After reading Hal Smith’s insightful piece on just how Sid Catlett plays on the 1943 record of O KATHARINA, I found myself wondering about this song that Eddie Condon had remembered as a special favorite of Bix Beiderbecke’s.

Or, to put it another way, who was KATHARINA and why did she make someone go OH?  Or “O”?

Online I found the song’s lyrics (courtesy of the Duke University Libraries).  Music by Richard Fall, lyrics by L. Wolfe Gilbert.  Gilbert is known for WAITING FOR THE ROBERT E. LEE and RAMONA. 

Readers of tender sensibilities will find that the cheerful anti-feminist and “weightist” stereotypes of the time offensive, but right now I am trying to sing along . . . with only limited success.  I believe, incidentally, that the song has three parts — a “patter” section before the verse and chorus.  



Again we have the Chauve Souris

They come to us from ‘cross the sea

With something new they always do

For me and you

A new contagious melody

The rage of London and Paree

They brought along

And now this song is going strong

For Balieff instructs them all

He makes you sing it with him

Before you go you’re bound to know

The melody and rhythm

And then next day while on your way

You hum and sing and long to play


Oh Heinie sailed from Rotterdam

He stopped off first at Amsterdam

To meet his bride then side by side

They took the ride across the sea

To Yankee land

He furnished up a flat so grand

And there she sat

So big and fat

Down at their flat

One night he took his wiffie out

They went to see the Follies

He thought that she was such a queen

Until he saw those Dollies

When they got home

He shook his head

Then to his wife he turned and said




O Katharina, O Katharina

O Katharina, O Katharina, to keep my love you must be leaner

There’s so much of you and 

Two could love you

Learn to swim, join a gym, eat farina

O Katharina, unless you’re leaner I’ll have to build a big arena

You’re such a crowd, my Katharine

I got a lot when I got you.

(In the second chorus, a summary tells me, Katharina loses weight and gets so appealing that all Heinie can say, admiringly, is “O KATHARINA!”  In the spirit of fairness, we never find out how much he weighs.  The patriarchy set to music and all that, of course.)

Delving deeper into these matters, I asked Lorna Sass — jazz photographer by night, Grain Goddess and Queen of Pressure Cooking by day — for her opinion of farina.  She told me that perhaps Gilbert needed an easy rhyme for the heroine’s name.  “Farina isn’t a diet food,” she said, “but maybe it was healthier than what Katharina usually ate.  But farina isn’t a whole grain — too much is removed in the processing to make it shelf-stable forever.”  (That’s Lorna’s award-winning WHOLE GRAINS EVERY DAY, EVERY WAY.)

I’m surprised and amused that “join a gym” was a common phrase as far back as 1924. 

The sheet music advertises O KATHARINA as an all-purpose song: “Walk-Around One-Step Song or Shimmy Fox-Trot,” which covers all the possibilities.  And since it was part of the CHAUVE-SOURIS (“The Bat”) touring revue supervised by Balieff, this song is an early example of a piece of art referring to itself, very modernistic for the time.     

I can hear Bix and the Wolverines taking this one on, and perhaps Joe Oliver had his own version — Jess Stacy remembered Papa Joe playing UKULELE LADY, so he was not averse to pop songs of the day.  Hal Smith thinks of Doc Cook and Freddie Keppard: the bands must have had a good time with this one.  (There’s a Sam Wooding recording of the tune made in Berlin in 1925, available on the Red Hot Jazz website.)

P.S.  Hooray for “finding-out-new-things,” a gratifying activity that doesn’t stop when you graduate . . . !

7 responses to “O KATHARINA!

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention O KATHARINA! « JAZZ LIVES -- Topsy.com

  2. I am looking for music for a tune called
    Spicy Advice. It was played on the Rob
    Bamburger radio program on Saturday,
    Feb. 6,2010 on 88.5 FM American University.

    An audio or sheet music would be nice.

  3. I’m sure that if you emailed Rob Bamberger (check the station’s website for a way to do this) he might be able to help . . . but it was recorded by Bunk Johnson on the West Coast circa 1944 with a band that included Floyd O’Brien: this session was available and may still be on GHB or Jazzology Records. SPICY ADVICE has also been recorded by a number of European jazz bands — there’s even a SPICY ADVICE website devoted to a band of that name featuring the banjoist / guitarist Jacob Ullberger: check my blogroll!

  4. My parents have this song on a piano roll and we grew up singing it. My 15 year old has autism and she knows all the lyrics too!

  5. Good job! Singing along is one of life’s underrated pleasures and it carries us through the darkest days. Although I am a cheerful person, I now know all the words to READY FOR THE RIVER, which you’ll find on my blog, and I sing it in the car or sometimes under my breath as I walk from one building to another at work. Keep on singing!

  6. I enjoyed reading your research on this novelty tune of 1924! I have uploaded a 1925 78 record of it played by Ben Bernie on Youtube.. It also has film of Ben Bernie and his Orchestra. Its an instrumental so you will need to use the words posted here to sing along!

  7. Don’t know the singer, but O Katharina was recorded on a ten inch shellac record with Who Takes Care of the Caretaker’s Daughter… on the reverse side. Who was the vocalist? Recording around 1930.

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