A Good Man is Hard to Find

Eddie Green, legendary filmmaker, star of movies and Broadway, Old Time Radio Icon and composer, was born in Baltimore, Maryland in 1891 and died in Los Angeles, California in 1950. He achieved fame as an actor and comedian, and was well-known as an entrepreneur as the owner of two movie studios and a string of restaurants. As a composer of music, Eddie wrote over twenty songs. His first song “A Good Man is Hard to Find” written in 1917, is still being recorded almost one hundred years later.

Eddie’s show business career began in 1901 when he was about ten years old, when he decided to leave home, home being a dilapidated alley house in Baltimore, Maryland, and though he had a mother and father the family was poverty-stricken. His hatred for the family’s living conditions drove him to leave home. With little schooling Eddie taught himself to read and through his reading discovered the world of magic. He decided to put together a magic act, with a little comedy thrown in. He took his act around Baltimore, appearing at churches and halls, supplementing his income by working as a handy-man. After receiving some advice from a stage manager, Eddie dropped his magic act and continued to perform as a stand-up comedian and by 1917 he was appearing at the Standard Theater in Philadelphia.

It is not known what motivated Eddie to write music. Perhaps President Hoover’s volunteer predicament prompted Eddie to do some writing that would become his first and biggest hit song. In 1917 America went to war. Interest in war in 1917 was not high, men were not volunteering. Good men were hard to find. President Hoover decided to inaugurate the draft. Eddie, now married with one child, signed up for the draft in July, and was exempted from seeing action.

Eddie’s song was “A Good Man is Hard to Find,” was copyrighted by Eddie on December 28, 1917. His song writing style was relevant to the times in which he was living and in 1917 the blues was becoming a major part of the music scene. “A Good Man is Hard to Find” was written in a bluesy style, probably so that it would better relate to the general public. Not being psychic, Eddie could not possibly have known to what heights this song would reach. He had written one of the Jazz standards of the Roaring 20s.

“A Good Man is Hard to Find,” words and music written by Eddie Green, was again copyrighted on July 16, 1918 with two copies deposited by Pace & Handy Music Company in Chicago. By January 1919, Pace & Handy were advertising to supply performers with knock-out material, in the way of current songs, one of which was the 1,000,000 copy hit, sure-fire applause getter “A Good Man is Hard to Find.” On February 19, 1919 Eddie’s song was recorded by Marion Harris, the first widely known white singer to sing jazz and blues songs. The song would become #27 on the Billboard list of 100 most popular songs. Eddie meanwhile, had begun to tour the south with a company of eighteen players that he billed as the “Deluxe Players.” His show consisted of tuneful melodies, one of which was his big hit, dancing and comedy.

During this time Eddie caught the attention of Miss Sophie Tucker one of the most popular entertainers of that time. Miss Tucker, who was then known as “The Last of the Red Hot Mamas,” sang blues and ragtime which was all the rage at that time. She particularly liked singing songs written by Black artists. According to an advertisement in a 1919 Dramatic Mirror magazine, “Miss Tucker has sung “A Good Man Is Hard to Find” nightly for 10 consecutive weeks, to thousands, in the Sophie Tucker room at Reisenweber’s and will continue to use it until her engagement terminates. Hear her and be convinced. Miss Tucker says: “A Good Man Is Hard to Find” is the best blue number she has ever used.”

In 1920 Eddie became a music publisher with an office in New York City on West 135th Street. He also wrote and copyrighted four more songs one of which was “Don’t Let No One Man Worry Your Mind,”. Sophie Tucker chose to use this song in a play in which she appeared titled Hello, Alexander.

Eddie, while performing in stage productions, continued to compose music. His 1921 writings included “You Can Read My Letters, But You Sure Can’t Read My Mind,” “You’ve Got What I Like,” “Sun-Down,” and “The World’s All Wrong.” Once again Miss Sophie Tucker became interested in Eddie’s songs and commissioned special band arrangements for “The World’s All Wrong,” and “You Can Read My Letters, But You Sure Can’t Read My Mind,” and she also had Eddie write a special version of “You’ve Got What I Like” for one of her performances.

