Thursday, December 28, 2017

Jackie Green & the Five Spirits of Rhythm, "Alabamy Bound"

I recently ran across a soundie with an Alabama connection. 

What's a "soundie", you ask? Well, according to Wikipedia, soundies were  "three-minute American musical 16mm films, produced in New York CityChicago, and Hollywood, between 1940 and 1946, each containing a song, dance and/or band or orchestral number." They were shot live and distributed around the country for showings on coin-operated film jukeboxes in nightclubs, bars, restaurants, factory employee lounges and similar spaces. In other words, they were an early form of what we call music videos. A similar performance technology, telescriptions, was used from 1950 until 1952.

The soundie I have in mind is a 1941 recording of "Alabamy Bound", which features the 1924 Tin Pan Alley song by that title. Music for the tune was written by Ray Henderson and lyrics by Buddy DeSylva and Bud Green. All three of those men were highly successful in popular music for decades beyond their collaboration on "Alabamy Bound."

Their song was first recorded in 1924 by Paul Whiteman and His Orchestra. Since then numerous other groups and individuals have put their spin on it. Some surprising singers include Dean Martin and Bobby Darin. Bing Crosby recorded it twice, first in 1957 and again in 1975 on his album A Southern Memoir that also includes "Stars Fell on Alabama". Al Jolson and Ray Charles also recorded it. The song appears in various films, as noted in the Wikipedia entry, including Woody Allen's 1985 The Purple Rose of Cairo, where it's sung by actor Jeff Daniels. 

Most relevant to our "soundie" is another popular performer of the 20th century, singer, actor, comedian, etc., Eddie CantorThe singer in the soundie is a Cantor impersonator named Jackie Greene. Cantor himself performed the song a cappella in the 1944 film Show Business

Beyond his appearance in this film, I've been able to learn almost nothing about Greene. He did appear as Eddie Cantor in the Broadway musical "You'll See Stars." The show lasted 5 days, December 29, 1942 through January 2, 1943 at Maxine Elliott's Theatre in New York City. The show was essentially a gimmick revue in which other actors played performing stars of the day such as George Jessel, the Marx Brothers, Cantor, etc. 

The 1941 soundie opens aboard the Santa Fe Special train. Greene begins the song in the lounge car among various passengers appreciatively tapping along. Then the instrumental break features a long sequence in which four of the Five Spirits of Rhythm do not sing but perform stereotypical bits as train porters shining shoes. Then another lengthy scene features four young women in a sleeping car showing off their long, bare legs. The short film ends with Greene singing and surrounded by all Five Spirits of Rhythm.

The Spirits of Rhythm was a jazz string band active for about a decade beginning in the early 1930's. The number of members varied, but the five in this soundie are playing on the soundtrack. Unfortunately, we do not get to see them play. Guitarist Teddy Bunn was a member at this time.

This soundie was produced by Sam Coslaw and directed by Dudley Murphy. The two men were both active in the film industry for several decades. Coslaw was also a well-known singer and songwriter in the early years of his career. 

You can find videos of "Alabamy Bound" performed by an incredible number of musical artists here. And don't let those heebie jeebies be hangin' round!

Sleeping berths aboard the train are mentioned in the song's lyrics and are thus perfect spots for several shots of bare female legs. 

The real Eddie Cantor [1892-1964]

Source: Wikipedia

Alabamy Bound

I'm Alabamy bound
There'll be no Heebie Jeebies hangin' 'round
Just gave the meanest ticket man on earth
All I'm worth, to put my tootsies in an upper berth
Just hear that choo choo sound
I know that soon I'm gonna cover ground
I'm gonna holler, so the world will know
Here I go, I'm Alabamy bound

Just hear that choo choo sound
I know that soon I'm gonna cover ground
I'm gonna holler, so the world will know
Here I go, I'm Alabamy bound
I'm Alabamy bound

Source: LyricWiki 

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

The EOA & Yours Truly

The Encyclopedia of Alabama defines itself as "a free, online reference resource on Alabama’s history, culture, geography, and natural environment." The EOA has been around for some years now, and contains numerous articles related to the state. I've been able to write a few of those articles, and here's a list.

All but one of these pertain more or less to the state's medical history. 

  1. Lloyd Noland

    Physician Lloyd Noland (1880-1949) served with Alabamian general William C. Gorgas in the Panama Canal...
  2. Cornelius Nathaniel Dorsette

    Cornelius N. Dorsette (1852?-1897) is often identified as the first licensed or certified black physician...
  3. Halle Tanner Dillon

    Halle Tanner Dillon (1864-1901) was an African American physician who became the first woman certified to practice medicine in Alabama.
  4. Southern Research Institute

    Established in 1944 as the first independent scientific research center in the Southeast, the Southern...
  5. Octavus Roy Cohen

    Octavus Roy Cohen (1891-1959) was a journalist and prolific author of fiction who published more than...
  1. Medical Association of the State of Alabama (MASA)

    Organized in 1847, the Medical Association of the State of Alabama (MASA) became the first statewide...
  2. Graefenberg Medical Institute
    The Graefenberg Medical Institute, founded in 1852 in Dadeville, Tallapoosa County, was the first functioning...
  3. Arthur McKinnon Brown
    Arthur McKinnon (some sources give McKimmon) Brown (1867-1939) was one of the earliest African American...

