Sunday, January 18, 2009

Sunday Entertainment: Why Did Donald Duck Have the Blacksmith Blues?

by Fran Jurga | 18 January 2009 | Fran Jurga's Hoof Blog

In keeping with what seems to be a new tradition for snowed-in Sundays here in Massachusetts, I'm sharing with blog readers another lost classic of farrier humor as presented by our friends in Hollywood.

If you scroll through the blog, you will see that Popeye and Spike Jones have been featured on previous Sundays.

Popeye has made the Top Ten of all-time viewed stories on this blog. I'm not quite sure what that says about you readers! I am sure it is because of the important history I shared about Popeye's role in World War II. That must be it.

While the last two clips were from within the years of World War II, let's move ahead to the post-war era and see how Hollywood was using horseshoeing as a way to get people to laugh.

This Sunday, it's Walt Disney, Himself. This is an odd clip, since it is a very old Donald Duck cartoon, to be sure, but it has been overdubbed with a great rendition of The Blacksmith Blues by Ella Mae Morse, a vocalist who was discovered in Texas in 1939 when she was a 14 years old when she ran away and joined Jimmy Dorsey's band and later, joined Nelson Riddle's.

The Blacksmith's Blues was probably Ella Mae's biggest hit and most important recording. She's hailed in the annals of rock 'n roll as being a trailblazer for Elvis Presley and other 1950s rockers because she was one of the first white performers to record what would have been exclusively African-American music. And she did it on a major recording label, Capitol Records.

The fact that The Blacksmith's Blues was such a hit gave many more people the courage to bring jazz and blues to a much wider audience and to open the door for more African-American artists (think: Billie Holiday, and Nat King Cole) to be able to sell records to white audiences. (I know that is a vast over-simplification of the phenomenon of rhythm and blues music and the birth of rock 'n roll in post-World War II America.)

Ella Mae was enough of a celebrity for her somewhat-controversial bluesy singing style that she was given a star on Hollywood's Sunset Boulevard.

As for Donald Duck and how Disney came to make a music video using an r&b standard as a dub for an old, old cartoon...I have no idea, but I am so glad they did.

Hear are the lyrics:

Down in old Kentucky
Where horseshoes are lucky

There's a village smithy standin' under a chestnut tree
Hear the hammer knockin'

See the hammer rockin'

He sings the boogie blues while he's hammerin' on the shoes

See the hot sparks a-flyin'

Like Fourth of July-in'
He's even got the horses cloppin', pop! down the avenue

Folks love the rhythm

The clang-bangin' rhythm

You'll get a lot o' kicks out of the Blacksmith Blues

Danny Ward, owner of Danny Ward's Horseshoeing School in Martinsville, Virginia, has the original sheet music to "The Blackmith's Blues". He let me borrow it once, thinking that I'd be able to belt it out on the piano for him the next day, but it was a little tough for me. I'm still plunking it out but now that I have heard Ella Mae, I understand the syncopation a little better. I should have known this song would have a special rhythm and, now that I have done my homework, a special meaning!

Thanks, Ella Mae.

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