Eddie collaborated with Cuney Conner, a music writer and musical director who wrote the music for “The World’s All Wrong." The song is about a man who has been searching for his sweetheart and finds her at her dress rehearsal where she appears as a chorus girl. He tries to talk her into coming back to him but she wants nothing to do with him, until he happens to tell her that he has come into an inheritance. The upshot of the song is that it is not the world that is wrong but the people in it. The perfect bluesy type of song that Sophie Tucker liked to sing.

The words to the “The World’s All Wrong” can be found in the Margaret Herrick Library in Beverly Hills, California. The Margaret Herrick Library houses a world-renowned, non-circulating reference and research collection devoted to the history and development of the motion picture as an art form and an industry. This song is included in the library’s archives because Eddie used it in one of his movies, Dress Rehearsal (1939).

Eddie’s music writing endeavors continued with a song titled “Previous,” which he copyrighted on December 17, 1923. Eddie renewed the copyright on December 18, 1950. He next wrote “The Right Key, But the Wrong Keyhole,” which was copyrighted August 23, 1923, and was renewed December 18, 1950.

Six years later, in 1929 Eddie was honored by being given the chance to sing his 1923 song “Previous” on a radio program sponsored by the Buffalo Evening News for the explorer Commander Richard Byrd and his crew who were stationed at “Little America” in the Antarctic,

That same year Connie Immerman, the owner of Connie’s Inn nightclub, decided to put on an all-black Broadway show titled “Hot Chocolates.” Eddie wrote the comedy sketches, performed comedy skits in the show and wrote a talking song titled “Big Business,” which was used in a skit of the same name. “Big Business” featuring Eddie, Billy Higgins and Fats Waller on piano was recorded on the Victor record label.

Eddie also spent a part of 1929 writing songs for his appearance at the Alhambra theater in a one-man musical production of Robert Burns' Tam O’Shanter. He wrote and copyrighted a number of songs, each with a Scottish slant to them. Song titles included: “Elinor,” “Miller O’the Glen,” “She Was a Lovely Girl,” “We All Want What We Want When We Want It,” “You Never Can Tell,” and “That Didna Trouble Me.” This year also saw nine shows in which Robert Burns' “Auld Lang Syne” was sung. It appears that Eddie was again writing songs relevant to happenings in the world.

Eddie wrote many songs, but I have found his first song to be the greatest example of the endurance of his music. “A Good Man is Hard to Find” has been recorded by many artists using a wide variety of musical styles. Those artists include:

May Singhi Breen, affectionately known as "The Ukulele Lady", long recognized as one of the outstanding exponents of the ukulele. She convinced music publishers of the commercial value of ukulele arrangements and pioneered the inclusion of arrangements on almost all printed copies of popular music. Her own arrangements appear on more pieces of sheet music than those of any other single person in history 1927. Her version with ukulele was copyrighted in 1927.

The Alabama Red Peppers put a fox trot spin on it in 1927.

Frankie Trumbauer and his Orchestra with Bix Beiderbecke performed “A Good Man Is Hard to Find” in 1927. “Tram" was one of the most influential and important jazz saxophonists of the 1920s and 1930s.

Louis Prima was an Italian-American singer, actor, songwriter, and trumpeter. With a big band in the 1940s, he provided a swing version of the song.

Alberta Hunter was an internationally known Black jazz singer who had a successful career from the early 1920s to the late 1950s. This is the first vocal version that I heard on the radio on a local jazz radio station in the 1980s. This was a rather monotone version.

Cass Daley was an American radio, television and film actress, singer, and comedian. During a 1949 episode of Duffy’s Tavern, in which Eddie starred as Eddie, the waiter. Cass sang her version of “A Good Man is Hard to Find” in her signature “loud,” comedic style.

Rosemary Clooney was an American popular music singer. Eddie’s song can be found on her Thanks for Nothing 1964 studio album.

Carol Channing, one of my favorite performers, is an American award winning actress, singer, dancer, comedian, and voice artist. Her version can be found on her Jazz Baby 1994 album. She truly has her own unique voice.

Big Maybelle was an American R&B singer. Her 1956 hit single "Candy" received the Grammy Hall of Fame Award in 1999. Big Maybelle sang Eddie’s song in 1956 in her own bluesy way.

