"Buffalo Gals" is a traditional American song, written and published as "Lubly Fan" in 1844 by the blackface minstrel John Hodges, who performed as "Cool White." The song was widely popular throughout the United States. Because of its popularity, minstrels altered the lyrics to suit the local audience, so it might be performed as "New York Gals" in New York City or "Boston Gals" in Boston or "Alabama Girls" in Alabama (as in the version recorded by Alan Lomax and Shirley Collins on a field recording trip in 1959). The best-known version is named after Buffalo, New York.
The chorus is:
- Buffalo gals, won't you come out tonight?
- Come out tonight, Come out tonight?
- Buffalo gals, won't you come out tonight,
- And dance by the light of the moon.
The song is featured prominently in the 1946 Frank Capra film It's a Wonderful Life and heard in saloon scenes in the 1952 film High Noon (starring Gary Cooper and Grace Kelly). Edgar Buchanan performs a version in the 1941 film Texas, starring William Holden and Glenn Ford. Members of the Western Writers of America chose it as one of the Top 100 Western songs of all time.
- The English singing game "Pray, Pretty Miss" may have been an inspiration for the lyric, according to Frank Brown in "Collection of North Carolina Folklore." The tune is reminiscent of "Im Grunewald, im Grunewald ist Holzauktion," a music hall song from Germany that was however first published in 1892.
- A new set of lyrics to the same tune entitled "Dance with a Dolly (with a Hole in Her Stocking)" became a success in 1944 when it was recorded by a number of artists, including Bing Crosby and Evelyn Knight. In the decades since, versions in genres ranging from children's choir to disco have been recorded. Notable recordings have included The Andrews Sisters, Bill Haley & His Comets and Damita Jo.
- A 1959 #38 from Bobby Darin called Plain Jane.
- A 1960 hit by Ray Smith, "Rockin' Little Angel" is based on the same melody.
- A 1960 hit by The Olympics, "Dance by the Light of the Moon" borrows part of the melody and lyrics, reworking it into a doo-wop song.
- Malcolm McLaren had a major hit with the song in 1982.
In popular culture
- In the second chapter of the classic novel Tom Sawyer (1876) by Mark Twain, the young slave Jim appears singing the song.
- In the Bonanza episode "Thunder Man" (May 5, 1963, S04E31), the song was called "New Orleans Woman" and was a major plot point. It was used again in the episode "Calamity Over the Comstock". Stephanie Powers, as Calamity Jane, sings the song sporadically during the episode.
- In The Dick Van Dyke Show episode "Uncle George" (November 13, 1963, S03E08), the song was called "Buffalo Girl" and sung by Uncle George (Denver Pyle) after dating Sally (Rose Marie).
- In the The High Chaparral episode "The Filibusteros" (October 22, 1967, S01E08), the song is sung by Buck Cannon and Manolito Montoya as they escort Victoria Cannon by wagon.
- In the Daniel Boone episode "A Matter of Vengeance" (1970), the song is played instrumentally by a fiddler. The song hadn't yet been written at the time (late 1700s) portrayed in the show.
- In the Leave It to Beaver episode "The Dramatic Club" (March 11, 1963, S04E24), the song was called "Oh, Pretty Girls" and was performed by Karen Sue Trent as Penny Woods; it was her audition piece for the dramatic club.
- The song was covered by Alvin and the Chipmunks for their 1962 album The Chipmunk Songbook.
- The song is the theme for Frank Capra's Christmas classic film, It's a Wonderful Life. It is also played multiple times throughout, most prominently when James Stewart and Donna Reed sing it together in the George Lassos the Moon scene.
- In "High Noon", a piano version of the song is occasionally heard in saloon scenes.
- The production logo of The Bedford Falls Company, named after the town in It's a Wonderful Life (mentioned above), features a man and woman singing "and dance by the light of the moon" as another reference to the film.
- In The Simpsons, Homer Simpson sings "Buffalo Gals" in Moe's Tavern to earn 25 cents to buy beer with.
- In Cow and Chicken, there was an episode entitled, "Buffalo Gals" that got banned by Cartoon Network due to its sexual material and stereotyping lesbians.
- "Buffalo Gals, Won't You Come Out Tonight" is a Hugo Award-winning short story by Ursula K. Le Guin, featured in the collection Buffalo Gals and Other Animal Presences.
- The Lego version of The Joker (voiced by Christopher Corey Smith) sang the chorus while creating kryptonite in the 2013 direct-to-video film Lego Batman: The Movie – DC Super Heroes Unite.
- In the Friends episode "The One After the Super Bowl", Joey enters the men's room and begins to whistle "Buffalo Gals". Unbeknownst to him, Chandler is already in the restroom, hiding naked in a stall, and when Chandler whistles the next line in the song, Joey whistles back and asks, "Ma?!"
- On an episode of Walker, Texas Ranger CD is singing "Buffalo Gals".