Contributing to the Social Welfare History Image Portal at Virginia Commonwealth University

The Frances G. Spencer Collection of American Popular Sheet Music is many things: big, colorful, historically significant and occasionally eye-opening in its imagery and lyrics. And as of this week, you can add another descriptor: a supporter of a project sponsored by the Virginia Commonwealth University Libraries.

The opportunity to support the Social Welfare History Project, which is described on its homepage as “chronicling the history of the nation’s response to human need,” came thanks to a connection with a former Baylor staffer. Alice Campbell, formerly of The Texas Collection, is heading up the VCU project in her role as the university’s Digital Outreach and Special Projects Librarian. She reached out to our interim Dean of Libraries, John Wilson, and said she thought nine pieces from the Spencer Collection related to the Prohibition era would make great additions to the project. Everyone here in Waco agreed, and so today there are nine new items in the collection, each digitized from our amazing sheet music collection.

It’s certainly worth checking out the entire project, but we wanted to highlight the covers of the nine pieces Alice selected here in this post so our readers can get a sense of how the Spencer Collection’s materials are supporting this fascinating project.

At The Prohibition Ball: Novelty Song by Alex Gerber and Abner Silver, 1919 (View the full item in our Digital Collections.)

Empty Cellar Blues by Jack Nelson, 1920 (View the full item.)

Every Day Will Be Sunday When The Town Goes Dry by William Jerome and Jack Mahoney, 1918 (View the full item.)

Everybody Wants A Key To My Cellar by Edward Rose, Billy Baskette and Lew Pollack, 1919 (View the full item.)

For If Kisses Are As Intoxicating As They Say, Prohibition You Have Lost Your Sting by J. Russel Robinson, Al Siegel and Billy Curtis, 1919 (View the full item.)

How Are You Going To Wet Your Whistle When The Whole Darn World Goes Dry? by Francis Byrne, Frank McIntyre and Percy Wenrich, 1919 (View the full item.)

It’s The Smart Little Feller Who Stocked Up His Cellar That’s Getting The Beautiful Girls by Grant Clarke and Milton Ager, 1920 (View the full item.)

Oh Doctor by Billy Joyce and Rubey Cowan, 1920 (View the full item.)

Where Do They Go When They Row, Row, Row Three Miles Away From The Shore by Bert Kalmar, George Jessel and Harry Ruby, 1920 (View the full item.)


View all the Spencer Collection’s Prohibition-related titles here, and be sure to check out the other items in VCU’s Social Welfare History Image Portal. Thanks to Alice W. Campbell of VCU Libraries for reaching out to us on this opportunity!

Our Summer With Gabby: Hosting a Waco ISD Summer Intern

Fans of our Facebook page may recall seeing this photo at the start of the summer:

This fresh-faced young lady is Gabriella “Gabby” Hernandez, a rising senior at Waco ISD’s University High School (home of the Trojans) and our 2017 Prosper Waco summer intern here at the Baylor University Libraries! Gabby spent 80 hours with us over the course of June and July getting experience in the work we do here in the Digital Projects Group, and today we’re highlighting her end-of-internship project.

But first, some background. The Baylor Libraries participated in the inaugural Prosper Waco/Waco ISD summer internship program last year. Intern Casandra Barragan-Melendez worked with staff from the Central Libraries to create a custom artwork based on a 15th century piece titled Très Riches Heures. (You can read about Casandra’s project on the Central Libraries blog.)

This year, the DPG agreed to host the Prosper Waco intern, and from the start we knew we’d struck gold with Gabby. She is unfailingly polite, punctual and positive. Every task we gave her – from the mundane, like organizing stacks of old newspapers, to the innovative – she handled with attention to detail and politeness. In short: we were thrilled with the quality of Gabby’s work during her time in the Riley Digitization Center.

Because the internship program doesn’t have a category for “students who want to work in a state-of-the-art digitization center” yet, our biggest challenge was finding a way to adapt our resources and technologies to Gabby’s post-high school interests. Her dream is to open a childcare center, the kind of place where preschoolers can go to learn and develop into successful children; not, as Gabby puts it, a place to “babysit people’s kids all day.”

After some conversations and giving Gabby time to explore our Digital Collections, we hit on the idea of challenging Gabby to take items from the collections and turn them into learning tools – like hands-on manipulatives (puzzles, matching games), songs, art projects and more – for kids ages one to five. Gabby came up with eight examples using materials from the Digital Collections, including a coloring sheet, a matching game and an early literacy evaluation tool.

