Friday, March 7, 2014

A Song with Multiple Personalities

Today is Grandma Grace's 90th birthday. In her memory we want to play two versions of one of her favorite songs. One is sad, the other is happy. But they're the same basic song. Go figure.

The original version, called "When You and I Were Young, Maggie," is a two-hanky tearjerker. The words were written as a poem by George Washington Johnson way back in the 1860s. The poem soon became popular as a song when it was set to music by James Austin Butterfield. This is possibly the version Grandma learned as a girl, but as Mike says, we're speculating a bit on that. Here is a nice YouTube clip of it sung by a famous dead opera singer named Jan Peerce, who M got to meet after a concert when he was a teenager. (M, not Mr. Peerce.)

The reason we aren't totally sure that Grandma learned this version first is that it was re-scored in the early 1920s as an uptempo ragtime duet by Jack Frost and Jimmy McHugh. They called it "When You and I Were Young, Maggie Blues." (Mike says this title is a misnomer, since it's not a blues song at all, but an anti-blues song.) Over the next several decades it was recorded by a number of popular singers, and this was the first version that Mike ever heard. He and Grandma used to sing it together at their house and on long driving trips and even made this 78-rpm record of it in a boardwalk sound booth at Jacksonville Beach, in 1952:

Unfortunately the record is unplayable, since over the years it has come to look like someone's done an Irish step-dance all over it. But here's a good YouTube rendition of "Maggie Blues" by Margaret Whiting and Jimmy Wakely:

Are you listening, Grandma? Happy birthday!


Jenny said...

Very nice! I'm glad M, J, and Dave were able to get together to celebrate Grandma's birthday.

TG said...

Hey, Buddy - bet you'd love to hear Grandma Grace and M sing! I'll send your peeps some info on restoration methods they might like to try on that precious recorded keepsake. Nice post!