As they say, “time flies when you’re having fun,” and we certainly have fun here in the Music Division. It’s hard to believe that we’ve reached the end of September; school is back in session, temperatures are (or should be) cooling, and thoughts are turning to fall traditions from apple picking, to chunky sweaters, and yes – to beer! Every mid-to-late September, millions of people travel to Munich to partake in Oktoberfest, a Bavarian tradition that has been in place for over 200 years. And of course, we celebrate the famous beer festival across the world with festivals modeled after Oktoberfest and specially-crafted Oktoberfest beers. In musical celebration, I searched our historic sheet music collections for fun examples of beer-themed popular song!
Harry Auracher, Carl Gray, and Roger Lewis wrote the music and lyrics to “I want some Old Style Lager” in 1909 and dedicated the music to W.J. Welbasky. With a little research, I discovered that Welbasky was the Chicago manager of the Heileman Brewing Company, a Wisconsin brewery that operated from 1858 to 1996. Heileman created the “Old Times Lager” in 1900, which was renamed the “Old Style Lager” two years later, and the brewing company secured rights to the Old Style label and a Grenadier holding a beer stein shortly thereafter. See the Grenadier featured in the September 3, 1909 issue of the Chicago Daily Tribune, and see the resemblance to the Grenadier depicted on the sheet music cover!
Pabst Brewing Company was established in Milwaukee, WI in 1844 (first known as Best Brewery – Frederick Pabst married the daughter of Best Brewing Company’s owner in 1862). Frederick Pabst was appointed president and officially changed the name of the company to Pabst Brewing Company in 1890. Franz Hensler (originally of Baden, Germany but by this time the Musical Director of the Milwaukee Musical School and Society as well as the Juvenile Band) promptly wrote the “Pabst-March,” which was published by Wm. Rohlfing & Sons in Milwaukee in 1890. The sheet music cover is charming with beautiful detail, depicting a German beer maid loaded up with steins of Pabst beer seemingly dancing on a Pabst beer barrel with the city view behind her.
As the story goes (though remains unconfirmed), Pabst Brewing renamed its flagship beer Pabst Blue Ribbon after winning “America’s Best” at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago. Pabst Blue Ribbon (or rather, PBR) is alive and well today, having experienced a revival in the new millennium specifically in hipster culture. Back in 1904, over 100 years ago, Joseph Clauder and C.P. McDonald celebrated 60 years of Pabst Blue Ribbon with the publication of “Here’s to the Pabst Blue Ribbon.” The chorus cheers:
Here’s to the Pabst Blue Ribbon,
The drink of the past sixty years;
Poets may sing that champagne is the thing,
But Pabst is the malt that endears.
Here’s to the Pabst Blue Ribbon,
(Du, Du, Du liegst mir im Herzen)
A friend, full of life and good cheer;
They may all have their fine gin booze or wine –
Just give me Pabst Blue Ribbon Beer.
American songwriter Harry Von Tilzer (older brother to Albert Von Tilzer, famous for composing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame”) scored success with two beer-centric songs at the start of the 20th century. First, Harry Von Tilzer wrote “Down Where the Wurzburger Flows” in 1902. Though originally intended as a drinking song to be included in the musical Wild Rose, the song did not find its success until Von Tilzer showed it to an as yet unknown vaudeville singer by the name of Nora Bayes. The lyrics to “Down Where the Wurzburger Flows” (written by Vincent Bryant) express nostalgia for Bohemia as the singer toasts her homeland with a beer. As David Ewen describes in his book, Great Men of American Popular Song, “[Bayes] sang it at the Orpheum Theatre in Brooklyn. Midway in her performance she broke down. Von Tilzer, seated in a box, took over for her. The audience went wild and remained unsatisfied until von Tilzer and Miss Bayes had repeated the chorus fourteen times. The management of Orpheum Theatre then prevailed on von Tilzer to continue serving as a stooge for Nora Bayes in the rendition of his song…For the next few years Nora Bayes, now grown into a star, was identified as ‘The Wurzburger Girl.’” (p. 61)
The following year in 1903, Von Tilzer wrote a new tune with lyricist Andrew B. Sterling called “Under the Anheuser Bush.” You can take a listen to a 1904 recording by Billy Murray via the Library’s National Jukebox:
This song met with success as well, though not nearly so much as “Wurzburger” – the chorus sings:
Come, Come, Come and make eyes with me,
Under the Anheuser Bush
Come, Come, Drink some “Budwise” with me
Under the Anheuser Bush,
Hear the old German band,
Just let me hold your hand dear.
Do, do, come and have a stein or two
Under the Anheuser Bush.
Sources seem to dispute whether or not Anheuser Busch commissioned the song or not, which of course provoked this librarian to research! I discovered that a folder of Anheuser Busch correspondence exists in the Music Division’s VonTilzer/Gumm Collection — the collection consists of Harry Von Tilzer’s personal and professional papers, as well as those of his brother, H. Harold Gumm, a lawyer, agent, and producer in the entertainment business who later served as attorney for the Harry Von Tilzer Music Publishing Co. for several decades, as well as executor of Von Tilzer’s estate after the composer died. The Anheuser-Busch, Inc. correspondence folder includes only a few pages, but notably a letter from Von Tilzer to Mr. F.W. Webber of the Advertising Department at Anheuser-Busch, Inc. dated November 27, 1939 that reads:
This acknowledges receipt of your letter of the 24th instant in reference to our song “Under the Anheuser Bush”, of which song you would like to buy the copyright…Our first impression was that under no circumstances would we be interested in selling the copyright of the song. We do see, of course, that you have a special interest in the number…It is very difficult to fix a price on a song which has the position of having been one of the outstanding hits of the country and is now part of its literature and folklore. After considerable reflection, we figure that a fair and reasonable price is the sum of $20,000.00.
So, the letter answers one question: No, Anheuser-Busch did not commission the song. And I’d like to point out that $20,000 in 1939 is equivalent to approximately $353,000 in 2017 – wow! The folder does not include a response from Mr. Webber; what it does provide, however, is exactly what we see researchers encountering in the Performing Arts Reading Room every day – some answers, but more questions.
I hope you enjoy the fun sheet music covers and interesting bits of beer-related history presented here during this Oktoberfest season. There is far more relevant music to be found in a “beer music” search on the Library of Congress website with fun titles like the “Lager Beer Waltz,” “No Beer – No Work,” and “Gin and Beer” (an interesting combination!). It just goes to show that there is no shortage of fun music to accompany your Oktoberfest celebrations – prost!
I grew up in Tennessee listening and dancing to The Beer Barrel Polka!
What a fun post! I love that our collections contain such a wealth of unexpected pleasure and information!