The city in song


PEOPLE leave their hearts in San Francisco. They belt out, "It's up to you, New York, New York." And they croon over the moon over Miami. But nobody, alas, sings about Baltimore. Oh, there have been plenty of songs with Baltimore mentioned -- that last syllable rhymes with a lot of words -- and lots of songs that mention Baltimore in connection with the Chesapeake Bay. But nothing has really caught on nationally, nothing that you can sing a few bars of and have everyone else in the room join in.

It isn't as if Baltimore hasn't tried. In fact, with a little help from friends Ken Jackson of WITH, John Goodspeed (formerly "Mr. Peeps" of The Evening Sun) and the late Galen Fromme of WBAL radio, here's a brief history of songs written about Baltimore:

The first seems to have been written in 1910, and by no less than Eubie Blake. It's called "The Baltimore Tolodo," and word has it that the Peabody Rag Ensemble plays it to this very day.

In 1923 Arthur Schwartz wrote the music and Eli Dawson the words, to "Baltimore, You're the Only Doctor for Me":

Baltimore, that's the only doctor for me,

I'm gonna go right there 'cause I know where

I'll be cared for tenderlee-e-e.

Way down in dear old Baltimore

Loafin' 'round that Chesapeake shore

The song pulled all of $8 in royalties. Can we be surprised?

In Tin Pan Alley around this time, Jimmy McHugh and collaborators wrote "Baltimore" and had it recorded by the great Bix Beiderbecke and by Red Nichols and other jazz instrumentalists. Then in 1940, Hoagy ("Stardust") Carmichael wrote and sang "Baltimore Oriole." About that same time, Bill Herson, a popular disc jockey then with WBAL, wrote "I Found My Business in Baltimore." According to Fromme, the song got national play: Glenn Miller played it in New York at the Hotel Pennsylvania, Guy Lombardo at the Roosevelt, Sammy Kaye at the Commodore. "That all came about because Bill knew Jimmy Dorsey, who played it as a favor for Bill when he, Dorsey, was doing a show at the Hippodrome. Dorsey asked all those band leader friends of his to play the song as a favor to him, and they did."

It went something like this:

I found my business in Baltimore,

And on my past I'm closing my door.

My life's complete 'cause I found that sweet

Little business in Baltimore.

"Business" went out of business, and again, can we be surprised?

Not much happened in the Baltimore-song business until 1953, when Tony Semino (Baltimore's wire machine operator and songwriter) wrote his "Baltimore Blues." Like this:

I miss the lights all over town,

The dear old friends that I could choose

That wicked gal who threw me down,

I've got the Baltimore blues.

In 1962, a 15-year-old boy named Herbert G. McGarriar Jr., of 3501 Woodside Ave., wrote the "Baltimore Trolley Song":

If you go to Pearl and Green,

O trolley O

It isn't as far as it seems,

O trolley O.

Oh, well, he was only 15. The song (and its young author) made the papers, if not the big time.

The latest attempt, within the past year or so, is called "The Baltimore Song," written by George Goehring, Dennis O'Brien "and friends." All together now, here we go:

Charles Street, steamed crabs, Inner Harbor, Fort McHenry,

Skipjacks, Pimlico, houses all in a row.

Fallsway, Fells Point, Oriole Magic, Domino, McCormick.

Lovin' it all, havin' a ball, in Baltimore.

And there you are. Lots of words and music, but outside of Baltimore, who's ever heard of them? We have all this love for Baltimore, but we can't get anybody to write the words or music in a way that gets America to sing along with us.

Gives you a case of the blues.

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