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Remembering Ruth Wallis

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Long before Sarah Silverman tuned up her guitar and wrote dirty songs, there was Ruth Wallis, a Brooklyn-born cabaret-novelty singer who was most popular in the 1950s and 60s. Her death at 87 in late December was overlooked by many media outlets, including EW, but once I started listening to some of her work, I wished I’d discovered her long ago. Wallis’ songwriting was rife with double entendre (in one of her most famous recordings, “The Dinghy Song,” she gushed about Davy, a guy with “the cutest little dinghy in the Navy”), much of which comes off as quaint today. But considering the wholesome material typically recorded in the mid-20th century, she was remarkably gutsy — her music was regularly banned by radio station managers who reportedly feared for their FCC licenses — and she even ran her own label, the Wallis Original Record Corporation. Censorship in the industry surely limited her fame, but at least Dr. Demento gave her airplay in the 1970s and ’80s, and her career was celebrated when a 2003 revue of her best songs opened in New York. The title? Boobs! (Tip: add “the musical” if you Google that.)

Get your mind into the gutter by listening to this bare-bones clip of Wallis’ cheeky ditty “Johnny Had a Yo-Yo.” The reaction I’ve gotten from friends has run the gamut from “juvenile” to “witty.” I say, “What a dame!” And by all means, PopWatch readers, I’d love to hear whether you’re a longtime Wallis fan, a new convert, or if you’re indifferent to her comedy stylings.

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