Another component of Gabby’s time with us was introducing her to the WordPress suite of tools. She expressed an interest in setting up a website for her post-school business, and we thought a WordPress blog offered a good introduction to both desktop publishing and entrepreneurial enterprise. So she reserved a URL (https://gabriellahernandezweb.wordpress.com/) and set up her first blog, with a post about her experiences with us this summer and another detailing her plans for creating lesson plans using Digital Collections materials.

We won’t spoil her stories here, so we’ll encourage you to head over to Gabby’s blog to read the thoughts and experiences of a 17-year-old budding businesswoman in her own words.

Our time with Gabby was short but certainly sweet, and it was a positive experience for all involved. We exposed her to new technologies, helped her develop skills and materials for her future job and we benefited from having the energy and insight of a high school student around the office. That’s one busy summer!

From all of us at the RDC to Gabby and all her fellow Prosper Waco interns, we wish you great success as you enter your senior year and SIC ‘EM!

You can view Gabby’s blog at https://gabriellahernandezweb.wordpress.com/. Read her post on lesson plans here, and her post on her experience in the RDC here.

Evangeline’s Windy City Pilgrimage

Sometimes a project comes together after a long, thought-out process. Sometimes it’s serendipity – something you couldn’t plan for just happens and the right things come together. Sometimes it spins organically out of an existing situation, a related set of materials nestled together under a broader umbrella.

And sometimes, it’s all of those things … plus, a trip to Chicago, a birthday celebration for an icon and a photo op with one of your heroes.

For our graduate assistant Evangeline Eilers, her recent trip to Chicago had its genesis more than a year ago when she began work on our to-be-released Black Gospel Preachers Project. The BGPP began as a spin-off from the Black Gospel Music Restoration Project, now in its tenth year of activity (and freshly installed as part of the National Museum of African American History & Culture).

As the BGMRP picked up steam, an opportunity came to us to digitize the videotaped sermons of the Rev. Clay Evans of the Fellowship Missionary Baptist Church. Evans, an influential African American pastor and gospel musician, has been active in the Chicago-area civil rights movement for more than half a century. For decades, Rev. Evans’ lively sermons – which feature passionate preaching, world-class gospel music and inspired testimonials on a weekly basis – have been preserved on video formats and archived at the Chicago Public Library. Through a series of fortuitous connections – and based largely on our reputation for handling the digitization of thousands of black gospel recordings – the Digital Projects Group was approached about the possibility of digitizing these tapes and making them available to the world.

As of this writing, the digitization of these sermons is complete, but what came next was the more time consuming part – and the part where Evangeline joins our story.

In order to make the videos more useful to our researchers, we knew we needed to do more than simply post them online with a date and a title as the sole metadata. And that meant someone had to sit down and add things like keywords, search terms, scriptural references, song titles and anything else that someone might need to locate in a catalog of hundreds of hours of digitized content.

Evangeline Eilers works in the Riley Digitization Center to add metadata to a sermon from the Rev. Clay Evans video project, July 17, 2017

Evangeline began working with us as an undergraduate student in 2015. She’s worked on a number of projects for us, but she immediately clicked with the Rev. Evans videos. And for the past several months she’s done the heavy lifting on the videotapes’ metadata enhancement process, adding the keywords and info that will eventually make the collection searchable, findable and much more useful to users.

An unexpected side benefit of working on the project came about earlier this summer, when Patty Nolan-Fitzgerald – who has known and worked with Rev. Evans for many years – invited members of the RDC staff associated with the project to come to Rev. Evans’ 92nd birthday party in Chicago. This being summer, and with staff being in and out of the office, it turned out our sole representative who was able to attend was (you guessed it) Evangeline! We were thrilled to be able to give her the opportunity to travel as our representative at the birthday celebration on behalf of the university.

Evangeline and her mother traveled to Chicago to attend the event. She said she spotted many people she recognized from the videos – a choir director, a worship leader, Rev. Evans’ sister Lou Della Evans-Reid and more. After the event that night, she wrote in an email to Darryl Stuhr, the DPG’s Associate Director,

Being in this space with people I have spent so much time watching on the tapes was a surreal experience but I felt that I was among friends.
We joke sometimes that the longer we spend with a project, the more we feel like we “know” the subject of the collection. For example, after I spent months transcribing the audio of the George W. Truett Sermons, my inner dialog spoke in Truett’s voice for a solid month. (I’m not kidding.) For Evangeline, being surrounded by the living embodiment of Christian service, civil rights and community partnership was a fulfilling – if a strangely unreal – experience.

