Thursday, April 29, 1999

On This Day (1899): Arthur Collins hit #1 with “Hello Ma Baby”

Hello Ma Baby

Arthur Collins

Writer(s): Joseph E. Howard, Ida Emerson (see lyrics here)

First Charted: April 15, 1899

Peak: 14 PM (Click for codes to charts.)

Sales (in millions): --

Airplay/Streaming (in millions): -- radio, 0.51 video, 0.02 streaming

Awards (Arthur Collins):

Click on award for more details.

Awards (Len Spencer):

About the Song:

Joseph E. Howard and Ida Emerson were a husband-and-wife songwriting team who performed in vaudeville before becoming stars in Chicago and New York. SS Their “most celebrated song” SS was “Hello Ma Baby,” one of the first mainstream songs to use ragtime-styled syncopation. SS The melody is similar to a piano piece by Claude Debussy called “Le Petit Nègre.” WK

“Hello Ma Baby” was also notable as the first well-known song to refer to the telephone. The word “hello” was primarily associated with telephone use and the subject matter of the song regards a man who only knows his girlfriend via the telephone. WK Howard got the idea when he heard an African-American porter say the phrase when talking to his sweetheart on the phone. SF Less than 10% of American households owned phones at the time. WK

The song was recorded in 1899 by Len Spencer and Arthur Collins. Collins, “one of the most prolific and popular of pioneer recording artists,” SF was known as “King of the Ragtime Singers” SF and had the more successful version. The Music Trades declared it “one of the best coons songs that [has] been published in a long time.” SS Coon songs are “typically held in low regard from a modern perspective,” SS largely because of the racist nature of the lyrics and caricatures of African-Americans on the sheet music. WK Peter C. Muir, however, argues that it was “the first genre to develop in the commercial mainstream that makes extensive use of secular black music.” SS Music historian Steve Sullivan says “Hello Ma Baby” “finds the genre at its peak.” SS

It was also said it “can be heard in every flat in Harlem where there’s a piano, and on the street corners you can hear ‘Hello Ma Baby’ being sung by the boys who congregate there.” SS Alex Harms said it had “sold more rapidly than any other song that they had published.” SS The song experienced a revival when the character of Michigan J. Frog sang it in the 1955 Warner Bros. cartoon One Froggy Evening.


First posted 4/16/2021; last updated 9/5/2023.

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