Wednesday, February 1, 2017

100 years ago: Victor Military Band hit #1 with “Poor Butterfly”

Poor Butterfly

Victor Military Band

Writer(s): Raymond Hubbell (music), John L. Golden (words) (see lyrics here)

First Charted: February 1, 1917

Peak: 16 US, 112 GA, 112 SM (Click for codes to charts.)

Sales (in millions): 4.0 (sheet music)

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


Click on award for more details.

About the Song:

“Poor Butterfly” told the basic story of Giacomo Puccini’s opera Madame Butterfly. The heroine falls for an American seaman who leaves without knowing she is pregnant with his child. When he returns, she is so distraught that he has married, she gives him the baby and kills herself. TY2

Lyricist John Golden mistakenly thought he was writing a song for Japanese opera star Tamaka Mirua, who had starred in the opera. However, it was Haru Onuki who introduced the song in the revue The Big Show at the New York Hippodrome. Golden was upset, but it was too late to write something new. TY2

The show was a flop, but the recording of “Poor Butterfly” by the Victor Military Band was so successful that the sheet music sales were the biggest seller for the publisher up to that time. DJ The Victor Orchestra was the in-house band for the Victor Talking Machine Company. They charted three times in 1907 and 1908. PM The Victor Military Band featured many of the same musicians who, with war now imminent, “concentrated their repertoire on marching songs and marches that they believed would be popular with troops who would soon be going off to Europe to fight.” SM They charted sixteen times from 1912 to 1919 with “Poor Butterfly” being their only #1 hit. PM

Their version of “Poor Butterfly” was really a medley of three songs. SM “Poor Butterfly” kicked things off, running nearly two minutes. It was followed by 21 seconds of “Come on Down to a Ragtime Town” and then 40 seconds of “The Hippodrome Street Parade.” Finally, a 41-second reprise of “Poor Butterfly” ended the nearly four-minute record. SM

Four other versions of the song charted in 1917 – Prince’s Orchestra (#3), Charles Harrison (#5), Grace Kerns (#7), and Fritz Kreisler (#9). The Hilltoppers had a #12 hit with the song in 1954. PM Julie Andrews sang the song in the 1967 movie musical Thoroughly Modern Millie. TY2


First posted 3/19/2023.

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