Hello! Ma Baby

Album: Beggars Banquet: The Punk Singles Collection (1899)


  • The oldest known song featuring somebody talking over the phone, "Hello! Ma Baby" was written in 1899 by the Tin Pan Alley husband and wife songwriting team of Joseph E. Howard and Ida Emerson, when only 10% of the population had telephones. Its subject is an African American man who has a girlfriend that he knows only through the telephone.
  • Although the first telephone directory was published as long ago as February 1878, songs about telephones were few and far between, and the first "telephone hit" did not happen until 1899. The cover of the sheet music proclaiming "Hello! Ma Baby" by Howard and Emerson was published (or distributed in the UK) by Francis, Day & Hunter of London, and copyright 1899 by T.B. Harms in the USA.

    Ida Emerson was actually Mrs. Howard - the composer's second wife. According to Thomas Hischak in The Tin Pan Alley Song Encyclopedia, Howard was inspired when he heard "an African American porter use the title phrase on the phone to his sweetheart. Within two weeks the song was written, and Howard was performing it on stage."
  • "Hello! Ma Baby" has been used in several films, was sung by the cast of the Broadway review Tintypes in 1980, and has been recorded by numerous artists but - surprisingly - the recording which stands head and shoulders above all others was made by Ivor Biggun. "Doc" is best known for ditties of an entirely different type, which even in the 21st Century can't be played on the radio. In 1978, Biggun added some extra verses and teamed up with Miss Amelia Blowhard (oh boy) to record it as "Hello My Baby" on the Beggars Banquet label with some delightful vocal interplay.

    It was played several times on BBC Radio, until somebody turned it over and realised the A Side was "I've Parted" (a typical Biggun misprint). >>
    Suggestion credit:
    Alexander Baron - London, England, for above 2
  • The song was first recorded by Arthur Collins on an Edison 5470 phonograph cylinder. The American baritone was one of the most prolific and popular of pioneer recording artists, and was regarded in his day as "King of the Ragtime Singers." In 1905 Collins' recording of "A Preacher And A Bear" was #1 for 11 weeks, based on cylinder and sheet music sales, a record length for the first decade of the 20th century.
  • In using the early telephones people rang a bell by hand and then said into the instrument, "Are you ready to talk?" or asked some similar question. Alexander Graham Bell, who is widely regarded as the inventor of the telephone, recommended answering calls with the word 'Ahoy'.

    The story goes that one day Thomas Edison was working in his laboratory to perfect the telephone. He picked up the instrument during a test and yelled into the transmitter, "Halloo!", a word of high German origin that was employed at the time as a call to hounds or even as call for a ferryman. Edison successfully suggested this greeting should become the standard way to start a telephone conversation.

    At the time this song was written, the word "Hello" itself was primarily associated with telephone use. It was only a couple of decades later it became a general greeting for all situation.
  • Looney Tunes fans will recognize "Hello! My Baby" from when the tune was sung by Michigan J Frog in the famous 1955 cartoon One Froggy Evening, while high-stepping in the style of a cakewalk. In The Office episode "Last Day In Florida" (2012), Kevin forces Toby and Darryl to sing the tune in the manner of the animated amphibian.
  • Homer Simpson, Principal Skinner, Chief Wiggum and Apu sing a barbershop quartet rendition of the song in The Simpsons' fifth-season episode "Homer's Barbershop Quartet."
  • The 1987 movie Spaceballs spoofed the film Alien in a scene where the creature bursts out of a human's chest, but then sings and dances to this song.
  • This also shows up in these TV shows:

    Mad Men ("My Old Kentucky Home" - 2009)
    Cybill ("Cybill, Get Your Gun" - 2006)
    NewsRadio ("Friends" - 1995) - sung by Vicki Lewis
    Parker Lewis Can't Lose ("Glory Daze" - 1992)
    Matlock ("The Nurse" - 1987)


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