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Song Details
Duration: 5:04 
Release Date: 1957  (CapSuper) 
Lyrics By: Freberg/Kern (Stavro Arrgolus) 
Music By: Jerome Kern (Stavro Arrgolus) 
Produced By:
Released By:
Published By: Universal Polygram International Inc. (Stavro Arrgolus) 
Licensing: ASCAP  #450015760 
  • At the time this routine was done on Stan's 1957 radio show, the song was barely 30 years old. Old Man River was written for the 1927 Broadway show 'Showboat'. It was popularized again by Paul Robeson singing it in the 1939 movie version of the show. (Tim P. Ryan)
  • Song Lyrics:
    NOTE: Words in italics are sung.

    Freberg: Just kidding, just kidding. But it's great to be with you tonight. We have a special--
    Tweedly: Pardon me, Mr. Freberg, but my name is Tweedly.
    Freberg: Well, we all have our problems.
    Tweedly: I am the censor from the citizens radio committee. And, um... I feel--
    Freberg: You uh... from the citizens radio committee, you say?
    Tweedly: That's exactly what I said, yes. I--
    Freberg: And what is your purpose in being here?
    Tweedly: I must okay all the material used on your program here, and I think the best method is to just sit back here and interrupt when I feel it's necessary.
    Freberg: You mean you plan to stop me every time I do something that YOU think is wrong?
    Tweedly: Exactly. I'll just sound my little horn like this (buzzer). And then you stop, and I'll tell you what's wrong.
    Freberg: Uh, somehow I can tell this is gonna be one of those days.
    Tweedly: You just go right ahead, Mr. Freberg. Don't mind me.
    Freberg: Yeah, now I'd like to sing-- (buzzer)
    Tweedly: You forgot to say "thank you", Mr. Freberg. Politeness is an essential in radio programming. Your program goes into the home, we must be a good influence on... children.
    Freberg: Why, that's a darling little horn there.
    Tweedly: Mmm-hmm.
    Freberg: Thanks very much, Mr. Tweedly.
    Tweedly: You're welcome, I'm sure.
    Freberg: I'd like to sing a old river song in honor of this week of National Mississippi Riverboat Paddlewheel Week. Mr. May, if you please?
    Tweedly: Very polite, Mr. Freberg.
    Freberg: Thank you.

    Old man river, that old-- (buzzer)

    All right, Tweedly, politeness I dig, but what in the world is wrong with "old man river"?
    Tweedly: The word "old" has a connotation that some of the more elderly people find distasteful. I would suggest you make the substitution, please.
    Freberg: I suppose you insist.
    Tweedly: Precisely. You may continue.
    Freberg: Okay, music (buzzer).
    Tweedly: You forgot to say--
    Freberg: Thank you, yes, okay. Thank you, Mr. Tweedly.
    Tweedly: You're quite welcome, I am sure.

    Elderly man river, that elderly man river.
    He must know somethin', but he don't say nothin'.

    All right, hold it, fellas. Now what, Tweedly?
    Tweedly: The word "something", you left off the G.
    Freberg: But that's authentic. "Somethin'," "someTHIN'". That's the way the people... talk down there.
    Tweedly: I'm sorry. The home is a classroom, Mr. Freberg.
    Freberg: I know, you said that.
    Tweedly: Keep in mind the tiny tots. And... But furthermore, think back. You'll recall that you said "but he don't say nothin'".
    Freberg: Mmm-hmm.
    Tweedly: Now, really, Mr. Freberg, that's a double negative.
    Do you mean he DOES say something?
    Freberg: No, I just wasn't using my head, I guess.
    Tweedly: I mean, after all, it should be grammatically correct, keeping in mind--
    Freberg: The tiny tots, yes.
    Tweedly: You probably mean, "He doesn't say anything".
    Freberg: I don't-- I suppose I mean that, yes, I guess. All right, uh fine, you win. All right, Billy, music (buzzer). Thank you, thank you.
    Tweedly: You're welcome, I'm sure.

    Elderly man river, that elderly man river
    He must know something, but he doesn't say anything
    He just keeps rollin'-- rolling,
    He just keeps rolling along.
    He don't (buzzer) doesn't plant taters-- potatoes,
    He doesn't plant cotton/cotting,
    And then these/those that plants them are soon forgotting.
    But elderly man river, he just keeps rolling along.

    Tweedly: Excellent!
    Freberg: Thank you.
    You and me-- (buzzer)

    The uh, the tiny tots again, was it?
    Tweedly: Exactly.
    Freberg: Sorry about that, here we go.

    You and I; we sweat, (buzzer) perspire and strain
    Body's all aching and wracked with pain.
    Well, we got by that one.
    Tote that barge, lift that bail!
    You get a little...
    [he slows down and stops here, since the rest of it is "drunk and you land in jail".]

    Okay, take your finger off the button, Mr. Tweedly. We know when we're licked. Well, that concludes "Elderly Man River" (buzzer). Oh, yes, and thank you for being with us, Mr. Tweedly.
    Tweedly: You're welcome, I'm sure.
    (Sonic SBL)
    Current Rating 9.9 (5 votes)
    Song Images:
    Messages about the song: "Elderly Man River"
    karlap   Offline  -  Artist  -  05-27-10 06:15 PM  -  13 years ago
    As indicated in the "Song Lyrics" section above, Freberg gave up trying to get his rendition of "Ol' Man River" past the censor when he got to the words "drunk and you land in jail".

    But the original 1927 song continues:

    Niggers all work on de Mississippi
    Niggers all work while de white folks play
    Pullin' dose boats from de dawn to sunset
    Gittin' no rest till de judgement day

    In the original Showboat musical (which dealt with race relations, among other things), the song was sung by black dock workers. It was written by Jerome Kern, a "liberal" Jew.

    The word in question was often changed to various other 'euphemisms" that in retrospect don't seem any less offensive. Later versions omitted these lines completely.

    Last month, a voice teacher at St. Mary's College in Moraga, CA got in trouble for asking a black student to sing these lines in class.
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