"Thank God for film archivist Dennis Nyback. If not for his encyclopedic knowledge of rare films and his tenacity for acquiring them, we would never have the privilege to view some astounding works of cinema." Kim Morgan


Dennis Nyback takes his films around the world. Find out how to book a show, what programs are available, how to arrange for custom programming, and just about anything you would like to know about Dennis Nyback.

The Comprehensive Swanee

In 1851 Stephen Foster wrote, both words and music, the song Old Folks at Home.  It starts with the line “Way down upon the Swanee ribber.”  The original sheet music calls it an “Ethiopian Melody  as sung by Christy’s Minstrels  written and composed by E.P. Christy.”  It was commonly called Way Down on the Swanee River and became the most influential song ever written in America.  Dozens and dozens of songs written into the late 20th Century either used Swanee in the title, or in the lyric.  Oddly, there was no Swanee river.  The name was derived from the Suwanee river in Florida.  The first draft of the cited the Pedee river, an actual tributary in South Carolina. In that draft Pedee is crossed out, with Swanee written over it.

 Christy paid Foster a flat fee to claim credit. Foster received royalties for his composition. Long before recordings, and other mass media, spread wide thought live performance and sheet music, the song was a smash hit. In1851 the play Old Folks at Home opened at Barnum’s Museum and Lecture Room.  The pianist Louis Moreau Gottschalk had it in his programs as early as 1853 , as did other classical performers.  Field slaves in the South were heard singing it. 

 After the civil war the Fisk Jubile University Singers used it in their programs of Negro spritatuals.  Antonin Dvorak conducted his own arrangement of it.  The composer Charles Ives wrote that his famous bandmaster father, George Ives, had raised him “and most of the children of (Danbury, Connecticut) for that matter, on Bach and Stephen Foster.”  When Uncle Tom’s Cabin was first performed in Pittsburgh, on November 17, 1853, the musical numbers included “Old Folks at Home.”   A little over a hundred years later the Beatles performed the song in Hamburg and also recorded it.

 Irving Berlin’s first big hit song, Alexander’s Ragtime Band, published in 1911, quoted the melody, and contained the line:

 

         And if you want to hear

             The Swanee River

          Played in ragtime

 Mr. Berlin displayed a portrait of Mr. Foster in his office. In his score for the all black musical film Hallelujah, in 1929,  he paid homage to Foster with the song Swanee Shuffle. George Gershwin’s first hit song, Swanee, with lyrics by Irving Caesar, was written in 1917. The duo had set out to write a song modeled on Old Folks at Home. It languished until 1919 when Al Jolson heard George play it at a party.  Jolson put it in his new review and song sold over a million copies. Irving Caesar, along with Al Jolson, returned to the subject with Swanee River Trail 1927. In 1919 alone over half a dozen songs which sold well featured Swanee in the title. Curiously, most of these songs were written by Northerens, containing references to a mythical place, the “South.”  Hoagie Carmichael, born in Bloomington, Indiana,  also wrote often about this largely fictional place.  His first published song was Riverboat Shuffle (1924).  He went on to evoke the South in: New Orleans,  Lazy Bones,  Rockin’ Chair, and Georgia On My Mind. Georgia on My Mind is the state song of Georgia. Eubie Blake composed and recorded the song Fantasy on Swanee River in 1923. He was also filmed playing this composition in 1923 in a Lee DeForest Photofilm.   Duke Ellington recorded Irving Berlin’s Swanee Shuffle in 1929.  He wrote the song Swanee Rhapsody in 1930.  He returned to the subject in 1962 with Swanee Lullaby.

 In the 1970’s mezzo-soprano Jan DeGaetani performed Foster’s parlor ballads.  Thomas Hampson released a CD of Stephen Foster songs in 1992. Mark Morris said “I like those songs and will defend them,But it’s complicated, because some people think Huckleberry Finn is horrifyingly racist, and I don’t.  What is better than Way Down upon the Swanee River?  We all know it, and we’re horrified to sing it.”

Popular songs with Swanee, or Suwanee, in the titles.

