Category Archives: Sheet Music Covers

Comments on some special, funny or beautiful covers

In Love with Nanook: Eskimomania

Amoureuse de Nanouck (Oogie-Oogie Wa-Wa)’ by Archie Gottler. French Lyrics by Léo Lelièvre & Henri Varna. Published by Francis-Day (Paris, 1923) and illustrated by Dorothy Dulin.

The Parisian flapper dressed in her fashionable fur-trimmed winter coat is obviously infatuated with Nanook, an Inuk hunter. We can imagine that she travelled so far up North to meet the subject of her fancy, after having seen him in a Paris cinema. Nanook of the North, a docudrama filmed by Robert Flaherty in 1922 was a world-wide sensation that prompted an ‘Eskimo craze’ in the Western world.

From 1910 Flaherty had made a few explorations to the North. At one moment he started shooting film of the Inuit life. In 1916 he had collected enough footage for a movie, but he lost almost all of it by dropping a cigarette onto the highly inflammable film. Flaherty returned to the North and this time concentrated on one Inuit family. His cinéma-vérité tour de force is considered a masterpiece even if most of it was staged. Nanook wasn’t the real name of the protagonist and his children were not his real children, nor were his wives his real wives. During the filming these ‘wives’ even became Flaherty’s mistresses. And with one of them he had a child that he later abandoned.

Promotional poster for the 1922 docudrama Nanook of the North. Wikimedia Commons.

Since it would have been impossible to film inside the dark interior of an igloo, a special set was built consisting of half an igloo. The film was meant to give impressions from the far north of the Polar Regions. In reality Flahertys shots conveniently came from the north-eastern part of Hudson Bay. But at that time there were no rules for filming a documentary.

Nanook of the North was a kind of advertising film distributed by Pathé. It was financed by the Parisian fur traders Revillon Frères. They were the largest fur company in France with branches in London, New York and Montréal, and 125 fur trading posts. Nanook of the North was filmed near one of their trading posts at Inukjuak, Quebec.

Oogie Oogie Wa Wa‘ by Archie Gottler, Grant Clarke & Edgar Leslie, published by Mack Stark & Rubey Cowan (New York 1922). Cover illustration by Rosenbaum.

After the release of the film, Margaret Young introduced the humorous song Oogie Oogie Wa Wa in vaudeville, a song with the usual double entendre. Quickly the song became one of the popular tunes of the day and was translated in French as Amoureuse de Nanouck. It was one of Al Jolson’s greatest hits. At one point it was banned from being played at local music pavilions until it had been analysed by the Morals Committee.

Girls like simple things,
Beads and ten cent rings,
They kiss you for a chocolate drop,
Imagine if a fellow had a candy shop…

Around the same time, Salabert published the song South Sea Moon. I don’t know what got into Roger de Valerio when he illustrated the cover for this song with a couple of Inuit resembling Nanook and one of his ‘wives’. One normally associates the South Sea with tropical Islands and blue lagoons.

South Sea Moon‘ by Louis A. Hirsh, Gene Buck & Dave Stamper, published by Salabert (Paris, 1922) and illustrated by Roger de Valerio.

Maybe he confused it with the Southern Ocean? But then again, in his drawing de Valerio combined penguins (living in the Antarctic region) with the happy-looking Inuit couple (living in the Arctic).

Still from the mockumentary ‘Qallunaat: Why White People are Funny’.

In the mockumentary ‘Qallunaat: Why White People are Funny’ a man from the Book Correction Division is crossing out with a marker all the penguins in drawings where they are pictured together with polar bears. The film is written from the Inuit perspective on the oddities of Qallunaat, the Inuit word for white people.
Quite Humoreskimo!

Humoreskimo‘ by Alfred Bryan, Pete Wendling & Henri Berchman. Published by Sam Fox (1928, Paris), unknown illustrator.

I have to end this post with one of my favourite songs from the seventies: Don’t Eat the Yellow Snow by Frank Zappa, about a man who dreams that he was an Eskimo named Nanook.

And my momma cried:
Boo-a-hoo hoo-ooo
And my momma cried:
Nanook-a, no no (no no . . . )
Nanook-a, no no (no no . . . )
Don’t be a naughty Eskimo-wo-oh
(Bop-bop ta-da-da bop-bop Ta-da-da)

An’ she said
(Bop-bop ta-da-da bop . . . )
With a tear in her eye:
Watch out where the huskies go
An’ don’t you eat that yellow snow

Even damnation is poisoned with rainbows (Leonard Cohen)

valerio-regenboog
Where’s that rainbow‘ by Richard Rogers & Lorenz Hart, published by Salabert (Paris, 1928). Illustration attributed to Roger de Valerio.

