Irving Berlin: Songs about Florida and Hawaii, 1915 to 1925

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Irving Berlin (1888-1989) was known to Eubie Blake (1883-1983), the great African-American ragtime and theater composer and pianist, around the time of Berlin’s first big hit, Alexander’s Ragtime Band, 1911.

From the introduction, by editor Robert Kimball, to The Complete Lyrics of Irving Berlin, Eds. Kimball, Emmett, 2001, p. xvii:

“I was playing piano in the summer of 1911 in Atantic City,” Blake recalled during a conversation we had during the 1960s. “I was working at a place called the Boat House. Sophie Tucker introduced me to him. When he said “Hey, Eubie! Give me a song kid! I knew what he was talking about and I played Alexander’s Ragtime Band. I helped to make it popular in Atlantic City. Izzy — we called him Izzy then — my partner, Noble Sissle and I, many of us also wrote songs that you couldn’t write today. But they are a part of our history and we can’t forget that.”

Below: (left) Irving Berlin, probably 1913-1915*; (right) Noble Sissle and Eubie Blake, 1920s (?)

Irving Berlin_c.1913 at piano_1Sissle-Noble-Eubie-Blake

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The following is an excerpt from a 1976 interview of Eubie Blake conducted by Max Morath. The full interview is available here: The 93 Years of Eubie Blake.

Morath: Getting back to Atlantic City, I picture it as a summer crossroads for practically everybody in show business. Anyone you recall especially?

Blake: Irving Berlin was my friend. When I say my friend, I mean he’d bring people to hear me, stand there and boost me, and he’d whisper, “Wait’ll you hear this guy play the piano.” Now, he ain’t got a quarter, see, that’s when he was young, he ain’t got twenty cents. Then he’d come right in singing “Alexander’s Ragtime Band.”

When I knew Berlin, he had one blue-serge suit. Now, you’ve heard of tan shoes? His shoes weren’t tan—yellow shoes. There’s a difference between tan and yellow. And a pancake hat—straw hat. That’s this summer. Next summer he’s got the same thing on.

Sophie Tucker used to bring him down there. She’d come down just to hear me play the piano—at the Boathouse and the Belmont.

**************

In Florida Among The Palms (1916) Introduced in the Ziegfield Follies of 1916

Everybody sings of the sunny South
That’s the song that clings to the singer’s mouth
They ragtime it and boost the climate
Way up to the sky
I
Never cared a lot for the Swanee shore
There’s another spot that I’m rooting for
I’ve been there and I must declare
It can’t be praised too high

[Refrain:]
If I had my way, I’d always stay
In Florida among the palms
With its peaceful air of “I don’t care”
And lazy atmosphere that calms
My one favorite haunt
Is a palm tree, and all I want
Is someone just to rest in my arms
I’d love to live among the bamboo huts, the cocoanuts
There’s something in the climate that charms
Heaven’s corridor is sunny Florida
Home of the shelt’ring palms

Florida was named very prettily
By the man who claimed its discovery
He spent hours among the flowers
And called it “God’s Land”
And
Nature seems to sigh “it’s my favorite”
That’s the reason why Heaven gave her it
It was born from a diamond worn
Upon an Angel’s hand

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1915-Mybirdofparadise-berlin

My Bird Of Paradise (1915)

Introduced by Blossom Seeley at the Winter Garden Theater, New York. It was a  big hit, with the most popular recording by the Peerless Quartet. — The Complete Lyrics of Irving Berlin, ed. Kimball and Emmet, 2001, p. 128 (Not from Stop! Look! Listen! as I mistakenly claimed earlier)

In Honolulu, far away
A maiden who could not be gay
Is feeling so much better
Since she received a letter
From her Hawaiian lover came
A little tender note
She’s so excited and so delighted
For this is what he wrote

[Refrain:]
Wait for me
My Honolulu girl
My hula-hula girl
I’m coming back to you
That sunny sky land
Hawaiian Island
Will soon be my land
I hear a Ukelele strumming gaily
In my dreams
You seem to say to me
Come back and play to me
That melody oh, so nice!
So if you love me still
My things I’ll pack again
Then I’ll be coming back again
To you, my Bird of Paradise

