Friday, January 19, 2018

100 years ago: “Danny Boy” charted for first time

Danny Boy

Ernestine Schumann-Heink

Writer(s): traditional (adapted by Fred Weatherly) (see lyrics here)

First Charted: January 19, 1918

Peak: 5 US, 2 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:

“Whenever alcohol and sentimentality are mixed in Irish bars around the world” LW there’s bound to be a rousing sing-a-long to “the delicious melancholy” LW of “the lovely lilting ballad ‘Danny Boy,’” LW “one of the most popular songs of the 20th century.” LW The song has been said to be a “mother’s lament” about her son heading out to find his fortune or fight against the English. “In her motherly way, she adds a bit of blackmail by suggesting that if he goes, he will never see her alive again.” LW Other accounts have said it is about an Irish father singing to his son, but still about the song heading off to war. SF

Frederick Weatherly, a lawyer and sometime politician who published lyrics for at least 1500 songs, wrote the lyrics for “Danny Boy” in 1910. Ironically, he was an Englishman who is thought to have never even set foot in Ireland. SF It is disputed whether he wrote a tune to accompany the words LW or had simply written a poem not set to any tune. WK

His sister-in-law, Margaret Enright Weatherly, provided him with “The Londonderry Air,” a traditional Irish melody which dates back to at least the first half of the 19th century and has been paired with hundreds of different lyrics. LW It has also been linked as far back as the 17th century to a blind harpist named Rory Dall O’Cahan. Jane Ross, of Londonderry, is then reported to have written down the music after hearing it played by a fiddler. SF

Margaret heard her father and other Irish railroad workers play when she was a child in California. WK Frederick then adjusted the lyrics to fit the song, although some accounts say that Margaret actually set the words to the music. WK Either way, Frederick never acknowledged her contribution, which caused a major division amongst the family. SF She and her husband died in poverty while he went on to achieve fame and wealth. SF

Weatherly gave the song to singer Elsie Griffin, who turned it into one of the new century’s most popular songs. WK The first charted version came in 1918, when Ernestine Schumann-Heink took it to #5 on the U.S. pop charts. Subsequent chart versions came from Glenn Miller (#17 US, 1940), Al Hibbler (#9 RB, 1950), Conway Twitty (#10 US, 1959), Sil Austin (#59 US, 1959), Andy Williams (#64 US, 1961), Patti LaBelle (#76 US, 1964), Jackie Wilson (#25 RB, 1965), and Ray Price (#9 CW, 1967). The song has also been recorded by Harry Belafonte, Johnny Cash, Eric Clapton, Bing Crosby, Judy Garland, Shane McGowan, Glenn Miller, Sinéad O'Connor, Elvis Presley, and Jim Reeves.


First posted 11/22/2022.

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