GOOD-BY, OLD SUWANNEE RIVER 1878

SHE RESTS BY THE SUWANEE RIVER 1898

CAMPIN’ ON DE OLE SWANEE 1899 m. Tony Sanford

DOWN WHERE THE SWANEE RIVER FLOWS 1903 m. Harry Von Tilzer

SUWANEE ECHOS  1904 m. Al W. Brown

WHERE THE SUWANEE RIVER WINDS IT’S SILVERY WAY  1905

SWANEE BABE  1909 w Jack Drislane, m. Dick Richards

JUST AS LONG AS THE SWANEE FLOWS 1911w. Alfred Bryant m. Henriette Blanke-Belcher

I’LL BUILD A PRETTY CABIN WHERE THE SWANEE RIVER FLOWS  1912 w Ballard MacDonald m. Harry Piani

TAKE ME TO THAT SWANEE SHORE 1912 w. L. Wolfe Gilbert m. Lewis Muir

SWANEE ROSE  1913 w. J.R. Shannon m. J.S. Zamecnick

OLD SWANEE RAG   1913 m. R.G. Grady instrumental

UNDER THE SWANEE MOON  1913 w.m. Dick Howard

ON THE BANKS OF THE SWANEE RIVER m. Mrs. C. Dickson

DOWN WHERE THE SWANEE RIVER FLOWS 1916 w. Charles McCarron, Charles Alberte, m. Albert Von Tilzer

SWANEE 1919 w. Irving Caesar m. George Gershwin

TILL THE SWANEE RIVER RUNS DRY  1919 w. & m. Jack Mahoney

SWANEE!  I’M GONNA SIGH NO MORE  1919 w. & m. Eugene Bateman

I’VE GOT THE SWANEE RIVER FLOWING THRU MY VEINS  1919 w. Ed Rose m. Billy Baskette

SWANEE LULLABY 1919 w. Howard W. Rogers m. Billy Baskette

MY SWANEE HOME  1919 w.m. Harry Hamilton

SWANEE SHORE  1919 w. Sidney Mitchell, Irving Kaufman m. Arthur Fields

WHEN IT’S MOONLIGHT ON THE SWANNEE SHORE  1920 m. Richard Whiting

SWANEE RIVER MOON 1921 m. H. Pitman Clarke

ROCK ME IN MY SWANEE CRADLE  1922 w. Mitchell Parish m. Eleanor Young & Harry Squires

SILVER SWANEE  1922 w. Eddie Cantor m. Jean Schwartz

MY SWANEE HOME  1922 m. Robert Duryea & Norman Vause

SWANEE BLUEBIRD  1922 w. Cliff Friend m. Con Conrad

SWANEE SMILES  1922 w. m. Fred Hager & Justin Ring

DON’T CRY, SWANEE 1923 w. Buddy DeSylva, Al Jolson m. Con Conrad

TAKE ME BACK TO THAT SHACK (BY THE SWANEE)  1923 m. Cal De Voll

SWANEE CABIN  1923

SWANEE ROSE  1923 w.m. Harry L. Stone

THERE’S A BEND AT THE END OF THE SWANEE  1923 w.m. Louis Breau, Charles Tobias

SWANEE RIVER ROSE 1924 w. Frank Davis m. Sam Braverman

I’M HAUNTED BY THAT SWANEE RIVER SONG  1924 w.m. Troy, Smith, Carlton

SWANEE RIVER DREAMS  1924 w.m. Wendell Hall, Carson Robison

SWANEE BUTTERFLY 1925 w. Billy Rose m. Walter Donaldson

DREAMY SWANEE LULLABY 1926

HELLO, SWANEE, HELLO! 1926 w. Sam Coslow m. Addy Britt

SWANEE RIVER TRAIL 1927 w.m. Al Jolson, Irving Caesar

SWANEE SHORE 1927 w. Cliff Hess m. Charles Bourne

SWANEE CRADLE OF MINE 1928 w Sam Ward, m Lew Pollack

SWANEE SHUFFLE 1929 (MGM Film: “Hallelujah”) w.m. Irving Berlin

FLORIDAY (WHERE THE LAZY SUWANEE FLOWS)  1930

SWANEE RHAPSODY  1930 w. Clarence Gaskill, m. Duke Ellington

SWANEE MOON 1932 (PUBLISHED IN PORTLAND, Irving Schlare, New Heathman Hotel Bldg) w.m. Edgar Lund, Johnny See, Allen Daniels

SHADOWS ON THE SWANEE 1933 w. Joe Young, Johnny Burke m. Harold Spina

SWANEE WOMAN  1933

WHERE THE SWANEE RIVER FLOWS THRU’ HEAVEN 1933 w. John Redmond Jack Lynch m. Ernie Davis

SWANEE RIVER DREAM MAN 1934 w. Cliff Friend, Charles Tobias m. Neil Moret

SOUL OF THE SWANEE  1941

SWANEE RIVER ROCK  1957 w.m. Ray Charles

SWANEE RIVER GAL  1959 w.m. T.D. Ashburn

SWANEE RIVER SHAKE 1961

SWANEE LULLABY  1962 m. Duke Ellington

Other songs by guys who wrote a song with Swanee in the title:

