<Old Man River>

Old Man River
This great song from "Showboat" was first performed by Jules Bledsoe in the original 1927 stage production, and it became an instant classic. Paul Robeson sang it in the 1936 film version, ...

Show Boat (1936). Starring Irene Dunne, Allan Jones, Helen Morgan, Paul Robeson, Charles Winniger, Hattie McDaniel. This four-star (****) is a magnificent movie musical. Somehow, the director (James Whale) better known for reviving the horror genre with "Frankenstein" also managed to breathe new life into the musical comedy form with this definitive version of the landmark musical, which was previously filmed in 1929 as a part-talkie and then as a splashy color remake in 1951. Whale's expressionistic style enhances the plot of this melodramatic tale about two contrasting love affairs on a Mississippi river boat. Featuring a dream cast (including the legendary Paul Robeson who gave immortality to Ol' Man River), the two story lines concern Magnolia (Dunne) who ends up nursing a broken heart over her errant gambler husband, Gaylord (Jones), and the tragic mulatto Julie (beautifully played by Helen Morgan), who loses the white man she loves. A powerhouse musical and evergreen score....

... and a decade later Frank Sinatra's performance was part of the grand finale in the film tribute to Jerome Kern, "Till the Clouds Roll By." In 1951, a second film version of "Showboat" gave William Warfield an opportunity to perform this evergreen powerhouse music....

Show Boat (1951). Starring Kathryn Grayson, Howard Keel, Ava Gardner, Marge and Gower Champion, Joe E. Brown, and Agnes Moorehead. The unforgettable Jerome Kern score is still a big asset to this colorful version of the noted musical drama of love aboard a Mississippi show boat. Otherwise, the cast is highly capable, the song numbers put over with zest. The director was George Sidney.

Music by Jerome Kern.
Words by Oscar Hammerstein II.

Update: Many thanks to Brent Lebaron for giving me a heads up to a web site where one can get the ultimate information concerning Paul Robeson. Part of that information concerning "Ol' Man River" follows:

Ol' Man River is the song most closely associated with Robeson; it was dedicated to him by composer Jerome Kern and lyricist Oscar Hammerstein II and was a major element in the musical "Showboat." The original 1927 lyrics reflected the racism in the culture of the time and were re-written by Robeson to eliminate the racist words and establish a message of determined defiance.

Original Lyrics (However, not altogether the same as that found in the 1947 writings below.)
Niggers all work on the Mississippi,
Niggers all work while the white folks play.

I gits weary and sick of tryin';
I'm tired of livin' and scared of dyin'
And Ol' man river, he just keeps rollin' along.
Lyrics rewritten by Robeson (However, if you have RealPlayer you will hear still different words in the PAUL.RAM file available at the referenced web site.)
There's an old man called the Mississippi,
That's the old man I don't like to be.

I keeps laffin' instead of cryin'
I must keep fightin' until I'm dyin'
And Ol' man river, he just keeps rollin' along.

This recording was made from a live concert from Tchaikovsky Hall in Moscow June 14, 1949.

The following lyrics are those published in 1947:

Ol' man river, dat ol' man river,
He must know sumpin', but don't say nothin',
He jus' keeps rollin',
He keeps on rollin' along.

He don't plant 'taters, he don't plant cotton,
An' dem dat plants 'em is soon forgotten;
But ol' man river he jus' keeps rollin' along.

You an' me, we sweat an' strain,
Body all achin' an' racked with pain.
"Tote dat barge!" "Lift dat bale,"
Git a little drunk an' you land in jail.

Ah gits weary an' sick of tryin',
Ah'm tired of livin'
An' skeered of dyin',
But ol' man river he jus' keeps rollin' along.

Steamboat Memories Or The Lore Of The River
The Ol'Kunnel recently received a e-mail letter from a friend that has steamboating fever:

Thank you for answering me about "Show Boat". I think all the versions are neat, whether stage or film, etc. I don't think I have ever read the book, however. Some got better reviews than others, but I think the concepts are wonderful. I finally heard Paul Robeson sing when I recently saw the Irene Dunne / Allan Jones version. Of course, I like Marge and Gower Champion in the Kathryn Grayson / Howard Keel version. I'll bet opening night on Broadway in 1927 was just awesome.

My husband and I go to the "Ohio" River area (Marietta) several times a year. Marietta is old, has an old Victorian hotel (The Lafayette; "The Last of the Riverboat Hotels") where we stay, which is next to the levee. We have caught what I call the "Mark Twain Fever" we can look down the river and think about Hannibal, Missouri.

We visit the "Showboat Becky Thatcher", when we visit Marietta. The Becky has a series of old-time melodramas which are presented every summer below-decks, and upstairs there are a restaurant and bar. There are also musical shows, story telling, etc., during certain times of the performance year, in the theatre.

