“Baby.” Words by Raymond W. Peck and music by Percy Wenrich (1922); featured in the Broadway musical Castles in the Air (1926). Recorded by Elsie Carlisle, accompanied by Carroll Gibbons and an unidentified violinist, on April 5, 1927. HMV B2489.
Video by David Weavings (YouTube)
“Baby (Fox-trot Lullaby)” was written in 1922 but was most prominently featured four years later in Castles in the Air, a musical comedy of manners that saw moderate success in 1926 on Broadway (less so the next year in London, where the show had only 28 performances). The lyrics have a surprisingly simple thesis, suggesting that “old-fashioned lullabies” have given way to modern “fox-trot lullab[ies],” that babies are no longer rocked in cradles but rather in the arms of dancing parents. The song tries to make its point with an introduction that roughly resembles a lullaby but that gives way to a catchy, fast-paced refrain. It would appear that Peck and Wenrich did not originate the notion of a foxtrot lullaby, as there had been a 1921 song entitled “Nestle in My Loving Arms — A Lullaby Fox-Trot.”
Elsie Carlisle successfully realizes the conceit of “Baby” by applying sweet earnestness to the intro at a measured pace but then propelling her way into the refrain. At the end of the song she repeats the refrain in a slow, dreamy way, thus integrating the ideas of “foxtrot” and “lullaby” into one. In the middle of the recording there is a remarkably good, quick-paced violin solo. The identity of the violinist is unknown; a contemporary review in Melody Maker suggests that it could be Hugo Rignold, although the reviewer gets the pianist wrong, suggesting that he is Arthur Young (we can be fairly sure that it is Carroll Gibbons).1
“Baby” was recorded in America in 1926 by Roger Wolfe Kahn and His Orchestra (with vocals by Billy Jones) and by Virginia Rea and Franklyn Baur (accompanied by the Brunswick Hour Orchestra). In 1927 it was recorded in Britain by Jack Hylton and His Orchestra twice (directed the first time by Chappie d’Amato, as Jack Hylton had been injured in a car accident, in a session whose output was rejected by HMV, and the second time by Jack Hylton himself). It was also recorded by the Debroy Somers Band (with vocalist Bobby Sanders), Hal Christie’s Dance Orchestra (directed by Bert Firman), Victor Sterling and His Band, the Raymond Dance Band (directed by Stan Greening), Alfredo’s Band (with singer Peter Bernard), Will Hurst’s Band (with vocals by Maurice Elwin), and the Savoy Orpheans (directed by Carroll Gibbons, in a selection from Castles in the Air).
- The Melody Maker and British Metronome 2.20 (August 1, 1927): 784. ↩