 

JOHNNY BURKE (Lyricist)

Going My Way

Here’s That Rainy Day

Misty

Pennies From Heaven

Personality

Polka Dots and Moon Beams

Swinging on a Star

What’s New

Would You

 

CON CONRAD  ( Composer)

Bend Down Sister

The Continental

Ma, He’s Making Eyes at Me

Margie

A Needle in a Haystack

Prisoner of Love

You Call it Madness

 

SAM COSLOW (lyricist)

 

Cocktails For Two

Hello, Swanee Hello

Mr. Paganini

My Old Flame

Sing, You Sinners

Song of the South

 

BUDDY DE SYLVA (Lyricist)

Alabamy Bound

the Best Things in Life are Free

Birth of the Blues

Black Bottom

California Here I Come

If You Knew Susie

Look for the Silver Lining

Somebody Loves Me

Sonny Boy

The Varsity Drag

 

WALTER DONALDSON (Words and Music)

At Sundown

Carolina in the Morning

Did I Remember

How Ya Gonna Keep em Down on the Farm

Love Me Or Leave Me

Makin’  Whoopee

My Blue Heaven

My Buddy

My Mammy

Yes Sir, That’s My Baby

 

CLIFF FRIEND (Music)

 

The Anniversary Waltz

Hello Bluebird

My Honey Said Yes, Yes

Then I’ll Be Happy

We Did It Before and We can Do it Again

When My Dreamboat Comes Home

The Merry-Go-Round Broke Down

 

L. WOLFE GILBERT (Lyricist)

 

Green Eyes

Jeanine, I Dream of Lilac Time

Marta (Rambling Rose of the Wild Wood)

The Peanut Vendor

Ramona\

Take Me To that Swanee Shore

Waiting for the Robert E. Lee

 

NEIL MORET (Music Real Name Chas. Daniels)

 

Chlo-e

Classic Rag

Hiawatha (1903 HUGE Hit, started Indian song craze)

Mickey (1918, first film title song)

Persian Rug

She’s Funny That Way

 

LEWIS MUIR (Music, big influence on Irving Berlin)

 

Mammy Jinny’s Jubilee

Mississippi River Steamboat

Play the Barbershop Chord (made famous by Bert Williams)

Ragtime Cowboy Joe

Take Me to that Swanee Shore

Waiting For the Robert E. Lee

When Ragtime Rosy Ragged the Rosary

 

SIDNEY MITCHELL (Lyricist)

 

At the Codfish Ball

It’s Love I’m After

Swanee Shore

Who’s Afraid of Love

You Do the Darndest Things, Baby

You Turned the Tables on Me

 

CARSON ROBISON (Music)

 

Carry Me Back, To the lone Prairie

Take Me Back, To My Boots and Saddle

Empty Saddles

 

JEAN SCHWARTZ (Music)

 

Chinatown, My Chinatown

Hello Central, Give Me No Man’s Land

Rock-A-Bye Your Baby with a Dixie Melody

 

CHRIS SMITH (Music)

 

Ballin’ the Jack

Down Among the Sugar Cane

Fifteen Cents

 

HAROLD SPINA (music)

 

Annie Doesn’t Live Here Anymore

I Love to Walk in the Rain

Just Around the Corner

Little Miss Broadway

We Should be Together

 

CHARLIE TOBIAS (Lyricist)

 

Comes Love

Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree

The Old Lamplighter

Those Lazy Hazy Crazy Days of Summer

We Did it Before and We Can do it Again

 

RICHARD WHITING (Music)

 

ain’t We Got Fun

Beyond The Blue Horizon

Hooray For Hollywood

Louise

Mammy’s Little Coal Black Rose

My Ideal

On The Good Ship Lollipop

Sleepy Time Gal

The Japanese Sandman

They Call it Dixieland

Too Marvelous for Words

Ukelele Lady

When It’s Moonlight on the Suwanee Shore

 

Darn,  I should have listed the Swanee songs by these guys.  I’ll have to go back and do that later.

 

There will further entrees on songs for all of the Southern states, and also prominent towns, such as New Orleans and Memphis. 

 

There will also be a separate entry for Stephen Foster.

 

Finally, I need to work this in somewhere in the body:

 

In The Souls of Black Folk, W.E.B. Du Bois singled out Old Folks at Home for praise. 

 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *