Friday, February 25, 2005

100 years ago: Billy Murray takes “Yankee Doodle Boy” to #1

Yankee Doodle Boy (aka “Yankee Doodle Dandy”)

Billy Murray

Writer(s): George M. Cohan (see lyrics here)

First Charted: February 25, 1905

Peak: 18 US, 12 GA, 13 SM, 1 DF (Click for codes to singles charts.)

Sales (in millions): --

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


Click on award for more details.

About the Song:

George M. Cohan “virtually invented musical comedy” LW by pioneering the idea that a show could intersperse songs into a narrative structure. LW He was “the dominant force on Broadway during its heyday,” LW predating future musical theatre greats like Jerome Kern, George Gershwin, and Richard Rodgers. Like Irving Berlin, his best work celebrated young immigrants and American patriotism.

He was born July 3, 1878, although to bolster his fiercely patriotic image, he claimed to be born on the fourth of July. He was born into a vaudevillian family and by the 1890’s was selling his music to performers. PS By the 1900’s, Cohan tried his hand at producing Broadway musicals. His first two attempts, 1901’s The Governor’s Son and 1903’s Running for Office, were failures, but his third attempt, 1904’s Little Johnny Jones, was a hit. PS

It was the first time Cohan wrote the complete book – and all the songs – for a show. He directed and starred as well. It elevated Cohan “from merely a successful pop songwriter to the toast of the Great White Way.” SS The show, based on real-life jockey Tod Sloan, SM featured Cohan as an American jockey competing in the English Derby who is accused of cheating and then cleared. The show also birthed two of his most enduring hits – “Give My Regards to Broadway” and “Yankee Doodle Boy.” PS The latter was Cohan’s entrance song, introducing the main character.

The song, also known as “I’m a Yankee Doodle Dandy,” was a patriotic song which “has stood the test of time, remembered far more than many of its contemporaries.” SM Billy Murray, who became the unofficial interpreter of Cohan songs, took his 1905 recording to #1 and gave Victor, the record company, its biggest seller up to that point. SS It was ideal for “his patriotic style of singing.” SM

The song was featured again in the 1929 film version of Little Johnny Jones. In 1942, the song was featured in the movie musical Babes on Broadway, starring Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney. That same year, James Cagney memorably performed the song in his Academy Award-winning portrayal of Cohan in the biopic Yankee Doodle Dandy. He reprised it in a dance in The Seven Little Foys. JA The song charted again in 1943 when Fred Waring’s Pennsylvanians took it to #21.


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First posted 54/3/2021; last updated 12/15/2022.

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