Swanee – selected early recordings, 1919-1920

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Swanee (m. George Gershwin, w. Irving Caesar)

from Wikipedia (image added):

“Swanee” is an American popular song written in 1919 by George Gershwin, with lyrics by Irving Caesar. It is most often associated with singer Al Jolson.

The song was written for a New York City revue called Demi-Tasse, which opened in October 1919 in the Capitol Theater. Caesar and Gershwin, who was then aged 20, claimed to have written the song in about ten minutes riding on a bus in Manhattan, finishing it at Gershwin’s apartment. It was written partly as a parody of Stephen Foster‘s “Old Folks at Home“. It was originally used as a big production number, with 60 chorus girls dancing with electric lights in their slippers on an otherwise darkened stage.[1]

The song had little impact in its first show, but not long afterwards Gershwin played it at a party where Al Jolson heard it. Jolson then put it into his show Sinbad, already a success at the Winter Garden Theatre, and recorded it for Columbia Records in January 1920.[2] “After that”, said Gershwin, “Swanee penetrated the four corners of the earth.” The song was charted in 1920 for 18 weeks holding the No. 1 position for nine.[3] It sold a million sheet music copies, and an estimated two million records.[4] It became Gershwin’s first hit and the biggest-selling song of his career; the money he earned from it allowed him to concentrate on theatre work and films rather than writing further single pop hits. Arthur Schwartz said: “It’s ironic that he never again wrote a number equaling the sales of Swanee, which for all its infectiousness, doesn’t match the individuality and subtlety of his later works.”[5]

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piano rolls

U.S. Music Co. “Word Roll” 39835, played by Mae Brown and Chet Gordon – 1919

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Duo-Art, Nº 1649, played by George Gershwin – 1920

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Rhythmodik label Z105603, played by Herbert Clair & Muriel Pollock – 1920

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Ampico, played by Clair & Pollock — It’s not clear to me if this is a copy of the Rhythmodik label roll above, or vice versa.

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Al Jolson – According to the Discography of American Historical Recordings, three takes recorded by Jolson on 8 January 1920 were mastered and given the matrix number 78917. Of these, at least two were issued on versions of the 78 rpm single Columbia A2884, c/w “My Gal” (flip side recorded by Frank Crumit). 45Worlds.com indicates that Columbia A2884 was released in April 1920, with “Swanee” the A-side and “My Gal” the B-side.

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audio file, Ogg Vorbis (1.1 MB), from the page Collected Works of Al Jolson, at archive.org:

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Sanford’s Famous Dance Orchestra — recorded in March 1920; issued on Emerson 10185, c/w “On Miami Shore”

audio file, VBR MP3 (4.8 MB), from the page SWANEE (uploaded by @jakej), at archive.org:

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Peerless Quartet — recorded on 9 June 1920 (Victor matrix # B-24159) in Camden, New Jersey; issued in October 1920 on the 78 rpm single Victor 18688, as the B-side of “Dardanella” (A-side by Billy Murray and Ed Smalle)

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Van Eps Quartet — recording date unidentified; issued in 1920, as “Swanee–One-Step,” on (Canada) His Master’s Voice 216090, b/w (according to doc evans) “I Might Be your Once In Awhile

The site Southern Percussion says:

The piece was recorded in an instrumental version (HMV Canada #216090) by the Van Eps Quartet with Gershwin himself on piano, Fred Van Eps on banjo, Nathan Glantz on tenor saxophone, and George Hamilton Green on xylophone.

Rock it to me, sock it to me

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