Theme songs, earworms, and a clunker or two from the Seattle World’s Fair
The Seattle World’s Fair officially began 60 years ago tomorrow, and you can’t overstate the impact of that long-ago event. The fair – and all the work it took to pull it off – transformed the city and the region in positive ways, from the civic can-do spirit it fueled to tackle challenges, to the creation of Seattle Center as home to arts, culture and sports, to putting Seattle on the map as a going concern and a place all about the future.
Aside from all that, the fair also was one heck of a six-month long party – the “Mercer Street Carnival” some pundits called – but carnivals and parties, and transformative civic events need music.
“Meet Me in Seattle” by Joy and The Boys
It was front-page news in November 1961 when “Meet Me In Seattle” was chosen as the official song of the fair and is probably the best remembered melody. The composer was a 47-year old “tool worker” at Boeing named Edward Chambreau. It was recorded by a Seattle lounge act called Joy and the Boys.
“See You in Seattle” by The Lancers
“See You in Seattle” is probably the second-best known World’s Fair song, and it’s also by another lounge act called The Lancers.
Lest our vision of the past be clouded by gauzy sentimentality, Seattle wasn’t all sweetness and light 60 years ago, and there wasn’t exactly wholesale buy-in to the notion of these fair songs.
As early as January 1962, in a local column/advertisement that appeared in The Seattle Times and that was sponsored by the Seattle nightclub industry, Paul B. Lowney, opined that “See You in Seattle” by the Lancers and “Meet Me in Seattle” by Joy and the Boys “are catchy and bouncy, but the melodies are too synthetic and lack that certain big hit quality which makes a song ‘great.’”
“Everything about the Fair should be big league, not simply ‘locally good,’” he added. “Did big name composers say ‘no’ to trying their hand at a World’s Fair song?”
He then listed a bunch of composers – including Irving Berlin and Leonard Bernstein – wondering, “Did anyone ask them” to compose a song for the fair?
“Everyone Come to the Fair” by Jackie Souders Band, featuring Johnny Weber
We’ll likely never know if Irving Berlin or Leonard Bernstein were asked, but we do know that a local guy called Johnny Weber – a Seattle physician and serious singer whose real name was Dr. John Wollenweber – did compose “Everyone Come to the Fair,” and that he recorded it with Jackie Souders Band (the official marching band of the fair, who are seen in the grand finale of the Elvis Presley movie “It Happened at the World’s Fair”).
“Summer of ‘62” by The Four-Do-Matics
This song is my personal favorite, and might actually qualify as an earworm (decades before that term was invented). The composer is Lou Bianchi, longtime local – you guessed it – lounge piano player. Featured on banjo is Ronnie Draper, and vocals are by the Seattle-based giants of the Barbershop quartet world known as the Four-Do-Matics. They were named after an automatic transmission made by the Model-T maker (spelled differently as a play on words – and because they were a quartet). Three of the four guys also worked at local Ford dealerships around the time the group was getting started.
The Four-Do-Matics were a force in local and national Barbershop singing competitions from the 1950s to the 1970s and they made several recordings of that material that still survive. A reunion of the original members – Jim Iddings (lead), Clayt Lacey (tenor) Merv Clements (baritone) , and Del Green (bass) – took place in the 1980s, according to Julie Lombardo, daughter of the late Del Green.
“The Four-Do-Matics were rock stars in the world of Barbershop in the Pacific Northwest and especially in Seattle,” Lombardo said.
Their World’s Fair song – with its musical accompaniment – is a rarity compared with the rest of their catalog, and something of “an outlier,” she described.
“Skidattle to Seattle”
Not much is known about this one, and there may be only one “demo” copy of the 78 rpm disc, which is part of the collection of the Museum of History & Industry (MOHAI) in Seattle. The handwritten label says the song is a “Gordon Ramsey production.”
“World’s Fair Seattle” by the Jerry Tucker Orchestra, featuring Billy Earle
This song is from a record associated with Elks Club in Seattle and was released around the time they dedicated a new building on Westlake Avenue in Seattle – which in recent years has been home to China Harbor. Governor Albert Rosellini was pictured with the artists (and the new disc) in a newspaper photo as they prepared to mail a copy of the recording to President Kennedy in early April 1962.
For more World’s Fair memories, tune in Wednesday, April 20 at 7:30 p.m. to the Seattle Channel (cable 21 in the city) or watch the livestream via MyNorthwest of a special live broadcast from the Space Needle called, “Spirit of ’62: Celebrating the Seattle World’s Fair.” The program will be hosted by Feliks Banel, and will feature world’s fair old-timers and other surprises, including a special song performed by KIRO’s Dave Ross and Lisa Brooks.
You can hear Feliks every Wednesday and Friday morning on Seattle’s Morning News, read more from him here, and subscribe to The Resident Historian Podcast here. If you have a story idea or a question about Northwest history, please email Feliks here.