Franklin D. Roosevelt Jones – originally titled “Man of the Year” – is a 1938 satirical song written by Harold Rome. It was first recorded and released as a single by Ella Fitzgerald in 1938 and was performed by Judy Garland in blackface in the 1941 musical picture Babes on Broadway. The song satirizes the then contemporaneous practice of African American parents who named their children after Franklin D. Roosevelt, the 32nd President of the United States.
The song was written by Rome for his and Charles Friedman’s 1938 satirical musical revue Sing out the News, where it was introduced by Rex Ingram and chorus and bandleader Hazel Scott. The song was performed in the musical in the context of a block party in Harlem. Rome’s biographer, Tighe E. Zimmers, described the song as “Rome at his tuneful, liberal best, celebrating the birth of a black baby while paying homage to Franklin D. Roosevelt.” It has also been described as “patronizing, if well-meant” by Guido van Rijn in his 1995 book Roosevelt’s Blues: African-American Blues and Gospel Artists on President Franklin D. Roosevelt. [Wikipedia]
Garland’s Babes On Broadway performance
The song was performed as part of a minstrel medley by Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney in blackface in the 1941 musical film Babes on Broadway medley was subsequently described by Michael Feingold in a 1998 review of recent Garland reissues in the Village Voice as “otherwise unstomachable” apart from Garland’s performance of the song which he felt was a “triumphant rendition…innocence joyously cubed and that “…she largely eschews the genre’s racist mannerisms. It’s just Judy, proud and happy, as a nonwhite male American, a role like other roles”.
Feingold concluded that “Distressing as the sequence is, Judy’s spirit gets past it. She does not seem to be playing to the blackface, as Jolson does in similar numbers; what stays in the memory is her vocal clarity (the crane shot climbs over a single bell-toned long note), not the horrific racist cartoon. It’s the ultimate indication of her power to transcend: There’s very little uglier than this in American pop culture, yet even here Judy can find a reserve of dignity, and not be brought down. She does not “sell” racism; at her bosses’ behest, she merely wears its costumes”
Flanagan and Allen
Flanagan and Allen were a British singing and comedy double act popular during World War II.
Bud Flanagan (1896–1968) and Chesney Allen (1894–1982) were music hall comedians. They would often feature a mixture of comedy and music in their act; this led to a successful recording career as a duo and roles in film and television.