The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #354   Message #1762099
Posted By: GUEST,
17-Jun-06 - 07:24 AM
Thread Name: Origins: One Meatball - blues song
Subject: RE: Lyr Req: One Meatball - blues song
In fact, the original version was directly associated with, "Il Pesceballo." I think folklorist BA Botkin pointed this out in one of his many collections. "One Meatball" may be the only well-known song in the folk tradition that was written by a Harvard professor. It's author was Martin Lane, and Botkin noted the irnoy of a man highly regarded as a great Latin scholar having all of his "serious" work forgotten and while this comic ditty is remembered (even if the authorship isn't). It eventually became a favorite in music halls, etc. but I don't know who might have recorded early versions of it before it got into Josh White's hands; in any case White is credited with having a million-seller with it in 1944, the same year that it was waxed by the Andrews Sisters (at the same seesion that produced thier hit version of "Rum and Coca-Cola"). From there it got into the repertoires of Dave Van Ronk and Ry Cooder. More recent versions like Bookbinder's (and this is the kind of song that Roy does really well by), all pretty much derive from these.

But when did it become "One Meatball?" Fishballs were regional New England fare so we can assume the change came as it became a more widely-known song, but it does seem likely that either a specific performer or publisher was responsible. Any information about the songs history between it's late-19th century NE incarnation and becoming a major hit 80 years later would certainly be welcome. Here's some stuff on the origins:

George Martin Lane (December 24, 1823 - June 30, 1897), American scholar, was born at Charlestown, Massachusetts.
He graduated in 1846 at Harvard, and in 1847-1851 studied at the universities of Berlin, Bonn, Heidelberg and Göttingen. In 1851 he received his doctor's degree at Göttingen for his dissertation Smyrnaeorum Res Gestae et Antiquitates, and on his return to America he was appointed University Professor of Latin in Harvard College.

From 1869 until 1894, when he resigned and became professor emeritus, he was Pope Professor of Latin in the same institution. His Latin Pronunciation, which led to the rejection of the English method of Latin pronunciation in the United States, was published in 1871.

His Latin Grammar, completed and published by Professor MH Morgan in the following year, is of high value. Lane's assistance in the preparation of Harper's Latin lexicons was also invaluable. English light verse he wrote with humour and fluency, and his song "Jonah and the Ballad of the Lone Fishball" were famous. (Wikipedia entry)

Pesceballo, pastiche opera

Classical Works
Il Pesceballo, pastiche opera

Date: 1862
Main Performer: Francis James Child
Genre: Opera

Il Pesceballo is a nineteenth-century American pasticcio opera written by Francis James Child, a Harvard English professor and opera lover. The text was originally inspired by an incident which occurred to a colleague of his. One evening Martin Lane was trying to make his way to Cambridge, MA, from Boston. He discovered that he had only 25 cents, which was not enough for both supper and the fare need to get to Cambridge. As he was very tired and hungry, he stopped at a local diner and asked for half of a serving of macaroni. After he had recounted the story to his friends, he wrote a comic ballad, called the "Lay of the One Fishball." A fishball was a fried New England concoction made of potatoes and fish stock, and usually eaten for breakfast. The ballad became very popular with Harvard students, and inspired Child's opera.

Il Pesceballo is a literary spoof which makes use of some of grand opera's most popular arias. It was written in Italian, and the texts were meant to be sung to tunes by Mozart, Rossini, Donizetti, and others. It was first performed in a benefit concert for the Sanitary Commission, an organization that treated ill and wounded soldiers. In 1864, it was revived for several more benefit performances, this time to aid Unionists in East Tennessee. All the productions were amateur productions, for the humor of the opera is aimed at literati and intellectuals. ~ All Music Guide