I’m a little teapot
Short and stout
Here is my handle
Here is my spout
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We all know these lines. We’ve all recited these lines.
When I get all steamed up
Hear me shout!
We’ve even acted out the lyrics, folding our hands, and bending our arms, to look like an actual teapot.
Tip me over
Yes, it’s an iconic ditty, a legendary nursery rhyme that has brought smiles to the faces of many over the years. But who wrote the rhyme and why has it become so popular in modern culture?
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The “Inane” Songwriters
“I’m a Little Teapot,” which as you can see from the above lyrics, is all about a tea kettle warming and getting ready to offer hot water for sipping tea, was written by two men: George Harold Sanders and Clarence Z. Kelley.
Originally published in 1939, the song was known nationally even just a few years later, cited in an article in Newsweek as “the next inane song to sweep the country.”
Whether that dire description would come to be was put to the test over the years, and, it would seem, was proven wrong. The rhyme has become a hit, beloved by young and old.
The Song’s Origins & “The Teapot Tip”
Along with his wife, Clarence Kelley ran a dance school for children. The school, for example, taught the “Waltz Clog,” which was a popular tap dance number. Though it was well-known and appreciated, the routine was, however, difficult for young students to retain and learn. So, Kelley brought in his friend George Sanders, to write “The Teapot Song.”
The new offering didn’t require elaborate dance moves, rather it just required young students to imitate or pantomime the teapot, its whistle when hot, and the tipping of it when ready to pour. Soon after, the dance, known as The Teapot Tip became famous around the world.
The Recording of “Teapot”
Art Kassel and his orchestra, His Kassels in the Air, recorded the song with vocalist Marion Holmes. The song was first published in 1941 by Bluebird Records.
Though not required, almost every time the song is sung, it includes the singer curve one arm like a spout and the other like a handle on his side. Then at the end, he tips himself as if pouring hot water into a mug. As with other famous nursery rhymes, like “The Itsy Bitsy Spider,” the dance is a major part of the enjoyment of the tune.
To date, many people have sung and recorded the short nursery rhyme song, most often for children’s audiences. Some of those to have done so include Horace Heidt in 1941, Lawrence Duchow in 1956, and Two Ton Baker in 1947. The song is also included on the 1973 Leonard Bernstein album, Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf plus 10 More Great Children’s Favorites.
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The song is about a teapot. But as with all nursery rhymes like this, they’re also often about human beings. When we get steamed (aka angry), we shout. When we are of service, we bend ourselves in odd “shapes” to help others.
The song is fun to sing, goofy too and involves a dance that kids and adults can perform. This brings kids joy and adults into a childlike sense of performance. But it also allows us to express these states—anger, shouting—without having to be angry or in service, per se. That’s the mark of an excellent song.
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