Screen Shot 2017-05-16 at 2.42.14 PMThis is an extremely rare George Gershwin song, and for MANY reasons:

  • It was pulled from the show Dere Mable.
  • The show died in Baltimore, never making it to Broadway.
  • The broken English lyrics, as well as the nonsense lyrics are deemed inappropriate by many these days.
  • The Japanese musical references sound a bit cliched and ill-suited to modern performances.

The song “Yan-Kee” is a send-up of the very popular at the time “Poor Butterfly” which is a 1916 song based on Puccini’s opera Madame Butterfly. In the opera, Cio-Cio-san (which translates to Madame Butterfly) awaits the return of her love, Pinkerton. In the Gershwin/Caesar version Nan-Kee Soo awaits her Yan-Kee. The comedic twist of this song is that when Nan-Kee attempts to write her Yan-Kee to convince him to return, her English is so poor that he would be completely baffled at some of what she was saying.

When I recreated the sheet music in fake-book form, I chose to rewrite the lyrics in a less broken English style, thereby killing much of the comedic effect. I just couldn’t bring myself to use all of the original lyrics such as “I no can sleep, I no can anyt’ing.” You can hear one of the few recordings of this song on YouTube, and see if you don’t squirm a little at the lyrics.

I also added a swing rhythm, because it was more fun to listen to and lessened the overly-Asian musical elements. Some Asian-influenced song from 100 years ago sound a bit derisive today, and it’s my belief that Gershwin and Caesar would welcome minor tweaks to their song, just as Ira Gershwin and other long-lived lyricists were willing to adapt a lyric or two based on changing word meanings and acceptable use standards.

Download the fake-book style sheet music to “Yan-Kee” here: Yan-Kee 


Lyrics to “Yan-Kee” by Irving Caesar (with modern updates by Michael Morris):

Now listen to this tale of love in old Japan
between a Yankee man and Nankee Soo.
Miss Nankee loved her Yankee just as few girls can.
This American traveling man
loved Nankee too.
“Will you marry me?” said Nankee Soo with a pretty geisha smile.
“I want very much to marry you.
Won’t you settle down a while?”
He stayed a while and then one day he said, “Goodbye.”
So now poor Nankee’s crying:

“Yankee, since you went away,
I just sit all day and pray.
Pray you leave your American shore.
Yankee, come back
for I just can’t walk, I just can’t talk,
I cannot even sing.
All night I weep, I just can’t sleep,
I just can’t anything.
If you still won’t come back to me,
then I will fly to my Yankee!”

This little maid could not believe he’d ever go.
She thought he loved her so,
and he was true.
Now like poor Butterfly her heart is filled with woe.
Everybody in Tokyo knows why she’s blue.
When they heard her cry one day they said,
“Write to him and he’ll return.”
Though she couldn’t spell a single word,
she decided she would learn.
Now just imagine how he must have felt to read
this note from Nankee’s pleading:

“Yankee, since you went away,
I just sit all day and pray.
Pray you leave your American shore.
Yankee, come back
for sop-kow-tow-see-mon-go-lay
and multiply by three.
Which makes it clear while you’re not here
I’m sad as I can be.
If you still won’t come back to me,
then I will fly to my Yankee!”


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