Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Hootchy Kootchy Dance

When I was a kid, our neighborhood's lyric for that tune snippet was:
There's a place in France
Where the belly dancers dance.
Turns out that melody, with countless variant lyrics, has been recycled almost as much as Dies Irae. It's known by "Hootchy Kootchy Dance," "The Streets of Cairo," "The Girls in France" and many other titles, and has an unusual history. As Wikipedia puts it:
The song originally was purportedly written by Sol Bloom, a showman (and later, a U.S. Congressman) who was the entertainment director of the World's Columbian Exposition in 1893. It included an attraction called "A Street in Cairo" produced by Gaston Akoun, which featured snake charmers, camel rides and a scandalous dancer known as Little Egypt.
Bloom didn't (or couldn't?) copyright it and the phrase was repurposed for stage bits -- and later cartoon and silent movie scenes--with "Eastern" themes. Cecil Adams has written a typically informative and entertaining description of the tune's origins, but I read about the song in the book The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson, which largely concerns the bizarre and astounding murder spree by H. H. Holmes.

Interesting to see that the tune's author, Sol Bloom, later became a politician. The most famous song attributed to a politician has to be"You Are My Sunshine," by Louisiana Governor Jimmie Davis. However, for decades many have believed that Davis didn't write the song but basically paid a pittance for the rights. That appears to be the case, though Davis probably didn't even pay the correct author for those rights.

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