There'll Be a Hot Time in the Old Town Tonight

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"A Hot Time In The Old Town"
Sheet music cover (1896).
Published 1896
Genre Ragtime
Songwriter(s) Composer: Theodore A. Metz
Lyricist: Joe Hayden

"A Hot Time in the Old Town" is an American ragtime song, copyrighted and perhaps composed in 1896 by Theodore August Metz with lyrics by Joe Hayden. Metz was the band leader of the McIntyre and Heath Minstrels.


One history of the song reports "While on tour with the McIntyre and Heath Minstrels, their train arrived at a place called 'Old Town'. From their train window, [Metz] could see a group of children starting a fire, near the tracks. One of the other minstrels remarked that 'there'll be a hot time in the old town tonight'. Metz noted the remark on a scrap of paper, intending to write a march with that motif. He did indeed write the march the very next day. It was then used by the McIntyre and Heath Minstrels in their Street parades."[1]

An alternative suggestion is that Metz first heard the tune played in about 1893 at Babe Connor's brothel, known as the Castle, in St Louis, Missouri, where it was one of the songs performed by the entertainer known as Mama Lou (or Mammy Lou), with pianist Tom Turpin.

And yet one more version is Metz and his Minstrels were in Hot Springs, SD, where Joe Hayden worked at the Evans Hotel.  Hayden had the song from his "growing up" days in New Orleans and he and Metz sat down and wrote the first version of "Hot Time" for a re-dedication ceremony for the local Chautauqua Park and Entertainment Center.  The tale is part of the 2015 book "And The Wind Whispered." 

According to a 1930s newspaper report, Mama Lou's original lyrics went: "Late last night about ten o'clock / I knocked at the door and the door was locked / I peeked through the blinds, thought my baby was dead / There was another man in the folding bed....".[2] Metz heard the tune, and had it incorporated into a minstrel show, "Tuxedo Girls" with revised lyrics, Metz copyrighting the music in his own name.[3][4]

The dialect and narrative of the song imitate an African-American revival meeting.[5]

Other uses[edit]

The song was a favorite of the American military around the start of the 20th century, particularly during the Spanish–American War and the Boxer Rebellion. [6] The tune became popular in the military after it was used as a theme by Teddy Roosevelt's Rough Riders. [7]

The song has also been tradition at the University of Wisconsin since the late 1890s when a Wisconsin-flavored arrangement was made. The University of Wisconsin Marching Band plays this arrangement regularly at sporting events, including the beginning of each period in Hockey and Basketball, and following touchdowns at football games.[8]Prior to the adoption of "The Victors" as the University of Michigan's official fight song, it was considered to be Michigan's school song. [9]

The chorus is also used at the University of Kansas immediately after every touchdown in football and following each basketball game during "The Waving of the Wheat".

The "Aggie War Hymn" of Texas A&M University currently uses the chorus of this song as its finale, but it is sung with different lyrics.

Also, the Eastern Illinois University marching band plays the song in conjunction with their fight song at athletic events.

The song is now frequently sung by fans of the Chicago Fire Soccer Club of Major League Soccer during matches, with lyrics reflecting the legend of Catherine O'Leary's cow's, alleged role in the team's namesake, the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. The Great Fire coincidentally burned much of the city's Old Town neighborhood, where the Chicago Fire Soccer Club held their first team practice in 1998 at the Moody Bible Institute.[10]

The song appears as an instrumental at the very end of the New Year's Eve scene in the stage and 1936 film versions of the musical Show Boat. The song is also featured in Citizen Kane, "are we going to declare war on Spain or are we not?".

Bing Crosby included the song in a medley on his album Join Bing and Sing Along (1959)

The Joker sings the title line from this song in a scene where he uses his "joy buzzer" to electrocute the character Antoine Rotelli in the 1989 film Batman.

Catwoman directly refers to the song title as Selina Kyle while asking Bruce Wayne if he plans to attend the tree relighting ceremony in the 1992 film "Batman Returns"

In 1964, the song was played for laughs at a "very" slow tempo by the Hooterville Volunteer Fire Department Band on the American sitcoms Petticoat Junction and Green Acres.

In 1994, the melody was used for "The Chewing Song" in the film "The Road to Wellville" by Columbia Pictures.

During the 1968 U.S. Presidential campaign; Richard Nixon's campaign saw him use part of the song (set to images of celebratory clips from the 1968 Democratic National Convention) mixed with more dissonant sounds accompanying pictures of poverty-stricken areas; soldiers wounded in Vietnam and the recent unrest; including the riots at that same Convention.[11]


  1. ^ "A Composer's and Lyricists Database". Theodore Metz. Archived from the original on April 2, 2003. 
  2. ^ "The Fabulous Babe Connors", unknown newspaper reprinted at 1889 Victorian House Restoration
  3. ^ Jeannette Cooperman, "Babe & Priscilla", St Louis, September 19, 2014. Retrieved 13 April 2017
  4. ^ John Aaron Wright, Discovering African American St. Louis: A Guide to Historic Sites, Missouri History Museum, 2002, pp.11-12
  5. ^ Finson, Jon W. (1997). The Voices That Are Gone: Themes in Nineteenth-Century American Popular Song. Oxford University Press. p. 222. Retrieved July 25, 2012. 
  6. ^ Browne, The Story of Our National Ballads, p. 208: "The witchery of this tune was such, that during our brief war with Spain, the Spaniards in Cuba were quite convinced that our National Anthem was named 'There'll be a Hot Time in the Old Town To-night.' At all events, the frolicsome tones of this unpretentious popular song are the most intimately associated of any, with the already dimming recollections of that 'whirlwind campaign'."
  7. ^ Tucker, Spencer C (editor) The Encyclopedia of the Spanish-American and Philippine-American Wars: A Political, Social, and Military History ABC-CLIO (2009) p. 768
  8. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2007-12-30. Retrieved 2007-11-05. 
  9. ^ "University of Michigan - Michiganensian Yearbook (Ann Arbor, MI), Class of 1999, Page 186". Retrieved 2016-07-26. 
  10. ^ "". Retrieved 2016-07-26. 
  11. ^ "Commercials - 1968 - Convention". The Living Room Candidate. Retrieved 2016-07-26. 


  • Browne, C.A. The Story of Our National Ballads. New York: Thomas Y. Crowell Company (1919).
  • Hayden, Joe (w.); Theo A. Metz (m.). "A Hot Time in the Old Town" (sheet music). New York: Willis Woodward & Co. (1896).

External links[edit]