Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Public Domain: Rock-a-Bye Your Baby with a Dixie Melody


Al Jolson: Rock-a-Bye Your Baby with a Dixie Melody


Judy Garland: Rock-a-Bye Your Baby with a Dixie Melody


Rufus Wainwright: Rock-a-Bye Your Baby with a Dixie Melody


This song is from a 1918 Broadway musical, Sinbad, which showcased music's biggest star at the time, Al Jolson. For a show ostensibly set in Bagdad, it featured more than a few songs extolling the Old South: "Swanee", "My Mammy", "Darktown Dancin’ School ", and this one. By US law, any song copyrighted or recorded before 1923 is now in the public domain and so it nicely fits our weekly theme.

Travel six blocks north to Carnegie Hall and skip forward 43 years to the night of April 23, 1961, where we find the same song being performed by another of American music's biggest stars: Judy Garland. The concert was a huge milestone for the sometimes erratic performer and won her four Grammys, including Best Album and Best Female Vocalist.

Forty-five years later, same venue, same tune – in fact, all of the same tunes that were sung during Judy's original Carnegie Hall concert were recreated by Canadian-American singer Rufus Wainwright in one man's tribute to a quintessential gay icon. About his homage, he said, "I don't think it would have been possible for anyone other than a gay male to do this concert. In a weird way, a gay man has some sort of perspective on it, I believe."

Quite a legacy for a simple Tin Pan Alley tune written by a Hungarian immigrant.

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