Part of that dreamlike sense came from being in the presence of several civil rights luminaries in the audience that night. Evangeline’s email continued,

As a history major, being in a room with three notable civil rights leaders (Clay Evans, Jesse Jackson, and Louis Farrakhan) was incredible. I am very thankful for this experience!

Photographed at Rev. Evans’ 92nd birthday party are (from left) Allyn Eilers, Rev. Jesse Jackson and Evangeline Eilers, June 25, 2017

Overall, it was a night of celebration not just for Rev. Evans but for the collaborative spirit that brought together a nonagenarian African-American preacher, two noted civil rights leaders, a university digitization center in Central Texas and a project to preserve and spread the Word to any who would hear it, from Chicago to the entire world.

This fall, Evangeline will begin her graduate work in the Department of Museum Studies, and we were thrilled when she accepted a graduate assistantship that will keep her in the RDC for another year. That means another year of connection with the Rev. Evans collection and – perhaps? – an invitation to a 93rd birthday event next summer, something we’re all eager to celebrate.

Reflecting on 10 Years in Leadership: A DPG Exit Interview with Dean of Libraries Pattie Orr

Dean of Libraries/Vice President for Information Technology Services Pattie Orr. Photographed in Moody Memorial Library on May 9, 2017 by Carlye Thornton, BU Marketing Communications.

When I sat down this past March with Dean of Libraries and Vice President for Information Technology Services Pattie Orr, we were in her office in Moody Memorial Library, surrounded by ten years’ worth of mementos both personal and professional. A construction helmet from the ceremonial groundbreaking for McLane Stadium. A print of a sheet music cover from the 19th century. Books written by or about Baylor luminaries. And on the table before us one of her ever-present cups of iced green tea, fresh and cold from the upstairs Starbucks location that she helped shepherd from idea to reality in 2011.

The purpose of our visit was to document Dean Orr’s memories of the Digital Projects Group on the eve of her upcoming retirement. After a decade of service to the libraries and ITS, Dean Orr will retire from Baylor on May 31. Pattie likes to joke that she’s leaving at 5:00 PM on that day, but her husband Steve, who preceded her in retirement two years ago, likes to say it won’t be a moment longer than 5:00:01. Maybe that’s because he’s excited for her to join him in the post-workaday world, or maybe it’s because he knows she’s accomplished so many big things during her tenure that he’s afraid she’ll find one last thing to do – which could lead to another, and another and a further delaying of her well-deserved time off. Either way, you get the sense he’s not taking any chances, hence the very specific timestamp for her final day’s work as dean.

Day One: A Chance Encounter, A Longtime Partner

Darryl Stuhr (from left), Prof. Robert Darden and Pattie at an event in Washington, D.C. promoting the BGMRP, 2016. Prof. Darden would be one of Pattie’s earliest and most dedicated faculty supporters.

I asked Dean Orr to relay her first memory of the DPG, the group that has grown under her leadership to oversee a digital collection of more than 400,000 items, a suite filled with sophisticated digitization equipment and a flagship project – the Black Gospel Music Restoration Project or BGMRP – that is now part of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of African American History & Culture. And it seems fitting somehow that her first memory involves meeting the BGMRP’s patron saint, Robert Darden.

“Bill Hair [interim dean, Pattie’s predecessor] and I were walking through the Goodpasture Concourse [in Moody Memorial Library] and Bob Darden was standing there, and Bill introduced me to him, and he told me what a great partner he was and how he’d worked so closely with all of you [in the Digital Projects Group],” Pattie told me. “He said Bob was one of our most supportive faculty and he turned out to be the very first faculty I met in the library.

“Bob told me about all the great work you were doing [in the DPG] and the Black Gospel Music Restoration Project and how wonderful it was, and so I started my first day with a compliment from faculty lips, so it was  good way to start.”

That hallway conversation would start a relationship between Dean Orr and Prof. Darden that would culminate in a nationally recognized effort to save imperiled recordings of America’s black gospel music heritage, a project that would find its way into the National Museum of African American History & Culture in Washington, D.C.

