Remembering "The Original Memphis Five"



The Original Memphis Five were the Lauderdale family's favorite performers. Many nights, locked away in my little bedroom in the mansion tower, I would place one of their tunes on my old gramophone and skip around the room, entranced by their melodies.

In fact, for a music recital held when I was 35, I chose one of their most popular songs — "Suez," described as "the Oriental fox-trot romance" — and sang it to the half-dozen guests crammed into the Lauderdale ballroom. To this day, I can remember the soaring refrain ("Suez, wondrous Suez, where I was captured with your love sigh / All day, and through the night, to be with you I cry"). And when I hit that final word "cry" in my soaring falsetto, well, there wasn't a dry eye in the house. Whether from the beauty of my voice, or my innovative oboe solo that followed, it's hard to say. I can still see my Aunt Henrietta covering her ears with her blue-veined hands, my performance obviously so beautiful she simply couldn't stand it. Ah, good times!

It wasn't until years later that I learned that the only thing accurate about the name of the Original Memphis Five was the "five" part. First of all, their music wasn't always original. "Suez" was produced by other songwriters, for instance, as were most of their hit songs. And — here's the odd thing — not a single one of their members hailed from Memphis. How they came up with the name of their group, I have no idea.

This much I do know: The Original Memphis Five was a jazz quintet formed in New Orleans around 1917 by trumpet player Phil Napoleon and pianist Frank Signorelli. I guess those two fellows are depicted on the cover of the old sheet music (left), but it doesn't say. Other members included Jimmy Lytell, Charlie Parnelli, and Jack Roth; old photos show the group with a clarinet, trombone, and drums, but I couldn't tell you who played what. It doesn't matter, really. Not to me, anyway.

The Five were incredibly popular through the 1920s and 1930s, cranking out dozens of hit records and selling thousands of pages of sheet music. I can still hum many of their songs, which included such wonderfully titled classics as "Aggravatin' Papa," "Bees Knees," "Don't Pan Me When I'm Gone," "Got To Cool My Doggies Now," "If Your Man Is Like My Man, I Sympathize With You," "I Wish I Could Shimmy Like My Sister Kate," "My Honey's Loving Arms," "That Teasin' Squeezin' Man of Mine," and — my personal favorite — "Whoa, Tillie, Take Your Time!"

I don't know what happened to all the musicians over the years. The only one who really became famous was Phil Napoleon, who later played with the Jimmy Dorsey Orchestra and opened his own nightclub, Napoleon's Retreat, in Miami. According to redhotjazz.com, he died there in 1990.

Reader Comments:
Jun 3, 2011 11:21 am
 Posted by  warbirdali

SO was there a rip-off Memphis 5 that made them use the word "Original"? perhaps a trombone war broke out between gangs of fans between the originals and the fake ones.
I can just picture a young Vance in a sailor suit hitting the high notes and shattering the crystal chandeliers, everyone wondering "Is it live or is it Memorex wax cylinders?"

Jun 4, 2011 08:37 am
 Posted by  Anonymous

Hmmm, "Flat Foot Flukey with a Floy, Floy" one of theirs?

Jun 7, 2011 03:56 pm
 Posted by  Vance Lauderdale

Uh, no. Can you hum it for me? Maybe it will come to me.

Jul 2, 2011 08:13 am
 Posted by  Anonymous

Found it! Despite what my mother said, and nicknamed Aunt Louise, the correct title is Flat Foot Floogie with a Floy Floy. It was written and recorded in 1938 by Slim Gilliard and rereleased in 1940 by Fats Waller on Decca Records.

Oh, the flat foot floogie with a floy, floy,
Flat foot floogie with a floy, floy,
Flat foot floogie with a floy, floy,
Floy doy, floy doy, floy doy.
Yeah, yeah yeah, byah, oh, baby!
Yeah, byah, byah, oh, baby!
Yeah, byah, byah, oh, baby!
Yeah, byah, byah!
Whenever your cares are chronic,
Just tell the world, "go hang,"
You'll find a greater tonic,
If you go on swingin' with the gang!
Flat foot floogie with a floy, floy,
Flat foot floogie with a floy, floy,
Floy, floy, floy, yeah!
Send me on out there!
[Shouting and muttering to the band.]
Whenever your cares are chronic,
Just tell the world, "go hang,"
You'll find a greater tonic,
If you go on stumblin' with the gang!
Hey, hey, hey, yes, yes!
Well, all right then; get those floy-floys straight!

Dec 8, 2013 04:43 pm
 Posted by  Anonymous

Jack Roth was my Uncle. He was Jimmie Durante's drummer after OM5 for over 40 years.

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Ask Vance is the blog of Vance Lauderdale, the award-winning columnist of Memphis magazine and MBQ: Inside Memphis Business.  Vance is the author of three books: Ask Vance: The Best Questions and Answers from Memphis Magazine's History and Trivia Expert (2003), as well as Ask Vance: More Questions and Answers from Memphis Magazine's History Expert (2011) and Vance Lauderdale's Lost Memphis (2013). He is also the recipient of quite a few nice awards, the creator of several eye-catching wall calendars, and the only person we know with a vintage shock-treatment machine in his den. 

You can find him from time to time in the pages of the Memphis Flyer and MBQ, on WKNO television, and on Facebook. When he is not exploring the highways and byways of Memphis, he spends his time sleeping, napping, and dozing.

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