As an American of Greek descent, and just like my cousins to the north in Canada, and all of the Greek diaspora around the world, I am always searching and scanning the internet, books, movies, newspapers, even telephone books (if you remember what one looks like) for anything proving that a Greek was involved. You know, for example, there’s that old story of Theodoros the Greek who sailed with Don Pamphilo de Navraeth in 1528 and landed around Tampa/Pensacola, Florida. The Don told him and another to go search the woods. They never made it back. He was the first Greek to set foot on American soil, and he was the first Greek to take off. Immigration is still looking for him.
Also, did you know that the inventor of the Mini Cooper was a Greek by the name of Alec Issigonis, who was the top engineer of the Morris Company? I’m sure your car enthusiasts already knew this, but it’s another fun Greek-related fact.
So where am I going with this and what do bananas have to do with it? Stay tuned.
So my friend and I are talking about music and out of the blue she says, “You know the song, “Yes, we have no bananas?” I, nodding my head, immediately finish the line, “…we have no bananas todaaaaaaaay!” She was impressed.
If you were around on March 23, 1923, you certainly remembered the release of this classic hit, “Yes, We have No Bananas,” written by Frank Silver and Irving Cohn, that was #1 for five weeks. The song was also recorded by Benny Goodman, Arthur Hall, Jimmy Durante, Louie Prima, and not to mention that early 1900s version of Weird Al Yankovic, Spike Jones and His City Slickers. It was a super hit.
The chorus is what everyone knows:
Yes, we have no bananas. We have-a no bananas today.
We’ve string beans, and onions, cabbageses and scallions,
And all sorts of fruit and say
We have an old fashioned to-mah-to. A Long Island po-tah-to
But yes, we have no bananas. We have no bananas today.
So where’s the Greek connection? Hold on to your Frappes girls and boys, it’s coming up.
Frank Silver told the story to Time Magazine that when he and his orchestra was playing at the Long Island Hotel, each night he went to work he passed a fruit stand and the GREEK owner would start out every sentence with, “Yessss…” When Frank asked the owner if he had bananas, the owner answered, “Yesss, we have no bananas.” The reason was that banana crops being cultivated in Central America had been plagued by disease, and there was a shortage of bananas that year.
The little jingle became an earworm in Silver’s mind and soon he wrote lyrics to it and gave it to his friend, Cohn, who wrote the music. The rest is history.
If you read the original lyrics of the song (they have been changed over the years), the first verse is:
There’s a fruit store on our street
It’s run by a Greek.
And he keeps good things to eat
But you should hear him speak!
When you ask him anything, he never answers “no”.
He just “yes”es you to death, and as he takes your dough
He tells you
Yes, we have no bananas…
The Greek’s name was Pete, or maybe Nick, or maybe Jimmy. Doesn’t matter because now the rest is history!
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