Wednesday, March 9, 2022

Hokey Pokey or Hokey Cokey? Wrong! It's the Cokey Cokey. What's that all about?

Fannie Wych Dunn, Everyday Classics, Primer-Eighth Reader, New York, Macmillan, 1917, page 41.

It’s a familiar song played at what seems like every wedding ever; “put your right foot in, put your right foot out . . . do the Hokey _____ . . . ” etc., ad nauseum.

How do you fill in the blank?

In the United Kingdom they call it the “Hokey Cokey.”

In the United States they call it the “Hokey Pokey.”

What’s that all about?

It turns out they’ve all got it turned around and don’t know what it’s all about. The original title of the dance craze, copyright February 6, 1942, was “Cokey Cokey.”

Cokey cokey; w & m Jimmy Kennedy. (c) Feb. 6, 1942; E for. 66528: Kennedy music co., ltd., London. 10200.

 The United States Copyright Office’s Catalog of Copyright Entries (pt. III, n. s., v. 37) 1942.

The original name was soon replaced with “Hokey Pokey” and “Hokey Cokey,” likely under the influence of the familiar, pre-existing expression, “Hokey Pokey,” the name of a frozen ice cream-like treat sold by street vendors. It is not unusual for the names of songs or dances to become misunderstood or mixed up. The English bandleader Hedley Ward said in 1949, for example, that “it is amazing how people muddle up the titles of tunes,” and that “the ‘Hokey-Cokey’ he has had all ways from ‘Okey-Pokey’ to ‘Pokey-Pokey.’”i

“Hokey Pokey” appeared in print as the name of the dance in Britain, even before “Hokey Cokey,” although the Brits would eventually drop the “Pokey,” in favor of “Cokey” as it appeared in the proper song title. When introduced in the United States by British soldiers a few months later, it was called the “Hokey Pokey,” and has remained so ever since.

The earliest references to the song appear in several Scottish newspapers a few weeks after its copyright date, in advertisements for an appearance by radio personalities and singers named, Gerald Arthur and Charles Carlton, which was billed as:

Specially Featuring the Cokey Cokey, the New Dance Craze.

Motherwell Times (Lanarkshire, Scotland), February 20, 1942, page 2; Wilshaw Press (Lanarkshire, Scotland), February 20, 1942, page 2; Falkirk Herald (Stirlingshire, Scotland), February 21, 1942, page 2.

Scotland may have been an appropriate place for the earliest references to the “Cokey Cokey” dance craze, since the lyrics (or dance instructions) of the song can be traced to a Scottish children’s rhyme, “Hinkumbooby,” which appeared in print as early as 1842.

Right hands in, and left hands out,

Hinkumbooby, round about;

Fal de ral la, fal de ral la,

Hinkumbooby, round about.


Left hands in, and right hands out,

Hinkumbooby, round about; etc.


Heads in, and backs out, etc.

Backs in, and heads out, etc.

A’ feet in, and nae feet out, etc.

Shake hands a’, shake hands a’, etc.

 Robert Chambers, Popular Rhymes of Scotland, 3d edition, 1858, pages 273-274 (also said to have been included in the 2d edition (1842) at page 65, as cited in Edward Deming Andrews, The Gift to be Simple: Songs, Dances and Rituals of the American Shakers, J. J. Augustin, 1940, page 42, fn 69, continued on page 42).


A few days after the modest, local advertising blitz for the “Cokey Cokey” in Scotland, The Stage (London) published an advertisement for the music, apparently targeting professional musicians who might buy the music and play it for their audiences. The emphatic tagline, “that’s what it’s all about,” which distinguishes the pre-war versions of the song from the post-war versions, was present in the lyrics.

You put your left arm out, left arm in, left arm out and shake it all about, you do the Cokey Cokey and turn around, That’s what it’s all about.

See? Already a riot with the forces, try it on your audience - they know it.

 The Stage (London), February 26, 1942, page 2.