Marietta has many historic sites and museum devoted to the local river history and culture; the story of the pioneers in 1788, who came from Massachusetts and settled Marietta and the Northwest Territory (now including the state of Ohio). We go back in time when we go to the Lafayette, and it (the lobby) is awesomely decorated at Christmas time. We had our honeymoon there in June 1993, and always go back at least every year in June. Definitely not a run-of-the mill tourist theme park.

You can look up the web site for The Lafayette Hotel; I think the Showboat Becky Thatcher has a web site, too.

A few years ago on our wedding anniversary, we were fortunate enough to visit the Lafayette when the brand-new American Queen giant stern wheeler was due to arrive for a visit (the Delta Queen and Mississippi Queen also visit there every summer on their way upriver to Pittsburgh). The hotel desk called our room to wake us up in the middle of the night, to say it was now time to go out to the river bank and wait for the American Queen, which was on its maiden voyage. Well, it was delayed due to thick fog. We were getting impatient, waiting a long time. Finally, we began to hear the most beautiful calliope music. The American Queen was maybe a half mile downriver from Marietta, but we could her beautiful music. Then, the Queen got closer and closer to the levee, and the music was even more awesome. Then, we saw her emerge out of the fog. So huge, so awesome, and so wonderful. She came to a complete stop, and began playing the most wonderful calliope concert. I thought she stayed four hours, maybe only one or two hours, but it was just the most heavenly experience.

I call Marietta the "top of the Deep South". I found out that Marietta played a significant part in the Underground Railroad.

The hotel tavern (The Riverview Lounge) windows look out to the river, and at night the river is all lit up. Especially in the daytime, one can watch all the barges go by, knowing that now they are powered by diesel tows, and in the old days it was steam power -- I think.

Best wishes to you.

Keep in touch.

P.S. Re more river lore: a couple decades ago I visited Stephen Foster's home on the Suwanee River, in northern Florida, I believe. It was a beautiful place.

More On Marietta
July 3, 2000 -- Monday

Hello Everyone, <

Well, we are back to Columbus. Had a lovely time celebrating our 7th wedding anniversary, and exploring Marietta. We went aboard the Showboat Becky Thatcher, to see their new musical show "Red, White & Becky". Act I explored the music of Stephen Foster, and Act II showcased George M. Cohan. Of course, since I am a student of the life of George M., I was very happy, especially since they presented many Cohan songs that are not well known. These are college kids from University of Indiana, and they always do a great job.

We took the Horse & Carriage Ride through the Ohio River waterfront. There are new condominiums where in the 1800's there were riverboat landings, trains and railroad tracks, dry goods stores, saloons, hotels and houses of ill repute. We went to the Levee House Restaurant, dining outdoors and looking at the river, seeing all the ducks -- so peaceful and wonderful.

We then visited our friend "Dad" Badgett, of Dad's Advertising Memorabilia in Historic Harmar Village; his son runs the famous "Butch's Cola Museum" (Coca-Cola merchandise). Dad is now 79; a surrogate father for us; he's a recent stroke survivor, but does well. He's started another new business, making small wooden toys. Butch wants him to dress up as Santa Claus for Christmas, and have a workshop with all the toys. We purchased a wooden blue elephant, for my friend Stephanie's baby son. Stephanie used to work for me. We haven't seen her since our wedding day, but she called me on the phone a couple weeks ago. Now lives in Seattle, Washington with her husband.

The Lafayette Hotel is just as beautiful as ever. I took along my piano lesson books, to practice on their grand piano in the lobby. Then we went a few feet away to the Riverview Lounge (giant wood bar with sternwheeler miniatures in crevices); for libations and local news and gossip.

Out the Riverview windows we can see the Ohio River, with its towboats, barges, sailboats and jetskis. Old were the days there when there were passenger boats, showboats and sternwheelers on the Ohio and Mississippi, but last week visiting for 1 day was the new "hotel sternwheeler", the River Explorer, that makes inland river cruises -- based out of New Orleans. I just got on their website: RiverBarge.com. Excellent.

Of course Greg has a good cigar shop down there -- but not in Marietta. It's in Parkersburg, at the Grand Central Mall. Historic Marietta is timewarped back to the 1800's, but Grand Central is part of modern civilization where we have no choice to go.

The area has Fenton Glass and the Middleton Doll factory, but those don't interest us. We do like Historic Harmar, and the area around the Lafayette. We didn't have time to go to Brownie's Bakery, for some gooey chocolate cream puffs. We didn't want to come home.

Love, Anita and Greg

Note: Most MIDI
files are downloadable... ~ CLICK HERE ~!

Old Man River

1158 06/09/2016
Music provided by: The Legendary River Musical: Showboat.
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