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"Angels (We Call Them Mothers Down Here)"

The History Behind "Angels (We Call Them Mothers Down Here)" by Bert Kalmar and Harry Ruby: A Journey Through Time and Art


In my journey of creating art, I often find myself drawn to the rich history embedded in old music sheets. One particular piece that captivated me is "Angels (We Call Them Mothers Down Here)" by Bert Kalmar and Harry Ruby. This song, which resonated deeply with audiences in the early 20th century, provided the perfect backdrop for my recent drawing—a 1920s woman’s face with a giant moth covering her eyes, where the moth's wings display realistic eyes, and two smaller moths flutter around her face. Let me take you on a journey through the historical context of this song, the lives of its composers, and why I chose to merge this piece of musical history with my contemporary artwork.



The Composers: Bert Kalmar and Harry Ruby

Bert Kalmar and Harry Ruby were a dynamic songwriting duo whose collaboration began in the early 1910s. Kalmar, born in 1884, had a background in vaudeville as a magician and comedian, while Ruby, born in 1895, started his career playing piano in saloons and cafes. Their partnership led to the creation of numerous beloved songs that became staples of American music. Their ability to craft songs that combined humor, emotion, and melody made them standouts in the bustling world of Tin Pan Alley.


Historical Context: Early 20th Century America

The early 20th century was a period of significant transformation in America. With rapid industrialization, many people moved from rural areas to urban centers in search of new opportunities. This era also saw the rise of Tin Pan Alley in New York City, a hub for songwriting and music publishing where composers like Kalmar and Ruby found great success.

"Angels (We Call Them Mothers Down Here)" was composed in 1929, a time when America was transitioning from the prosperous Roaring Twenties to the onset of the Great Depression. The song's themes of love, gratitude, and the cherished bond between mothers and their children resonated deeply during a period marked by both celebration and looming uncertainty. Its lyrics honor mothers as earthly angels, a sentiment that brought comfort and joy to many families.


The Artwork: Merging History and Contemporary Expression

When I discovered the old music sheet of "Angels (We Call Them Mothers Down Here)," it immediately struck me as a canvas rich with history. I chose to draw a 1920s woman's face with a giant moth covering her eyes, its wings detailed with realistic eyes that give the illusion of a complete, unobstructed face. Two smaller moths also fly around her, adding to the surreal, dreamlike quality of the piece.

This artistic choice honors the historical significance of the music sheet while introducing a modern, surrealist element. The woman’s face, emblematic of the 1920s flapper era, symbolizes the cultural shift and the new roles women were exploring during that time. The moths, with their realistic eyes, add a layer of mystery and transformation, echoing the themes of change and hidden depths.


The Symbolism: Moths as Angels

The choice of moths in my artwork connects symbolically to the song's theme of mothers as angels. Moths, often drawn to light, can be seen as ethereal, almost otherworldly creatures—much like angels. By using moths to cover the woman's eyes, I aim to illustrate the idea that mothers, like these gentle, light-seeking creatures, guide us through darkness and provide us with unwavering love and support. The realistic eyes on the moth's wings symbolize the all-seeing, all-knowing nature of a mother’s care and intuition, further linking to the idea of mothers as earthly angels.


The Significance of the Music Sheet

Using an old music sheet as the canvas for my art adds a tangible sense of history and continuity. Music sheets from the early 20th century are not just relics of the past; they are windows into the cultural and social dynamics of their time. They tell stories of the people who composed, performed, and cherished these songs.

For me, "Angels (We Call Them Mothers Down Here)" represents more than just a medium for notes and lyrics. It embodies the spirit of an era and the personal journeys of countless individuals who found solace, joy, and reflection in its melody. By creating art on this music sheet, I aim to pay homage to these historical narratives while infusing them with new life and contemporary relevance.


Fun Facts and Stories:


Kalmar and Ruby's Creative Synergy

Bert Kalmar and Harry Ruby's partnership was marked by a unique creative synergy. They wrote songs for Broadway musicals and Hollywood films, leaving a lasting impact on American entertainment. Their ability to blend humor and sentiment in their songs made their work appealing to a broad audience.


The Song's Reception

"Angels (We Call Them Mothers Down Here)" became a beloved song, especially around Mother's Day. Its heartfelt lyrics and beautiful melody resonated with families celebrating the special bond with their mothers. Imagine families in the late 1920s and early 1930s, gathering around the piano to sing this touching tribute to mothers everywhere.


Ruby's Musical Beginnings

Harry Ruby’s early career as a pianist in saloons and cafes gave him a deep understanding of everyday American life. This background influenced his ability to create music that was both accessible and emotionally resonant, contributing to the enduring appeal of his compositions with Kalmar.


Anecdote of Inspiration

An interesting anecdote about Kalmar and Ruby is that their song ideas often sprang from everyday moments. It's said that the inspiration for "Angels (We Call Them Mothers Down Here)" came from Kalmar observing his wife with their children. Moved by the nurturing nature of mothers, he and Ruby crafted a song celebrating these earthly angels.


Bringing It All Together

Combining historical context and contemporary art creates a rich tapestry that invites you to explore both the past and the present. The choice to draw a 1920s woman’s face with a giant moth covering her eyes on the music sheet of "Angels (We Call Them Mothers Down Here)" highlights the timeless nature of human expression and the ongoing quest for identity and transformation.

By sharing this piece on my blog, I hope to offer you not only a glimpse into the history of a beautiful song but also an opportunity to reflect on broader themes of exploration, identity, and cultural heritage. This fusion of history and art can attract a diverse audience, from music historians and art enthusiasts to those interested in surrealism and cultural symbolism.

As I continue to create and share my art, each piece becomes a narrative thread that weaves together the stories of the past with visions of the future, making my blog a unique and enriching destination for all who visit.


"Angels (We Call Them Mothers Down Here)" by Bert Kalmar and Harry Ruby is more than just a song; it’s a piece of history that continues to inspire and resonate. Composed in 1929 during a time of great change, it reflects themes of love, gratitude, and the special bond between mothers and their children. By integrating this historical music sheet with my contemporary artwork, I aim to create a powerful commentary on the enduring nature of human creativity and the ongoing dialogue between different eras. Through my blog, I invite you to join me on this journey of exploration and artistic exppression.


Be sure to check out more of these pages on my website and stay tuned on my blog to learn more about the historical paper I use to create art! All works are for sale and available in my storefront.



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