It may be unsurprising that the song was popular among “the forces” (the armed forces - Britain was then on a war footing).  Even before he wrote the song, Lieutenant Jimmy Kennedy was “serving with an anti-aircraft battery, and he got most of his ideas on guard duty.”ii He had previously collaborated on another song popular with the troops, “We’re Going to Hang out the Washing on the Siegfried Line,” a reference to Germany’s fortified Western border.

A year after writing “Cokey Cokey,” the War Office gave Kennedy and other entertainers “special leave” to appear in a radio show called, “The Army Entertains.”

Daily Herald (London), May 8, 1942, page 3.

The song and dance that started life as the “Cokey Cokey” in February of 1942 was referred to as the “Hokey Pokey” in September of the same year; again with the earliest examples in print from Scotland.

There was quite a diversion when one of the soldiers introduced a new dance to Lasswade, entitled the Hokey Pokey, and his instructions were accepted by the ladies with plenty of hilarity.

Dalkeith Advertiser (Midlothian, Scotland), September 17, 1942.

And then just across the border from Scotland, in Northumberland, in Northern England.

Now they do Conga with the rhythm and gesture of a jungle dance, which staid grown-ups probably frown upon. They also do something which sounds like Hokey-Pokey, and their quick-steps are rousing affairs with lots of literal kicks in them.

Morpeth Herald (Northumberland), October 2, 1942, page 3.

By the end of October, someone in Somerset, England referred to it as the “Hokey Cokey.”

Refreshments were served by the ladies, and dancing closed the evening. The Hokey Cokey, by special request, was found to be very amusing both for dancers and those who watched.

Somerset Guardian and Radstock Observer, October 30, 1942, page 4.

But the “Hokey Pokey” persisted more than a month later, when Wilf Field did the “Hokey Pokey” in Cheshire.

Wilf Field and his Collegians provided the music, giving a selection of most popular dance tunes. Probably the most popular dance was the “Hokey-Pokey,” which was repeated many times.

Chester Chronicle (Cheshire, England), December 12, 1942.

The dance craze hit the United States in the spring of 1943, where it was introduced by English sailors who claimed to have picked it up from Americans - although that might have come as a shock to the copyright holder, Jimmy Kennedy.

A ferry boat captain, ferrying soldiers across the river to the USO in Yonkers, New York asked what it was all about.

“What’s that thing the soldiers are singing and dancing on the boat these nights?” he asked. “Something about putting my right foot out and putting it in and giving it a shake and turning about --- .”

. . . “They’re doing the Hokey Pokey - that’s what it’s all about.”

Yes, a service man learns the Hokey Pokey in five minutes at the U. S. O. and has a lot of fun with it evermore. A cross between a kid’s game and a square dance, it’s all the rage.

. . . Hokey Pokey, incidentally, is said to have been introduced up North by English sailors - who claimed they picked it up from our own Southern Negroes.

The Herald Statesman (Yonkers, New York), May 10, 1943, page 4.


“I put my right hand in, I put my right hand out, I give my right hand a shake, shake, shake and turn myself about.”

A full hokey-pokey, we understand, involves quite a workout for the anatomy, but it’s all considered good, wholesome fun.

The Herald Statesman (Yonkers, New York), July 21, 1943, page 6.

By July of 1943, a USO troupe had adopted the name “Hokey Pokey” as the name of a show that appeared at least at Naval Air Station Lemoore, in Calfornia, and McChord Air Force Base, in Washington state.

Hanford Morning Journal (Hanford, California), July 13, 1943, page 1.

The Rip Chord (newsletter of McChord Air Force Base), September 4, 1943, page 2.

The “Hokey Pokey” arrived at the Kilauea Military Camp in Hilo, Hawaii in April 1944.

Hawaii Tribune-Herald (Hilo, Hawaii), April 22, 1944, page 3.

The arrival of the “Hokey Pokey” in Hawaii would have meant something different a century earlier. The “Pokey” in the “Hokey Pokey” may well have been an allusion to a man named Boki (whose name was frequently spelled “Poki”), the Governor of Oahu who visited London in King Kamehameha’s entourage in 1924, when the King and Queen tragically died.

But that’s a story for a different day - follow the following link.

[Link to Post not yet live - check back again, soon]


What’s a Cokey?

