Celebrating President’s Day with Eubie!


Songwriters live off the income generated by a major hit song—sometimes enjoying a payoff for decades to come.  Similarly, sometimes an old song will be a surprise hit decades later—bringing its writers an unexpected boost in revenue.  This is what happened with Sissle and Blake’s song “I’m Just Wild About Harry,” one of the hits from the original 1921 production of Shuffle Along.

In 1947, during the presidential run of Harry S. Truman, “I’m Just Wild About Harry” became his unofficial theme song.   Even before the campaign began, columnists predicted the song would be used to help promote his candidacy: “Somehow, we believe ‘I’m Just Wild About Harry,’ a grand old tune of yesteryear, will pick up a lot of extra enthusiasm when the President runs again in 1948.”  Several other major columnists suggested the song be adopted by the Democratic Party for its 1948 campaign, while headlines about everything from ballplayers named Harry to gorillas named Harry were captioned with the song’s title.  Throughout the campaign, Truman was greeted by bands playing the song, along with spontaneous outbreaks of singing by the crowds at speeches and fundraisers.  The song also became code to show support for the candidate, who was believed to be trailing his opponent, Thomas E. Dewey.  Oscar Levant sang it as his “favorite Gershwin song” on the Bing Crosby radio show, quipping it was “nothing political, of course,” but signaling his support for the President.

Eubie and Noble Sissle play “I’m Just Wild About Harry” for Margaret Truman in 1967 when they donated a manuscript of the song to Truman’s presidential library.

Following Truman’s victory, a company called Song Distributing Corporation entered into partnership with Sissle and Blake to split the profits from the sale of 20,000 copies of the music to be placed on consignment with news dealers across the country.  A group of pop stars and singers from the Metropolitan Opera gathered at RCA’s New York studios to record a special presentation disc of the song to be given to the newly elected president; it was the first recording made following the lifting of ASCAP’s recording ban.  An amateur pianist himself, Truman was happy to dash off the song for any and all listeners; he was so appreciative of the duo’s contribution to his campaign that he invited Sissle and Blake to his inauguration, which was duly noted in the black press.  The song’s renewed sales success helped Eubie get another bump in his ASCAP rating and also renewed his and Sissle’s faith in the Shuffle Along score.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *