One of my fondest memories of my mother was the way she used to sing.
It didn’t matter what she was doing—cooking, cleaning, or riding in the car—if the spirit moved her, my mother wouldn’t hesitate to break out into song.
Mom loved the old standards and if she had trouble remembering the words, she’d just fill in the gaps with a series of “la-la-la’s” until she got back on to lyrical terra firma.
Like most parents of that era, my mother had little use for rock and roll, declaring that back in her day “we had real music!”
I teased her about that once when she started singing “Hold Tight,” by the Andrew Sisters.
The song contains the immortal lines, “Hold tight, hold tight, a-hold tight, hold tight, fododo-de-yacka saki, want some sea food mama,” which my mama recited perfectly.
“And you complain about my music?” I said after this performance.
My aunt told us how my mother used to drive her crazy by singing “Meet the Sun Half Way” when they were growing up and Mom sang it to us as well.
“Stop hiding behind the pillow whenever the dawn looks gray. Get up, get out and meet the sun half-way.”
One morning, God knows how many years ago, I came out into the kitchen for breakfast and Mom decided she’d regale us with her rendition of an old timey tune called “The Music Goes ’Round and ‘Round.”
Push the First Valve Down...
And it goes something like this:
“I blow thru here, the music goes 'round and around, whoa-ho-ho-ho-ho-ho
And it comes out here. I push the first valve down. The music goes down and around. Whoa-ho-ho-ho-ho-ho. And it comes out here.”
She sang at the top of her voice. No embarrassment, no inhibitions, Mom just went to town: “I push the middle valve down. The music goes down around below. Below, below, deedle-dee-ho-ho-ho. Listen to the jazz come out…”
I couldn’t believe my eyes or my ears. As a teen-ager, I was mortified to see “the old lady” behaving like this. The funny thing is that now I really enjoy the old standards and the big band music that my mother loved so dearly.
This song was the musical interlude for a Columbia movie entitled, appropriately enough, "The Music Goes 'round" in 1936. While I love the song, the New York Times wasn’t impressed.
“At least it makes no pretense of being anything but a musical interlude,” their critic wrote, “dragged in by the scruff of its neck to illustrate the devastating effect upon the public of some anonymous young busybody's question about the workings of a three-valve sax horn.”
Ouch! Well, I’m sure this guy would’ve changed his tune if he had heard my mother sing it.
Given her love of singing, it seems especially cruel that my mother lost her voice as lung disease ravaged her body. There were times when she couldn’t even speak, let alone sing. I’d give anything to hear her sing one more time.
I didn’t realize it when I was younger, but I believe now that my mother was teaching us a very important life lesson with her singing. She was encouraging us to express ourselves, to enjoy life, and not be self-conscious.
Many artists have recorded “The Music Goes ’Round and ’Round” over the years, including Louis Prima, Danny Kaye, Ella Fitzgerald, and even Betty Boop, but my favorite version—next to Mom’s, of course--is by Tommy Dorsey, which became a hit in 1936.
A few years ago I treated myself to a CD of big band numbers that included the Dorsey recording. Whenever I play that song, my heart goes round and round, my mind goes back to that fabulous morning in our kitchen, and I hold tight.