Rural Missouri - October 2017 - 28

S trange journey of the "MissouriWaltz"
Who really wrote the tune which became Missouri's state song?

by John Drake Robinson | info@ruralmissouri.coop

Illustrations by Jim Peters

Edwards notes, "The irony of all this is that
Harry was not particularly fond of the 'Misou've heard it 1,000 times. While attending Mizzou games. Watch- souri Waltz.' As it turns out, he objected
more to Shannon's lyrics, which included
ing on TV. Listening on the radio.
The Mizzou band begins the familiar opening chords of the some racial references, than any other part
"Missouri Waltz." Then the song morphs into a march that brings of it."
Originally titled "Hush a Bye My Baby,"
the inspired crowd to its feet, hands clapping. The waltz turns into a march
Shannon's lyrics were changed before it
because, well, it's hard to march to a waltz.
That may not be the first time the song was altered. A pair of graveyard became our state song.
Edwards says that Jelly later seemed
signs in Howard County suggest that early in its life, the melody that became
resentful that he got no credit for the
the "Missouri Waltz" may have been hijacked from its creator.
Supporters of Lee Edgar "Jelly" Settle, a composer from New Franklin, claim '"Missouri Waltz" melody, but with no
he wrote the tune that gained fame when Harry Truman played it. Jelly's not definitive proof he likely stood little chance
talking. He was born in New Franklin, died in New Franklin and somewhere in court. "It seems that nearly everybody in
in between, wrote a tune called "Graveyard Waltz." His friends say other musi- New Franklin knew who the composer was,
cians showed interest in the tune and matched the melody to words that even- but at that time such a fact was of little consequence."
tually became Missouri's state song.
Biographer Galen Wilkes writes that after
But Settle didn't get the credit.
"To this day it remains unclear who exactly composed the melody for the the deaths of Logan and Eppel, when the music
'Missouri Waltz,' " ragtime historian Bill Edwards notes. "But there is enough "became associated with Truman and was consid- Lee Edgar "Jelly" Settle
evidence to suggest that Lee Edgar Settle had a significant role in shaping ered for the Missouri state song in the 1940s and
the piece into something appealing, at least to the point of making it a viable 1950s, the story became even more hopelessly weeded,
entangled and overgrown."
property for theft."
A short drive down a gravel road leads to the cemetery where Jelly is burJelly's brother J.B. Settle, publisher of the New Franklin News, wrote this
blunt statement in Jelly's obituary: "... the John Valentine Eppel orchestra of ied, a beautiful spot on a sloping hilltop framed by forest land, overlooking
Iowa came to Moberly for two dance engagements and it was at that time, while undulating hills packed with mature cornstalks, holding their ears like pistols,
Edgar was visiting the orchestra at the Merchant's Hotel, that the melody was patiently awaiting the reaper.
J. Edgar has become Lee Edgar on the tombstone. It's just another inconsisstolen."
tency in a neglected life story. At least at this peaceful spot Jelly gets credit,
In more detail, J.B. Settle explained that Jelly and Eppel were
friends. "Their paths would cross from time to time," he wrote.
posthumously.
Boonville writer Bill Corum described Settle as "a big bald-headed
Jelly was playing the piano one night before dinner at the
Merchant's Hotel when Eppel, in town with his band, compliman with the biggest hands I ever saw - hands that were made to
break a piano into kindling wood, which was something he could do
mented Jelly's waltz. 'That's a catchy tune. Where'd you get it?'
without trying."
Jelly said the tune was his, and he had been playing it for years.
New
Researchers aren't sure how the nickname Jelly evolved. Wilkes
Eppel asked Jelly if he would play it for 'the boys in the band.' "
said
it was a common term for piano players in ragtime and burJelly agreed. While he played he noticed Eppel's musicians
Franklin
lesque shows.
writing notes on their cuffs. Jelly "didn't think a thing about it 'til
Jelly learned to play by ear, although he later learned to read
many years later" so "he knows how the air of the thing got away
music. He left no recordings.
from him. That's how he allowed it to happen."
Yet during the first half of the 20th century, Jelly played
J.B. Settle told Kansas City Star reporter Chester Bradley, "In
everywhere in Missouri. "Name the town and he played in it," musifairness to the orchestra leader, it must be said that the title page of the music
contains the words that the melody was not original, but produced by him, and cian friend Freeman Alsop said in an interview with Wilkes.
Why didn't Jelly copyright his masterpiece? Bradley says: "The editor and
in later years he did not deny that he got the melody from Edgar Settle while
his brother often discussed copyrighting and publishing the music, but two
in Missouri."
Most historians credit Eppel for changing the song's title to the "Missouri previous songs by Edgar had failed to sell and they were reluctant to try a
Waltz." One theory is that Eppel heard the song in Missouri, so the "Missouri third."
One of Jelly's published works, "XL Rag," is a "gorgeous haystack-of-a-piece
Waltz" made sense. Another story is that dancers requested Eppel to play "that
published in Sedalia," says composer, pianist, painter and poet David Thomas
Missouri waltz."
The Missouri Secretary of State's website doesn't mention Jelly: "The 'Mis- Roberts. "Let this suffice: it is the ultimate hymn of outstate Missouri."
Along with the "Missouri Waltz."
souri Waltz' became the state song under an act adopted by the General Assembly on June 30, 1949. The song came from a melody by John V. Eppel and was
Robinson is a freelance writer from Columbia. Read more stories on John's
arranged by Frederic Knight Logan, using lyrics written by J.R. Shannon. First
published in 1914, the song did not sell well and was considered a failure. By Facebook page: A Road Trip Into America's Hidden Heart.
Author's note: Thanks to Larry Melton and the Sedalia Ragtime Archive per1939, the song had gained popularity and six million copies had been sold.
Sales increased substantially after Missourian Harry S. [sic] Truman became sonnel for their guidance and contributions to this story.
president, and it was reported that the 'Missouri Waltz' was his favorite song."
Robinson is a freelance writer from Columbia.
Not exactly.

Y

28

RURAL MISSOURI | OCTOBER 2017



Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Rural Missouri - October 2017

Contents
Rural Missouri - October 2017 - Intro
Rural Missouri - October 2017 - Cover1
Rural Missouri - October 2017 - Cover2
Rural Missouri - October 2017 - Contents
Rural Missouri - October 2017 - 4
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Rural Missouri - October 2017 - Cover3
Rural Missouri - October 2017 - Cover4
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