Birmingham Medical College

Birmingham Medical College (BMC) was a for-profit educational institution that operated in the city from 1894 until 1915.

John Webster Kirklin

John Webster Kirklin (1917-2004) was an important figure in American medical history.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Movies with Alabama Connections: SpaceCamp & Space Warriors

Both of our kids spent a week at Space Camp in Huntsville back in the 1990's, so I've been planning a post on these two films for a while now. I recently watched Space Warriors for the first time, so here we are. I've also seen SpaceCamp, although not in a good while.

SpaceCamp was released on June 6, 1986, advertised as "The Summer's Greatest Adventure". The film cost somewhere north of $18 million and box office was only about half that, no doubt a disappointment to production company ABC Motion Pictures. The film had the bad luck to be released less than six months after the space shuttle Challenger disaster in January. A tie-in novel by Joe Claro was published by Scholastic.

The film was the first feature directed by Harry Winer. The cast includes such then or soon-to-be well known actors as Kate Capshaw [star of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, etc., and future Mrs. Steven Spielberg], Lea Thompson [star of Back to the Future and many other films] and Kelly Preston [star of Twins, Waiting to Exhale, etc and future Mrs. John Travolta]. Also appearing are Joaquin Phoenix [as Leaf Phoenix] and veteran actor Tom Skerritt. The music was composed by John Williams of Stars Wars and many other films; the cinematographer was another industry veteran, William A. Fraker

Some filming was done at the Huntsville Space Camp, but the film is set at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Astronaut Capshaw, who has not yet worked on a shuttle mission, is instructor of four teens who come to the camp. Various romantic, robotic and other hijinks ensue in addition to training until the group boards the shuttle Atlantis to experience a routine engine test. A problem that only movie magic can create requires the actual launching of the shuttle. After a visit to a space station to pick up extra oxygen, one of the female campers safely lands the shuttle. 

Space Warriors came out in 2013 and follows two competing Space Camp teams as they vie for a chance to visit the International Space Station. A lively group of young actors play members of the two competing groups. Several veterans also appear in the film including Mira Sorvino and Dermot Mulroney, who play the parents of the precocious Jimmy [Thomas Horn], leader of the Warriors team. 

Jimmy has been denied permission to go to Space Camp. His father is a former astronaut and his lawyer mom worries about disaster in space. So Jimmy comes up with an elaborate scheme to fool his parents and take the spot he has won in a world-wide competition. Josh Lucas plays Col. Roy Manley, a friend of Jimmy's father and the one in charge of the competition.

Another veteran, Danny Glover, plays the Space Camp Commander, who notes in his opening remarks to the competitors that he welcomes them to his home state. The credits for the film declare, "Filmed in Huntsville, AL and at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center." Early in the film "Huntsville, Alabama" is noted onscreen as well and mentioned several times. 

Both of these films are far-fetched, but fun to watch especially for those of us from Alabama. The cast members are appealing and the special effects are well done. Too bad neither film made much of a dent at the box office.

Source: Wikipedia

Source: IMDB

Source: IMDB

A third movie, A Smile as Big as the Moon, was also filmed at Space Camp and released in 2012. The Hallmark film is based on the memoir of the same title by teacher Mike Kersjes and his co-author Joe Layden.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

The 1835 "Alabama Waltz"

A standard feature of this blog has been postings about nineteenth and early 20th century songs with some Alabama connection. One example can be found here. I recently ran across the earliest song I've located so far, and here's what little I know about it.

I came across this 1835 composition by Wilhelm Iucho on the Hathi Trust digital site. The piece was published in New York City by William A. Pond & Company at 547 Broadway. After some research I've been able to find only a bit more information about Iucho and nothing about Pond.

One of the few references to Iucho I've found appeared on a web page about Kentucky politician Henry Clay and his wife Lucretia. In her journal Lucretia's great-granddaughter wrote, "Two time-stained pieces of music, The Lexington Grand Waltz and The Ashland Quadrilles, dedicated to Mrs. Henry Clay by Professor Wilhelm Iucho, are tributes to her musical ability." 

The title "Professor" may have been earned or one Iucho bestowed upon himself to upgrade his teaching status to potential patrons or employers. Via I did find him listed as Professor of Music at the Brooklyn Collegiate Institute for Young Ladies in their 1830 catalog. 

Also via Ancestry I found a marriage notice for Iucho. "In Brooklyn, on Tuesday evening, July 26th, by the Rev. Mr. Milnor of New York, Mr. Wilhelm Iucho of Hucho to Miss Julia Ann Baldwin, daughter of the Rev. Isaac Van Doren, all of Brooklyn." The year was 1831. The Rev. Isaac Van Doren was one of the principals of the Brooklyn Collegiate Institute.

"Alabama Waltz" is dedicated to "Miss  Harriet M.(?) Turner from Huntsville, Alabama". I have been unable to find anything about her. I wonder if Iucho met all these ladies in New York.

See below for two examples of other pieces composed by Iucho and dedicated to single women.

Source: New York Public Library Digital Collections

A couple of Iucho's other compositions are below; I found them here. He seems to have dedicated his works to the ladies, often single ones. Perhaps Miss Griffith had family connections with Scotland. "Come Where the Violets Blow," a "Duet for Two Voices" is composed and arranged for a married couple but dedicated to a pair of single ladies. Iucho got a good bit of mileage out of that tune.