Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Elsie Baker – "The Missouri Waltz" (1917)

Way down in Missouri
Where I heard this melody
When I was a little child

Upon my Mommy's knee

I finished my third Katy Trail bike ride just in time to hotfoot it over to the Missouri State Capitol for a look around.

Missouri's Capitol, which was completed in 1917, is a handsome building that generally resembles the U.S. Capitol in Washington, DC.  No expense was spared when it came to the quality of the Capitol's art and sculpture.

The Missouri State Capitol
One of the main attractions in the Capitol is the House of Representatives Lounge, the walls of which are covered by a mural painted by Thomas Hart Benton.  Benton (who was named after a great-uncle who was one of Missouri's first two U.S. Senators, and who eventually served 30 years in the Senate) was born in Neosho, Missouri (also my father's birthplace) and worked as a cartoonist for a newspaper in Joplin when he was young.

Part of the Benton mural
Unfortunately, the House Lounge was locked up when I went to view the Benton murals.  I assumed that was because the House was not in session, but that wasn't the explanation.

The Benton mural: the James Gang robs a train
"We lock that room up at 4:45 because we close at 5:00," I was told by one of the people manning the Capitol gift shop.  

Perhaps the gift shop sold a book with reproductions of the murals?

"Yes, we do," I was told, "but all the copies are in that display case, which we lock up a little early so we're ready to leave at 5:00 sharp."

The Benton mural: Frankie and Johnny
I almost went into a rant about government clock-watchers who are more interested in their own convenience than in customer service, but I bit my tongue.  What good would it have done me?

(I worked for a federal government agency for almost 15 years, which I figure gives me the right to complain about the shortcomings of government employees.  But this kind of thing is not exclusive to government workers – customer service ain't what it used to be.)

Here's a trailer for a documentary movie about the Benton murals:

I may have missed out on the Benton murals, but I was able to view the "Hall of Famous Missourians," which features bronze busts of 44 prominent Missourians, is situated on the Capitol's third floor.

"Hall of Famous Missourians" inductees include (in alphabetical order) Jack Buck, Dale Carnegie, George Washington Carver, Walt Disney, Scott Joplin, John J. Pershing, Ginger Rogers, Sacajawea, Dred Scott, and Laura Ingalls Wilder.

The inductees also include the ten Missourians whose busts appear below.  How many of thsse famous Missourians can you identify from their busts and the clues below?

1.  The first Missourian to be inducted into the "Hall of Famous Missourians" was the greatest of all American writers.  (This is an easy one.)

2.  This man served in World War I, was elected twice to the U.S. Senate, and then was elected to the Vice Presidency.  (Another easy one.)

3.  One of the largest retail chains in the United States was founded by this Missourian, who was born with the perfect middle name for a businessman.

4.  This famous entertainer, who is one of the eight women in the "Hall of Famous Missourians," became a French citizen but remained active in the American civil rights movement.

5.  This man, who created the "Weary Willie" character, was the most famous circus clown in history.

6.  This son of German immigrants, who became a nationally prominent theologian, ethicist, and political philosopher, was the author of the "Serenity Prayer" that is identified with Alcoholics Anonymous.

7.  He was the best-known broadcast journalist of all time, and was called "the most trusted man in America."

8.  This St. Louis Cardinal great was a three-time Most Valuable Player and a seven-time batting champion, and no one ever played in more All-Star games.

9.  This man, who was a popular game-show host for half a century, moved to Missouri from a Sioux Indian reservation when he was eight and later became a vegetarian and animal-rights activist.

10.  The youngest and most controversial member of the "Hall of Famous Missourians" is the most-listened-to radio talk show host of the past two decades.

Here are the answers:

  1.  Mark Twain

  2.  Harry Truman

  3.  James Cash ("J. C.") Penney

  4.  Josephine Baker

  5.  Emmett Kelly

  6.  Reinhold Niebuhr

  7.  Walter Cronkite

  8.  Stan Musial

  9.  Bob Barker

10.  Rush Limbaugh

If you correctly identified 9 or 10 of those famous Missourians, congratulations – Missouri is proud to claim you as a native son or daughter.

If you got 6, 7, or 8 correct, don't feel bad – those are above average scores.

If you scored a 3, 4 , or 5, you obviously weren't paying attention back in your 7th-grade Missouri History class.

And if you scored, 0, 1, or 2, please go back to Arkansas immediately.

"The Missouri Waltz" was first published in 1915.  The original lyrics were bowdlerized when "The Missouri Waltz" became Missouri's official state song in 1949.  

I chose to print the cleaned-up version of the lyrics quoted at the beginning of this post.  Listen to Elsie  Baker's 1917 recording of the song – which feature the original lyrics – and you'll understand why.  (I'm not so stupid that I would print lyrics that include offensive words like . . . well, never you mind.)

Elsie Baker
Missouri native Harry Truman played "The Missouri Waltz" on the White House piano when he was President, but it was far from being his favorite song.  "If you let me say what I think, I don't give a [expletive deleted] about it," he once said in a television interview.  "It's as bad as 'The Star-Spangled Banner' as far as music is concerned."

Here's Elsie Baker's 1917 recording of "The Missouri Waltz":

Click below to buy the song from Amazon:

No comments:

Post a Comment