The Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame (CSHF) proudly announces the induction of K-K-K-Katy, a lively comic masterpiece and popular World War I song, written by Geoffrey O’Hara. To celebrate the song’s induction, Canada’s sweetheart of swing, Juno nominee Alex Pangman, performs her rendition of K-K-K-Katy as part of the Hall of Fame’s Covered Classics series.
K-K-K-Katy was an enormous success for Chatham-born Geoffrey O’Hara. Written in 1917, the song was published a year later and was advertised on sheet music as “The Sensational Stammering Song Success Sung by Soldiers and Sailors” and spread like wildfire via gramophone recordings, sheet music, and word of mouth. K-K-K-Katy became known as a ‘goodbye song’ and was sung from coast to coast, and by the Canadian, U.S. and British troops overseas. By 1921, K-K-K-Katy sold over 1.5 million copies of sheet music.
A fine example of a comic novelty song, K-K-K-Katy has two verses and the famous refrain with its jaunty E-flat major melody, with the stuttered words rendered in a triplet rhythm. The lyrics tell the story of a brave soldier named Jimmy who becomes tongue-tied with nerves when confronted with a beautiful girl. It is considered to be one of the most famous stuttering songs of all time.
“K-K-K-Katy, beautiful Katy / You’re the only g-g-g-girl that I adore / When the m-m-m-moon shines / Over the c-c-c-cowshed / I’ll be waiting at the k-k-k-kitchen door.”
The ‘Katy’ referred to in the song was Katherine Richardson of Kingston, Ontario. According to the Richardson family, O’Hara composed the tune spontaneously while at a party at Kate’s house in Kingston, Ontario in 1917. Kate was the best friend of O’Hara’s sister, Kathleen.
Billy Murray, the popular tenor, helped popularize the song with his Victor recording in 1918. So great was the song’s popularity that by year’s end covers had been recorded by Eugene Buckley (pseudonym of Arthur Fields), the Marconi Brothers, Arthur Hall, John McDermott and Robert Lloyd.
K-K-K-Katy experienced a resurgence with World War II, being recorded by the Mellomen Quartet, Ray Benson and His Orchestra, Buddy Clark, and Mel Blanc in the 1940s. In the 1950s, recordings by The Four Sergeants, The West Point Cadet Glee Club, Meyer Davis and his orchestra, and ragtime pianist Johnny Maddox sustained its popularity.
The television shows “The Waltons,” “Perry Como’s Kraft Music Hall,” and “Boardwalk Empire” have played K-K-K-Katy to evoke its era, and it was sung in the war films “Pack Up Your Troubles” (1932), “The Shopworn Angel” (1938), “Tin Pan Alley” (1940), “For Me and My Gal” (1942), and “The Fighting Rats of Tobruk” (1944), and was referred to in the famous “The Way We Were” (1973) with Barbra Streisand and Robert Redford.
Geoffrey O’Hara (1882-1967), a Canadian-American songwriter, composer, singer and musician, was born and educated in Chatham, Ontario. As a teenager, he enrolled at the Royal Military College in Kingston, Ontario. Before long, many of the men in that regiment found themselves fighting at the Battle of Vimy Ridge. However, the world had another fate in store for O’Hara: music.
After his father died, O’Hara was forced to retire from the military. He headed south to perform on the Vaudeville circuit in the U.S. and soon landed a job with Edison Records, working in the recording industry. The American government hired him to record traditional First Nations songs and then – after war had broken out – to work as an instructor teaching patriotic tunes to the troops. O’Hara’s life was dedicated to music: he lectured about it, taught it, recorded it and performed it. A charter member of ASCAP, he taught song-writing at Columbia University.
Written by Geoffrey O’Hara
Performed by Alex Pangnam (accompanied by John Macleod on Cornet, Glenn Anderson on Drums, Peter Hill on Piano, Christopher Banks on Bass, Drew Jurecka on Violin)