The Teddy Bears Picnic

Album: Children's Songs (1932)


  • Although it has a frivolous sounding title, this song is actually quite a sophisticated piece of classical music written in 6/8 time; it also has a rather complex history. The background to the whole teddy bear thing is outlined by Michèle Brown in The Little History Of The Teddy Bear.

    In 1834, Robert Southey wrote Goldilocks And The Three Bears; in 1894 a German toy company came up with a stuffed bear; in 1899, Margarete Steiff registered patents for twenty-three of her soft toy designs including a dancing bear; in November 1902, Morris Michtom sold the first Teddy Bear in his Brooklyn shop. The year 1906 saw the first advertisement for the "teddy bear", in the trade journal Playthings, and in 1907, a book called Teddy Bear was published; written by Alice Scott, illustrated by Sybil Scott Paley, and The Roosevelt Bears newspaper strip was published in book form.
  • President Theodore Roosevelt (who was known by his childhood name of "Teedie") lies at the heart of the teddy bear craze. It was against this background that the American composer John W. Bratton wrote the music which was called initially "Teddy Bear Two-Step." This name did not last for long, and it soon became known as "The Teddy Bears' Picnic". Bratton (1867-1947) wrote perhaps two hundred and fifty songs, yet this is the only one for which he is remembered. Then along came Edith Harrhy. London-born Harrhy (1893-1969) studied at the Guildhall School Of Music; she would eventually emigrate to Australia where she held posts in theatrical and operatic groups; among her claims to fame was writing children's songs, as lyricist and/or composer. It appears to have been Bratton who came up with the title "Teddy Bears' Picnic", but Harrhy's lyrics - written under the pseudonym Ethel Wood - tell the story, although the word "picnic" does not actually appear in the song.
  • There are numerous editions of the music. The National Library of Australia holds a copy in its on-line digital collection, words copyright 1939 by Allan & Co of Melbourne. What appears to be a copy of the original is held by the British Library; this is "The Teddy Bears Picnic" [no apostrophe], copyright M Witmark & Sons, stamped received by the British Museum, August 11, 1909; it was arranged for Brass Band by Warwick Williams. This edition contains an amusing note to the effect that: "A very good imitation of a bear's growling may be produced by fixing a slack Bassoon reed through a piece of cork cut to fit the mouthpiece of an E[flat] Bass, or a Euphonium."

    Another British Library holding, "The Teddy Bear's Picnic" [single apostrophe] arranged for Banjo by Robert Mahood, copyright 1908 by M Witmark, says this arrangement is copyrighted 1923.

    This is all well and good, but the definitive version has lyrics by Dublin University graduate Jimmy Kennedy. In an interview published in the first issue of The Songwriter, dated June 1937, Kennedy said the music was twenty years old when he put words to it. This date may not be quite accurate, but the Kennedy version was first recorded in 1932 by Henry Hall and his Orchestra with vocalist Val Rosing.

    In 1952, Kennedy published a children's poem The Story of the Teddy Bears' Picnic, credited by the Author of the famous Song "The Teddy Bears' Picnic". He appears to have been living in the United States at that time, because the self-published booklet was available from James Kennedy, 375 Park Avenue, New York at 1s6d or 20c; the same year, a coloured, fully illustrated version was published by the music publisher, B. Feldman of London.

    Another arrangement of the Kennedy version, by Andrew Carter, in the Oxford Choral Songs series credits it "Original words and melody [copyright] 1907 and 1947 by Warner Bros...": This arrangement copyright 1989, published by Oxford University Press, Music Department.
  • "The Teddy Bears Picnic" has been widely recorded and used since the 1932 Henry Hall recording, as incidental music in TV series, commercials and films. The artists who have recorded it range from Bing Crosby to Jerry Garcia. It was also recited - as a poem - by Ian Gillan at the start of a live recording of "Bad Attitude". >>
    Suggestion credit:
    Alexander Baron - London, England, for all above

Comments: 7

  • L Honey from British ColumbiaI didn’t find this song scary. I loved it as a kid and my dad would sometime, really rarely, sing it to me. I was not fond of adults so found it lovely that teddy bears had an escape. I never had a teddy bear of my own though.
  • Sympathique from Los AngelesOf course it's creepy. It's like one of those precautionary scary stories parents tell their kids to discourage bad behavior. In this case it's "don't wander into the woods alone." But instead of being concerned about bears eating them, it's probably more of a concern to not have the children get lost or encounter strangers.
  • Boo from Lancashire, England.Interestingly there are many recordings which got the chord sequence quite wrong, and they seem to be copied by more people than the correct sequence.
    On the line "Picnic time for teddy bears..." the song modulates a up a fourth, which is essential for the melody to make sense. Bing Crosby recorded a version where it modulated up a 5th, and Jerry Garcia modulated up a major 3rd, and many children's records seem to leave it in the same key signature the song started in, not modulating anywhere!
    An internet search for the chords invariably comes up with one of these wrong interpretations.
  • Bruce Alan Wilson from Charleston, Wv UsaIs it just me, or is this really a rather creepy little song? Why is one advised to go 'in disguise', and 'not alone' into the woods--and that it is better not to go? Why must one spy on the teddy bears? If they catch you--alone, undisguised, spying on you--what will happen 'down under the trees where nobody sees"? Probably something highly unpleasant.
  • Bill from Us"contains an amusing note to the effect that: "A very good imitation of a bear's growling may be produced by fixing a slack Bassoon reed through a piece of cork cut to fit the mouthpiece of an E[flat] Bass, or a Euphonium."
    WELL DUH, everyone knows that!, Seriously, this may well be the FIRST record I ever had and put on a turntable that was mine!
    I played other records but they were some relatives.
  • Alexander from Huddersfield, United KingdomI'd like to use Teddy Bears Picnic music in a radio commercial but have been told that EMI own copyright and want to charge a small fortune. Can anyone let me know if this piece of music is indeed in the public domain (or not)
  • Bob from Tucson, AzAll anyone wants to know about 'The Teddy Bears' Picnic' can be found at:'_Picnic. It corrects several of your mistakes.
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