There is no record of how or why Jimmy Kennedy selected “Cokey Cokey” as the title of his new song in February 1942. Coincidentally (?), however, the word “Cokey” had a long-established and well understood meaning at the time, with a plausible connection to shaking about and jumping around.


New York Herald, July 30, 1921, page 16.

“Cokey” was slang for a cocaine addict in both the United States and Britain from as early as the 1910s and into the 1940s.

Many a doctor has been held up by a panicky drug addict in his office, while the Cokey’s Moll rifled the medicine cabinets of the dream-filled powders, or stole prescription blanks to be used with forged signatures.

Pittsburgh Sun-Telegraph, July 22, 1945, Pictorial Review (unnumbered pages).


Drug Addict, n. Hophead, cokey, snowbird.

The Bystander (London), April 19, 1939, pages 12-13.


There are dives where the only white customers are cokeys looking for the snow man, who provides them with drugs. . . .

John Bull (London), February 17, 1940, page 10.

At least one comment apparently warning against confusing the name of the dance with the name of the cocaine addict appeared in print - surprisingly, perhaps, in connection with the Queen of England’s “Cokey” habit - the dance, not the drug (well, properly, she was Queen Consort; later the Queen Mother, although the future Queen and her husband were at the same party). 

It happened during a revival of the dance in 1948.

When you hear about doing the “cokey,” don’t be shocked. The Queen of England did it.

With this dance, Britain’s most popular stunt number today, she and the princess brought King George VI and Queen Elizabeth’s silver wedding anniversary to a 3 a.m. climax and made everybody go home feeling that a good time was had by all.

Chicago Tribune, May 3, 1948, page 1.

The warning against being “shocked” by the Queen doing the “Cokey” may be explained by the alternate, drug-related sense of the word.

Is doing the “Cokey Cokey” related to a cocaine-fueled need to expend energy? It seems plausible, although purely speculative. Still, it makes a good story.


The Hokey Pokey in the United States

Although the “Hokey Pokey” song and dance came to the United States from Britain in 1942, the instructions and dance were not unknown in the United States before the GI fad in 1942, although not by the name “Hokey Pokey,” and without the emphatic tagline, “that’s what it’s all about”

Descriptions of the instructions and dance appear in several, American-published music books, game books and children’s activity books, some of them with musical notation showing the rhythm and melody. Most of those melodies seem rhythmically similar, and some of them seem melodically similar in places, although none of them are precisely the familiar tune played with the “Hokey Pokey” today. The dance, or “game” as it was frequently called, is variously named “Ugly Mug,” “Looby Loo,” or given more descriptive titles, like “Old Fashioned Dance” or “I Put My Right Hand In.”iii


Who Wrote the Melody?

Although the “Hokey Pokey (Cokey)” dance instructions are traditional, and more than a century and a half old, the question remains - who wrote the music now associated with the song?iv

Cliff Hess and Wendell Hall’s “Hokey Pokey-diddle-dee-rum” (1925) [LINK] and Al Bernard and Frank Kamplain’s “Hokey Pokey Yeedle-Deedle-Lena” (1928) [LINK] are not related to the participation dance songs of a decade or two later (although, if you listen to them, they are clearly related to one another).

Jimmy Kennedy registered his copyright for “Cokey Cokey” in February 1942. His song clearly included the now-familiar lyrics and “that’s what it’s all about,” but it’s unclear whether his melody is the one still played at weddings. The only early clue as to the nature of the melody is a cryptic comment in an early reference to the song in Clitheroe, England, to the effect that the “Cokey-Cokey [is] a novel dance to the tune of Salome,”v without specifying which version of Salome.

A man named Al Tabor claimed to have written a similar dance song while entertaining Canadian troops in London in 1942. He claimed Kennedy had promised to publish his version of the song, but backed out and wrote his own instead. But Kennedy won all rights to the song in an out-of-court

In December 1942, the Soundies Distributing Corporation of America registered a copyright for a short film called, “Hokey-Pokey Polka.” The Soundies Distributing Corporation was an outfit that made musical shorts, a sorta pre-MTV music video, to be shown in movie theaters. It’s not clear what their melody was, but if it’s the same “Hokey Pokey Polka” recorded by The Mac McGuire Quintet [LINK], then it appears to be unrelated to the left-foot-in Hokey Pokies.

