Wednesday, November 18, 2015
Yodeling had its origins in the call from mountain to mountain, the communication from Alp to Alp. It is a form of singing that involves singing with repeated changes in pitch from the chest register to the head register without using words that mean anything. It was in mountainous and inaccessible regions that natural yodeling communication forms developed in order to communicate from one hill to the other or to bring in the cows.
Alpine yodeling was a longtime rural tradition in Europe, and became popular in the 1830s as an entertainment in theaters and music halls. In the United States, traveling minstrels were yodeling in the 1800s and in 1920 the Victor Recording Company listed 17 yodels in their catalog. Music historians credit the first country recording to include yodeling to Riley Puckett in 1924.
In 1928, blending Alpine yodeling with traditional work, blues, hobo, and cowboy music, Jimmie Rodgers released his recording "Blue Yodel No. 1". Rodger's Blue Yodel created an instant national craze for yodeling in the United States and, according to a black musician who lived near Rodgers in Mississippi, everyone, both black and white alike, began to copy Rodgers. The popularity lasted through the 1940s, but by the 1950s it became rare to hear yodeling in Country or Western music.
Human voices have at least two distinct vocal registers, called the "head" and "chest" voices. Most people can sing tones within a certain range of lower pitches in their chest voice and tones within a certain range of higher pitch in their head voice. Falsetto is an "unsupported" register forcing vocal cords in a higher pitch without any head or chest voice air support. Experienced singers can control their voices in this range, easily switching between registers. Yodeling is a version of this technique in which a singer might change register several times in only a few seconds and at a high volume. Repeated alternation between registers at a singer's passaggio pitch range produces a very distinctive sound.
Bart Plantenga, author of Yodel-Ay-Ee-Oooo: The Secret History of Yodeling Around the World, explains the technique: It is thought that yodeling was first introduced to the United States by German immigrants in Pennsylvania in the early 1800s. As the new settlers traveled south through the Appalachian Mountains and beyond into the Deep South they came into contact with Scots-Irish immigrants, Scandinavians (practitioners of a unique yodeling called kölning), and other nationalities including African slaves who communicated with "field hollers"...a long, loud, musical shout, rising and falling and breaking into falsetto.
In 1839, the Tyrolese Minstrels toured the United States and started an American craze for Alpine music. During the 1840s, dozens of German, Swiss, and Austrian singing groups crisscrossed the country entertaining audiences with a combination of singing, yodeling, and Alpine harmony. The success of the European groups led to the formation of many American family singing groups as well. The most popular was the Hutchison Family Singers who toured, singing harmony and yodeling. Minstrel shows parodied the Hutchison's yodeling with their own, calling it "Tyrolesian business".
In 1853, Christy's Minstrels mocked the Hutchinson Family singing We Come From the Hills With Tyrolean Echo. Other traveling American minstrels were yodeling in the United States as well. Recordings of yodelers were made in 1892 and in 1920 the Victor Recording Company listed 17 yodels in their catalog, many of them by George Watson, the most successful yodeler of the time. In 1897 Watson recorded the song, "Sleep, Baby, Sleep" which was later recorded in 1927 by Riley Puckett as the second yodeling record ever made (the first was Rock All Our Babies to Sleep).
Sleep Baby Sleep was also the first song ever recorded by Jimmie Rodgers, the man would eventually come to be known as the father of both country music and American yodeling when he combined the yodel with southern African-American blues. By the 1880s the minstrel show had been replaced by Vaudeville and American Burlesque. By around 1905, more than 20 years before Jimmie Rodgers introduced his blue yodel, African Americans were touring the country singing and yodeling.
The most noted yodelers of that time were Monroe Tabor, known as The Yodeling Bellboy, though he was not a bellboy. Known as The Jolly Hendersons, Beulah Henderson toured with her husband Billy from 1905 through 1910. Billed as "The Classy Colored Comedy Pair", Beulah was featured as "America's only Colored Lady Yodeler". Black performer Charles Anderson began touring with a vaudeville show in 1909, singing a combination of blues and yodeling. In 1923 and 1924 Anderson recorded eight sides for the Okeh label which gave a summary account of his vaudeville repertoire during the previous decade. Five of the recorded songs were yodels.
Another famous early yodeler was The Singing Brakeman Jimmie Rodgers, who recorded dozens of popular songs in the late 1920s and early 1930s. While working on the railroad he learned blues techniques from African American gandy dancers, and eventually created his characteristic sound - a blend of traditional work, blues, hobo, and cowboy songs and his trademark "Blue Yodel." According to a black musician who lived near Rodgers in Mississippi, everyone, both black and white alike, began to copy Rodgers.
Jack Guthrie, the cousin of Woody Guthrie, performed in the thirties and early forties. Known as "Oklahoma's Yodeling Cowboy", he developed a style of singing and yodeling influenced by his idol, Jimmie Rodgers, and his experiences as a bucking-horse rider and rodeo performer. Hank Snow was one of the great country legends of the 1950s, but he had actually been singing in Canada for years where he was known as "The Yodeling Ranger". He admired Jimmie Rodgers as well, and learned to yodel by listening to his records.
The DeZurik Sisters were two of the first women to become stars on both the National Barn Dance and the Grand Ole Opry, largely a result of their original yodeling style. Singing cowboy Roy Rogers yodeled, as did his box office competitor Gene Autry.
Yodeler Bill Haley of Bill Haley and the Comets has one of the strangest histories of all. Bill Haley zoomed to fame as the "King of Rock and Roll" when his song "Rock Around the Clock" was featured in the popular film Blackboard Jungle. But it is little-known that Haley and his band had been around for years doing Western swing music with Haley featured as a yodeler. At one point in the 1940s, Bill Haley was even awarded Indiana State Yodeling Champion for his skill, perhaps something that his skillful manager Colonel Tom Parker felt not important to mention to his screaming teenage rock 'n' roll fans.
Slim Whitman performed for over 60 years. Whitman avoided the "down on yer luck" songs, preferring instead to sing laid-back romantic melodies about simple life and love. Critics dubbed his musical style "countrypolitan," due to its fusion of country music and a more sophisticated crooner vocal style.
Want to learn how to yodel? You can learn how HERE.