Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The Teapot Song!

The things you learn when researching tea! I was curious about the origin of the song "I'm a Little Teapot" so I set to nosing around online and ended up with this vintage sheet music. Since I learned the song way back in nursery school days, I always assumed it was a children's song. Imagine my surprise at learning this was actually a 1941 Big Band hit, with words and music by Clarence Kelley and George H. Sanders. Performed by Ronnie Kemper with the Horace Heidt Orchestra, the record sold over a million copies and the tune was at one time used in Lipton Tea commercials!

Originally I was planning to scan the sheet music for you, but I learned this particular music won't be in the public domain until it's 75 years old, in 2016. (Call me in seven years if you still want the music!) I will, however, share a bit of the opening verse, which greatly surprised me: "'I am Napoleon' I've heard some people say, And often wondered how on earth they got that way, So I started searching thro (sic) my family tree, And this is what I found to be the truth about me. Oh! I'm a little teapot short and stout ..." (etc. etc.) I have never heard those opening lines, but have any of you Big Band fans?

The other surprise was found on the back cover of the sheet music (also copyrighted, alas), which shares "How to Dance The Teapot Tip." I know the motions to the child's version of the song, but this is a very interesting description for a man and woman to dance "The Teapot Tip." At one point they are instructed to bend at the waist in three jerks (to simulate the pouring of the teapot) and then to straighten up in three jerks. I had no idea there was so much intrigue behind "I'm A Little Teapot"! And links here and here will tell you a bit more about the performer in case you're interested. (You may have to scroll down to find Ronnie Kemper.)

Gwendol, who correctly guessed the name of the song, has a vintage tea towel headed her way today!


  1. Thanks for all this interesting info on the Teapot Song. I have never collected sheet music, but I just now placed an order for a copy. I will have fun deciding how to frame and display this piece.

  2. Delightful! Now, I wonder if that music company is still in business? I must confess that I LOVE researching things...I have dishes made by Denby, and when I was in London, I looked them up in the book, had a taxi take me there (I was dressed for the theater later, heels, pearls and all). When we got to the dock warehouses, the taxi driver nervously asked me, "Lady, are you SURE this is the right address?" Whereupon I popped out and climbed up and took a look into the windows of the warehouse.

    I can hardly wait for the tea towel...do I need to declare it on my taxes?

    What fun we have with tea! So in a few years, I'll be calling you in all the familiar places...(does changing a word of a song constitute plagerism?????)

  3. What a great story. My husbands grandfather was a very popular semi famous Vaudevillian singer so I'll bet he would have known the story of that song.
    I love fun stories like this!

  4. W-O-W! That's great to know!

  5. What fun enlightenment! Thanks for sharing your research.

  6. I never knew that. Thanks for sharing that with us.

  7. This is some beautiful history. I feel myself getting emotional as if nostalgic even though I'm young! That's because this song became popular right during the Second World War. And that it's about tea and I'm always interested in that as a tea lover myself.

  8. The nursery rhyme we know of today was an adaptation from the song. On of the writers of the song Clarence Kelley and his wife ran a dance school for children, which taught the "Waltz Clog", a popular and easy-to-learn tap dance routine. This routine was too difficult for the younger students. To solve this problem, George Sanders wrote The Teapot Song.

  9. Old thread here, so not sure anyone is looking, but as a young drummer I performed with Ronnie Kemper in a duo act for several weeks at a resort in Wisconsin. Probably around 1976. It was only years later (when internet became common) that I realized who he was and how cool that was; to be paired with this man playing music (many of them his old hits) six nights a week. During the days we ocassionally went fishing together, or fried up burgers at his cabin. The ultimate odd couple!

    Marty - Stewartstown PA


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