Tom Glazer who died at the age of 88 on February 21, 2003 is remembered as a true American Folk Song Singer and composer. One of the songs he popularized was the kid's song 'On Top of Spaghetti'.
Many Internet sites also credit him with writing this song; with all due respect to his memory this is not factual. Tom Glazer may have added versus to the song but he did not write 'On top of Spaghetti'.
In 1957 Davie Florida was a very small town that actually had more horses and cows than people. Davie is in Broward County, better known as the county of Ft. Lauderdale. In 1957 Davie was hardly considered any part of Ft. Lauderdale. In fact Davie was thought to be a backwards cow and horse town. Today Davie is considered more upscale.
Davie Elementary was the only school in Davie. After leaving the 6th grade Davie students were bused to Junior and senior high schools in Ft. Lauderdale or Hollywood.
In the summer of 1958 I attended a 1-week summer craft class at Davie Elementary. There were at most 20 kids, a teacher and a couple moms in the crafts camp. During the week I clearly remember taking flat pieces of tin, placing them over a wood block with the center hollowed out. Then we took a ball peen hammer and hit the tin until it took on the shape of the hollowed wood. The resulting product was an ashtray to take home. Since almost parents smoked, this was a useful present for them.
We also made some hand made potholders by weaving them on small looms. The craft making was fun but the best part of camp was going out to the playground.
I also clearly remember the day we made up " On Top Of Spaghetti" (6 years before Tom Glazer recorded It). It rarely rains all day in south Florida. Usually storms blow in and out quickly; this day was an exception to that rule. Due to a steady rain, we could not go out and play. so the teacher had us sing songs. One song she taught us that morning was "On Top Of Old Smokey".¯
On top of Old Smokey,
For courting's a pleasure,
To be honest I did not really remember these lyrics (I copied them from http://www.kididdles.com/lyrics/o036.html. Go there and scroll down for the complete song). By the way the author of On Top Of Old Smokey is listed as unknown.
At camp each of us brought our lunch. On sunny days we would eat outside picnic style. On this rainy day we had to eat inside. The Old Smokey song was song fresh in our minds. As we were eating and goofing around, one of the kids sneezed all over his baloney sandwich. In response another kid paraphrased the song and blurted out "On Top Of Baloney All Covered with Snot";¯ everyone laughed. ( I remember this because after that I associated baloney with snot ). A mom in the classroom got upset and said that was vulgar, she told us not to say it again.
Kids being kids we began throwing out alternatives to 'vulgar' baloney and snot lyric. In a flurry of childish outburst; someone said the now famous line "On Top of Spaghetti" instead of Baloney. We then tried replacing word snot with a variety of less offensive toppings like sauce, catsup and some gross things like worms.
There was no organization to the process. Kids interrupted each other and yelled out lines. Finally in an attempt to gain control; a parent joined in. She wrote down some of our suggestions, then we shouted our approval for this line or that idea until we finally had these four lines .
On top of Spaghetti all covered with cheese,
At the end of the week the teacher sent home a mimeograph recap of what we did during camp. It listed the crafts we made, games we played and the silly lyrics to a song we made up "On top of Spaghetti" sung to the tune of On top Of Old Smokey. I forgot all about this camp report until I found it in a box of memorabilia after my father passed away in the early 1980s.
In 1957, South Florida was still not developed. The sign going into Ft. Lauderdale said "Welcome To The Village of Fort Lauderdale". Many of today's most up-scale suburbs were not even dreamed of at that time. Local newspapers were 'small town' by today's standards. For example they were happy to accept and print lost dog and cat ads for free.
Anyway; back to my story. Someone sent a letter to one of the papers reporting on how much fun kids had had at the Davie Elementary Craft Camp. They included the lyrics to our song On Top Of Spaghetti explaining you sing it to the tune of On Top Of Old Smokey. I remember being embarrassed when a friend's mom told us it had been in the paper. After all, the lyrics are lame and a guy could expect to be teased for singing about a meat ball.
It is hard to picture now, but back then there was no local morning television news shows. Instead; early morning TV shows were made for kids to watch before they went to school. Then there were similar shows in the afternoons and of course on Saturday mornings. South Florida kids show included: The Coral G Rangers, Popeye's Playhouse and a number of other locally produced shows. Chuck Zinc and Charlie Baxter were the two most watched local kid's show hosts. These shows needed new skits and content everyday. The bar for good material was set pretty low. Somehow the Spaghetti song became a recurring standard on some local kids shows of the late 1950's.
Since Ft. Lauderdale and Miami were major tourist locations, it is easy to see how visitors would hear the song on local kids shows, then take it back home with them , across the country.
This is July 2007. It has been exactly a half-century since we made up the song. Last night I was watching the local news and there was a story about a group of inner city camp kids in Miami making up a song "The Police, They're Alright".¯ Watching this story made me think about our camp song.
LIBERTY CITY, Fla.
"Students in Liberty City are sending a message through music -- "The Police, They're Alright." That song is one of 17 on a CD that will be released in August. The music was written and performed by children in the Miami Police Athletic League's Liberty Square Summer Program."
The last time I thought about our Spaghetti song was before the Internet. Last night after watching the The "Police, They're Alright." story, I got up and goggled 'On Top Of Spaghetti' to see if we had been given credit for its creation. I really expected to see origin unknown. Instead I was amazed and saddened to see credit for the song had been given to someone else.
I found a number of sites with stories and bios about Tom Glazer. The general consensus is he was known for numerous renditions of Folk Songs, but was most remembered for his 1963 recording of On Top Of Spaghetti; a song he recorded on a children's song album. In some sites he was also given credit for writing the song. The version of the song he recorded has more verses than our first version. He or someone else added verses to our original song. But I think it is wrong to calm credit for the song, when all you did was add on verses and record it.
To be honest I hate challenging the origin of the song. Especially since it was what he was most remembered for. In fact all my life I have wondered did we really make it up, or was the song written up before 1957. Did one of the kids in my class hear it before that rainy day? But now that I see on the Internet; the song was first recorded in 1963, I am more certain than ever that we indeed were the original authors of On Top Of Spaghetti.
There is no single source to check for the facts. That is why I decided to post this story on the Internet. Maybe someone else can come forward with more information. At the very least I am providing a alternate possibility for the writing of On Top Of Spaghetti. Who would have guessed this song would have gained an almost American Standard stature.
You will note I am not using my name or any of the other children's names in connection with the making up of the song. That is because after a half century I can only remember 5 or 6 kid's names that were in the camp on that summer day 1957. It would be unfair to list some and leave out others. In fact I cannot clearly remember what my own contribution to the song was. We were all blurting out suggestions. As I said in the beginning of this story, the original inspiration for the song was On Top Of Old Smokey. The author for that song is today listed as Unknown. I think we deserve better than that. How about; The original verse to On Top Of Spaghetti was written by kids in a Davie Florida summer camp 1957 and recorded by folk singer Tom Glazer 1963.