From a Dark Room to a Bright Future

Darryl Stuhr drafted the initial plans for the Riley Digitization Center (then suite) in 2006

I asked Pattie to recall her first meeting with the team that would become the Digital Projects Group – at the time, a team composed of Darryl Stuhr (now Associate Director for Special Projects), audio engineer Tony Tadey and myself. “My earliest memory of the Electronic Library digitization group in particular was in this room that became the Riley Center that had stacks of books and that y’all were in the dark, working on your scanning,” Pattie said. “And I just thought that was so interesting because I saw the Riley Reading Room [on Moody 2nd floor] and realized there was more to it than just that room, but my main vision of you all in the beginning was you all sitting in the dark, scanning, lights all off.

“And then you and Darryl showing me the recording studio and realizing why you put it down there – which made perfect sense – and I just remember [thinking], ‘This is such interesting work that’s being done. It’s a shame that they’re in the dark.’ And then not too long after that we began to think about what we could do to expand it and how could we move things and I remember that first summer we met with Harold Riley.”

Harold Riley would play a crucial role in the development of the Digital Projects Group, and Pattie’s visit in the summer of 2007 – along with then-director of development John Wilson – would pave the way toward Mr. Riley’s generous gift to fund the creation of the Ray I. Riley Digitization Center, named in honor of his father. Pattie said that while she hadn’t met Mr. Riley prior to their summer meeting, she had heard he was a man of great faith, so she asked us to put images from the BGMRP and other projects onto a laptop to show him the kind of work the DPG was doing in its current sub-optimal configuration – literally, in the dark, among stacks of books in an underutilized space called the Scholars Room.

“I remember we sat on the couch together and I showed him those images and played him the music and he was very inspired by that,” Pattie said. “I told him a little bit more about it and after we talked about this he said the words that every dean loves to hear: ‘How can I help you?’ And I’ll just never forget that – the happiest words, ‘How can I help you?”

Those five words sparked a flurry of planning and dreaming on the part of the Electronic Library, particularly with Darryl as he worked to create an outline of what the Riley Center could look like if it were to serve the needs of the DPG for decades to come. Pattie returned to Mr. Riley with a plan to house current and future DPG employees and their necessary work spaces and specialized equipment in one central location: the space that would become the Riley Center.

“I’ve been really proud of that space. I think it was well-planned by the group. You all did the thinking power behind how that space could work,” Pattie said.

A Day with Lev and Ella

Pattie’s second major memory of the pre-Riley Center digitization space was the day the team and Dean Orr spent with our dear friend, the late Lev H. Prichard III. When Mr. and Mrs. Prichard read a story in their local newspaper, written by Professor Robert Darden, lamenting the scarcity of America’s recordings of black gospel music. A black gospel music collector and fan, Mr. Prichard and his wife Ella Prichard became interested in finding ways to work with Baylor to address the problem.

Lev and Ella got connected with Dean Pattie Orr and a visit to the digitization center was arranged. After a tour of the Riley Digitization Center and meetings with Electronic Library staff, Mr. Prichard spent the balance of the day with Darryl, Tony and myself listening to recordings of black gospel songs and generally being overwhelmed with the power and potential of the project.

“I remember you all spending the day with Lev and watching him listen to the recordings you had saved for the BGMRP and seeing his obvious love of the genre. And that love of the black gospel music led his family to create a generous gift to support the project.”

It would come to pass that this visit would be Mr. Prichard’s last to the campus that he loved so dearly and supported so strongly; he passed away in 2009 . And it would be one that would prove incredibly important in the life of the BGMRP, as it eventually led to the creation of the Lev H. Prichard III Black Sacred Music Endowed Fund, an important source of revenue that helps us continue the work of the BGMRP.

The Prichard family’s generosity toward the libraries would take form in two other ways under Pattie’s watch, as well. Lev’s Gathering Place, a beautifully furnished space in the Crouch Fine Arts Library, was created to showcase items from the BGMRP and to provide listening stations where students, faculty and visitors could listen to gospel tunes year-round. In 1996, Lev and Ella established the Pruit Symposium, an annual gathering of researchers and scholars that examines contemporary issues through the “perspective of the Christian intellectual tradition.” In partnership with the College of Arts and Sciences, along with many other academic partners, the Pruit Symposium has focused for the past several years on the topic of black sacred music and its evolving place in African American culture, as well as the broader role of religion in American society.

Workers install the sound isolation booth in the Scholars Room, an area that would become the Riley Digitization Center, in 2007.

On Fundraising

If it hasn’t become clear to this point, one of Pattie’s strongest skills is her ability to match a library need with an interested party in a fundraising version of the Match Game. I asked her if raising money was something specific she’d set out to do in her career in higher education administration or if it was something she found a natural talent for along the way.

