The 1937 Flood Watch
The 1937 Flood Watch Podcast
Makin' Whoopee

Makin' Whoopee

#114 / Aug. 26 Podcast

The jazz standard “Makin’ Whoopee” — introduced in a 1928 stage musical with a performance by legendary song-and-dance man Eddie Cantor — is built around the sassiest words ever penned by one of the great lyricists of the Roarin’ Twenties.

Gus Kahn was born in 1886 in Bruschied, Germany, son of a cattle farmer who emigrated to the United States four years later and moved his family to Chicago.

After graduating from high school, Gus worked as a clerk in a mail order business before launching one of the most successful and prolific careers on Tin Pan Alley.

In the next 30 years, Kahn contributed to an extraordinary number of Great American Songbook numbers. Like what? you say. Like “Pretty Baby,” “Ain’t We Got Fun?,” “Carolina in the Morning,” “Toot, Toot, Tootsie *Goo’ Bye!),” “Yes Sir, That’s My Baby,” “My Baby Just Cares for Me,” “Dream a Little Dream of Me.”

No wonder that in 1951 — 10 years after his death — Gus was featured in a popular movie about his life.

“I’ll See You in My Dreams” starred Danny Thomas as Kahn opposite Doris Day as Gus’s wife, Grace LeBoy. The film was a serious hit, Warner Brothers' second-highest-grossing film of the entire year.

Walter Donaldson

Gus had a life-long friendship with his main collaborator, composer Walter Donaldson (who you may remember from our earlier post about their “My Blue Heaven.”) Their first collaboration was “My Buddy” in 1922. They went on to compose over one hundred songs together.

In 1928, the pair composed all the tunes for a show called “Whoopee!” based on Owen Davis's play, “The Nervous Wreck.” Included in the score was “Makin’ Whoopee,” the winking-est and nodding-est number of the season. The title refers to love and marriage. Quickly, though, "making whoopee" becoming a euphemism for recreational love making. Gus’s lyrics begin with a sardonic celebration of a wedding (“another bride, another June … a lot of shoes, a lot of rice”), then moves on to the love nest and babies and responsibilities (‘washing dishes and baby clothes, he’s so ambitious he even sews…) but then to affairs and confrontations, possible divorce, a visit to a judge…

The 1928 show was successful enough, but oh, that song! In the same year that it debuted on Broadway, it also was recorded Bing Crosby and Paul Whiteman and the next year by Rudy Vallée. Then in the 1950s, after that Danny Thomas / Doris Day movie, the song was back in a big way, with versions by Nat King Cole, Gerry Mulligan and Chet Baker, Frank Sinatra, Dinah Washington, Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald.

And that isn’t the end. More recently, it has been recorded Dr. John and Rickie Lee Jones, by Cyndi Lauper and Tony Bennett, by Rod Stewart and Elton John.

Our Take on the Tune

Honestly, we don’t know how a band that’s been around for nearly half a century — one that has a special love for novelty and good-time tunes of the 1920s and ‘30s — could have missed this one.

But the fact is it’s only now that The Flood started playing around with this classic. Guess it took our newest members — Veezy Coffman and Danny Cox — to open our ears to it. We’re sure glad they did.

The 1937 Flood Watch
The 1937 Flood Watch Podcast
Each week The 1937 Flood, West Virginia's most eclectic string band, offers a free tune from a recent rehearsal, show or jam session. Music styles range from blues and jazz to folk, hokum, ballad and old-time. All the podcasts, dating back to 2008, are archived on our website; you and use the archive for free at: