Wednesday, January 20th, 2016...4:12 pm

Historical sheet music collections: The many faces of “Hawaiian Butterfly”

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SHEET MUSIC 159 (O) SHEET MUSIC 159 (O)

Sheet music was often marketed by association with popular vaudeville, Broadway or movie stars. This tune from 1917, Hawaiian Butterfly, was published by Leopold Feist with at least eleven different vaudeville stars and teams pictured in the cover inset. The graphics and text are the same, as is the publisher’s plate number, but the inset cover portraits and the ads on the rear cover differ. This is often the case with sheet music; the cover art, performer portraits and publisher’s advertisements (including specimen and incipit scores on the title page versos and rear covers) can vary from copy to copy of a popular song, a window into the music and show business trends of the period.

Here are six examples from Houghton’s collection:

[Joseph] Santly and [Jack?] Norton (seen above); Santly was also one of the tunes’ composers.

SHEET MUSIC 159 (E)

SHEET MUSIC 159 (E)

Emma Carus, vaudeville comedienne and featured performer in the Ziegfeld Follies of 1907; she was also known for popularizing the Irving Berlin song “Alexander’s Ragtime Band”.

SHEET MUSIC 159 (F)

SHEET MUSIC 159 (F)

Ben[ny] Davis, teenage vaudeville performer and later songwriter (Baby Face).

SHEET MUSIC 159 (H)

SHEET MUSIC 159 (H)

Gene Greene, known as “The Ragtime King,” singer and composer. He made some of the earliest recordings of scat singing in 1911.

SHEET MUSIC 159 (V)

SHEET MUSIC 159 (V)

Tenor William Robyn, born in Latvia, performed as “Wolf Scarpioff” in vaudeville before 1920.

SHEET MUSIC 159 (X)

SHEET MUSIC 159 (X)

“Bobbie” Smith toured in vaudeville as a sister act, “Irene and Bobbie Smith”.

Other performers featured on this cover were Elizabeth Brice and Charles King, Florence Timponi, Frances Kennedy, Neil McKinley and Frank Linn. The rosebud logo of Rosenbaum Studios, often employed by Feist, is at the lower right above the composers’ names. Here is the tune (without lyrics) at the Library of Congress.

ROSENBAUM STUDIOS LOGO
ROSENBAUM STUDIOS LOGO

There are many popular songs inspired by Puccini’s Madama Butterfly and the character of Cho-Cho San. The chorus of this tune goes: “Beautiful Hulu, down in dreamy Honolulu …” and ends with “when I come back some day, we’ll fly away, Hawaiian Butterfly.” In his book Tin Pan Opera: Operatic Novelty Songs in the Ragtime Era, Larry Hamberlin observes that Hawaiian Butterfly is “a typical example of the hapa-haole (half-white) Hawaiian song, with lazy triplets and dotted rhythms in a slow fox trot tempo.” The United States annexed the territory of Hawaii in 1898; songs that portrayed the islands as paradise and Hawaiian women as exotic sweethearts flourished in the following decades, especially with the ukulele craze that began after the exhibition at the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco, where Hawaii hosted a pavillion.

[Thanks to Dana Gee, Project Sheet Music Cataloger, for contributing this post.]

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