Throughout the post-war 1940s, there are numerous references to people dancing the “Hokey Pokey.” And in 1950, no fewer than three “Hokey Pokey” tunes were registered with the United States Copyright Office; “The Hokey Pokey Polka” (February 13, 1950), “Hokey-Pokey Man” (April 7, 1950), and “The Hokey Pokey” (June 19, 1950). It is this last one that is frequently said to embody the now-familar “Hokey Pokey” tune.

Detroit native, Larry LaPrise, was a member of the “Ram Trio” at the Sun Valley resort from at least the late-1940s through the early 1960s. They performed the “Hokey Pokey” at least as early as November 1949, when dancers at the Boise Club in Boise, Idaho, requested they play “Paddy Murphy’s Wake” (which featured the classic lyric, “someone stole the ice right off the corpse and put it on the beer”) and the “Hokey Pokey,” the A and B sides, respectively, of their 45 rpm single, recorded under the name “the Sun Valley Trio.”

The Discogs online database of recordings lists 1950 as the release year for both the 45 rpm single and the 10”, 78 rpm single with the songs on the A and B sides reversed. However, as early as November 1949, the “Ram Trio” were said to have “made a best-selling recording” of “Paddy Murphy’s Wake.” An advertisement in an Idaho newspaper dated January 1, 1950, noted that “Square Dancers can get the new record of “Hokey Pokey” at Chesbro’s,” presumably referring to the “Ram Trio” or “Sun Valley Trio’s” recording. It’s unclear whether there was an earlier recording, or the 1950 date is in error.

When interviewed about his cashing in on his “Hokey Pokey” royalties in 1992, LaPrise (then 80) reportedly “invented the popular dance dity” in the late 1940s while working at Sun Valley. He claimed that the “idea for the song came from a similar song” his father had sung in French. “It goes back a long ways. It’s been handed down over the years . . . . We just put English words to it and changed the tune to suit the group.”vii

Interestingly, the article about the Queen of England doing the “Cokey” included a comment that may relate to Al Tabor’s claim to have written the song for Canadian troops, and Larry LaPrise’s claim he learned the song from his French-speaking father, presumably French-Canadian, given that his hometown was Detroit.

Diplomats - including United States Ambassador and Mrs. Lewis E. Douglas and their blonde daughter, Sharman - and royalty held hands in the palace’s gold and white ballroom and, as the orchestra eased into a song - an old Canadian melody - they did the dance.

Chicago Tribune, May 3, 1948, page 1.

Regardless of precisely where and when he started playing the song, it seems unlikely that a thirty-eight year old musician had never heard anyone else sing or dance to those lyrics. He would have been about thirty-one years old in 1942 when many of his contemporaries were doing the Hokey Pokey in USO dance halls from New York to Hawaii. And he was about thirty-six years old when the Mayor of Twin Falls, Idaho did the Hokey Pokey at an American Legion auxiliary Halloween dance in October of 1947, nearly three years before he registered his copyright in his version of the song.

Although there are numerous references to the Hokey Pokey being danced somewhere in the United States every year between 1942 and 1949, his revival of the song at Sun Valley, the playground of Hollywood’s rich and the famous, may have sparked a renewed popularity of the song and dance. In July 1950, The Miami News (July 26, page 8) reported that the “hokey pokey” was “hot-stuff with the Palm Springs set.”

Nine months later, the Los Angeles Times described the “Hokey Pokey” as “the newest dance craze of Hollywood’s younger set.”viii They interviewed a seventeen-year old singer, Kay Brown, then appearing in the MGM film, “The Strip,” and recently a senior at Hollywood High School, about the dance. As young as she was, she was familiar with the song’s history. She had learned the song no more than six years earlier. She made no distinction between the dance she learned then from the renewed fad, so it’s possible they sounded pretty much the same, or not much different.

