In late July 1943, RAF Bomber Command mounted four raids against the civilian population of Hamburg that resulted in the deaths of approximately 45,000 women, children, and (mainly elderly) men. Martin Middlebrook, in The Battle of Hamburg: The Firestorm Raid, describes the lighthearted mood of the city as its citizens enjoyed themselves on the Saturday evening of July 24, unaware that the first round of devastation would be unleashed on them within a few hours:
The drinking halls were mainly full, although there were more female patrons than men. Beer and schnapps were in short supply but wine was plentiful, although not really thirst-quenching on this hot evening. The restaurant beneath the Rathaus, the Ratskeller, was a favorite rendezvous. ‘It was a good place for us middle-class girls. The food was good and we could order a bottle of wine and sit round a table, talking. Our reputation was safe there.’ All dancing and private parties were forbidden by direct order of Hitler; the civilians at home were not to enjoy such pleasures while the men at the front were having such a hard time. But a few dances and parties did take place just the same. Suites at the best hotels—the Atlantic, the Esplanade and the Reichshof—could be hired by private parties of the privileged class and discreet dances were taking place there. There could even be parties in homes—perhaps to celebrate an engagement or a soldier’s return for leave—provided one’s neighbor’s could be trusted not to report the celebration. In some of these parties, the forbidden English and American dance records so loved by the bright young things of Hamburg could be brought out and played. One such girl remembers her favorite: ‘Boo Hoo, You’ve Got Me Crying for You.’
My mother turned eighty last week and, rather than having an elaborate party, she chose to spend a few days in one of Sydney’s best hotels: inviting her friends for meals, to play bridge, visit the nearby museums, or see a movie. On the night of her birthday, while we we were dining at the hotel, I asked whether she remembered Boo Hoo.
“Oh, yes!” she told us. “I loved that song. It starts ‘Oh you meanie minie mo…’ But I can’t remember who used to play it.”
Google turned up the lyrics to Boo Hoo, proving that, sixty years later, my mother’s memory remains excellent:
Oh you meanie minie mo,
When you let me go
You let me in the middle of next week
When you said you’d let me go
Did I holler “No”
Now the tears are rolling down my cheek
Boohoo, you’ve got me crying for you
And as I sit here and sigh
Says I, “I can’t believe it’s true”
Boohoo, I’ll tell my mama on you,
The little game that you played
Has made her baby oh so blue
You left me in the lurch
You left me waiting at the church;
Boohoo that’s why I’m crying for you
Some day you’ll feel like I do
And you’ll be boohoo hoo in too.
The song is credited to Mal Hallett (also spelled “Hallet”). The Edison Project describes him thus:
Mal Hallet, who at six and a half feet tall, waxed moustache, and wavy hair, was an impressive band leader; a graduate from the Boston Conservatory of Music. During WWI, he toured France as a member of the Al Moore Orch. He began his career as a bandleader recording for Edison in 1929 shortly after Edison began producing lateral-cut discs. In the 1930’s, his orchestra toured all over the New England states, usually in one-nighters. He was pioneering a “swing band” before swing bands had been invented, and included many accomplished musicians who would later achieve fame as great sidemen. Among these are: Gene Krupa, Toots Mondello, Jack Teagarden, and Frankie Carle. Mal Hallet died in 1952 in Boston, MA.
A CD, titled Mal Hallett and His Orchestra (1926-1941), contains digitally restored versions of 25 of his songs, including Wang Wang Blues, Too Marvelous for Words, Where The Lazy River Goes By, and She’s a Cornfed Indiana Girl, though not—unfortunately—Boo Hoo.
When I first read Martin Middlebrook’s book, I connected Boo Hoo with Busby Berkeley movies such as Footlight Parade, 42nd Street, and Gold Diggers of 1933. Although Mal Hallett wasn’t actually associated with those films, this reminiscence by Elizabeth M. Horton—quoted by John M. Holman in a story about the Dance Carnival at Hampton Beach in New Hampshire—suggests that Hallett’s music offered the same kind of innocent sophistication as Ruby Keeler and Dick Powell singing Guy Lombardo’s By a Waterfall (“By a waterfall, I’m calling you-oo-oo-oo…”):
“I remember that dance hall as a place of pure glamor! We girls of towns 10 or 15 miles away seemed to make it every night during the summer. In my crowd, someone had a car. The dance floor was so beautiful, the fellows (we called the best and most attractive ones ‘cageys’), so handsome in their wide bottom gray flannels-plus fours (or even plus eights) worn with colored argyle type golf hose and such-like apparel. (No ragged jeans in those days!) The girls wore short dresses, short hair but curly, and rolled silk stockings (not yet nylon) and fancy garters to keep them up. When the nights were hot, the management opened the windows on the ocean side and delicious breezes wafted over the dance floor. Murphy’s Orchestra was very good always, but the greatest attraction was Mal Hallet on a Saturday night. We all thrilled to the music of Mal Hallet and when he went into his feature, the band would demonstrate such pieces as ‘Horses, Horses, Horses’ accompanied by the members standing up and riding hobby horses (which now seems more corny than it was). Also, they played and acted out ‘Collegiate, Collegiate, Yes, We Are Collegiate ….’. This called for a freshman cap and a crazy outfit. Others, too, but I forget. One piece I remember particularly, was called ‘After The Storm’. Then the music would roar, the lights would go out and all was dark until the make-believe storm was upon us and the ‘lightning’ would flash while the lights would go on and off and the roar of the music was really something!quot;
It’s impossible to ignore the poignant connections between the two young women: the American girl on a warm summer night thrilling to the fake thunder and lightning and the “roar” of the orchestra in a dance hall that would be destroyed by fire in 1929; and the German girl who would hear the roar of the bombers, see the incendiaries raining from the sky, and whose favorite song was Mal Hallett’s Boo Hoo, You’ve Got Me Crying for You.