
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