Like George Gershwin’s “Poppyland,” this is another opium-themed song from the 1919 revue Morris Gest’s Midnight Whirl. Limehouse refers to a part of London which was home to many Chinese immigrants. A critic at the time considered “Limehouse Nights” to be the “prettiest melody” of the show. Gershwin liked the song enough to record it to a player piano roll, which can be heard on YouTube, and he even featured an fully orchestrated version of it on his 1934 radio show, Music by Gerswin.
In 1919, “Limehouse Nights” was sung onstage by Bessie McCoy Davis (“The Yama Yama Girl”) along with Mae Leslie, Margaret Morris, Peggy Fears, and Helen Lovett.
Co-lyricist John Henry Mears only wrote with George Gershwin (and Buddy DeSylva) on this one show. Only two of the songs from the show were published, so must of his work goes unheard. Mears was a Broadway producer who made his mark earlier AND later in life in a totally different field of endeavor when he set the record for fastest trips around the globe in 1913 and then again in 1928.
In my transcription and recording, I have played down the Chinese musical elements a bit, put it in 4/4, and added more of a swing rhythm.
Download the fake-book style sheet music to “Limehouse Nights” here: Limehouse Nights
Lyrics to “Limehouse Nights” by Buddy DeSylva and John Henry Mears:
London town is full of wonderful sights.
Charming days and dark mysterious nights.
But in the London slums,
just as the twilight comes
there is a captivating rendezvous.
It is known as Limehouse everywhere.
Dreamers go to seek forgetfulness there.
Its women quickly fade.
Its worthless men have made
Limehouse nights wonderful the whole world through.
Limehouse nights, where the hoppies glide to and fro.
Limehouse nights ‘neath the lantern lights softly glowing.
Many people dwell within its mystic spell.
From the world of care they’re free.
The lure of Limehouse nights and its soothing sights are calling me.