Friday, June 16, 2023

Ji-Ji-Boo 2 - the Etymology of Jigaboo (an Addendum)


“Ji-Ji Boo (the Sensational Dance Tune),” 1922.i

The word “Jigaboo,” in reference to a black person, traces its origins to the song, “Rings on My Fingers, or Mumbo Jumbo Jijjiboo J. O’Shea,” first performed in the play, “The Midnight Sons,” in 1909.ii In the story of the lyrics, “Ji-Ji-Boo” (spelled differently in the lyrics) was the title bestowed on an Irishman named Jim O’Shea, by the inhabitants of an “Indian isle” where he was stranded.


Lacrosse Tribune (Lacrosse, Wisconsin), October 4, 1909, page 5.


The spelling and pronunciation soon shifted from “Ji-Ji-Boo” to “Zigaboo” and “Jigaboo,” perhaps influenced by earlier, otherwise unrelated words “Gigaboo” (a monster in an L. Frank Baum book) and “Zigaboo” (a fraternal organization). The shift in meaning, from an Irish character on an “Indian isle” to a black person, was apparently influenced by the portrayal, on stage, of the inhabitants on the island in blackface. The shifts in spelling, pronunciation and meaning were all complete by the early 1920s. For a complete background, early influences and history of the word, see my earlier post on the history and origins of 'Jigaboo.'"

But despite those shifts, the original name of “Ji-Ji-Boo” was revived in 1922, as the title of a Jazz-Age foxtrot - “Ji-Ji Boo (the Sensational Dance Tune).”iii The song does not appear to have been written for the stage, and all of the recordings of the song I have been able to find were instrumentals. But there were lyrics written for the sheet music, and it may have been sung on the radio in its public debut.

As in “Rings on My Fingers,” the protagonist of the story told by the lyrics is shipwrecked on a “tropic shore.” This time, however, the name “Ji-Ji-Boo” is the name of one of the islanders, not a title bestowed on the shipwrecked sailor. She was a “Fiji Queen” (“she was just sixteen”).iv Like Napoleon Dynamite, the sailor tries to impress her with his skills - he could “make home brew,” which was then a desirable skill, with the United States two years into federal prohibition. One of the reasons he liked her was that “Fi-ji girls they dress the way they please,” whereas, “back home girls wear dresses to their knees.” He warned, “If you dress like they do, I won’t see so much of you, Then I’m thru, Thru with you Ji-Ji-Boo.”

The earliest reference to the song is a listing of the schedule for the Bamberger’s Radio Program for Thursday, June 22, 1922.v

5.30 Popular songs by Jack Glogau accompanied by Willy White. They will introduce two of their own songs, “Meyer,” Jack Glogau, “Ji Ji Boo,” Willy White, and sing several other new numbers. Courtesy of Fred Fisher Publishing Co.

The Bayonne Times (New Jersey), June 21, 1922, page 7.


The song’s publisher, Fred Fisher, wrote a now-better-known tune, “Chicago (That ToddlingTown),” released the same year, and later recorded by Frank Sinatra in 1957. An early instrumental recording of “Ji-Ji-Boo,” by The Bar Harbor Society Orchestra on the Vocalion label, was the A-side of a record with “Chicago” on the B-side. If you are curious about why Chicago was a “toddling town,” see my post, “Gimme a Shimmy - Hold the Shiver - Why Chicago was a ‘Toddling Town’” (short answer - the “Toddle” was a popular dance, particularly associated with that city).

Evening Star (Washington DC), September 14, 1922, page 3.


Both songs can be heard on (Ji-Ji-Boo; Chicago) and YouTube (Ji-Ji-Boo; Chicago).

“Ji-Ji-Boo” appears to have been best known as an instrumental dance tune. After the early radio performance of the song, nearly every mention of the tune is an
advertisement of an instrumental recording of the song, or in a few cases, an announcement of an upcoming performance of the song on piano. 

The single example of a reference to a vocal performance of the song found while researching this piece is a review of a performance by the Oriole Glee Club of Atlantic City, New Jersey, a group composed entirely of black singers. A man named R. Corse sang the song “Ji, Ji, Boo” during a show they called “Minstrelsy of Today.” “Many white friends of the Orioles were present” at the concert, a benefit for the American Woodmen, an African-American fraternal organization.vii


Los Angeles Record, July 29, 1921, page 13.


