What was Sister Susie’s Playing?
[5 August 1932] I remember very well your singing One of the Family and Sister Susie's Playing. You always made the same mistake in one line of the latter, a mistake prompted by politeness and encouraged by conviviality, for you sang 'would make both you and I sick' instead of 'would make both me and you sick'.
Selected Letters (1957) p. 365 [to Alf Bergan]
Joyce remembered his father’s old friend Alf Bergan singing two songs: One of the Family and Sister Susie’s Playing. The songs are not identified in Ellmann’s edition of the letters nor (apparently) in other commentaries.
One of the Family
One of the Family is not particularly mysterious or hard to track down. It was a comic song, written and composed by Fred Murray and Fred W. Leigh, and sung to acclaim by the popular George Beauchamp. The song was published in London in 1895 by Francis, Day and Hunter.
Sister Susie’s Playing
The second of Alf Bergan’s songs is referred to as Sister Susie’s Playing. This is not the name of any known song. Fortunately Joyce gives us a hint about how to find it, as he points out that Alf would always “correct” the wording from 'would make both me and you sick” to “would make both you and I sick”.
The music publishers Francis, Day and Hunter had published “One of the Family” in 1895. Seven years earlier, in 1888, the previous incarnation of the company, Francis Bros. & Day, had published a comic minstrel song called Rootity toot, she plays the Flute, written and composed by Arthur West, and arranged by George Le Brunn. This song became an instant hit. It was placed on the programme, for instance, of the Sudbury Conservative Smoking Concert, alongside “Be always kind to animals”, “A Model from Madame Tussaud’s”, and “The Merry, Little, Grey, Fat Man”, in October 1888, where it was sung by Mr Edward Mann.6
In the next few years references to the song turn up as far afield as India and New Zealand. There were also other “Sister Susies” on the music-hall circuit. Mr Eugene Stratton, by chance on display in Dublin on Bloomsday (U 6.184), would regale audiences with “She’s my little sister Susie”8, and as the First World War began ladies were invited to put their sewing skills to good use for the war effort, to the sound of Sister Susie's sewing shirts for soldiers (1914) (and its many imitations), again copyright Francis, Day & Hunter, London.
Photograph: Vivien Igoe
1 Argonaut (1918), 19 January p. 39/1.
3 The sheet-music reminds performers that “This Song may be sung in public without Fee or Licence, except at Music Halls.” Another version, recalled as sung at the time, contains similar but slightly different words (end of verse one and chorus (Dalton Gang Letter, April 1997, No. 38):
4 Ainsworth’s Magazine (1842), vol. 1 p. 99.
5 William Chappell The Ballad Literature and Popular Music of the Olden Time (1855), vol. 2 p. 549.
6 Bury and Norwich Post (1888), 9 October p. 3.
7 Sporting Times (1888), 8 December p. 5.
8 Era (1900), 12 May and 9 June.
9 Famous Comic Songs of England and America (New York: T. B. Harms,1891), pp. 85ff. See also "American Old Time Song Lyrics": http://www.traditionalmusic.co.uk/songster/26-rootity-toot,-she-plays-the-flute.htm, citing Wehman’s Universal Songster, vol. 26.
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