Frank Sinatra was an American singer, actor, and producer who was one of the most popular and influential musical artists of the 20th century. In 1951 Frank (a crooner) and Shelley Winters performed “A Good Man is Hard to Find” in the movie Meet Danny Wilson. Here is a fun fact: Ole Blue Eyes was also a friend of the family.

Nancy Wilson, that classy American song stylist, recorded a slow, soft version on her album Hello Young Lovers from 1962.

There were many other versions recorded, but I have chosen to skip ahead to more recent times in the interest of relevance.

In 1994 the idea of the song found its way into the hip-hop generation of music by way of a line from the Salt ‘N’ Pepa 1994 song “Whatta Man.” The line reads: Which means a lot to me ‘cause good men are hard to find.

Linda Ensign with Rhythm Kings & Pals performed Eddie’s song at the 18th Annual Glacier Jazz Stampede in Kalispell, Montana, in 2011.

PBS broadcast a documentary on the Louis Armstrong Society Jazz Band performing at Xerox Rochester International Jazz Festival in New York, the summer of 2011 with a sax solo of Eddie’s song performed by Clarence Johnson.

Woody Allen’s recent film, Blue Jasmine (2013), included a jazzy, Dixieland version by Lizzie Miles and Sharkey and his Kings of Dixieland, which was used in both the opening and ending of the movie. A perfect choice considering the ins and outs of the romantic relationships of the principals of the film.

Most recently “A Good Man is Hard to Find” performed by Fats Waller and his Rhythm, was included in the soundtrack of HBO’s presentation of Bessie, starring Queen Latifah in 2015. Bessie Smith, a Black American blues singer was nicknamed the Empress of the Blues, and recorded the song in 1927.

Eddie’s songs helped propel him through the years into appearances on stage in Vaudeville, which led to “unit” shows on the Schubert Circuit and on to the Apollo, which eventually led to an appearance on the first RCA/NBC television test broadcast in 1935. He began doing guest appearances on the radio as a comedian and by 1939 he was appearing with Bill “Bojangles” Robinson in Mike Todd’s all-black cast musical Hot Mikado. Bill Robinson was the Mikado and Eddie was KoKo, the High Executioner. One of the highpoints of the show was Eddie’s rendition of “Titwillow.” He didn’t write the song but it was said when he sang it he came close to stopping the show.

Eddie had a love for music and he put forth the effort to try and share this with other aspiring musicians and singers. To this end, in September of 1942, after months of preparation, Eddie opened a music school. The school, named Sepia Artists, was advertised as a dramatic training school with services and classes for both amateurs and professionals. Eddie brought on Mr. Chauncey Northern, well-known tenor and voice coach. Mr. Northern joined Sepia Art Pictures to be the head of the Sepia Art music department and its singers. Chauncey Northern, whose own studios were located in Carnegie Hall, was a graduate of the Julliard School of Music and was one of the first Black singers to perform opera on the Italian stage.

As a business-man, Eddie educated himself on every aspect of his career because he wanted to be the best he could be. In his words “you get respect if you know your business.” Business included keeping his copyrights current. In 1949 Eddie’s health had started to decline. He suffered a stroke in September, and even though he travelled with a doctor at the time, he made sure to renew the copyrights on four of his songs from 1923 and 1924. Eddie’s songs remain in copyright today, providing a continuing legacy, a testament as to how business is done, and an example of the importance of having one’s works remain within the family.

Eddie’s music remains relevant because it talks of love and kisses and hugs, providing a common interest to people from all walks of life, bringing them together. It also talks of unhappy truisms of human behavior to which anyone can relate. The fact is, many artists continue to perform and utilize his music more than sixty years after his passing.  The impact of his music lingers on, proof that Eddie Green has made a profound contribution to the music industry.

Elva Diane Green

Elva D. Green was born in and continues to live in Los Angeles, California. In 1996 she decided to write a book about her father, the legendary Eddie Green, to provide an example to her grandson of the ability of a person to succeed no matter the obstacles. Eddie Green The Rise of an Early 1900s Black American Entertainment Pioneer is the culmination of her extensive research into a book that draws the reader into the story of one of America’s most beloved comedians. 

 

 

Edited for Unlikely by Rosalyn Spencer, #BlackArtMatters Guest Editor
Last revised on Thursday, September 1, 2016 - 17:44