Waiting for the Robert E. Lee
Writer(s): L. Wolfe Gilbert (words), Lewis F. Muir (music) (see lyrics here)
First Charted: September 15, 1912
Peak: 16 US, 13 GA, 114 SM (Click for codes to charts.)
Sales (in millions): 1.0 (sheet music)
Airplay/Streaming (in millions): -- radio, 0.02 video, -- streaming
Click on award for more details.
About the Song:
Lyricist L. Wolfe Gilbert was inspired to write this “ragtime classic” TY2 after watching men unloading freight in Baton Rouge, Louisiana from the steamboat SS named after the Confederate general Robert E. Lee which transported cotton along the Mississippi River. SM A Cincinnati boat of the same name gained headlines in 1870 when it beat the Natchez VI in a race from New Orleans to St. Louis in a few hours shy of four days. SS
The up-and-coming singer Al Jolson introduced the song at one of his Winter Garden concerts in New York and it was “an immediate crowd-pleaser.” SS He also integrated it into his show The Whirl of Society, which opened in March 1912, but didn’t record the song until 1946 for the soundtrack to The Al Jolson Story. SS Vaudevillian singer Ruth Roye DJ and Eddie Cantor SS also helped popularize the song.
The song charted three times in 1912 by the Heidelberg Quintet (#1), Arthur Collins and Byron Harlan (#3), and Dolly Connolly (#4). It was one of only eight chart entries for the Heidelberg Quintet and their first of two #1’s. PM The group consisted of Billy Murray, John Bieling, Steve Porter, and William Hooley – who all recorded as the American Quartet – plus Will Oakland. SS The name grew out of the group’s first recording session in which they sang the unreleasd “Heidelberg Stein Song.” SS
This was one of the earliest efforts at recording a quintet because of the difficulties in positiong five singers around the recording horn and maintaining a balance among the voices. SS The results here were this “delightfully, rousing ragtime-flavored number bursint with energy and warm nostalgia.” SS
The song was also performed by Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers in the 1939 movie The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle and again in 1941 by Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney for Babes on Broadway. SS It has also appeared in The Jazz Singer (1927), Applause (1929), Hellzapoppin’ (1941), Cairo (1942), and Lake Placid Serenade (1944). TY2
In 1952, a group of composers and musicians voted this the best song of the first half of the 20th century. SS The song was also one of the first ten inductees in 1968 to the American Music Hall of Fame, which became the Songwriters Hall of Fame. SS
First posted 2/26/2023.