Wednesday, May 11, 2011

The Argentines, the Portuguese and the Greeks (1923)

The Library of Congress has just unveiled the National Jukebox project, a streaming of its collection of historical recordings (thanks to Kirby Bell for flagging this). Naturally, my first search was for Greek music, and I discovered "The Argentine, the Portuguese and the Greeks," a 1920s song that expresses native anxieties about this particular ethnic immigrants (and the Armenians, too). The song seems to have been first recorded in 1920 by Nora Bayes (here), then in 1922 by Edward Meeker (here, w/lyrics), and finally by the Duncan Sisters in 1923, which is the version streamlined by the Library of Congress (here).

Rosetta and Vivian Duncan were a vaudeville duo from California. They began their careers as children performers and made their name in the racially charged Topsy and Eva routines. "The Argentines, the Portuguese and the Greeks" contains a mixed message of fear, envy and respect. It's perhaps the earliest example of Greek immigrants making it into American musical history. There are a few variations between the Bayes and Meeker versions, but I have transcribed the lyrics of the Duncan version. Take a listen.

Columbus discovered America in 1492
Then came the English and the French
The Scotchmen and the Jews
Then came the Dutch and the Irishmen
To help this country grow
And still they keep on coming
And now everywhere you go

There's the Argentines
And the Portuguese
The Armenians, and the Greeks
One sells the papers
The others shines the shoes
The other shaves the whiskers off your cheek.

When you ride again
On a subway train
Notice who has all the seats
Ah. They are all held by the Argentines
And the Portuguese
And the Greeks

Now there's a little flat
Where you hang your hat
Here’s a mystery I'll explain
The janitor is Irish,
The hall-boy is a goon
The elevator driver is a Dane
But who is the gent
That collects the rent
At the end of each four weeks
Ah. That is all done by the Argentines
And the Portuguese
And the Greeks

There's the Oldsmobile
And the Hupmobile
And the Cadillac and the Ford
Now these are the motors
That you and I can own
The kind that anybody can afford
But the Cunningham
And the Mercedes
And the Rolls-Royce Racing Prix
Ah. They are all owned by the Argentines
And the Portuguese
And the Greeks

Now there’s the Argentines
And the Portuguese
The Armenians, and the Greeks
They don't know the language
They don't know the law
Yet they vote in the country of the free
And the funny thing
When we start to sing
"My Country 'Tis of Thee"
None of us know the words
But the Argentines
And the Portuguese
And the Greeks

Now there’s the Argentines
And the Portuguese
The Armenians, and the Greeks
When we’re departed
Our souls above in heavenly peace
At the golden gate when the angels wait
We’ll be asking there for seats
And they’ll all be reserved by the Argentines
And the Portuguese And the Greeks

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

this is fun!
cheers KK, Bernard

Anonymous said...

great discovery !

Anonymous said...

My father used to sing this song. What fun to find all the words here.

Gabriel said...

Can't believe I found this. I'm Argentine... :-)

I'm linking to this post in my blog tomorrow.

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Kostis Kourelis

Philadelphia, PA, United States