The song Where’s that Rainbow was originally written in 1928. Much later it was sung in the film Words and Music, a fictionalized story about the songwriting duo Rodgers and Lorenz. In this clip of the 1948 film, it is not the song but the rainbow-coloured petticoats that steal my attention!

Chasing rainbows in our collection, I found these two similarly inventive illustrations. The right one is by Würth for There’s a Rainbow round my Shoulder (1928). He may have been inspired by André de TaKacs‘ drawing of 1918 for the song I Found the End of the Rainbow.

regenbogen
Left: ‘I Found the End of the Rainbow‘ by Mears, Tierney & Mc Carthy, published by McCarthy & Fisher inc. (New York, 1918) and illustrated by André De TaKacs. Right: ‘There’s a Rainbow round my Shoulder‘ by Jolso, Rose & Dreyer, published by Francis-Day (Paris, 1928) and illustrated by Würth.

Another imaginative cover places the woman in a less glamorous role, although she seems content to knit her own fantasy.1

Celanese', by Howard Flynn and John P. Harrington
Celanese’, by Howard Flynn and John P. Harrington (The St. Giles Publishing Company, London, 1923). Illustration J. W.

All these rainbow images are but a preamble to share with you a gem of a short film by Len Lye.
In 1936 Lye, born in New Zealand, made an experimental film in England promoting a Post Office Savings Bank. It was called Rainbow Dance and ended with the words: “The Post Office Savings Bank puts a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow for you. No deposit too small for the Post Office Savings Bank.” The film is an experiment with colour and rhythm. In it Lye uses abstract backgrounds, collage effects, live footage and direct-to-film animation effects. The psychedelic film starts with purple rain avant la lettre. Then we see a city dweller morphing into coloured asterisks, a musician, a hiker and a tennis player. When the tennis player makes a leap, he leaves behind a trace of colourful silhouettes like a futuristic painting.

Be patient please, we’ ll show the film at the end. But first this.

Copyright Doncaster Museum Service
Left: Rupert Doone, woodcut by Edward Wadsworth (1921). Right: Rupert Doone, by Nina Hamnett, Copyright Doncaster Museum.

The silhouetted dancer in Lye’s Rainbow Dance is Rupert Doone, a one-time lover of Jean Cocteau. While Doone whirled his moves before a white screen, a gramophone played Tony’s Wife, a wonderful rumba by Burton Lane. Lane would later compose the score for the musical Finian’s Rainbow: a story about an Irishman who has stolen a leprechaun’s pot of gold.

finians-rainbow
When I’m not near the girl I love‘ from Finian’s rainbow by Burton Lane and E. Y. Harburg, published by Chapell & C° (London, 1946) and illustrated by Don Freeman.

I’ll let you decide what to think of Francis Ford Coppola’s attempt to turn the musical into a film. In the clip Tommy Steele plays an obnoxious leprechaun and Barbara Hancock a dancing nymph. It was filmed in 1968, but even then must have looked outdated.

And now the long-promised Rainbow Dance, the phantasmagorical 1936 film by Len Lye. Feast your eyes !


  1. Actually the lady is knitting with celanese, a combination of ‘cellulose acetate’ and ‘ease of care’, referring to the easy wear of acetate fabrics, as promoted by the chemical company Celanese.

The Abstracts, part 2

'O Lady be Good' by George and Ira Gershwin. Sheet Music published by Editions Francis Salabert, Paris, 1925. Cover illustrated by Roger de Valerio.
O Lady be Good‘ by George and Ira Gershwin. Sheet Music published by Editions Francis Salabert, Paris, 1925. Cover illustrated by Roger de Valerio.

Roger de Valerio, the king of sheet music illustration, often used abstract forms and patterns. In his cover for Gershwin’s ‘O Lady Be Good‘, de Valerio accentuates the intimacy and tender affection of an enamoured couple in contrast to the fiery and exuberant world around it. Fabien Loris (see The Abstracts, part 1) and Roger de Valerio were inventive and humorous in their figurative drawing. But both had also the resourcefulness to apply geometrical forms, shapes and planes of colour in a refreshing, original style. As in these catchy de Valerio’s designs.

