The Other McCain

"One should either write ruthlessly what one believes to be the truth, or else shut up." — Arthur Koestler

Born in Odessa, Ukraine, in 1886

Posted on | September 24, 2022 | Comments Off on Born in Odessa, Ukraine, in 1886

Louis Wolfe Gilbert emigrated to the United States as a boy and became “one of the most prolific lyricists of Tin Pan Alley.” He started out as a singer on Coney Island, eventually settled in Hollywood, where he helped popularize Cuban rumba music and “was an innovator in his field, having been one of the first songwriters to begin publishing and promoting a catalog of his own works.” He twice served as director of the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers. Known to friends as “Wolfie,” Gilbert had his breakthrough success in 1912, when he wrote the lyrics for a tune composed by ragtime pianist Lewis Muir.

Way down on the levee in old Alabamy,
There’s Daddy and Mammy,
There’s Ephraim and Sammy.
On a moonlight night you can find them all.
While they are waiting,
The banjos are syncopating.
What’s that they’re saying?
What’s that they’re saying?
While they keep playing,
A-humming and swaying.
It’s the good ship Robert E. Lee
That’s come to carry the cotton away

When I was a teenage trombonist in the Douglas County (Ga.) High School Marching Tiger Band, “Waiting on the Robert E. Lee” was one of the songs we played, and it never would have occurred to me that this song was co-written by a Jewish immigrant from Ukraine who almost certainly had never been to “old Alabammy,” and yet wrote what became one of the greatest hits of its age, comparable in popularity to “Alexander’s Ragtime Band.” From the 1941 musical film Babes on Broadway, here’s a version by Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney:


Scholars of Critical Race Theory could not be reached for comment, but in defense of Judy and Mickey, I’ll point out that this was the popular culture of the nation that defeated Hitler, Tojo and Mussolini.

This afternoon, “Waiting on the Robert E. Lee” came to mind because I’m in Parkersburg, W.V., where they had a special memorial for my wife’s late cousin, David Scott “Scotty” Wilson. As the obituary said, “Scott held many jobs in his life, but the job that he loved the most was when he worked on the P.A. Denny sternwheeler.” This riverboat plies the Ohio River from Point Park in Parkersburg, frequently visiting historic Blennerhassett Island. Today in memory of Scotty, his whole family took a cruise down the river aboard the P.A. Denny.

It was a splendid outing on a beautiful afternoon, and I’d never been on a riverboat, but I was happy to “join that shuffling throng.”

Go take your best gal, real pal
Go down to the levee, I said to the levee,
And join that shuffling throng,
Hear that music and song!
It’s simply great, mate, waiting on the levee,
Waiting for the Robert E. Lee!

UPDATE: Welcome, Instapundit readers!



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