image from davidneale.eu
Chauncey Olcott “When Irish Eyes Are Smiling”
Writer(s): Chauncey Olcott/ George Graff Jr./ Ernest R. Ball (see lyrics here)
First charted: 6/21/1913
Peak: 17 US, 1 GA (Click for codes to singles charts.)
Sales (in millions): 1.0 US (sheet music sales)
Radio Airplay (in millions): -- Video Airplay (in millions): --
Review: In 1912, tributes like this one to a romanticized Ireland were common in America as well as England. This one in particular, though, became a favorite of Irish immigrants in the pre-World War I years RCG and has become a perennial St. Patrick’s Day fave. JA-210 Amusingly, this “waltz-like tune” RCG was written by Chauncey Olcott and George Graff Jr. with music by Ernest Ball – none of whom were Irish. SF Of course, many American-born citizens have Irish ancestry, including Olcott, whose mother was born in Ireland. SF
Olcott introduced the song when he sang it in his 1913 Broadway production of The Isle O’Dreams, which was based on a play set in Ireland. SF While the show opened and closed in under a month, SF Olcott’s commercial recording of the song was a hit, topping the charts that summer. Harry MacDonough would also take the song to the top five that year. Four years later, during World War I, John McCormack recorded the song again and took it to #4.
The song was used as the opener for Duffy’s Tavern, a radio show which ran from 1941 to 1951. WK It was revived in Irish Eyes Are Smiling, a 1944 biopic about Ernest Ball, and in 1947 for the Olcott biopic My Wild Irish Rose. JA-210 It became a favorite again years later when Morton Downey sang it more than a thousand times on the air on his radio show. RCG The song has been recorded on more than 200 singles and albums and performed by singers such as Perry Como, Bing Crosby, Connie Francis, Roger Whittaker, and Frank Sinatra.
In 1985, the song garnered attention when U.S. President Ronald Reagan and Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney convened for a summit on St. Patrick’s Day. The two jointly sang “When Irish Eyes Are Smiling,” which caused the Canadian press to extensively criticize Mulroney. WK
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