Hanky-panky in History of Hokey Pokey - Ethnomusicology At Work
Date: Wed, 17 Apr 96 12:08:30 -0700
From: Peter Langston <psl>
Subject: Hanky-panky in History of Hokey Pokey - Ethnomusicology At Work
Forwarded-by: Keith Bostic <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Forwarded-by: email@example.com (David Aguirre)
From the Arizona Daily Star in Tucson, Arizona April 14, 1996
Okey Cokey hanky-panky in history of Hokey Pokey
The Associated Press
When 83-year-old Larry LaPrise died recently in Boise, Idaho, he was mourned
as the co-creator of a distinctly American sensation: the Hokey Pokey.
As his daughter, Linda Ruby, recounted the tale, he and two fellow musicians
had concocted the novelty song - ``You put your right foot in, you put your
right foot out'' - in 1949 for the apres-ski crowd at Idaho's Sun Valley
resort. By the mid-1950s, it had become an integral part of every American
But there may have been a touch of hanky-panky in the story of the Hokey
After The Associated Press ran a story about the April 4 death of LaPrise
and his role in the creation of the Hokey Pokey, several World War II
veterans called the news agency. They had danced the Hokey Pokey in England
in the closing days of the war, they said, well before LaPrise claimed to
have invented it.
"I landed in England the first or second week of December 1943. The song
was very popular in England at that time," said William G. O'Brien of
Tigard, Ore., in a typical recollection.
"We danced that all the time over there," recalled another veteran, Anthony
Elionfante of Wallingford, Conn.
Ruby, LaPrise's daughter, insisted the former GIs must have been mistaken.
After all, she pointed out, her father and his bandmates, Charles Macak and
Tafit Baker, were granted the copyright for the song in 1950. All three are
Referring to the servicemen, she said, "They might have done a novelty dance
similar to the Hokey Pokey, but the trio wrote it and that trio didn't get
together until after the war."
But a December 1945 issue of Dance magazine appears to support the memory
of the ex-GIs. In that issue, a Pvt. David Houser wrote about a new novelty
song sweeping England: "the Okey Cokey." It began, Houser wrote, like this:
"You put your left arm out, and your left arm in.
You put your left arm out, and shake it all about.
You do the okey-cokey and you turn about.
And that's what it's all about."
Houser added that the song, "continues with other parts of the anatomy,
starting all over again when necessary, and ending when a majority of the
group has become exhausted, hysterical or both."
It is, of course, impossible to tell from the Dance magazine article what
"the Okey Cokey" sounded like. But the lyrics are remarkably close to those
in the LaPrise-Macak-Baker version.
Ruby said her father had served as an Army musician in France during World
War II. But was adamant that he had not learned the song then. She said she
believed he patterned it loosely after a French ditty his French-Canadian
So what is it all about?
In the 1945 Dance magazine article, Houser wrote that Americans believe they
hold the monopoly on novelty dances. "Nearly always," he said, in an
assertion that would hardly hold true today, "England had 'em first."
© 1996 Peter Langston