“Actually,” Kay pointed out, “the hokey-pokey isn’t a new fad, since it started as folk-type entertainment in England many years ago. It gradually drifted to this country, and I first learned it in junior high. Now, it’s most popular at colleges.”

The Los Angeles Times, March 15, 1951, Part III “Women and the Younger Set,” page 1.

In April 1996, following the death of Larry LaPrise, a spokeswoman for the Performing Right Society (PRS), which protects composers’ rights and collects royalties (like ASCAP or BMI in the United States), had the “final say” on the matter - at least as far as the United Kingdon is concerned.

It is true that the Hokey Pokey was registered by Mr. Laprise but, according to our records, the Hokey Cokey is a traditional song whose origins are lost in the mist of time. No-one holds the copyright, current law says that copyright expires after 70 years and it was certainly written before that.

Evening Standard (London), April 16, 1996, page 13.

Some American newspapers gave him more credit - all the credit, in fact, omitting any reference to the song’s pre-history as a Scottish children’s rhyme, and its more recent history as a WWII GI’s fad.

The only way to resolve the question is to compare Kennedy's original, 1942 "Cokey Cokey" with the LaPrise's 1949 "Hokey Pokey." Luckily, for those purposes, YouTube is a thing. 

I'm no professional, but they sound pretty similar to me. 

In 1945, Lou Preager and his Orchestra recorded Kennedy's "Cokey Cokey" for Columbia Records.

The Nottingham Evening Post (Nottingham, England), July 6, 1945, page 5.

Listen Lou Preager and his Orchestra play "The Cokey Cokey" on YouTube:

Larry LaPrise and the "Sun Valley Trio" recorded their version of the "Hokey Pokey" on 4Star Records in 1949 or 1950.

The Sun Valley Trio, "The Hokey Pokey," 4Star Records.

 Listen to "The Sun Valley Trio" play "The Hokey Pokey" on YouTube:

As for the words, it also seems clear that Jimmy Kennedy deserves credit for introducing the rhyming reduplication of the name and the tagline, “that’s what it’s all about,” both of which may have contributed to its quick rise in popularity and long-lasting appeal.


Fannie Wych Dunn, Everyday Classics, Primer-Eighth Reader, New York, Macmillan, 1917, page 41.





Looby Loo (1925).

Looby Loo (1922).

Ugly Mug (1913).


i  Birmingham Gazette (West Midlands, England), February 21, 1949, page 2.

ii  Evening Standard (London), January 4, 1941, page 4.

iii  See, for example, Julia Lois Caruthers, Piano Technic for Children, Chicago, Clayton F. Summp Company, pages 20-23 (“Old Fashioned Dance”; Charles Keene, Outline in Games and Mass Competitions, Grades 1 to 8 Inclusive, Minneapolis, Thurston & Gould Printing Co., 1911, page 8 (“I Put my Right Hand In”); Melvin Ballou Gilbert, School Dances, New York, G. Schirmer, 1913, page 16 (“Ugly Mug”); Fannie Wych Dunn, Everyday Classics, Primer-Eighth Reader, New York, Macmillan, 1917, page 41 (“Something to Play”); Horatio Parker, The Progressive Music Series for Basal Use in Primary, Intermediate and Grammar Grades, Boston, Silver, Burdett, 1920, page 38 (“Looby, Looby, an English Singing Game”); Mary Wollaston, The Song Play Book: Singing Games for Children, New York, A. S. Barnes, 1922, page 4 (“Looby Loo”); Dramatized Rhythm Plays, Mother Goose and Traditional, New York, A. S. Barnes and Co., 1925, page 49 (“Looby Loo”).

iv  The stories of several claimants are summarized in “What’s it All About . . . the Hokey Pokey” (April 26, 2016), on

v  Clitheroe Advertiser and Times (Lancashire, England), April 17, 1942, page 5 (“[T]he created more fun with a similar number, Cokey-Cokey, a novel dance to the tune of Salome.”).

vi  “What’s it All About . . . the Hokey Pokey” (April 26, 2016), on

vii  The Times-News (Twin Falls, Idaho), October 17, 1992, page 2.

viii  Los Angeles Times, March 15, 1951, Part III Women and the Younger Set, page 1.

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