In Honolulu, by the sea
A maiden’s waiting patiently
And as a ship goes past her
Her little heart beats faster
He’ll soon be landing at the pier
She’s waiting for the boat
He won’t forget her for in his letter
Her sweet Hawaiian wrote

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That Hula-Hula (1915)

From Stop! Look! Listen! Introduced by Blossom Seeley who played Lilla Kiliana “a Hula Hula girl,” and ensemble. – Complete Lyrics, p.135

[1st verse:]
Underneath the sad Hawaiian moon
Where the sad Hawaiians love to spoon
While the Ukeleles strum a tune
Ev’ry evening you can see them doing

[Refrain:]
That hula-hula
Have you seen them do the hula
In Honolula
The way they do?
I know if you knew
How to do the hula-hula
You’d be in Honolula
Doing the hula, too

[2nd verse:]
I can teach you how to do the dance
Tell me, would you like to take a chance?
Shake your hands, quietly advance
In another minute you’ll be doing

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A second song about Hawaii from Stop! Look! Listen!, Oh, What Place is Dreamy Honolulu, was apparently not published. The Complete Lyrics says

The only source for the music and the lyrics is the piano-vocal score in the R. H. Burnside Collection of the Music Division of the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts. Introduced by “Tourists and Natives.” Alternate title: Opening Chorus Act II.”

Oh, What a Place
Is Dreamy Honolulu!
It puts a smile on your face
To be in Honolulu,
For there is something that pleases–
Those tropical breezes,
They’re so gentle,
It makes you sentimental.

Home of romance
Is dreamy Honolulu,
And there’s a wonderful dance
They do in Honolulu
It simply fills you with something
That you cannot understand;
And you say what is it
That makes you visit
That wonderful land?

(Repeat second section)

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I’m Down in Honolulu Looking Them Over

Published and copyrighted in 1916. The notes in The Complete Lyrics state, “George Gershwin made a piano roll of this song for the Aeolian Company, probably in the fall of 1916.” – p. 146

[1st verse:]
You know my Uncle Jeremiah
Who disappeared a month ago
We got a letter from Hawaii
And I declare, my uncle’s there
The atmosphere set him on fire
It simply went right to his head
What do you think he wrote
In his little note?
This is what he said

[Refrain:]
I’m down in Honolulu looking them over
I’m down in Honolulu living in clover
Try and guess the way they dress
No matter what you think it is, it’s even less
Their language is hard to understand because it’s so tricky
I’ve got them teaching me to say “wicky wicky”

I don’t know what it means but it’s the best that ever was
And if it means just what I think it does
I’ll be in Honolulu looking them over for a long, long time

[2nd verse:]

My brother said “It’s very nifty
Our Uncle’s got the right idea”
Although my brother’s very thrifty
He sent a wire to Jeremiah
He said “I’ll go you fifty fifty
With ev’ry Hula girl you see”
My brother nearly died
Uncle just replied
Please don’t bother me

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Piano roll, undated — Max Kortlander Autograph 100513 played on 1925 Harrington upright player piano

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1925-florida-by-the-sea-berlinFlorida By the Sea (1925)

Written for the Marx Brothers musical The Cocoanuts, 1925. The song was omitted from the 1929 movie (thought I might be able to post a video). Introduced by Zeppo Marx and ensemble. Originally the opening number of Act 1, it later became the sixth. – Complete Lyrics, p.234

[Verse:]
Down in the land of the cocoanuts
Before the welcome season shuts
A million “million dollar nuts” will be found
Down in the land where the trees are tall
We’re asking you to pay a call
And live where it is summer all the year ’round
Buy a lot, any piece that we’ve got
Will increase ev’ry season
Ask us why ev’ryone wants to lie in the sun, there’s a reason
One little ride in a Pullman car
A night and day and there you are
Come on, it’s time you should be Florida bound

