Thursday, March 25, 2021

"You Never Did That Before."

Here's Buster Keaton with Cliff Edwards playing one ukulele (in the 1930 movie "Doughboys"): 

And you might think this goes to show that you can't predict what will be the next Althouse post, but there is a flow here, and if you understood it well enough, you did have a chance at predicting that this charming duet would be the next thing. 

Yesterday, there was a post about a musical tribute to Joe Biden's accomplishments. It was comical — including the way it made some conservative men cringe — but I told you it gave me chills, and I ascertained that the chills were caused by the amazingly effective music from "The Little Mermaid," "Part of Your World."

That led me to play what I think is clearly the most beautiful song from a Disney animation, "When You Wish Upon a Star." But who is the singer? It's Cliff Edwards, AKA Ukelele Ike. I read about him at Wikipedia:

Edwards was born in Hannibal, Missouri [in 1895]. He left school at age 14 and soon moved to St. Louis, Missouri and Saint Charles, Missouri, where he entertained as a singer in saloons. As many places had pianos in bad shape or none at all, Edwards taught himself to play ʻukulele to serve as his own accompanist (choosing it because it was the cheapest instrument in the music shop). He was nicknamed "Ukulele Ike" by a club owner who could never remember his name.

He got his first break in 1918 at the Arsonia Cafe in Chicago, Illinois, where he performed a song called "Ja-Da", written by the club's pianist, Bob Carleton. Edwards and Carleton made it a hit on the vaudeville circuit. Vaudeville headliner Joe Frisco hired Edwards as part of his act, which was featured at the Palace in New York City—the most prestigious vaudeville theater—and later in the Ziegfeld Follies.

He recorded many of the pop and novelty hits of the day, including "California, Here I Come", "Hard Hearted Hannah", "Yes Sir, That's My Baby", and "I'll See You in My Dreams"... "Paddlin’ Madeleine Home" (1925), "I Can't Give You Anything but Love" (1928), and the classic "Singin' in the Rain" (1929), which he introduced....

He also recorded a few "off-color" novelty songs for under-the-counter sales, including "I'm a Bear in a Lady's Boudoir," "Take Out That Thing," and "Give It to Mary with Love"...

I couldn't find "Take Out That Thing." I tried! Wait — there's a different title: "Mr. Insurance Man" ("She said: Mr. Insurance Man, take out that thing for me... I crave some indemnity.... Oh, Mr. Insurance Man, let me take out that thing. Let me look at your policy.... Oh, Mr. Insurance Man, take out that thing for me. Let me see the numbers on that policy, just how much I'm gon' get").

In 1929, Cliff Edwards was playing at the Orpheum Theater in Los Angeles where he caught the attention of movie producer-director Irving Thalberg.... Edwards had a friendly working relationship with MGM's comedy star Buster Keaton, who featured Edwards in three of his films. Keaton, himself a former vaudevillian, enjoyed singing and harmonized with Edwards between takes. One of these casual jam sessions was captured on film, in Doughboys (1930), in which Buster and Cliff scat-sing their way through "You Never Did That Before"....

And that's when I found the clip I'm featuring in this post. 

Anyway, Edwards went on to play Jiminy Cricket in Disney's "Pinocchio" and the lead crow in "Dumbo." In the 40s, popular taste turned away from his style, toward "crooners" like Bing Crosby. But then there was TV, and he had his own show in the really early days of television — 1949. And he used to appear on "The Mickey Mouse Club," which I remember watching (in the 1950s), but I do not remember ever being this good:

Fantastic! There's some sad stuff in the Wikipedia article — alcoholism, late-life destitution. Read that if you like. But I highly recommend searching his name on Spotify (or wherever) and listening. Such a distinctive voice, many peppy, jazzy songs. If you ever — like me — went through a phase where you loved the Jim Kweskin Jug Band or Leon Redbone — not to mention Tiny Tim — you'll love it, I bet.

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