Wednesday, February 1, 1995

50 years ago: The Andrews Sisters “Rum and Coca Cola” hit #1

Rum and Coca Cola

The Andrews Sisters

Writer(s): Rupert Westmore Grant, Morey Amsterdam, Jeri Sullivan, Paul Baron (words), Lionel Belasco (music) (see lyrics here)

Released: December 1944

First Charted: January 6, 1945

Peak: 110 US, 18 BS, 110 JB, 2 GA, 110 SM, 4 HP, 3 RB, 18 AU (Click for codes to charts.)

Sales (in millions): 1.0 US

Airplay/Streaming (in millions): -- radio, 8.7 video, 13.65 streaming


Click on award for more details.

About the Song:

In 1906, Lionel Belasco – a calypso singer from Trinidad – composed a slong called “L’Année Passée,” which was based on a folk song from nearby Martinque. SF During World War II, local calypso musician Rupert Westmore Grant (under the stage name Lord Invader) wrote lyrics for it about American servicemen drinking rum and Coca Cola and trying to convince local women to prostitute themselves. It was a big hit in Trinidad in 1943. SF

While on vacation in Trinidad that year, Morey Amsterdam, who later starred on The Dick Van Dyke Show, heard the song. He assumed it was a folk song in the public domain and tapped Jeri Sullivan and Paul Baron to “clean up and sanitize some of the more unsavory lyrics” SM for American audiences. Sullivan then introduced the song at a New York City nightclub. TY2

In 1944, the Andrews Sisters recorded “Rum and Coca Cola” in “hammy Trinidadian accents” SF with Vic Schoen’s orchestra. It was considered “the first American Calypso hit.” SF The Minneapolis-based trio, comprised of Patty, Maxene, and Laverne, were “the most popular female vocal group of the entire pre-1955 era.” PM They charted 123 times, including 23 with Bing Crosby, from 1938 to 1951. They went all the way to #1 seven different times.

Their biggest hit was “Rum and Coca Cola.” Abe Lyman and Vaughn Monroe each charted with the song in 1945 as well. Both peaked at #8. PM Variety magazine ranked it the #5 song of the year. TY2 In the United States, it was the biggest-selling song of the year and the third biggest of the decade. SF It was banned in the UK, not because of references to alcohol or prostitution, but Coca Cola. That was considered free advertising and not allowed.

Belasco and Grant sued for copyright infringement. Both won. Grant was awarded $150,000 in compensation although Amsterdam was able to retain copyright on the song. SF Amsterdam claimed he’d never heard the original although the music and chorus were virtually identical and the lyrics were similar. WK


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First posted 8/12/2023.

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