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Beloved of Morris dancers and school orchestras, "Country Gardens" is an English folk tune collected by Ralf Vaughan Williams' friend, the musicologist Cecil Sharp. Australian composer Percy Grainger famously arranged it for piano in 1918 and the best known version with the lyrics sung was by Jimmie Rodgers (as "English Country Garden"), which reached #5 on the UK singles chart in 1962.
George Percy Grainger (8 July 1882 – 20 February 1961) was an Australian-born composer and pianist who worked under the stage name of Percy Aldridge Grainger. A striking looking lad with blue eyes and brilliant orange hair, Grainger gave his first public performance on the piano at the age of 12, and critics hailed him as a prodigy.
Grainger and his domineering and possessive mother, with whom he had a very close relationship, moved to London in 1901. Encouraged by his friend Edvard Grieg, he took an interest in English folk music and with the help of a wax cylinder recorder, persuaded the locals to sing their rural songs for hi, which he proceeded to arrange.
Grainger moved to the United States at the outbreak of World War I in 1914, due to pressure to enlist in the military and lived there for the rest of his life. Whilst there, he arranged the English folk song "Country Gardens", as a birthday gift for his beloved mother. It became his biggest success, selling more than 40,000 copies a year in the US alone. By 1925, Grainger was extremely rich and wildly famous. He was earning $5,000 a week for performances and charging up to $200 an hour for lesson - a lot of money in those days. But Grainger came to loath this tune, which had become his calling card. At one concert, after he had already given numerous encores, he said "I have to play Country Gardens or they won't go home." He did and they did.
Grainger was renowned for his physical stamina and was known as "the jogging pianist" for his habit of racing through streets to a concert, where he would bound on stage at the last minute as he preferred to be in a state of utter exhaustion when playing. While on tour, he sometimes walked from venue to venue. Once, after a concert in South Africa, he walked 65 miles to the next, arriving late still wearing his gym shoes.
Comedian Allan Sherman used this "Country Gardens'" melody for his 1963 song, "Here's To the Crabgrass."
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