12.03.2009

The Hokey Pokey is what it's all about

Often we assume that the rhymes we sing as children come from some distant, anonymous past. But not everything was written by Mother Goose or Brothers Grimm. Just as "Happy Birthday" and "I'm a Little Teapot" are still under copyright, one of the possible authors of the Hokey Pokey was alive until just last month.

The New York Times reports that Robert Degen passed away on November 23rd, his 104th birthday. While a later version of the song was the first to hit big, Degen was the first to copyright "The Hokey Pokey Dance" in 1944.

However, some believe that the song's origins really are as old as Goose or Grimm:

A similar song, called variously “Hokey Cokey” or “Cokey Cokey,” was reportedly a favorite of English and American soldiers in England during World War II, the authorship attributed sometimes to a popular British songwriter, Jimmy Kennedy, and sometimes to a London bandleader, Al Tabor.

Some Roman Catholic churchmen, meanwhile, have said that the words “hokey pokey” derive from “hocus pocus” — the Oxford English Dictionary concurs — and that the song was written by 18th-century Puritans to mock the language of the Latin Mass.

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