Songs with Earlier Histories Than the Hit Version

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Tagged: Harry Belafonte

Scarlet Ribbons (For Her Hair)

First recorded by Dinah Shore (1949).
Hit versions by Jo Stafford (US #14 1950), Harry Belafonte & Millard Thomas (UK #18 1957), The Browns (US #13 1959).

From the wiki: “‘Scarlet Ribbons (For Her Hair)’ is a popular song. The music was written by Evelyn Danzig, with lyrics by Jack Segal, in only 15 minutes in 1949 at Danzig’s home in Port Washington, New York after she invited lyricist Segal to hear the music. The first Recordings of the song by Dinah Shore and Juanita Hall in 1949 made no great impression but, in 1950, Jo Stafford’s recording breached the US Top 20. In 1952, Harry Belafonte, at his third session for RCA Records, covered the song with an arrangement using only his guitarist Millard Thomas and male vocal group. After receiving continually good responses in concert, Belafonte’s four-year-old recording finally became a success in 1956 after it appeared on his second album which reached #1 on Billboard’s album chart for six weeks. Belafonte’s recording also reached the UK Top 20 in late 1957.

“The most successful recording of ‘Scarlet Ribbons (For Her Hair)’ in the USA was recorded b The Browns, who reached #13 on the Billboard Hot 100 in December 1959. ‘Scarlet Ribbons’ has since become a standard with many recorded versions and has appeared on several Christmas albums.”

Man Smart (Woman Smarter)

Written and first recorded by King Radio (1937).
Hit version by Robert Palmer (US #63 1976).
Also recorded by Harry Belfonte (1956), Robert Mitchum (1957), The Carpenters (1977).

From the wiki: “The Calypso song ‘Man Smart (Woman Smarter)’ was written and first recorded by King Radio (Norman Span) in 1937. Variations of the song have been recorded by many artists including Harry Belafonte, Chubby Checker, Rosanne Cash, Robert Mitchum, and The Carpenters. Robert Palmer charted in the Billboard Hot 100 with his 1976 cover recording. ‘Man Smart (Woman Smarter)’ was also a staple of the live repertoire of the Grateful Dead from 1981 to 1995.”

Cotton Fields

Written and first recorded by Lead Belly (1940).
Also recorded by Odetta (1954), Harry Belafonte (1958).
Hit versions by The Highwaymen (US #13 1961), The Beach Boys (UK #5 1970).

From the wiki: “‘Cotton Fields’ was written by Blues musician Huddie Ledbetter, better known as Lead Belly, who made the first recording of the song in 1940. ‘Cotton Fields’ was introduced into the canon of Folk music via its inclusion on the 1954 album release Odetta & Larry which comprised performances by Odetta and accompanist Larry Mohr at the Tin Angel nightclub in San Francisco. The song’s profile was boosted via its recording by Harry Belafonte first on his 1958 albums Belafonte Sings the Blues and Belafonte at Carnegie Hall. (Belafonte had learned ‘Cotton Fields’ from Odetta and been singing it in concert as early as 1955.) The song entered Pop culture with the #13 hit recording in 1961 by The Highwaymen. The Beach Boys reached the UK Top 5 with a 1968 recording, released as a single in 1970, of ‘Cotton Fields’.”

Day-O (The Banana Boat Song)

First recorded (as “Day Dah Light”) by Edric Conner & The Caribbeans (1952).
Hit versions by The Tarriers (US #4/R&B #14/UK #15 1956), The Fontane Sisters (US #13 1956), Sarah Vaughn (US #19 1956), Harry Belafonte (US #5/R&B #7/UK #2 1957).

From the wiki: “The song was originally a Jamaican folk song. Its popular version was adapted by Barbadian Irving Burgie. It was thought to be sung by Jamaican banana workers, with a repeated melody and refrain (call and response); with each set lyric there would be a response from the workers but using many different sets of lyrics, some possibly improvised on the spot.

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