As I have said in the past, Soundies producers tended to be “equal opportunity offenders.” While African Americans took the brunt of the stereotypes and racism, nobody was safe!

Racial epithets, on the other hand, were somewhat of a rarity in Soundies. The term “darkies” turns up on occasion, most strikingly in Louis Armstrong’s performance of his theme song, “When It’s Sleepy Time Down South,” and the Japanese people are often referred to as “Japs.” But most of the racism is found in the visual imagery, not the lyrics. This is why the constant reference to the Irish as “micks” in “Who Threw the Overalls in Mrs. Murphy’s Chowder” is so shocking.

The song was written by George L. Giefer, and a recording from 1901 finds the term “mick” in place. “Mrs. Murphy’s Chowder” became a popular tune with Irish listeners, and “mick” is often retained by Irish performers. Non-Irish performers sometimes changed the word to something like “hick” – but certainly not always!

The Maxwell Girls was a quintet of five female musicians under the direction of Connie Maxwell. They did not leave a large footprint in popular music history although, at the time of their Soundies session in July 1941, the combo was still in the midst of (or perhaps just concluding) an eighteen-month booking at Radio Frank’s nightclub in midtown Manhattan. They are joined on the soundtrack vocal by the Eton Boys, a very popular radio quartet of the 1930s and ‘40s.

While it makes sense that the combo would have been asked to perform numbers that were a part of their nightclub act, Soundies arranger and occasional bandleader Claude Garreau provided the arrangement for “Who Threw the Overalls in Mrs. Murphy’s Chowder.” Since Irish songs were a regular part of weekly reels, this suggests that this title was selected for the group by the production team.

How one responds to the racism in this film eighty years after its production is a personal thing, I suppose. Recognizing the historical context of the endemic racism of the war years, hidden under a patina of “patriotism,” is essential. While absolute outrage is not called for, I personally detest this type of name-calling. Period. Yet a buddy of mine, my age, of Irish descent, found the Soundie to be hilarious. Every viewer will bring his/her own life experiences to this Soundie.