Sunday, March 13, 2011

Bamboo Tree or Pretty Little Dutch Girl?

Margaret O'Brien and Judy Garland singing
"Under the Bamboo Tree" in
Meet Me in St. Louis (1944).

Here are a couple of musical mysteries, sparked by June’s letter written on February 21.

This is the unedited version of the letter:

“They just finished (Jessie Owens) singing “Shad-rack” over the radio – It was beautiful.  I like that song.  Oh, I heard “Under the Bamboo Tree” today on the radio.  First time since I left college – we used to sing it so many times there.  You know the one – I L-O-V-E Love you all the T-I-M-E time.  It’s true too.”

The Golden Gate Quartet.
In editing this letter, the reference to “Jessie Owens” was the first puzzle.  Jesse Owens was the famous Olympic athlete, star of the 1936 Olympics.  A little research around the internet revealed that there was a popular version of the 1930s song “Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego” by the African-American gospel group the Golden Gate Quartet featuring Henry Owens.  They called their version “Shadrack” and it was released in 1946.  Here’s a link to the Golden Gate Quartet performing “Shadrack.”

But that wasn’t the main mystery that I encountered in editing this letter.  The big problem was that “Under the Bamboo Tree” does not contain the lyrics “I L-O-V-E Love you all the T-I-M-E time.”  That’s a different song – a much less well-known song called “I Am a Pretty Little Dutch Girl,” which seems to have been more of a children’s skipping-rope song rather than the top 40 hit material that June usually refers to.  Here’s a comment from the site “Bus Songs:  Lyrics & Words for Children’s Nursery Rhymes & Songs” which gives fuller lyrics:

“I learned a much longer song (grew up in Chicago area) (don't know the name of the tune, but it sounds like "Looney Tunes") I am a pretty little Dutch girl As pretty as pretty can be And all the boys around my block are crazy over me. I have a boyfriend, Patty He comes from Cincinatti With 48 toes and a pickle on his nose And this is the way my story goes: One day when I was walking I heard my boyfriend talking To a pretty little girl with a strawberry curl and this is what he said to her: I L-O-V-E, love you, All the T-I-M-E, time. I K-I-S-S, kiss you, Please be M-I-N-E, Mine, mine, mine.”

Since I can’t find any references to a popular 1940s recording of “I Am a Pretty Little Dutch Girl,” I question whether this was what June heard on the radio that day.

“Under the Bamboo Tree,” the song title that June mentions, was a 1901 hit by Bob Cole that experienced a major revival in the 1940s because of the adorable performance of it by Judy Garland and Margaret O’Brien in the popular 1944 movie Meet Me in St. Louis.  With the very hummable lyric “If You Like-A Me Like I Like-A You,” it’s a song that June would likely have heard often at college.  By contrast, “I Am a Pretty Little Dutch Girl” is more of a playground song than a college song.

So I took a guess and focused on “Under the Bamboo Tree” in the edited version of the letter.  Still, the precise quote of the “Pretty Little Dutch Girl” lyric raises the possibility that June heard something else on the radio that day and we simply have no way of recovering what it was…

(Tomorrow – a visit to the Bowery.)

© 2011 Lee Price

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