Era Inducted To: Pioneer Era
Probably the most famous “stuttering song” of all time, Geoffrey O’Hara’s lively comic masterpiece K-K-K-Katy has endured as one of World War I’s most popular songs.
There are differing claims about how O’Hara came to write K-K-K-Katy. He may have written it while visiting Kingston, Ontario or his home in Chatham, Ontario; or, as he told “Maclean’s” magazine, he may have written it while stationed at Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia. The song might have been first performed at a Red Cross fund-raising garden party in Collins Bay, Ontario. The ‘Katy’ in the lyrics was likely his sister’s friend, Katherine Richardson. In any case, by early 1918 O’Hara introduced his new sing-along composition to troops in the southern USA, where he taught singing for the US Army. There, music publisher Leo Feist discovered the song. And the rest, as they say, is history. K-K-K-Katy spread like wildfire via gramophone recordings, sheet music, and word of mouth as the Canadian, American and British troops marched through Europe.
Feist published the sheet music for piano and voice, subtitled “The Sensational Stammering Song Success Sung by the Soldiers and Sailors,” in March 1918. The cover featured a young man in uniform shyly holding the hands of a young lady with long brown hair in ringlets, wearing a bonnet and a gingham dress.
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’ Jimmy is a brave soldier who becomes tongue-tied with nerves when confronted with a beautiful girl.
Billy Murray, the popular tenor, had a hit with the version (containing modified lyrics) he recorded the same month for Victor on 78-rpm disc, with “A Submarine Attack” on the reverse; it sold at department stores for 90 cents. 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. Recognizing the vogue for patriotic songs, Feist also marketed K-K-K-Katy in the 80-page patriotic songbook “Songs the Soldiers and Sailors Sing,” boasting ‘music will help win the war!’, and published additional versions for male quartet, band, and orchestra.
With the sale of over 1.5 million copies of sheet music by 1921, K-K-K-Katy was an enormous success. (O’Hara, however, earned only one cent per copy for the sheet music.) It even spawned a few imitators, such as The Daughter of K-K-K-Katy Loves a Nephew of Uncle Sam.
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. Its melody was revived yet again as K-K-K-Kuwaitis for the Gulf War on the album “Sheik, Rattle & Roll” by satire group Capitol Steps. The song has for over 90 years been a staple inclusion in sheet music anthologies and recorded compilations of World War I songs.
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.
K-K-K-Katy ranks with Pack Up Your Troubles and It’s a Long Way to Tipperary as one of the legendary songs of World War I.
Geoffrey O’Hara (1882-1967), a Canadian-American songwriter, composer, singer and musician, was born and educated in Chatham, Ontario. He began his career as a bank clerk, and later wrote successful art songs, popular songs, and hymns. A charter member of ASCAP, he taught song-writing at Columbia University.