“If you really feel strongly about what you’re raising money for, it’s the easiest thing to do,” she told me. “I’ve raised money for very practical things – air conditioning in one case, bathrooms in another – a lot of things that aren’t necessarily exciting on their own. When we held the Regents’ Dinner in the space outside the Riley Center in 2008, right after the RDC opened, they [the Regents] could look around at the old furniture nearby from 1968 and they could see the need to upgrade and they said, ‘Oh, boy, there’s work to do’ to renovate the library. That made it easier to find donors to support that work.

“[With the BGMRP] we can really care about the music and the message. We can paint a vision for what we can do for this genre,” Pattie continued. “Baylor’s a unique place where we can combine the academics with the message of Jesus and we can work together to save these irreplaceable recordings for future generations. That makes raising money for the project much, much easier.”

How Do I Love The(se Digitized Letters)?

The members of the Browning Letters Project gather for a tour of the RDC (from left): Roberta Rodriquez (BU), Anna Sander (Balliol, Ofxord), Ian Graham (Wellesley), Fiona Godber (Balliol), Darryl Stuhr (BU), Eric Ames (BU) and Allyson Riley (BU) in 2014.

Pattie’s previous employer, Wellesley College, is known for having the “love letters” of Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning. So when she arrived at Baylor in 2007, she jokes that she kept getting asked one question over and over by fans of the Armstrong Browning Library: “Did you bring any of those love letters with you?”

It turned out to be a prophetic question, as Pattie was able to use her connections with Wellesley’s special collections librarians to help facilitate what she calls “the personal project I most wanted to see become complete”: the Browning Letters Project. In partnership with Wellesley and other holding institutions including Oxford and the University of Texas at Austin, Pattie and the staff at the ABL partnered with us to create a joint digitization project that unified Robert and Elizabeth’s written correspondence under one asset management system for the first time ever. That meant more than 4,880 (and counting) letters related to the Brownings were accessible in one site to researchers all over the world, but Pattie was most excited about the impact it could have on undergraduate scholars.

“To think that undergraduates could have unlimited access to those letters … No undergraduate would ever get the kind of access to the original documents that they can get with this digital collection – to improve scholarship, to have unlimited amounts of time to access them, that was the important aspect of the project [to me].”

Who Knew the Cruse Was So Versatile?

One of my favorite moments in our discussion came when I asked Pattie if she had a favorite piece of digitization equipment in the RDC. Her answer surprised me: the Cruse CS-285 large format scanner, or as she’s called it from day one, “Papa Bear.” Most people go with a flashier option like the KIRTAS APT-2900 automatic page turning book imager, but Pattie’s description of the Cruse revealed her fascination with the mammoth German import.

“I mean, it’s a hammer, a Swiss army knife, a shoe polish, a dessert topping – there are so many unexpected uses for this machine!” Pattie said with a laugh. And she’s right: over the years, the Cruse has been used to digitize newspapers, panoramic photographs, student artwork, the official portraits of all the Baylor presidents, architectural blueprints and more. It certainly finds new ways to be useful each and every semester, though none of us have tried it on ice cream (yet).

I mean, it’s a hammer, a Swiss army knife, a shoe polish, a dessert topping – there are so many unexpected uses for this machine!

A Vision for the Future of the DPG

Pattie (far right) surprised the DPG during a photo shoot in 2012. She suggested we do a “jumping shot” with her and the result became legend. From left, Darryl Stuhr, Allyson Riley, Eric Ames, Austin Schneider and Stephen Bolech join in the fun.

We wrapped up our conversation with a discussion of where Pattie would like to see the DPG in the next five to ten years. She expressed her excitement at seeing how the projects we undertake touch the lives of people in unexpected ways.

“My first teaching job after school was with the Texas School for the Blind in Austin,” Pattie said. “So it was a nice surprise to find that the DPG was able to use its scanners to help vision-impaired students through OALA.” OALA is our Office of Access and Learning Accommodation, and for many years the RDC has used its high-speed book imager to create digital versions of textbooks and course materials for students with visual impairments to access on book readers and other devices. Prior to our help, OALA staff members had to laboriously unbind and scan books one page at a time on a flatbed, a process that could take hours for a single book. Now, we can turn around a fully digitized textbook – sometimes upwards of 700 pages long – as a PDF in less than a day.

