SONGSTUFF by Cary Ginell- Ransacking the Public Domain, Part 8: Histories of Well-Known Public Domain Songs

There are lots of public domain melodies that are familiar to just about everyone, but most people don’t know where they came from. Here are a few interesting examples. “Chopsticks” Originally called “The Celebrated Chop Waltz,” this was arranged for piano by Arthur de Lulli, a pseudonym for Euphemia Allen, a sixteen year-old girl who first published it in 1877. It’s one of two songs that most non-musicians can play on the piano (the other is “Heart and Soul”). “A-Hunting We Will Go” Believed to have been written by Italian composer Procida Bucalossi and published in 1884 under the title “A Hunting Scene.” “La Cucaracha” A piano arrangement of this […]

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SONGSTUFF by Cary Ginell: Ransacking the Public Domain, Part 7- The Skiffle Craze

In 1956, when Elvis Presley was electrifying American television and radio playlists, a new form of music was becoming almost as wildly popular in England. The music was called “skiffle,” a term that defined this intoxicating blend of folk, jazz, and rockabilly taking its repertoire from American folk and blues songs. Skiffle music grew out of the “trad” band movement, an effort by British jazz musicians to return to their roots by playing New Orleans jazz tunes from the 1920s. The trad movement was a backlash to bebop, the complex inwardly directed music championed by Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie in the U.S. Trad performers like Chris Barber, Ken Colyer, […]

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SONGSTUFF by Cary Ginell Ransacking the Public Domain, Part 6- Allan Sherman: Overweight Sensation

One of the most astounding success stories in music during the 1960s belonged to an overweight, underachieving comedy writer with horn-rimmed glasses who couldn’t read music, couldn’t play an instrument, and couldn’t sing on pitch. A half century ago this summer, most of America was laughing themselves silly to a little ditty called “Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh,” a forlorn letter from a homesick camper, sung by Allan Sherman. The song became a sensation, rising to the lofty position of No. 2 on Billboard’s best-selling singles chart. It eventually won a Grammy, and inspired a television situation comedy (“Camp Runamuck”), a board game, and even a Broadway musical. Like many of […]

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SONGSTUFF by Cary Ginell: Ransacking the Public Domain, Part 5- The Biggest Little Band in the Land

For those composers looking for ways of creating new ways of performing traditional material, there is no better example than the remarkable John Kirby. Few people have heard of him today, but back in the years just prior to World War II, Kirby had one of the most inventive, swinging little jazz units on the scene. Many of his recordings were based on familiar classical compositions, which resulted in Kirby fathering the sub-genre that was called “chamber jazz.” Born in Winchester,Virginia on the last day of 1908, Kirby got his start as a trombonist, until his instrument was stolen, upon which he switched to the tuba. He joined Fletcher Henderson’s […]

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Cary Ginell Brings Cannonball Adderley to Life in New Biography

Cary Ginell is a busy guy. He splits his time between acting as Publishing Administrator for Megatrax, writing, and playing flute and piccolo for the Sedalia Ragtime Orchestra. In March, he published the first in a new series of jazz biographies for Hal Leonard Books,Walk Tall: The Music & Life of Julian “Cannonball” Adderley. Walk Tall is Cary’s sixth book, following his successful Hot Jazz for Sale: Holly zz Man Record Shop, for which he won the “Best Research in Recorded Jazz” award from the Association for Recorded Sound Collections (ARSC). Cannonball Adderley was an influential alto saxophonist who helped introduce soul and gospel to jazz in the 1960s. He met impresario Quincy Jones when […]

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SONGSTUFF by Cary Ginell: Ransacking the Public Domain, Part 4 Folk Songs on the Charts

Last time we focused on Elvis Presley’s use of traditional material in crafting some of the best-selling hits of his career. Today we look at how folk music has been a constant source for other popular performers to draw from, especially songs that told stories. Folk music has been used in popular music for as long as records have been made. From early renditions of Stephen Foster songs and spirituals on cylinders to today, the timelessness of familiar melodies have always been a surefire recipe for success, especially when you add in the fact that with public domain songs, there are no royalties to pay. Folk music has produced hits […]

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SONGSTUFF by Cary Ginell: Ransacking the Public Domain, Part 3– Elvis & the Public Domain

In our first two installments relating to the use of public domain songs in pop music, we examined how classical music melodies have been adapted, both successfully and unsuccessfully during the rock era. Today we focus on one artist, Elvis Presley, and his successful use of public domain melodies in some of his best-known works. LOVE ME TENDER When Elvis signed with RCA Victor in 1955, he became the hottest property in American pop music. After his first release, “Heartbreak Hotel,” became a #1 hit, Hollywood beckoned, and Elvis was signed to star in his first motion picture, a period piece set in 1864 that was tentatively titled “The Reno […]

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SONGSTUFF by Cary Ginell: Ransacking the Public Domain, Part 2

In my last blog, I introduced the subject of using public domain melodies to create or inspire new musical compositions. I cited two numbers from the 1960s, “A Lover’s Concerto” by the Toys and “A Groovy Kind of Love” by the Mindbenders, both of which utilized classical melodies to craft new songs, both of which became sizable hits. But don’t think that because these two songs made it that stealing from the public domain is a sure fire way of getting a hit record. For every hit there is probably a stack full of misses. Let’s compare a few other songs that used this formula in the 1960s and see […]

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Ransacking the Public Domain – Part 1, By Cary Ginell

Composer: do you ever get writer’s block? Can’t come up with a melody? Do you get frustrated and think, “There are only twelve tones in the chromatic scale. Surely all the permutations and combinations have already been used!” Consider a repository that is inexhaustible; a bottomless pit of classic, familiar melodies just waiting to be accessed. It’s called the public domain. For those looking to jump start a composition, whether it is a background track, YouTube hit, or even just something to work out by, the public domain is a great place to start. Many writers are not quite sure what the public domain is and how a piece of […]

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Cary Ginell’s “The Twelve Songs of Christmas” (Stories behind a dozen Yuletide favorites- Part 3 of 3)

(This is the third entry in a series of three. To read the first entry, please click HERE. To read the second entry, please click HERE.) Jingle Bells The most well known, most often sung Christmas song in America actually got its start as a song for Thanksgiving. In 1840, a Massachusetts-born church organist named James Pierpont was writing special music for a Thanksgiving service, when he looked out his window and saw some boys racing their sleds down a hill. A catchy little tune came into his head, and after putting on his coat, he trudged over to the home of Mrs. Otis Waterman, who owned the only piano in town. […]

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