The video that follows is visually unrewarding, but aurally I hope it will make up for the eight minutes of blackness. What follows is both rare and odd: a performance of a forgotten sentimental 1920 pop song by Fred Fisher —
Most of us know Fisher as the composer of DARDANELLA, PEG O’MY HEART, CHICAGO, and a few others, but this maudlin ballad (Mother is in Heaven, admiring the fine job Daddy has done of taking her place and raising the singer) must have stuck in someone’s mind, for at an informal session at Bill Priestley’s house on August 29, 1959 (recorded by John Steiner) this song emerged — in two versions — performed by an unusual collection of musicians: Lee Wiley, vocal; Frank Chace, clarinet; Art Hodes, piano; an uncredited Bud Wilson, trombone; Clancy Hayes, drums. (Hayes was usually singing and playing guitar or banjo; drumming was not his forte.) I have some small doubts that it is indeed Hodes at the piano, for the accompaniment lacks any of his trademarks. Did Squirrel Ashcraft take over the piano chair and begin this song, reminding everyone of how memorable this ancient ballad was?
Here is the performance:
and here is the sheet music for those of you who wish to serenade and accompany at home:
Now, a postscript about the provenance of this music. My dear (late) friend John L. Fell sent this cassette around 1988, but I thought I’d lost the tape. And when I’d mention to a few people that I had a copy of a John Steiner tape where Lee sang and Frank Chace accompanied her, they would grow animated. Then I’d say, “One of the songs is ‘DADDY, YOU’VE BEEN A MOTHER TO ME,'” and their response would usually be skepticism, widened eyes, and hilarity — because in the circles I travel in, to “be a mother” often has meanings that aren’t quite maternal.
When yesterday afternoon I had the right combination: a functioning cassette deck, my video camera, and a reasonably quiet room, I decided to make this video . . . and share it with you. Lee’s fans will appreciate another example of her beautiful tone; Frank’s admirers will note his rather subdued and lovely accompaniment. I wonder how they came to this song, and whether there were jokes made about its title before they tried it out. It’s all mysterious, but I hope you find the music repays close listening and amateurish film-making.
May your happiness increase!