She also got a real kick out of watching faculty retirees interact with the BGMRP during a recent event on campus. “It was a real joy to do that program for the retirees,” Pattie said. “To see the sparkle in their eyes, to see them interact with the black gospel music and the other special materials was wonderful.”

Lastly, Pattie hopes to see us further expand the Black Gospel Music Restoration Project and its related materials, most notably the nascent Black Preaching Project. As the BGMRP gets larger and more recognition nationwide, we are expanding our collections into preserving the sermons of African American preachers, starting with the Rev. Clay Evans of Chicago, whose recorded sermons will be online in the coming months. Other projects include a “piano bench” project under the guidance of ethnomusicologist and Baylor faculty member Horace Maxile that would focus on saving sheet music published by African American artists and publishers around the turn of the last century. And of course, there’s the dozens of programs and events like Voices & Vinyl and Visions of Rapture that promote and support the BGMRP.

Pattie knows that’s a lot to ask – “You’ll always need a Sabbath; even a horse and a mule need a Sabbath!” she joked – but she also knows we’re up to the challenge. “What you all have been able to do in the past ten years is just incredible and I know you’re only going to keep doing bigger and better things in the coming years.”

That’s high praise from someone who’s overseen a decade’s worth of incredible work from a talent staff of library and ITS professionals, and we’re honored to take it.

***

We ended our conversation as so many of Pattie’s conversations end these days: right before she had to go into another meeting. There’s a steady stream of those nowadays as Pattie works to wrap up her final projects in the last months of her time on Baylor’s clock. But she shows no sign of riding quietly into the sunset. She told me she’s looking forward to transitioning from being the dean to being on the board of advisors for the library – “Now I can tell you what I really think!” she said with a laugh – and to attending the dozens of library events and faculty talks she rarely got to attend when she was dean/vice president.

I suspect retirement will be kind to Pattie; with two young grandsons in town and an eager travel companion in her husband, Steve, what’s not to love? But it’s also equally likely that whoever takes the reins as Dean of Libraries in the coming years will have big shoes to fill, especially when it comes to her unwavering support for the DPG.

Darryl Stuhr, Pattie Orr and Eric Ames at Dean Orr’s retirement reception in the Armstrong Browning Library’s Foyer of Meditation, May 9, 2017


Dean Pattie Orr will retire from Baylor University at the end of the day on May 31, 2017. This interview is a condensed version of an interview conducted on March 22. The DPG wishes to thank Pattie for her years of service to Baylor and her support of our work. Enjoy your retirement, Dean Orr, and sic ’em!

 

A St. Patrick’s Day Tradition: Classic Post – “Confuse Me, I’m Irish”

In honor of St. Patrick’s Day, we’re re-posting this classic post on the strange kinds of Irish-themed sheet music to be found in our Frances G. Spencer Collection of American Popular Sheet Music. Taitneamh a bhaint as tú féin! (That’s Irish for “Enjoy yourself!”)


“Confuse Me, I’m Irish”: Evaluating Unusual Irish-Centric Sheet Music From The Early 1900s

Pictured: cognitive dissonance. From "The Irish Were Egyptians Long Ago." 1920.

Pictured: cognitive dissonance. From “The Irish Were Egyptians Long Ago.” 1920.

As anyone with a pulse will recall, this past week saw the annual celebration of all things Irish: St. Patrick’s Day. And like any culturally specific holiday, it was a rousing blend of traditional folklore, modern contrivance (everyone should drink green beer, just like the Real Irish People Do!) and a smattering of stereotyping. And while modern society has, for the most part, toned down its outright offensive tendencies on days like St. Paddy’s (or Patty’s – there’s actually an ongoing argument online about that one), it wasn’t that far back in our history that the very real plight of Irish Americans was portrayed in popular culture in a starkly different way.

While browsing our Frances G. Spencer Collection of American Popular Sheet Music earlier this week in pursuit of some new material for our Tumblr, Digitized and Randomized, I went straight to a set of results based on Mrs. Spencer’s category, “Ethnic-Irish.” I got more than 300 results, and they ran the gamut from patently offensive to heartbreaking and everything in between. And so I thought it would be fun to examine some of the more unusual pieces of music from the Irish category, especially those that feature Irish protagonists in strange situations.

How Did We Get Here?

