Jerome Kern

Can't Help Lovin' dat Man, song (from "Show Boat")

    Description by Timothy Dickey

    Jerome Kern's 1927 musical Show Boat enjoyed almost immediate success. Ziegfeld himself agreed to stage it in his newly completed theater, and it was so popular he created a second cast for concurrent runs in Philadelphia and New York; the first of four revivals (plus three film versions) took place only three years after the close. Yet Show Boat broke the time's conventional molds for musical theater: it dealt with issues of race in America, two main characters struggle with broken marriages, and even the love songs that appear to flaunt customary standards of sentiment. Oscar Hammerstein's book and lyrics for the show, with Kern's masterful evocation of its sweep through earlier times cast these controversial topics in an instantly popular vehicle. And all of them overlap in the character of Julie. The player who loses her job on the showboat when her mulatto blood and illegal marriage to a white man are revealed, Julie's signature songs are the ironic and simple: "Bill," and the racially charged "Can't Help Lovin' Dat Man."

    Kern first gives the audience a taste of "Can't Help Lovin' Dat Man" as Julie tries to comfort the love-struck daughter of the showboat's captain. "Love's a Funny Thing," she says, leaning on her own experience that once love strikes, even finding out that the man's no good will not relieve it. She sings a light ballad about the need to love her one man until she dies, just as a fish must swim and a bird must fly. Yet the song is not just a ballad. The African-American cook Queenie hears her singing it, and asks where she learned the song: Queenie knows it as a black person's melody and a favorite of her husband Joe. Julie, who has been pretending to be fully Caucasian, betrays her true heritage by singing "Can't Help Lovin' Dat Man" in its entirety. Kern's music clearly suggests African-American idioms, with many chromatic "blue notes," swung rhythms, syncopation, and plucked strings emulating a banjo in the accompaniment. Later in the scene, this song breaks racial barriers, as the lily-white Magnolia shuffles her suddenly hot feet to Queenie's rendition. Through the show, this song continues its trajectory alongside the characters, serving as a wedding chorus for Magnolia. Finally, it reappears in different guise as a ragtime in the Chicago entertainment scene, sung by a now-abandoned Magnolia as she tries to forge a new life in a new time.

    Appears On

    Year Title / Performer Label / Catalog # AllMusic Rating
    2015
    Erato
    551696
    2013
    Dutton Laboratories / Dutton Vocalion
    CDLK 4503
    2012
    EMI / EMI Classics / Warner Classics
    5099932737523
    2012
    Warner Classics
    678298
    2011
    Warner Classics
    2564678306
    2011
    Guild / Guild Light Music
    GLCD5179
    2007
    Chandos
    10444
    2006
    Landor Records
    277
    2006
    Rhino
    73192
    2005
    Centaur Records
    2724
    2002
    Various Artists
    Reader's Digest Music
    9142
    2002
    Columbia River Entertainment Group
    191008
    2002
    LML Music
    202
    2002
    Turner Classic Movies Music / Rhino
    78323
    2001
    Columbia / Sony Music Distribution
    89710
    2001
    Various Artists
    Rhino / WEA Internation
    41215
    2001
    Pearl
    132
    2000
    EMI Classics / Angel Records / EMI Music Distribution
    CDC-54527
    1996
    Adès
    500662
    1996
    Various Artists
    Madacy Distribution / Madacy
    725
    1996
    Memoir Classics
    501
    1996
    Avid
    519
    1995
    Various Artists
    Pickwick
    4161
    1993
    Various Artists
    Columbia / CBS Records / Sony Music Distribution
    53402
    1993
    Vanguard
    6015
    1993
    Angel Records / EMI Music Distribution / Warner Classics
    0777754527
    1985
    Columbia
    CK-40092
    Ades
    140942
    Intersound
    8303
    Collins Records
    1137
    Telarc Distribution
    83337
    Golden Stars
    GSS 5607
    FRC
    224
    RCA
    61182
    CBS Records
    2220
    Pearl
    9105
    CBW / Mukuru
    014717