Mountain Greenery: sheet music illustration by Roger de Valerio
Mountain Greenery‘ by Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart (Salabert, Paris, 1926). Illustration by Roger de Valerio.
'Do I hear you saying?'. A cover design by Roger de Valerio (1928)
Do I hear you saying?‘ by Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart, publisher Francis Salabert (Paris, 1928). Cover design: Roger de Valerio.
Illustration by R. de Valerio for sheet music 'Un cœur une Chaumière'.
Un cœur une Chaumière‘ by René Sylviano, Jacques-Charles & Léo Lelièvre (Salabert, Paris, 1929). Illustration R. de Valerio.

Roger de Valerio used colours and patterns very functionally to obtain his primary goal: pull the attention to the music title, and sell it! Here is a vibrant example of how he succeeded for a song from the Zig-Zag revue, played at the Folie Bergères at the time the armistice was signed in November 1918.

Sheet music illustration by R. de Valerio for the revue Tig-zag
Will-o’-the Wisp‘ (Zig-zag revue), by Dave Stamper & Gene Buck. Publications Francis Salabert, Paris, 1915, illustration by R. de Valerio.

Because a publisher like Francis Salabert not only distributed music, but also was involved in financially managing the shows, he was often insistent that the cover showed an image of the vedettes. His favourite illustrator De Valerio knew how to deal with it, and skilfully arranged photographs, combining them with graphics.

Sheet music 'Perdon!' illustrated by Roger de Valerio., 1929.
Perdon!’ by José Sentis, published by Salabert (Paris, 1929), with a photo of femme fatale looking Rosita Barrios (photographer G. Marant), illustrated by Roger de Valerio.
'J'vous ferai voir', illustrated by de Valerio (1925).
J’vous ferai voir‘ by Henri Christiné and Albert Willemetz (from the revue ‘Paris en Fleurs’ with Maurice Chevalier and Yvonne Vallée). Publications Francis Salabert (Paris, 1925), probably illustrated by de Valerio.
'Frescuras'
Frescuras‘ and ‘Amargura‘, two tangos by the Brasilian-French composer José Lucchesi. Publisher: Salabert, Paris, 1929. Photography Sobol. The cover was probably designed by R. de Valerio, and printed in different colours (at the same time, as proven by the consecutive publisher numbers E.A.S. 5573 and 5574).

Some more of de Valerio’s abstract designs? Here they come.

'Le bout du nez', sheet music, designs attributed to R. de Valerio (1922 & 1928)
Le bout du nez‘, by Charles Cuvillier (Salabert, Paris, 1922) and ‘The Blue Room‘ by Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart (Salabert, Paris, 1928). Both designs attributed to R. de Valerio.
Abstract sheet music covers illustrated by Roger de Valerio.
Le Charleston Blues‘ by Henderson, De Sylva and Brown. Right: ‘Get a Load of This‘ by Harry Archer & Harlan Thompson. Both published by Salabert (Paris, 1926) and illustrated by de Valerio.
Absteact designs by Roger de Valerio for sheet music (1929)
Left: ‘La Calinda‘ by Herman Hupfeld and Huntley Trevor. Right: ‘Judy‘ by Pierre Norman, Jacques Murray & Marc Hély. Both sheet music published by Salabert in Paris, 1929, and designed by Roger de Valerio (left one unsigned).
Sheet music covers signed R. de Valerio.
Por tu culpa‘ by Manuel Jovès and P. Maroni, published by Salabert (Paris, 1928), most likely illustrated by de Valerio. Right: ‘As it were‘ by Y. P. Mullow (Salabert, Paris, 1929), signed R. de Valerio.

While in the 1920’s Loris and de Valerio were applying abstract art in their music covers to create movement, other artists (especially in Germany) were exploring motion and timing of abstract images, in an effort to equal the expressiveness of musical compositions. One such avant-gardist was Walter Ruttmann, who made his first short film Lichtspiel (Game of Light) in 1921.
The music for string quartet was specially composed by Max Butting for the eleven minutes of film. In the original score Ruttman inserted drawings and other indications on how to precisely synchronise the music to the motion. The lightly-hypnotic effect of the film is remarkable in the finale (starting at 10′). And wake up… when I snap my fingers.