Simanaitis Says

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THE CLASSICS WITH DAFFY, BUGS, AND ELMER

THE TERM “cartoon classics” has at least two meanings: There are the Warner Bros and Disney cartoons, timeless in their humor, exquisite in their production values. And there is the extensive body of classical music that many of us first heard not in the concert hall, nor through recordings or radio, but in cartoons at the movies.

That’s All Folks! Cartoon Songs from Merrie Melodies & Looney Tunes, a 2-CD set with 100-page illustrated booklet, Kid Rhino, 2001.

”That’s All Folks!” includes plenty of music familiar in spite of its classical origin. Composers include Ludwig van Beethoven, Johannes Brahms, Gaetano Donizetti, Gioachino Rossini, Johann Strauss II, Franz von Suppé, and Richard Wagner.

Classical music makes its initial appearance at 28 seconds into the album’s first CD. Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata” is there only briefly, and this recalls another cartoon entirely, Schroeder’s piano passage accompanied by Lucy’s vocal musings; these, from the 1967 musical comedy, You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown.”

Elmer Fudd and Bugs Bunny in “What’s Opera, Doc?” Image from tor.com.

My pal Wagner gets several hits in the collection, including an entire soundtrack of “What’s Opera, Doc?” I can’t hear “The Ride of the Valkyries” without singing “Kill the wabbit. Kill the wabbit.”

If all you think of is napalm and helicopters, you’ve led a sheltered youth.

At one point, accompanied by a dramatic passage from The Flying Dutchman, Elmer Fudd cries, “Arise storms, west winds blow, south winds blow, typhoons, hurricanes, earthquakes—SMOG!

Californians may recognize the intensity of this fierce invocation.

I digress with two decidedly less classical pieces included in ”That’s All Folks!”: “I’m Just Wild About Harry” and, perhaps less familiar, “She Was an Acrobat’s Daughter.” Both are performed ably by Daffy Duck, who introduces himself by noting, “We’ve all got a mission in life./We get into different ruts./Some are the cogs on the wheel,/Others are just plain nuts.”

I’ve always associated “I’m Just Wild About Harry” with Harry S Truman. And, indeed, Truman selected it as campaign song in his successful run for the presidency in 1948.

Shuffle Along, 1921 Broadway musical featuring “I’m Just Wild About Harry.”

The song, though, has a earlier history: It was written in 1921, music by Eubie Blake and lyrics by Noble Sissle, for the Broadway show Shuffle Along.

At left, Noble Lee Sissle, 1889–1975, American jazz musician, composer, bandleader, and playwright. At right, James Hubert Eubie Blake, 1887–1983, American jazz musician and composer.

Sissle and Blake’s Shuffle Along made history on several counts: It was the first financially successful Broadway show written and performed by African-Americans. To put this achievement in perspective, vaudeville of the era prohibited more than one African-American act per night. Shuffle Along had 504 performances, an extremely successful run in the 1920s.

“I’m Just Wild About Harry” also broke what had been a taboo against stage and musical depictions of romantic love between African-Americans.

“She Was An Acrobat’s Daughter,” 1937 Merrie Melodies, Warner Bros cartoon.

“She Was An Acrobat’s Daughter” was a 1937 Merrie Melodies cartoon based on traditional movie theater sing-alongs. Screen projections gave the lyrics identified by a bouncing ball; the house organist accompanied singing theater-goers. In the cartoon, Maestro Stickoutski performed at the Fertilizer.

Daffy’s version is a reprieve of the original. My favorite verse is, “She was an acrobat’s daughter;/She swung by her teeth from a noose./But one matinee,/Her bridgework gave away,/And she flew through the air like a goose.”

It may not be classical, but it sure is classic. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2017

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