Yuletide Greeting II
Harry Kari & His Six Saki Sippers The Night Before Christmas b/w Oh! Oh! Don't Ever Go (Capitol, 1953)
Welcome to the world of comic Harry Stewart. Stewart, a Norwegian-American born in Tacoma, Washington, is best known for his character Yogi Yorgesson, a Swiss-Hindu mystic. In performance as Yogi, Stewart wore a pair of Swede boots, a lion cloth, a lumberjack shirt, and a turban, while he sang songs and pretended to meditate and predict the future (whah???). In the same spirit of ethnic humor, Stewart razzed (or insulted) Germans (Klaus Hammerschmidt), rural white Americans (Claude Hopper), and, here, the Japanese.
In 1953, ethnic humor was still acceptable in the American mainstream. While all ethnicities were fair game no one took it harder than the Germans and the Japanese. Being on the losing end of World War II, many felt it was their patriotic duty to make fun of the "Krauts" and the "Japs." Characters like Hogan's Heroes' Sgt. Schultz and Col. Klink were pretty common. And it wasn't rare to see some Catskill comic pull out his bucked-tooth Oriental gag. In this uhhh "comic" stew stepped Harry Stewart.
Harry Kari came into being in 1953 when Stewart recorded and released the single Yes Sir, That's My Baby b/w Yokohama Nights. On both songs, Stewart adopts an "Oriental" accented voice and sings about his little won ton and riding around in rickshaws. It should not be a surprise that Stewart gets his ethnicities mixed up, attributing things Chinese to the Japanese.
I first heard Yes Sir... when I was about 5 or 6. It was in my parents record collection and when I was a teen it made into mine. By the time I owned it, I had figured out that the record was from a different time. While there were comics still trucking in ethnic stereotypes, the funnymen I listened to (George Carlin, Richard Pryor, Cheech & Chong) mostly made fun of their own and their parodies of others were more in the spirit of understanding how people viewed each other rather than "Hey he speak funny." Still, Yes Sir... was (and is) one of the records I whip out when I am playing "You gotta hear this one." So when I found Harry Kari's Christmas single (which I didn't know existed until I found it), I felt a twinge of guilty pleasure or at least surprise that there was more than one Harry Kari records.
The Night Before Christmas b/w Oh! Oh! Don't Ever Go are in the same spirit of buck-toothed stereotyping that you get with Yes Sir... b/w Yokohama Mama. For some reason, these do not appear on any collections on Stewart's songs.
So here you go: This is part of what Christmas looked like in 1953. It may seem a long way off from what is acceptable today...that is until you remember that this kind of ethnic stereotyping has made its way back into America's comic repertoire (just listen to radio's Don & Mike Show or catch an episode of the Simpsons or South Park). Is it right? Is it wrong? Does it matter if it is done smart or dumb? I'll let you argue over that. What I do know is that it is. Here is a part of Americana that many would rather you not know exist.
This link is not working.
This single was beloved by my wife and her family in her youth, and I would love to get the link to it.
Please let me know what you can do.
I haven't listnened to it for a long time but I'll bet that I could still sing every word of Ho Ho Ho Don't Ever Go.
It may not be "politicly correct" but it's some pretty funny stuff.