Souvenir Music from the World's Columbian Exposition of 1893

1. The Streets of Cairo; or, The Poor Little Country Maid

Composed by James Thornton 

James Thornton was an Irish-born comedian and songwriter who achieved moderate success on the vaudeville stage around the turn of the century; his most famous song was “When You Were Sweet Sixteen.” He found even greater success when he teamed up with the singer Lizzie Cox, whom he married. According to her biographer, “part of her job was to keep her husband from spending all his money on drink.” This song makes significant use of the “hoochie koochie” melody (here called “kutchy-kutchy”), and is credited with bringing the tune into popular currency. It was supposedly written by the entrepreneur Sol Bloom, who was the chief organizer of the Midway, but he borrowed the famous melody from a French song from the 1700s, which in turn can be traced to an earlier Algerian tune. This little melody would have a long life, partly because it went immediately into the public domain and was used liberally by cartoon and movie composers, usually to comic effect. We will hear it again on this album.

Lizzie (who used the stage name Bonnie Thornton) performed “The Streets of Cairo” on vaudeville, and it was apparently a hit. The song was published in 1895, and makes reference to a popular novel just coming into circulation at that time, George de Maurier’s Trilby, which featured a beautiful young woman captured under the spell of a hypnotist named Svengali.

Even though one goal of the Columbian Exposition was to promulgate a more positive image of the urban environment, this song presents a commonplace nineteenth-century narrative of an innocent young woman corrupted by the temptations of the city. In this regard, it was influenced by Trilby and other novels and plays of the era.

View the MP3 in Omeka.

Performers: Chris White, piano; Brad Jungwirth, vocals.

Lyrics: 

I will sing you a song, and it won’t take very long,
‘Bout a maiden sweet, and she never would do wrong, 
Ev’ryone said she was pretty, she was not long in the city, 
All alone, oh what a pity, poor little maid.

Chorus:

She never saw the streets of Cairo,
On the Midway she had never strayed,
She never saw the kutchy kutchy
Poor little country maid 

Verse 2:

She went out one night, did this innocent divine,
With a nice young man, who invited her to dine.
Now he’s sorry that he met her, now he never will forget her
In the future he’ll no better, poor little maid. 

Chorus

Verse 3: 

She was engaged as a picture for to pose
To appear each night, in abbreviated clothes.
All the dudes were in a flurry, for to catch her they did hurry
One who caught her now is sorry, poor little maid.

Chorus 

Verse 4: 

She was much fairer far than Trilby,
Lots of more men sorry will be,
If they don’t try to keep away
From this poor little country maid.

Chorus