Scarlet Ribbons (for her hair)

There’s no fool like an old fool, they say, so what happens when a bunch of oul’ coots gather together to make music? The next batch of posts may enlighten you as to the question just posed and may also, perhaps, enrage or entertain. Anything’s better than a yawn, I guess. And everything that is not that bloody virus is a plus. At the moment we can’t meet as a group, as we are in lockdown, so I have set out a version of songs that are in our repertoire but which have not yet been recorded. With any luck (and, as three of us are north of 70, we’ll need it!) we will be able to resume our normal practice of meeting weekly and playing tunes, singing songs and generally enjoying the crack.

LOS ANGELES — Jack Segal, lyricist for such standards as “Scarlet Ribbons,” “When Sunny Gets Blue,” and “When Joanna Loved Me,” died Thursday in Tarzana. He was 86.

The songwriter’s hits, which have sold an estimated 65 million records, have been recorded by such artists as Harry Belafonte, Tony Bennett, Frank Sinatra, Dinah Shore, and Perry Como.

The ballad that was perhaps Mr. Segal’s greatest hit, “Scarlet Ribbons,” flowed, he said, onto paper in a mere 15 minutes in 1949. It happened when he was invited to the Port Washington, N.Y., home of concert pianist Evelyn Danzig Levine to hear some of her formal compositions. (Source, Myrna Oliver, Los Angeles Times  |  February 18, 2005)

Evelyn Danzig born Waco, Texas 16 January 1902; died Los Angeles 26 July 1996.: “Scarlet Ribbons” was written in only 15 minutes in 1949 at Danzig’s home in Port Washington, New York after she invited lyricist Jack Segal to hear her music (Source, Wikipedia)

In the annals of Tin Pan Alley, there are many examples of “One- Hit Wonders” – songwriters who only ever managed a single enduring success… Evelyn Danzig’s was the affecting folk-style ballad “Scarlet Ribbons (For Her Hair)”.

In 1949 Danzig co-wrote “Scarlet Ribbons” with Jack Segal, the future lyricist of “When Sunny Gets Blue”. Their ballad was first recorded by Juanita Hall, who was then appearing on Broadway as the original “Bloody Mary” in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s South Pacific

Although her [many other songs] failed to achieve popularity, more than 40 years of royalties from “Scarlet Ribbons” were sufficient to keep Evelyn Danzig comfortably until the age of 94.

(source, Dick Vosburgh writing in the Independent)

Both she and Jack lived long lives. Maybe not so rare in today’s world, but for people born back early in the 20th Century, this was exceptional. The moral may be: write a smash hit early in your career and live long off the proceeds…

The first person I remember hearing sing this song was Jim Reeves. Known as gentleman Jim and, with Chet Atkins, his producer, one of the originators of the Nashville Sound which is characterised by lush sounds. He toured Ireland in 1963 and was immediately taken up by Irish audiences. Reeves returned the compliment, although he did not rate, at all,  the quality of the pianos in those many draughty country halls in which he and his band performed. He charted many times in Ireland both before and after his tragic death in July, 1964 at the controls of his own single-engine aircraft at age 40. His silky, trademark, baritone voice is still popular 56 year later. Head on over to YouTube and listen to him sing this gem accompanied only by acoustic guitar.

A couple of years ago, with Banter, I gathered up the courage to subject myself to unflattering comparisons with Reeves, Belafonte, et. al. and sang Scarlet Ribbons in the Penrith Gaels Club. It’s long been a favourite of mine, even though, in my rebellious, rock-infused, teenage years, I hid this almost blasphemous affection. It is amazing how many people of all ages and conditions love this product of Tin Pan Alley, cobbled together in a quarter of an hour over 70 years ago.

For this lockdown version, I follow the less-is-more ideal (although not quite so pared back as YouTube’s Jim Reeves and solo guitar). The 80 bpm slow ballad Band-in-a-Box combo with acoustic piano, guitars, bass and drums is used throughout the song with no added embellishments from fiddles, flutes etc. I did experiment, briefly, with a more embellished version, but decided to junk it.

Scarlet Ribbons

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