Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Lena Was the Queen o' Palesteena

"Lena from Palesteena", written by J. Russel Robinson and Con Conrad. It was originally recorded by Eddie Cantor in 1920 (released by Emerson Records, record number Emerson 10292). The socio-political background is concisely documented here by Prof. Charles A. Kennedy.

My family had the Eddie Cantor recording and I remember the tune (I think this was the first thing I ever heard about the Middle East). I have not been successful playing the midi file on my computer, but maybe you'll have better luck. You can download the sheetmusic as .jpg files from http://levysheetmusic.mse.jhu.edu/otcgi/llscgi60

The lyrics are:
In the Bronx of New York City
Lived a girl, she's not so pretty
Lena is her name.
Such a clever girl is Lena
How she played her concertina
Really, it's a shame.
She's such a good musician
She got a swell position
To go across the sea to entertain.
And so they shipped poor Lena
Way out to Palesteena
From what they tell me, she don't look the same.
They say that Lena is the Queen o' Palesteena
Just because she plays the concertina.
She only knows one song,
She plays it all day long
Sometimes she plays it wrong,
But still they love it
What more of it
I heard her play once or twice.
Oh! Murder! Still, it was nice.
All the girls, they dress like Lena
Some wear oatmeal, some Farina
Down old Palesteena way.

Lena's girlfriend Arabella
Let her meet an Arab fella
Who she thought was grand.
On a camel's back a-swaying
You could hear Miss Lena playing
Over the desert sand.
She didn't know the new ones
All she knew were blue ones
And Yusef sat and listened all day long
(or: Till Yusef sat and listened in his tent)
And as he tried to kiss her
You heard that Arab whisper,
"Oh Lena, how I love to hear your song!"
(or: "Oh Lena, how I love your instrument!")

They say that Lena is the Queen o' Palesteena
'Cause she shakes a wicked concertina.
She plays it day and night
She plays with all her might
She never gets it right,
You think it's funny,
Gets her money.
There's nothin' sounds like it should.
So rotten, it's really good.
While the Arabs danced so gaily
She would practice aily-aily
Down old Palesteena way.

Lena, she's the Queen o' Palesteena
Goodness, how they love her concertina.
Each movement of her wrist
Just makes them shake and twist
They simply can't resist
How they love it
Want more of it.
When she squeeks
That squeeze-box stuff
All those sheiks
Just can't get enough.
She got fat as he got Lena
Pushing on her concertina
Down old Palesteena way.


Udge said...

They really don't write them like that any more! I've seen films whose scripts were shorter than those lyrics.

As far as I know midi-files cannot be played directly (as MP3 files can) but must be fed into a synthesizer or other musical instrument for it to process them into sounds. Midi to music as postscript is to laserprinted-paper: raw instructions that we humans cannot understand in its natural form.

SavtaDotty said...

Udge, Nominally Challenged was able to get his computer to play the midi file with his WinAmp or something, but thanks to Noorster ze vunderful, I now have so many media players installed that they're having turf wars.

JoeinVegas said...

It plays fine on my RealPlayer software. But I'm disappointed, just a piano and organ and no Eddie voice. Oh well, I'll read along to the music and pretend it's him singing.

Anonymous said...

Finding these Lena lyrics was great. My mom, Milly, 1904 - 1984 used to love to sing as well as recite poetry. I was a middle child, two older and two younger siblings and the only one who picked up on her poems and songs. I used to memorize them starting at age 4 or 5. I still know a great many of them. The more I'd memorize the more she'd sing and recite, so who doesn't want to make momma happy?? Funny thing is, I'd never ask her for the sources of her stuff. It was enough that I could learn them word for word. This was fine but she didn't learn them exactly as they were written.

I'm 75 now and still memorizing things, Shakespear, W. S. Gilbert, Louis Carol, ad infinitum (well almost).

I'm sure I know a few that you've never heard of. I would be happy to contribute a few. If you're interested, let me know.

Once again thanks for the Lena Lyrics.

Best wishes............

JayJay from Dania Beach, Florida,

Anonymous said...

Thanks for posting the lyrics to Palesteena, my favorite song of all time! I pulled up an instrumental recording from 1920 on youtube, and finally was able to sing along.

Too bad I didn't record it. Me singing Palesteena could have been the secret weapon that would have solved the Middle Eastern conflict for good. "Oh, MURDER!" is an understatement. A few helicopters with really loud loudspeakers would do the trick.

The best thing about Palesteena is the moral of the story: PERSISTENCE IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN COMPETENCE.

Love your blog! Keep up the good work!t

Anonymous said...

Lyrics, not to mention a complex melody full of twists and turns. Great jazz tune with a unique ethnic feel.

Anonymous said...

Yo. The lyrics are substantailly altered from the originals which you can find if you follow the link to the sheet music you provide at JHU. These words are taken from Wikipedia and that's not a reliable source. Also, any computer should play midi files.

SavtaDotty said...

Anonymous (are you three the same person?) Thanks for reminding me to try this midi file again. Miraculously, my computer is now happy to play it.

JoeinVegas, I do wish the file had Eddie Cantor's voice, but that's still in my head from a long time ago, crowding out the names of people I met last week!

JayJay I'd love to hear some similar songs!

Willc said...

Late in 1920, Eddie Cantor introduced "Lena from Palesteena" in George LeMaire's "Broadway Brevities of 1920." But the character of Lena Strauss in the song was borrowed by its composers from a 1910 Ziegfeld Follies song by Ballard McDonald and Harry Carroll, "Nix on the Glow-Worm Lena." The 1910 song introduced Lena, who played "The Glow-Worm" on her concertina until the other boarders in her boarding house couldn't take it. And, it seems, Lena's comic character was still remembered in 1920. The 1910 song was introduced in the Ziegfeld production by Grace Tyson, and was recorded in 1910 for Victor by Ada Jones, and also by Billy Murray. The delightful Ada Jones recording can be found as a free mp3 file at

SavtaDotty said...

Willc - Thank you for the lovely link! I love to swim in a river of nostalgia listening to those scratchy early 20th century recordings.