One Fish-Ball (One Meat Ball, The Lone Fish-Ball)

DESCRIPTION: A single man (who perhaps has abandoned his wife?) wanders into a restaurant, but finds he has only money for one (meat/fish) ball. Waiters and company abuse him, and he is told, "You get no bread with one fish ball"
AUTHOR: unknown
EARLIEST DATE: 1862 (parodied; see notes)
KEYWORDS: food poverty
FOUND IN: US
REFERENCES (5 citations):
Spaeth-ReadWeep, pp. 74-75, "The Lone Fish-Ball" (1 text, 1 tune)
Botkin-NEFolklr, pp. 580-584, "The Lone Fish-Ball" (2 texts, 1 tune, plus assorted items on the same theme)
Pankake-PHCFSB, p. 22, "One Fish Ball" (1 text, tune referenced)
Silber-FSWB, p. 264, "One Fish Ball" (1 text)
ADDITIONAL: Henry Randall Waite, _Carmina Collegensia: A Complete Collection of the Songs of the American Colleges_ first edition 1868, expanded edition, Oliver Ditson, 1876, p. 15, "The Lone Fish-Ball" (1 text, 1 tune)

SAME TUNE:
Two Freshmen ("Two Freshmen once, as green as grass, By Riley's restarant did pass") (Henry Randall Waite, _Carmina Collegensia: A Complete Collection of the Songs of the American Colleges_ first edition 1868, expanded edition, Oliver Ditson, 1876, p. 65)
The Life Preserver ("There was a class went up and down") (Henry Randall Waite, _Carmina Collegensia: A Complete Collection of the Songs of the American Colleges_ first edition 1868, expanded edition, Oliver Ditson, 1876, p. 89)
NOTES: According to the Caxton Club (Chicago) edition of Il Pescoballo (1899), the one-act opera buffa with Italian words by Francis James Child and English translation by James Russell Lowell was first performed in 1862 to raise money for the Civil War Sanitary Commission (precursor to the Red Cross). The authors of the jeu d'esprit, to quote Charles Eliot Norton's introduction, were originally given only as "Maestro Rossibello-Donimozarti."
"One Fish Ball," upon which the opera buffa was based, was written by a Harvard Latin professor, identified by Norton only as "Lane." It was a "local ballad which had had great vogue, written not many years before." Norton asserts Lane based the song on "an adventure of his own."
The Caxton Club edition prints a tune, crediting it as a "volkslied." - EC
Lewis Becker adds that Loesser's Humor in American Song dates the song to about 1854 and claims it is "Founded on a Boston Fact." It appears that this claim may derive from Waite, whih also says the story is "Founded on a Boston fact," and says it is printed by permission of R. Storrs Willis, who owned the copyright (but is not actually listed as the author).
Interestingly, although Waite says it is "Founded on a Boston Fact," the story he uses to explain the song is set in New York, where a certain restaurant served three buckwheat cakes for sixpence (sixpence? In a song placed in New York and written in the nineteenth century? Hm). A professor wants FIVE cakes. He is willing to pay ten pence -- i.e. two pennies per cake, which is the same per-cake cost as three for sixpence. But the professor is told that the restaurant only does transactions in multiples of sixpence, so he can have three cakes for sixpence, or he can have six for twelve, but not five cakes. He doesn't return.
It will be evident that it is rather a stretch to get from that to this song.
Dick Greenhaus reports that the "One Meat Ball" version was popularized by Josh White in the 1940s. Popularized enough, in fact, that they taught it in my grade school! - RBW
Last updated in version 3.8
File: SRW074

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