I’ve have had little success tracking down information on the too-commonly named Ben Harris, but lyricist Henry Creamer is, fortunately, a little bit easier to find information on, though by no means a household name (except hopefully someday soon in your household).
Co-written by Will Vodery, Ben Harris, and Henry Creamer, “E-Gypsy-Ann” may sound like a computer-related title to today’s ears, but was actually a song from the 1923 Apollo Theatre musical with the decidedly lackluster title How Come?. But it did let their potential audience know what it was basically about with their subtitle: “A Musigirl Darkomedy.”
The title character of the song is actually named Malindy Green, though her ornate Egyptian outfits earn her the nickname E-Gypsy-Ann. The lyrics may not have aged very well, but the music is lively, syncopated, and harmonically adventurous.
- Vodery convinced Luckey Roberts to take Gershwin on as a piano student around 1914.
- He helped Gershwin find a job as a pianist for Fox’s City Theatre in the spring of 1917, the job formerly held by Chico Marx.
- He helped Gershwin land the job of rehearsal pianist for the show Miss 1917.
- He would orchestrate Gershwin’s speedily composed mini-operetta Blue Monday in 1922.
Henry Sterling Creamer was a songwriter, singer, stage director, music publisher, drama critic, and professional ballroom dancer who was born in Richmond, Virginia on June 21, 1879. He would move to New York City and write lyrics for a multitude of America’s top songwriters including Turner Layton, James Reese Europe (with whom he co-founded the African American fraternal musical society and talent agency the Clef Club in 1910), Bert Williams, Lester Walton, Ernest Hogan, S.H. Dudley, Will Marion Cook, James Hanley, Tom Lemonier, Harry Warren, Silvio Hein, Will Tyers, Clarence Todd, Joe Jordan, Homer Tutt, Fats Waller, Peter de Rose, Fortunio Bonanova, Con Conrad, Lou Handman, James P. Johnson, Alex Rogers, and his “E-Gypsy-Ann” collaborators Ben Harris and Will Vodery. Some of his most memorable songs include “After You’ve Gone,” “If I Could Be with You (One Hour Tonight),” and “Way Down Yonder in New Orleans.”
Creamer’s works could be heard on Broadway from 1907 through 1929, and while many of his shows failed to become great successes, his songs were interpolated into multiple Ziegfeld Follies and his show Keep Shufflin’ ran for 104 performances in 1928.
How Come?, the musical that featured “E-Gypsy-Ann” (which was referred to as “E-Gyptian-Ann” in the program), ran for only 40 performances and is best remembered for featuring jazz clarinetist and saxophonist Sidney Bechet portraying the show’s police chief and was one of the few police chiefs on Broadway to get his own clarinet solo. Reviews of the actors of the show were not positive, as the cast was described as “undistinguishable and incapable.”
Songwriter Ben Harris never had another Broadway show after his How Come? debut. Henry Creamer would join ASCAP in 1924, and in 1926 he directed the Cotton Club’s Creole Cocktail revue. He died at the early age of 51 from “a complication of diseases after an illness of four weeks.” He was a man of many talents and was able to make a living in the precarious field of lyricist at a time when there were comparatively few opportunities available for African Americans songwriters.
Lyrics to “E-Gypsy-Ann” by Henry Creamer (and probably to a lesser degree if at all, by Ben Harris and Will Vodery):
When Malindy Green came upon the scene, she certainly was there.
Oriental gown, drooping all around, decked with jewels so rare.
She left behind those southern ways of old bandana days,
and when Malindy Green strutted on the scene,
all the men would declare:
There’s E-Gypsy-Ann. They call her E-Gypsy-Ann.
She heard of Tutankhamen, now she is so, so, Oriental.
Egypsy talk and even Egypsy walk,
and when you talk like a gypsy, walk like a gypsy,
then you must be a gypsy.
And when you smile, you hold the men for a while.
They love your wonderful style and tempting glance.
When you do that dance, you are taking a terrible chance.
Oh, E-Gypsy-Ann from Cairo, Georgia.