Willy White, one of the three men credited with writing “Ji-Ji-Boo,” is pictured above (top row, middle, leaning on the piano - the only one wearing a suit coat), with a group of songwriters and composers who toured the United States and Canada in 1921, performing their own compositions and lecturing on how to write popular songs. Willy White was also, for many years, a frequent performer on radio.


Little information could be found on a second credited writer, Harry White. He may have been related to Willy. The two collaborated on at least one other song, “I Wish there was a Wireless to Heaven,” for which Harry White was one of two people credited with the words, and Willy White for the music.viii


A third person credited with writing the song, Joseph Meyer, was originally from Modesto, California and spent time in San Francisco before moving to New York City. His hometown papers called him a “jazz king.”


Modesto has entered the “jazz” circles of New York through one of her former residents, Joseph Meyer, son of Alex Meyer of 1111 Jones street, San Francisco. Young Meyer has been acknowledged as New York’s latest “jazz king.”

Since his army days he has devoted a great deal of time to composing as well as playing the violin in cafes, restaurants and society dancing functions. Through his compositions he has climbed the ladder of success. His latest composition, “Good-bye, Shanghai,” has been declared a hit. . . .

The composer was a Modesto lad during his school days.

The Modesto Bee, March 9, 1922, page 5.


Joseph Meyer, son of Alex Meyer, a San Francisco apartment house owner, claimed as his bride today, according to dispatches from Paris, Rosalina Livingston, daughter of a well-known New York family. The young San Franciscan’s musical compositions have taken New York by storm and earned him the soubriquet of jazz king.

Oakland Tribune, July 7, 1926, page 2.


Despite his distant, California upbringing, Meyer had close family connections to New York City’s show-business scene. His cousin, B. S. Moss, owned a chain of theaters in New York, which were part of the Keith Vaudeville circuit.ix

Joseph Meyer, a San Francisco boy who wrote the popular songs, “My Honey’s Lovin’ Arm,” “Good-bye Shanghai,” “Ji-Ji-Boo” and “Hugs and Kisses,” is visiting his home in this city, at 1111 Jones street. Young Meyer was formerly a violinist of this city and is well known here. He is a cousin of B. S. Moss, one of the owners of the Keith Circuit. The young composer is working on a new comic opera.

San Francisco Examiner, August 21, 1922, page 10.


Meyer wrote the music for a 1924 show starring the blackface performer and "Jazz Singer," Al Jolson.

Al Jolson, proclaimed as “the world’s greatest entertainer,” will be the attraction at the Alvin theater next week, in his new musical comedy, “Big Boy.” This new piece . . . is said to be the most highly entertaining and the most gorgeous spectacle in which Mr. Jolson has yet appeared. The music is by Joseph Meyer and James F. Hanley.

The Pittsburgh Press, November 16, 1924, Theatrical and Photoplay Section, page 3.



i  The sheet music is available online in the Detroit Public Library’s Digital Collections. “Ji-Ji-Boo: novelty song fox trot,” Detroit Public Library Digital Collections, Resource ID: hk003345.

ii  “‘Ji-ji-boo J. O’Shea’ - How the Name of a Stranded Irishman Became a Pejorative Term for Black People - the History and Origins of ‘Jigaboo,’” Early Sports and Pop Culture History Blog, March 22, 1922.

iii  The sheet music is available online in the Detroit Public Library’s Digital Collections. “Ji-Ji-Boo: novelty song fox trot,” Detroit Public Library Digital Collections, Resource ID: hk003345.

iv  Note: There appears to be a typo in the first line of the lyrics. The first verse refers to her as a “Fi-Fi queen” (both syllables capitalized). In the second verse of the chorus, she is referred to as a “Fi-ji girl.” I read “Fi-Fi” as a printing error.

v  The pair would perform the song again, on WOR radio, in August of 1922. Asbury Park Press (New Jersey), August 2, 1922, page 11.

vi  “Ji-Ji-Boo,” by Willy White, performed by The Bar Harbor Society Orchestra, Vocalion (A 14412) (; “Chicago (That Toddling Town), by Fred Fisher, performed by The Bar Harbor Society Orchestra, Vocalion (B 144121) (

vii  Atlantic City Gazette-Review, April 23, 1923, page 9.


ix  Brooklyn Citizen, July 30, 1920, page 5 (“The B. S. Moss Vaudeville and Picture Circuit, which consists of eight theatres in New York, has associated itself with the management of the Keith Circuit.”).