[Refrain:]
In the lovely land of Florida
Sunny Florida by the sea
All the sunshine in America
Is in Florida you’ll agree
When they’re freezing up north
Sneezing up north
Always it’s July the Fourth
In the lovely land of Florida
Sunny Florida by the sea

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Irving Berlin_c.1913 at piano_1* Irving Berlin, probably c. 1913-1915 (right) —  The Irving Berlin Wikipedia page includes, in its “Early Jobs” section, a cropped image which is evidently derived from the same original photograph of Berlin at the piano as the image at right. The caption indicates that it shows Berlin “at his first job with a music publisher, age 18.” It doesn’t. Berlin’s first job with a publishing company came in 1909 with the Ted Snyder Company. He wasn’t 18, as Wikipedia suggests, but 21. Also, the picture on the wall beside Berlin is a portrait of Al Jolson which was used at least as early as 1913, but probably not much earlier, and as late as 1915 (see sheet covers below). Wikipedia’s dating of the Berlin photo, therefore, is likely too early by about 4-6 years, and the age they attribute to him is probably off by 7-9 years. He was likely about 25-27 years old at the time this photo was taken.

3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. rupert
    Nov 03, 2009 @ 16:05:58

    Hi, nice website. i came here looking for a song ‘underneath the moon in florida’. it starts like this: ‘its heaven to be here with you, underneath the moon in florida’ i heard it first on an album i borrowed from orlando public library in the 1980’s.
    thank you for your help.

    Reply

    • doc
      Nov 09, 2009 @ 18:51:21

      Hi Rupert, I’ll do my best to give a satisfactory answer to your question. I hadn’t heard of the song until you brought the title to my attention. It appears that it may be one of the songs composed for the Walt Disney World Resort nightclub called “The Adventurer’s Club”, but I’m not certain. My first search results were other people trying to find out more information about the song. One seeker seemed to think it was written by a Hathaway Brown. but this is a running character, one of the “resident adventurers” in the club which offers not just a single show but many shows each night (according to wikipedia).

      I have found videos of this song being performed at the Adventurer’s Club. Here are some links:

      1. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=09O7HsP-cO4

      This one is titled Florida, the Moon, and You (Underneath the Moon in Florida)I first found it at this site: Scott Kraft’s Blog. Looking for videos with the title “Florida, the Moon, and You” gave more results including these

      2. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O_wACABjWno

      3. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tsxAUwfpX-I

      4. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LFozNE70i7o

      Scott Kraft’s Blog attaches the following lyric:

      Florida, The Moon and You (Underneath The Moon In Florida)

      (repeat twice):
      It’s Heaven to Be Here With You
      Underneath the Moon in Florida
      I love everything that you do
      It’s paradise here in Florida

      Your smile, your sigh, your wonderful charms
      Your lips, your eyes, your two loving arms
      I love you, my darling, I do
      Florida, the Moon and you

      I don’t know if this was written for the Disney production recently. There is a song with this title written in 1926 with music by Rudolf Friml and lyrics by Gene Buck. Possibly introduced in a 1926 Ziegfeld production titled Ziegfeld’s American Review, in London (but not on Broadway apparently). [Update, 13 August 2010: Musicals101.com mentions a summertime 1926 Broadway revue called No Foolin’ with a subtitle of Ziegfeld’s American Review (But see also Broadway: An Encyclopedia, by Ken Bloom, (2003) p. 319). It wasn’t successful, though “visually stunning.” Florida, the Moon and You was was the penultimate number in Act I. .]

      Buck had a long history with the Follies as you can see on this page of the Internet Broadway Database: IBDB Gene Buck.

      I’m still looking for the lyrics from the 1926 song to determine whether it’s the same one.

      Best wishes, Jim

      Reply

      • doc
        Mar 17, 2013 @ 01:44:57

        Rupert,

        The chorus in the following 1926 recordings by The Revelers, and Franklin Baur are virtually identical to that reportedly used at Disney’s “The Adventurer’s Club.”

        Florida, the Moon and You (m. Rudolf Friml, w. Gene Buck) — The Revelers, 1926

        Franklyn Baur and chorus (Brunswick 20048) 1926; includes introductory verse

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