On a recent Saturday evening, my wife and I went to the movies. We saw 42, the excellent new movie about baseball legend Jackie Robinson.
As is our habit, when the film was over, we stayed in our seats and watched – I can’t say “read” because they go by so fast it’s hard to catch more than a handful of names – the credits. Usually though, there’s some pretty good music playing over the credits, music that doesn’t appear anywhere else in the movie, and this time was no exception. Before the cast list was done, Count Basie and His Orchestra were throwing out the first pitch of their classic recording of “Did You See Jackie Robinson Hit That Ball?”
I first heard and learned to play “Did You See Jackie Robinson Hit That Ball?” from the 1997 Hungry for Music CD Diamond Cuts. The version of “Did You See…?” on this eclectic and very entertaining 25-track “compilation of baseball songs and poetry” was by children’s performer Kathy Kallick. The CD’s liner notes said that Ms. Kallick had recorded it in 1995 for her Use A Napkin (Not Your Mom) album but the song had originally been recorded by the Count Basie Orchestra in 1947.
That last bit of info was, may I say, way out of the strike zone.
Pianist Count Basie and his Orchestra, with vocalist Taps Miller on the mound, recorded “Did You See Jackie Robinson Hit That Ball?” at the Victor Records recording studios in New York City on July 13, 1949.
The song itself had been written earlier that year by Woodrow “Buddy” Johnson and submitted for copyright with the Library of Congress in June. Buddy Johnson (1915-1977) was, in 1949, an established New York-based Jazz and Blues pianist, singer, bandleader and songwriter, most well known for his 1945 song “Since I Fell For You.” Buddy Johnson & His Orchestra recorded their version of “Did You See…?” on June 7, 1949 for Decca Records. By August of 1949, their record had reached #13 on the charts.
If you listen closely to the words of either version of the song, you’ll notice that Buddy Johnson very cleverly incorporates the names of four other Negro League Baseball stars who followed in Jackie Robinson’s footsteps as Major League Baseball continued to integrate its rosters.
It wasn’t until I’d located (on the 1989 Rhino Records CD Baseball’s Greatest Hits) and listened to the Count Basie recording that I realized that Kathy Kallick had made a change in Buddy Johnson’s original lyrics. In the first and second verses, Ms. Kallick sang – as I also always did – “Yeah, man! Yes, yes, Jackie hit that ball!”
P.S.: The five baseball cards shown in this post were issued in 1991 by the Topps Trading Card Company as part of a reissue set called: Topps Baseball Archives – The Ultimate 1953 Series. The Don Newcombe and Larry Doby cards were part of a subset of that series: “The Cards That Never Were.”