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A History Of The Teddy Bear
Jimmy Kennedy

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Teddy Bear History > Jimmy Kennedy ...


Jimmy Kennedy and The Teddy Bears’ Picnic

The story behind the popular childrens’ song.

In 1907, when President Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt was campaigning for the 1908 American Presidency, he did a whistle stop tour out in the Middle West and,during a break on the trip, refused to shoot a bear cub.

This incident inspired a cartoon in a newspaper. A Russian emigrant Morris Michtom saw the cartoon and his wife made a toy bear from brown plush material with button eyes and movable arms and it was displayed in his shop window with the Cartoon. The Bear was a great success.

He wrote and asked the President if he could use the name “Teddy” and thus Teddys Bear was created. In a handwritten reply Roosevelt said; “I don’t think my name is worth much in the toy bear business, but you are welcome to use it” and so the world’s favourite toy was named.

Around about this time (1907) an American composer by the name of John Bratton, wrote the tune “Teddy Bears’ Picnic” an intermezzo or ‘bear music’, as he called it. It was played in the United Stated and in England, where it was used as background music in music halls and pantomimes.

In 1930, Omagh born Jimmy Kennedy, perhaps Ireland’s greatest songwriter, was working in Tin Pan Alley for Bert Feldman of the world famous song publishing company.

One morning Mr. Feldman asked Jimmy to write some lyrics to the old tune “Teddy Bears’ Picnic” for a children’s pantomime in Manchester, England. He went home and wrote the now famous lyrics.

Believe it or not, it is reported that Feldman didn’t like the words.

Jimmy KennedyTwo years later in 1932, Henry Hall had just started on the BBC as Director of a dance band orchestra. Hall was on one channel and a progran called Children’s Hour was on the other. Hall, thinking that he might win some children over to his band programme looked for a popular children’s tune to use.

One day Tony Lowry, Henry Hall’s arranger, walked into Jimmy Kennedy’s office. By sheer luck on the top of a pile of manuscripts on his desk was a copy of Teddy Bear’s Picnic.

When Tony saw it, he said ‘You’re not going to revive this old American thing surely? “As a matter of fact we are” said Jimmy, half jokingly. ‘I’ve just written words for it, and it’s going to be a big hit’.

The arranger was impressed and asked if he could take a copy to show Henry Hall” Kennedy readily agreed. Lowry went home, quickly completed an arrangement and took it to rehearsal the following morning. Hall immediately loved it and it was broadcast the same day.

an original song sheet cover c1930The Feldman office was immediately inundated with telephone calls and telegrams requesting copies of the music sheets. As these were unauthorised lyrics, there was no sheet music with lyrics at the conpany.

Feldman was furious and sent for Jimmy Kennedy and threw the book at Kennedy for embarrassing him and the company. Kennedy was literally on the verge of being sacked there and then. As punishment, Feldman told Kennedy that he would not get royalties on the song.

Feldman meant what he said and Kennedy did not receive any royalties for this song from 1932 until Feldman’s death in 1947. This was Jimmy Kennedys thanks for writing the lyrics of one of the most enduring, the most popular and successful of songs for children of all ages.

Teddy Bear PicnicFor 15 years Jimmy didn’t receive a penny on the record sales of 3 million records of Henry Hall’s recording nor the millions of music sheets sold. Jimmy never complained however as, from 1947 onwards, it continued to be a steady seller.

Kennedy’s lyrics were sung and recorded by a host of stars including Louis Armstrong, Tony Bennett, Nat King Cole, Perry Como, Bing Crosby, Ella Fitzgerald, Tom Jones, Glenn Miller, Roy Orbison, The Platters, Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra and countless others.

Kennedy had an ability to put a story into a succinct lyric and match it to a tune, usually composed by a co-writer.

One of these colleagues, relating a conversation which he had overheard on a train to Dublin inspired yet another song. He had heard an Irishman ask a young lady if her mother was Irish, "No," came the response, "But my father was." Kennedy soon created another wining song with "Did Your Mother Come from Ireland?" which became a giant hit in America. It was also a major success for Bing Crosby who had already recorded 14 Jimmy Kennedy songs.

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Jimmy KennedyJimmy Kennedy - a brief Bio

Born Omagh, Co Tyrone Ireland on July 20, 1902

Died: April 06, 1984 - Buried in Cheltenham, England

He was active as a Songwriter - Lyricist from the 1930’s to the 1980’s in the UK and the USA with about 2000 credits to his name.

He won two "Ivor Novello Awards" for his contribution to music and received an honorary degree from the New University of Ulster.

Kennedy was inducted into the Songwriters Hall Of Fame in 1997.

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What happened to the Teddy Bear next
Some people who had a major influence on the design of the Teddy Bear
For the fact hounds... A Teddy Bear Timeline
The Lyrics (and music) to the famous song - Teddy Bears’ Picnic
Some interesting facts about picnics, the music, Jimmy Kennedy, John W Bratton...
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