Before we jump into our results, it’s worth a quick peek into the history of Irish Americans prior to the mid-1900s (the time when the pieces we’ll examine were all created). In the late 1800s, Irish immigration to America had seen hundreds of thousands of men, women and children arriving in the U.S. and swelling the ranks of established Irish neighborhoods in East Coast cities as well as strongholds in the South. As the poorest of all immigrant groups to arrive in the U.S. in the 19th century, they often took dangerous, low-paying jobs. Add to this fact a tendency for urban neighborhoods to be crowded, unsafe and unsanitary, and you began to see a rise in alcohol abuse and crime – two stereotypical traits assigned to Irish Americans in the popular culture of the day (as we’ll see below).

Other sources of “inspiration” for the pieces we’ll explore today include the long-standing (and often violent) split between Irish Catholics and Irish Protestants; the alleged belligerence and/or violent tendencies of Irish men; the supposed moral and intellectual inferiority of the Irish; and the pervasive myth that the Irish are perpetually inebriated. As composers of the early 20th century set pen to paper in the pursuit of filling the American public’s insatiable appetite for musical entertainment, they kept these “facts” and half-truths about Irish Americans in mind, spawning pieces that drew on Irish Americans’ fond remembrances of their native culture (example) to anti-Irish sentiment (example).

An Irish Pharoah?

But understanding pro- and anti-Irish sentiment is a relatively easy task compared to puzzling out the meanings behind our featured pieces for this week’s post. They are loosely gathered around a pair of themes: the Irish protagonist in an unfamiliar setting and/or the presence of Irish where audiences wouldn’t expect to find it, like our first piece: The Irish Were Egyptians Long Ago.

"The Irish Were Egyptians Long Ago" by Chris Smith. 1920.

“The Irish Were Egyptians Long Ago” by Chris Smith. 1920.

The visuals on this piece are particularly striking, with a typical desert scene set before the pyramids mixed with the cognitive dissonance of a repeated shamrock motif on the throne of an Egyptian queen. The central conceit for this piece is that the narrator has deciphered a startling fact from the “weird and cryptic” writings found “upon the tombs that dot Sahara’s sands”: the Irish were Egyptians long ago – “Just read between the lines and you will know.”

The “proof” of their ancient Egyptian heritage is given as the fact that the pyramids were built by manual labor (“It must have been the Irish who build the Pyramids / For no one else could carry up the bricks”); the Nile was dug by a tough, brave man (“For no one but an Irishman would fight a crocodile”); and the drovers of desert caravans had to have been named Houlihan, Mac or O.

This piece achieves a strange blend of whimsy (adding shamrocks to a typical Egyptian scene) and humor with negative stereotyping of not one but two cultures. This two-front offensive is also evident in our next piece, Since Arrah Wanna Married Barney Carney.

"Since Arrah Wanna Married Barney Carney," by Theodore Morse and Jack Drislane. 1907.

“Since Arrah Wanna Married Barney Carney,” by Theodore Morse and Jack Drislane. 1907.

 

Another “humorous” piece that trades on the unexpected mashup of two traditionally oppressed and/or caricatured cultures, this piece details the chaos that naturally followed when an Indian princess (Arrah Wanna) marries an Irishman named Barney Carney. It seems all it took to completely disrupt Native American culture (at least as the stereotypes would have it) was for one woman to marry a man from Erin, as evidenced by such strange occurrences as:

– “[n]o more do the Indians put paint upon their face”

– “The tom-toms play the ‘Wearing of the Green'”

– “The wigwams are full of Irish Blarney”

– “The Pipe of Peace is made of Irish clay”

There are more, but you get the picture. The introduction of an outsider of Irish origin upsetting the local culture (or attempting to assimilate into it in unexpected, humorous ways) will be repeated in our remaining pieces, each with the theme of romantic interest as a primary motivator. Up next is our final example of an Irishman falling under the guile of a “foreign” culture: O’Brien is Tryin’ To Learn To Talk Hawaiian.

"O'Brien Is Tryin' To Learn To Talk Hawaiian" by J. Rennie Cormack. 1916.

“O’Brien Is Tryin’ To Learn To Talk Hawaiian” by J. Rennie Cormack. 1916.

