I don’t know about you, but there’s something about yodeling that never fails to make me smile. Maybe it’s because I like listening to people intentionally making their voices crack. (Hey, I can make my voice crack without even trying; I call it, “singing”.) Recently, it occurred to me that as much as I like yodeling, I didn’t know much about it. How could something be so incredibly Alpine and Western at the same time? I didn’t have a clue. So I set out to learn a thing or two about yodeling.
Pop Culture Savant, at Your Service!
As with any good research project, I started by listing all of the things I already knew about the subject at hand. Here’s what I came up with for yodeling:
- Cousin Pearl from The Beverly Hillbillies yodeled.
- Cliffhanger has always been my favorite game on The Price is Right. I like watching the yodeling guy in lederhosen climb up the mountain each time the contestant guesses the wrong price for an item.
- In the 70s, Swiss Miss commercials used to encourage people to, “Give a little yodel.” Apparently, that was supposed to make us drink more hot cocoa. It’s difficult to say whether or not it was an effective ad campaign because I don’t need much encouragement to drink more hot cocoa.
- Jessie the Yodeling Cowgirl, from Toy Story 2 and Toy Story 3 lived up to her name by yodeling.
- In The Sound of Music, Maria and the Von Trapp young uns yodeled to “The Lonely Goatherd,” during their preposterously impressive marionette show.
Hmm… Cousin Pearl, The Price is Right, Swiss Miss, Jessie the Yodeling Cowgirl and Julie Andrews didn’t seem to offer much clarification about the origins of yodeling. Plus, looking over my list, I realize that, while I may be a pop culture savant, I should probably read more.
Globe Trotting Yodeling
Who first came up with the idea of singing while fluctuating pitch between a normal chest register and falsetto? Why, I’m glad you asked!
It is generally accepted that yodeling originated in the Central Alps with shepherds calling to their flocks. If that sounds strange to you, just try giving out a hog yell. Su-eeee! A yodeling history can be also traced to Asian, African and Middle Eastern cultures.
Some people say that yodeling made its way to the U.S. with German immigrants. An argument can also be made that it was introduced to the U.S. through African slaves who were known to do “field calls” to each other. Perhaps it is most probable that cultures collided and yodeling evolved into what became a staple in Western musical tradition.
Yodeling Western Style
Yodeling, in the U.S., can be traced back to minstrel shows of the 1800s. By 1920, yodeling fans could even order 17 recordings of yodelers from the Victor Recording Company. Also, by the 1920s, radios were bringing the sounds of yodeling into homes across the country. I can’t help but chuckle that the first Country music radio show was, The National Barn Dance, which broadcast from Chicago. Chicago?! Go figure! And, of course, The Grand Ol’ Opry helped promote Western performers. By the late 1930s, most homes had a radio and yodeling was spreading like wildfire!
Throughout the years, yodeling has been kept alive by greats such as Tex Owens, Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, Eddy Arnold, Slim Whitman, John Denver and even Elvis Presley. Yodeling is still alive and well. Musicians such as LeAnn Rimes and Jewel continue to pay homage to the great yodeling tradition of the West.
A few years ago, young Taylor Ware charmed a nation of reality television viewers when she brought her brand of yodeling to America’s Got Talent. She may not have won (She was robbed, if you ask me!), but she definitely showed a nation that yodeling is fun. The greatest part of Taylor’s story is that she taught herself to yodel by reading a book! I taught myself to bake a cake by reading a book, but I think yodeling will require more instruction.
If you would like to learn how to lend your voice to yodeling, take a listen to Wylie Gustafson. When it comes to modern-day yodelers, this cowboy is royalty! I now present Yodel 101 with Wylie Gustafson. Have fun and happy yodeling!
Happy Trails, y’all!