The little known “Little Villages” was sung by Mr. and Mrs. Jimmy Barry (James Barry and Josie Richards) in the Broadway show Our Nell, which premiered at the Nora Bayes Theatre in December 1922 and ran for 40 performances. George Gershwin and Bill Daly co-wrote the music and Brian Hooker handled the lyrics. And what lyrics they are!
This song is a mouthful; I cannot wait for a trained singer to perform it! Or for one of its many cities to claim it as their official song!
So who is this Hooker guy who pulled off this amazing feat of linguistic-geographic contortions? Brian Hooker, a descendant of early Connecticut colonist Thomas Hooker (Brian’s great x 7 grandfather), was a poet, author, English lit professor, lyricist, and librettist. You may have heard Hooker’s translation of Cyrano de Bergerac in the 1950 film starring José Ferrer. Then again, maybe you haven’t. Hooker wrote 11 songs with Gershwin for Our Nell, and also wrote with composers such as Rudolf Friml, Bill Daly, Hugo Felix, Franklin Hauser, and also with that infrequent composer: Brian Hooker himself!
I don’t know Connecticut and the surrounding area, but Hooker seems to have known this region inside and out, given the many villages he was able to rattle off. I spellchecked each town’s name with Google Maps to be sure I had everything right, and the only one that came up blank was Congamock. Does anyone know what that refers to? Podunk just barely shows up as a road, not quite a village, which I guess is fitting when you have a name like Podunk.
The music co-composed by George Gershwin and Bill Daly (William Merrigan Daly) is rapid fire dotted eight notes that barely let up, like a lot of older ragtime songs. It is mostly a patter song, though there is a melody throughout. Ten bars toward the end are to be spoken just at the time that the music speeds up. The effect on the listener who is trying to decipher all of these strange names must have been mind-numbing.
My rendition below is note-for-note how Gershwin and Daly wrote it, complete with occasional pauses for the singer – and audience – to catch their breath. And speaking of which, there are two measures where the singer sings “Oh,” holding the initial note throughout while the piano plays two bars of eighth notes. Get practicing; this song is for experienced singers only!
Download the PDF of the simplified sheet music to “Little Villages” here: Little Villages
Lyrics to “Little Villages” by Brian Hooker:
As soon as we get married, why we’ll have some fun to show for it,
no matter what we have to pay, or where we have to go for it.
We’re going to flap around the map and take in all the best of it:
the North of it, and South of it, and East of it, and West of it.
We’ll stop at any tavern where a jolly little noggin is,
from Narragansett up to where the River Androscoggin is.
We’ll feed our face in any place or take a nap in any bunk,
from Mississquoi to Monomy, from Aspetuck to Kennebunk.
Oh, what fun when the wedding day is done,
and we swear to love and honor and perhaps obey,
to start off and try our luck in Cummaquid and Tuckernuck,
in Teaticket, Pawtucket, Sconticut, and Sagamore,
Squibnocket, Woonsocket, Nashawena, Cuttyhunk,
and all the little villages along that way.
We’ll fool around along the Sound and up across Connecticut
to rural Massachusetts, where the whiskers never get a cut.
In Higganum or Hockanum, we’ll spend our money willingly,
or Naugatuck or Saugatuck or Killingworth or Killingly.
We’ll go to Willimantic and Meshanticut and Scituate,
Wachusett and Chepachet and Canonchet and Cochituate
and Escoheag and Pascoag and all the way to Naubuc,
and double back to Pontiac, Poquonnock and Pequabuck.
Oh, what joy for a happy girl and boy,
full of deeper, sweeter feeling than their tongues can say.
To learn what love may be in Scitico or Chicopee.
In Ekonk, Seekonk, Noank, Podunk,
Nepaug, Shepaug, Congamock and Congamond,
Weatogue and Watchaug and Manchaug and Mashapaug
and Weekapaug and Pottapaug and Pocotopaug and Apponaug
and Quinebaug and Quonnipaug and Lake Chaubunagungamaug
and all the little villages along that way.
The Hooker Lineage from Rev. Thomas to Lyricist Brian
(Male side only for simplicity’s sake. Find more here.)
Rev. Thomas Hooker, b. July 5, 1586 Marefield, United Kingdom.
Samuel, b. possibly Cambridge, Mass., 1633.
John. b. Farmington, Conn.
John, b. Farmington, Conn., Mar. 6. 1695.
John, b. Kensington, Conn., March 19. 1729.
William, b. Northampton, Mass., Nov. 26, 1766.
William. Jr.. West Hampton. Mass., Feb. 15, 1788.
William Throop, b. Norwich, Mass., Mar. 22, 1815.
William Augustus, b. Sept. 4, 1845, at Hartford, CT.
William Brian, b. Nov. 2. 1880. at New York City.