Lily of Laguna

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For the 1938 film of the same name, see Lily of Laguna (film).
Sheet music cover

Lily of Laguna is a British coon song, a love song that originally included a racist and stereotyped image of black people. It was written in 1898 by English composer Leslie Stuart. It was a music hall favourite, performed notably by blackface performers such as Eugene Stratton and G. H. Elliott. By the 1930s it was stripped of its overtly racist lyrics to become a pure love song and continued to be popular into the 1950s.[1] [2]


The song was first performed in Oxford in July 1898, and first reviewed in the Entr'acte on 23 July 1898.[3] Laguna of the original song was a village of Native American cave-dwellers somewhere "100 miles off the main line en route to California proceeding from New Orleans."[3] Lily was a cave-dwelling Indian girl.[3] The song stood aside from Stuart's other works, in part because Stuart wrote both the music and the verses.[4] Stuart wrote that "I wrote the words and music together to a large degree and, consequently, I was able to get effects that the canons of art lay down as being impossible... Instead of ending where, say, the average poet would compel me by the metre of his verse I, writing my own lyrics, add two bars more and get an entirely new effect".[5] The verse section contain a dramatic mood shift of iii minor, to ii minor, to I Major. The arrangement has a oboe obligato play the tune of Lily's call to her flock on her shepherdess's pipe.[6]

The song was regularly played throughout the rest of Stuart's life, although not as frequently as less demanding compositions.[7] On the night of Stuart's death, 26 March 1928, it was performed by Herman Darewski band at the Coliseum Theatre, with Queen Soraya of Afghanistan in attendance.[8][9]

A reaction to overtly racist lyrics in coon song began to take place in the twentieth century and Bing Crosby and Mary Martin performed a less racially offensive version of this song in 1941 which is primarily based on the chorus of the original song, i.e., "She's my lady love".[10] The song was transformed in a number of ways: the racial imagery was replaced with lines referencing sailors, ships, docks, and lollipops; the entire verse sections which, in the original, contains the dramatic mood shift was updated to the jazzy big band sound that was popular at the time; and a woman (Mary Martin) now sang lyrics from the female perspective.[11]


The original song lyrics tell the story of a lonely black American man who falls in love with a woman from the Laguna tribe of Pueblo Indians of New Mexico. Every evening he waits to hear her call her sheep and cattle so that he can go to her unseen by her father.[12] Laguna, is Spanish, meaning "lake", and derives from a now dry lake located on the tribes ancestral lands. The real indigenous name of the tribe is Kawaik.[13][14]


She's ma lady love, she is ma dove, ma baby love,

She's no gal for sittin' down to dream,

She's de only queen Laguna knows;

I know she likes me, I know she likes me

Bekase she says so; She is de Lily of Laguna,

she is ma Lily and ma Rose.

In popular culture[edit]

It is sung in full in a music hall setting by G H Elliot in the 1934 film Those were the days .[15]

A 1938 British film was entitled Lily of Laguna starring Nora Swinburne and the song in the film was sung by Dudley Rolph[16]

The full song is performed by Tom E Finglass in the 1940 film You Will Remember which tells the story of Leslie Stuart's life.[17][18]

In 1941 Bing Crosby and Mary Martin recorded a less racially offensive version of the song with reworked lyrics.[10]

The song was ordered to be played over the air from the pre-American Forces Network facilities in London during World War Two at a precise time, say 1307 hours, 1:07 p.m. Possibly, the tune was a signal to the French underground or some other group in German-held territory.[19]

The chorus only version is sung spontaneously by a group of British soldiers on the eve of action in the 1944 wartime drama 'The Way Ahead'.[20]

Errol Flynn sings a chorus only version of "Lily of Laguna" in the 1954 British film “Lilacs in the Spring”, released in the US as Let's Make Up.[21][22]

The song was released as a 45 rpm single by Stanley Holloway in 1960.[23]

The song was covered by Alvin and the Chipmunks for their 1960 album Around the World with The Chipmunks.

