“Umbrella Man.” Words and music by James Cavanaugh, Larry Stock, and Vincent Rose (1938). Recorded by Elsie Carlisle with orchestral accompaniment on February 1, 1939. HMV BD 661.
Video by David Weavings (YouTube)
“Umbrella Man” is a slow waltz whose lyrics describe a tinker who specializes in umbrella repair. When work is slow, he will fix other commonplace things, such as socks, clocks, and the occasional broken heart. How he accomplishes the latter is not explained; it is a mere assertion. Elsie Carlisle lends sincerity to this simple song with her imitation of the umbrella man’s intoned value proposition (“Um-BRELL-as!… Any umb-er-ellas to fix today?”).
American Kay Kyser recorded his popular version of this song on September 1, 1938. By the end of that month, international attention focused on another Umbrella Man, British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, who was seldom photographed or even caricatured without his trademark umbrella. The doomed Munich Agreement signed with the Nazis had put Chamberlain in the international spotlight and may have revived interest in the song “Umbrella Man.” To be sure, many versions were recorded on both sides of the Atlantic, and by March, 1939 the Milwaukee Journal would report
The best selling [sic] song in the country today is “The Umbrella Man,” which owes a part of its popularity to British Prime Minister Chamberlain’s omnipresent umbrella… [D]ozens of cartoonists have used the song title as a text in describing the British statesman… Like many hits, no one wanted to publish it at first and it seemed destined for a pigeonhole until a bandleader got wind of it. Now “The Umbrella Man,” thanks to Neville Chamberlain, will yield its authors about $10,000 per man.
“Umbrella Man” was recorded in America in 1938-1939 by Kay Kyser and His Orchestra (with vocals by Harry Babbitt and Ginny Simms), Johnny Messner and His Orchestra (vocals by The Three Jacks), Swing and Sway with Sammy Kaye, Connee Boswell (accompanied by Woody Herman and His Orchestra), and the Benny Goodman Quintet.
In Britain it was recorded by Nat Gonella and His Georgians (v. Nat Gonella), Ambrose and His Orchestra (with vocals by Denny Dennis), Joe Loss and His Band (with vocalist Chick Henderson), Billy Cotton and His Band (with Alan Breeze, Jack Hylton and His Orchestra (with vocalist Sam Browne), Billy Thorburn’s The Organ, The Dance Band and Me (with vocals by George Barclay), Mantovani and His Orchestra (with Jack Plant), Josephine Bradley and Her Ballroom Orchestra (with Pat O’Regan singing), Harry Roy and His Orchestra (v. Harry Roy), Victor Silvester and His Ballroom Orchestra, and Maxwell Stewart’s Ballroom Melody. A notable version not done by a dance band is that of music hall comedians Flanagan and Allen.