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I Love a Lassie

I Love a Lassie

Oh, I love a lassie,
A bonnie, bonnie lassie,
She's as pure As the lily in the dell,
She's as sweet As the heather,
The bonnie purple heather,
Mary, ma Scotch blue bell.

Harry Lauder

Harry MacLennan Lauder was five feet three inches tall and weighted 170 pounds. He had sparkling eyes, a husky voice and his trademark was a Scottish costume and a walking stick. His first tour of the United States was made in 1906. He would make at least 40 tours in America over a period of some twenty years. (Since Buffalo Bill toured Scotland in 1904 it makes one ask if there was a connection.) Sir Winston Churchill called him “the greatest minstrel the world has ever seen.” During his 1915 tour he crossed the States preaching a gospel of preparedness for war.

In San Francisco he spoke to a crowd of twenty thousand. Along the way he met Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson both of whom have a Scottish heritage.

Harry Lauder was born 4 August 1870 in Portobello, on the outskirts of Edinburgh. In the summer of 1890, he was a coal miner in a Hamilton pit singing to help conquer his fear of such dangerous work. By 1900 he was performing the popular songs of his day in London. Along the way he married 17 year old Nancy Vallance who often accompanied him to the United States. He began to write and publish his own music and his first hit was “I Love a Lassie (My Scotch Bluebell).” It was his most successful song, although 13 of his records were in the top 10. He became a millionaire but never demanded a certain fee, taking only what was offered.

His only son died on the battlefield of Flanders in France. John was a Captain in the 8th Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders. Harry and Nancy were notified of his death on January 1, 1917. Harry continued his work of entertaining the troops and established a fund to aid Scottish veterans. In 1919, he received a knighthood from King George V for his service to the troops during the war. He was the first entertainer so honored.

During World War II he became the first person to entertain troops on the battlefield. With a small custom built piano tied to the grill of jeep, he sang and joked his way across France. “His popularity never diminished, and when he visited America during the 1920's, he dined with Presidents Warren Harding and Calvin Coolidge. During one of his trips to Chicago in the 1920's he also visited the Scottish Home. Elizabeth Ross, a one hundred year old resident of the Scottish Home, fondly remembers his performances in Chicago. Harry Lauder was also a proud and active Rotarian.

After World War I, Scottish intellectuals began to attack Harry Lauder and his “Stage Scot.” “They scorned his affected accent, his mannerisms, and his humor, complaining that Lauder had ‘made the Scot a figure of fun throughout the world.’” But, they missed the genuine appeal that Lauder had for thousand of emigrant Scots around the world. The Doig family of Montana remember that their Scottish-born grandmother would nap after dinner with an alarm clock by her bedside so that she could listen to Harry Lauder on a Canadian radio station.

The extent of his appeal can be seen in the inclusion of his voice in a ‘Great Voices of the Twentieth Century’ record series. The Scottish American Museum at the Scottish Home is fortunate to have a complete album of his songs, some sheet music, and one wonderful picture. Harry Lauder used his Scottish theme to “strike a universal, romantic chord about Scotland.” “From a base in Highland mythology, Harry Lauder approached the universal. As historian Harold Orel put it, Lauder ‘may have been responsible for making permanent in the popular imagination more images of Scottish life than the work of an entire tourist board.”

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