In the 1960s the song was performed by a British blackface group on the BBC's The Black and White Minstrel Show.[24] Later sensitivities eventually made this whole genre and the original lyrics of the song unacceptable for public broadcasting.[25]

We Are The Navy Blues, the team song of the Australian Football League club Carlton, uses the tune of the chorus of "Lily of Laguna".


Stuart, Leslie (1898). Wikisource link to The Lily of Laguna. J Albert & Son, under license from Francis Day and Hunter. Wikisource. 

  1. ^ Famous Blaceface Performers Eugene Stratton & George H.Elliott An analysis and exploration of the function of Music Hall in its wider social context at The function of musichall. Accessed 2013
  2. ^ Popular Music in England 1840–1914: A Social History By Dave Russell , Manchester University Press, 1997 , ISBN 0719052610
  3. ^ a b c Lamb, p. 69.
  4. ^ Lamb, p. 70.
  5. ^ Lamb, pp. 70–71.
  6. ^ Lily Of Laguna, sung by Eugene Stratton Recorded 1 February 1911, it was issued by HMV as a single sided 12" (Cat. No. 02341), later to be paired with: 'I May Be Crazy', Cat. No. C-556. Accessed April 2013
  7. ^ Lamb, p. 71.
  8. ^ Stuart died at 3 a.m. 27 March. Lamb, p. 258.
  9. ^ Continuum Encyclopedia of Popular Music of the World Volume 8: Genres: North America Bloomsbury Publishing, 2012, Page 331 ISBN 1441160787
  10. ^ a b Bing Crosby Mary Martin , Lily of Laguna 1941 78RPM DECCA RECORD. Accessed April 2013
  11. ^ Bing Crosby And Mary Martin – Lily Of Laguna Label: Decca – 18278 Format: Shellac, 10", 78 RPM Country: US Released: 1942 at
  12. ^ See Wikisource material.
  13. ^ Pritzker, Barry M. A Native American Encyclopedia: History, Culture, and Peoples. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000. ISBN 978-0-19-513877-1
  14. ^ Pueblo of Laguna Laguna, New Mexico US National Park Service, Route 66, Accessed April 2013
  15. ^ Lily of Laguna – G H Elliot 1934 film clip Those were the days. (Some suggest this is in fact Tom Finglass.)
  16. ^ Lily of Laguna (1938) at the IMBD. Accessed April 2013
  17. ^ You Will Remember Your Colossal Main Feature Plus Full Sup Volume 7 of Hollywood classics , John Reid, 2005. ISBN 1411629094
  18. ^ You Will Remember British Film Institute. Accessed 2013
  19. ^ AFN History (1945–1983) "This is AFN ..." By Trent Christman, Armed Forces Network, Europe, Accessed April 2013
  20. ^ The Way Ahead Clip of 'Lily of Laguna' sung by soldiers in North Africa. 1944
  21. ^ Lilacs in the Spring at the IMDB website. Accessed April 2013
  22. ^ Errol Flynn singing in 1954 . Accessed 2013
  23. ^ Stanley Holloway – Lily Of Laguna at Label: Pye Records – 7N 15302 Accessed April 2013
  24. ^ Lamb, p. 263.
  25. ^ Lamb, p. 264.


  • Andrew Lamb (2002). Leslie Stuart: composer of Floradora. Routledge. ISBN 0-415-93747-7.
  • Banton M, (1980), The Idiom of Race: A Critique of Presentism, Research in Race and Ethnic Relations, vol.2, pages 21–42
  • Bratton J S, (1986), Music Hall Performance and Style, Milton Keynes : Open University Press
  • Mackenzie J M, (1984), Propaganda and the Empire: the Manipulation of British Public Opinion, Manchester: Manchester University Press
  • Mellor G J, (1970), Northern Music Hall, Newcastle : Frank Graham
  • Padgett K W, Black-face – A Brief History Of Blackface, San Diego, found at
  • Rosset N, (2005), The Birth of the African Glen: Blackface Minstrelsy Between Presentation and Representation, Rethinking History, vol.9, no.4, pages 415–428
  • Cheshire D.F, (1974) Music Hall in Britain, Devon: David and Charles

External links[edit]