Swanee (song)

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1919 "Swanee" sheet music with Jolson on the cover
Single by Al Jolson, "Incidental whistling by Mr. Jolson" (disc label)
B-side"My gal" by Frank Crumit
PublishedOctober 31, 1919 (1919-10-31) T. B. Harms & Francis, Day & Hunter, Inc., T.B. Harms, Inc., Warner Bros, Inc.
ReleasedApril 1920[1]
RecordedJanuary 9, 1920[2]
StudioNew York City
VenueSinbad (1919 Broadway musical)
GenrePopular Music
LabelColumbia A-2884 Label Printing Code BW (February 1920)
Composer(s)George Gershwin
Lyricist(s)Irving Caesar

"Swanee" is an American popular song written in 1919 by George Gershwin, with lyrics by Irving Caesar. It is most often associated with singer Al Jolson.

The song was written for a New York City revue called Demi-Tasse, which opened in October 1919 at the Capitol Theater. Caesar, who was then aged 24, claimed to have written the song in about ten minutes riding on a bus in Manhattan, finishing it at Gershwin's apartment. It was written partly as a parody of Stephen Foster's "Old Folks at Home", including the title in its lyrics. It was originally used as a big production number, with 60 chorus girls dancing with electric lights in their slippers on an otherwise darkened stage.[3]

Jolson versions[edit]

The song had little impact in its first show, but not long afterwards Gershwin played it at a party where Al Jolson heard it. Jolson then put it into his show Sinbad, already a success at the Winter Garden Theatre, and recorded it for Columbia Records in January 1920.[4] "After that", said Gershwin, "Swanee penetrated the four corners of the earth." The song was charted in 1920 for 18 weeks, holding the No. 1 position for nine.[5] It sold a million sheet music copies and an estimated two million records.[6] It became Gershwin's first hit and the biggest-selling song of his career; the money he earned from it allowed him to concentrate on theatre work and films rather than writing further single pop hits. Arthur Schwartz said: "It's ironic that he never again wrote a number equaling the sales of Swanee, which for all its infectiousness, doesn't match the individuality and subtlety of his later works."[7]

Jolson recorded the song several times in his career and performed it in the movies The Jolson Story (1946), Rhapsody in Blue (1945),[8] and Jolson Sings Again (1949). For the song's performance in The Jolson Story, Jolson, rather than actor Larry Parks, appeared as himself, filmed in long shot. Although usually associated with Jolson, "Swanee" has been recorded by many other singers, most notably Judy Garland in A Star Is Born.[3]

The song was also used by the Sydney Swans Australian Rules Football Club for its marketing promotions in the late 1990s.

The University of Florida's marching band, The Pride of the Sunshine, plays "Swanee" at Florida Gators football games.

Recorded versions[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Advance Record Bulletins for May 1920". The Talking Machine World. April 15, 1920: 243. 14 August 2021.
  2. ^ "Columbia A2884 (10-in. double-faced) - Discography of American Historical Recordings". adp.library.ucsb.edu. Retrieved 2021-08-14.
  3. ^ a b "Swanee song lyrics - George Gershwin". Archived from the original on 2016-11-07.
  4. ^ Al Jolson Society
  5. ^ CD liner notes: Chart-Toppers of the Twenties, 1998 ASV Ltd.
  6. ^ Britannica Educational Publishing (2009-10-01). The 100 Most Influential Musicians of All Time, p. 164. The Rosen Publishing Group. ISBN 9781615300563. Retrieved 2012-03-14.
  7. ^ Open Writing: Swanee Archived 2008-06-01 at the Wayback Machine
  8. ^ Gilliland, John (197X). "Show 16" (audio). Pop Chronicles. University of North Texas Libraries.

External links[edit]