Leonard writes from Hong Kong:
I enjoyed the youtube you have up on kottke w the depression-era dancing.
I thought you may like this link, it’s my favorite rendition of “St. James Infirmary Blues,” sung by Cab Calloway in a Betty Boop cartoon (Betty is Snow White):
Fleischer’s Snow White was animated by ONE person, produced by a Jewish animation studio, in the Depression, featuring images of gambling and alcohol, starring a jazz singer. Take that, Walt.
Cab Calloway as the ghost of a walrus in another Betty Boop cartoon.
The Wikipedia entry for “St James Infirmary Blues” is pretty amazing:
“St. James Infirmary Blues” is based on an 18th century traditional English folk song called “The Unfortunate Rake” (also known as “The Unfortunate Lad” or “The Young Man Cut Down in His Prime”). There are numerous versions of the song throughout the English-speaking world. It also evolved into other American standards such as “The Streets of Laredo”. “The Unfortunate Rake” is about a sailor who uses his money on prostitutes, and then dies of a venereal disease. Different versions of the song expand on this theme, variations typically feature a narrator telling the story of a youth “cut down in his prime” (occasionally her prime) as a result of some morally questionable actions. For example, when the song moved to America, gambling and alcohol became common causes of the youth’s death.
The title is derived from St. James Hospital in London, a religious foundation for the treatment of leprosy. It was closed in 1532 when Henry VIII acquired the land to build St. James Palace.
The song was first collected in England in its version as “The Unfortunate Rake” by Henry Hammond by a Mr. William Cutis at Lyme Regis, Dorset in March 1906.
Part of the song’s versatility/ambiguity is that its content can also swing depending on the gender of the singer and the “baby” cut down in his/her prime.
Notable performers of this song include Cab Calloway, Louis Armstrong, Kermit Ruffins, The Preservation Hall Jazz Band, King Oliver, Artie Shaw, Big Mama Thornton, Jack Teagarden, Billie Holiday, Cassandra Wilson, Bobby Hackett, Stan Kenton, Lou Rawls, The Limeliters, Bobby Bland, Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, Doc Watson, “Spider” John Koerner, Janis Joplin, The Doors, The Animals, and more recently The White Stripes, the Triffids, the Stray Cats, the Tarbox Ramblers, Isobel Campbell, The Devil Makes Three and Mark Lanegan, and Tom Jones with Jools Holland. Jazz guitarists Marc Ribot and Ivan “Boogaloo Joe” Jones have recorded instrumental versions.