Here, a hapless tourist from Ireland arrives in the Sandwich Isles (the name given to the Hawaiian Islands by Capt. Cook in the 1700s) and discovers the native women to be of such beauty that he instantly forgets his wife at home in the presence of a “lovely Hula dancer down beside Hawaii Bay.” Pat O’Brien, our protagonist, is revealed to be a skilled performer in his own right (“He won Bridget, Kate and Mary by singing ‘Tipperary’ / And he’ll win his Lulu too”) who is so moved by the girls’ beauty that he attempts to learn her native tongue, to hilarious results. In addition to being a standard “man falls in love with beguiling, exotic beauty” tale, there’s also the opportunity for lyricist Al Dubin to mock the languages of both Ireland and Hawaii, as in this tongue-twisting passage:

He’s sighin’ and cryin’ and all the time he’s tryin’
Just to say “I love you true”
With his “Arrah Yaka Hula Begorra Hick Dula”
And his Irish “Jiji Boo”

We never learn if this would-be suitor succeeds in his philandering pursuits, but we’ll leave him at his studies (“Hawaiian’s hard to get with an Irish alphabet”) and shift our attention to two pieces where the object of the narrator’s affection is a woman of Irish heritage. The first is set in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas and bears the title Santiago Flynn.

"Santiago Flynn: A Spanish-Irish Episode" by Theodore F. Morse and Edward Madden. 1908.

“Santiago Flynn: A Spanish-Irish Episode” by Theodore F. Morse and Edward Madden. 1908.

This piece relates a tale of two would-be lovers: Santiago Flynn (“He dressed like a Spanish grandee / He rode on a pony thin”) and an Irish Rose who lived on a nearby plantation. Though Rose liked the cut of Santiago’s jib (“She cried, ‘You’re a hot tamale'”), she regrets that she can only marry a man from Ireland. And then, to our surprise (SPOILER ALERT!), Santiago reveals his secret:

“He jumped in a wild fandango
He cried with an Irish grin
‘Tho born underneath the Mano
My father was Paddy Flynn’

And so was Santiago able to gain access to his lover’s abode (“She cried ‘Come in, Mister Flynn / I’ll never say again'”) and all ends well for our protagonist. It should be noted that this piece uses a particularly unpleasant slur used in reference to Santiago’s outward appearance, so be ready if you click over to read the lyrics in full.

Our last piece combines the exotic (an Egyptian setting) with the romantic, the stereotypical and the allure of an Irish woman’s beauty, all under a ridiculous title: Cleopatricola.

"Cleopatricola (Cleo-patrick-ola" by Jean Schwartz and Alfred Bryan. 1920.

“Cleopatricola (Cleo-patrick-ola” by Jean Schwartz and Alfred Bryan. 1920.

This piece comes closest to embodying all of the elements we’ve discussed so far into one semi-coherent package. Rather than post excerpts of the lyrics, I’m choosing to reproduce them in full:

VERSE
Once I took a camel ride
Far across the desert wide
Met a maiden way down by the Nile
As I sat down by her side
Her entrancing form I spied

Then she gave me a sweet Irish smile
She told me that she was born in Erin
Cleopatricola was her name
Mighty soon my love I was declarin’
I spoke these words and set her heart aflame

CHORUS
Cleopatricola Cleopatricola
tell me what to do
By my heart and soul O Cleopatricola
I’m in love with you

There I found my Shamrock in Sahara
By the River Nile so fresh and green
Cleopatricola Patricola,
My Egyptian Colleen

VERSE
As the sun was going down
We went down to Cairo town
Met King Pharaoh and all of his crew
First we read the Rubaiyat
Then we had a little chat
Played Casino with Pharoah till two

She told me that she was “jipt” in Egypt
And that King Rameses was the blame
He told her she’d be a queen of Sheba
And spoke those very words before I came
(Repeat CHORUS)

This one’s got it all: a fish-out-of-water, a besotted suitor, a jilted lover, Irish motifs (the shamrock), local flair (Casino and the Rubaiyat) and Irish slang (referring to Irish women as Colleens). Add that to what I consider the best example of cover art of the pieces we’ve examined today – she looks like an Egyptian princess by way of Zelda Fitzgerald – and you have a winner in the category of Wait, Did I Seriously Just Read A Song About An Irish Person Doing WHAT?

I hope you’ve enjoyed this lighthearted look at some of the stranger pieces from our Irish subcategory in the Spencer Collection. There are no end of interesting pieces in the Spencer Collection, and we’ll be taking a look at them again from time to time. ‘Til then, if you find any fun examples of cross-cultural curiosity, send us a tip at digitalcollectionsinfo@baylor.edu. See you next week!


For more examples of Irish-themed sheet music in the Spencer Collection, click here. Special thanks to our friends at the Crouch Fine Arts Library for the partnership that brings the Spencer Collection to you via the Baylor University Libraries Digital Collections!