Robert Greenberg

Historian, Composer, Pianist, Speaker, Author

Music History Monday: A Mama’s Boy, and Proud of It!

We mark the premiere on April 10, 1868 – 155 years ago today – of Johannes Brahms’ magnificent A German Requiem, for vocal soloists, chorus, and orchestra.

Johannes Brahms (1833-1897) in 1866
Johannes Brahms (1833-1897) in 1866

Johannes Brahms, Again?

I know I’ve been going heavy on Brahms (1833-1897) as of late. I would apologize if he wasn’t so fascinating a person and if his music wasn’t so darned good, but he was a fascinating person and his music is superb, so our continued attention is well deserved.

It’s not as if we didn’t have other topical options for this date. For example, on this date in 1970 – 53 years ago today – Paul McCartney “officially” announced the split-up of The Beatles. Okay; whatever; if there’s one topic that’s gotten more play here in Music History Monday than Bach, Brahms and Beethoven combined, it’s the fourth “B”: The Beatles.

The breakup of The Beatles?

Sorry, but yawn.

The “Wilhelm Scream”

Shelby Frederick “Sheb” Wooley (1921-2003)
Shelby Frederick “Sheb” Wooley (1921-2003)

Then there’s this. April 10, 1921, marks the birth – 102 years ago today – of the American singer, songwriter, actor, and comedian Shelby Frederick “Sheb” Wooley, in Erick Oklahoma (he died in Nashville, Tennessee on September 16, 2003, at the age of 82). For the vast majority of us who do indeed remember him, Wooley is best known for his 1958 rock ‘n’ roll comedy single The Purple People Eater, which he wrote in a matter of minutes and which sat at number 1 on Billboards Hot Pop Chart for six weeks between June 9 and July 14, 1958. The so-called “Official Video” is linked below.

But for those “in the know” (which is about to include all of us), Wooley’s greatest contribution to Western culture is not The Purple People Eater but rather, something called the “Wilhelm Scream.”

Here’s the scoop.

Among his various roles as an actor, Sheb Wooley made an uncredited appearance as one “Private Jessup” in a 1951 Gary Cooper movie called Distant Drums. At one point during the movie, a company of soldiers is fleeing through the Florida Everglades, pursued by a pack of Seminole Indians. Several soldiers die during the chase, including one who emits a blood-curdling scream as he is dragged underwater to his death by an alligator. Here is that scream:

The scream was created and recorded by none-other-than Sheb Wooley, and it has long outlived him. Wooley’s screeching sound-bite got its name when it was used again – in 1953 – in the movie The Charge at Feather River, when a character named “Private Wilhelm” got hit in the thigh with an arrow:

The now so-called “Wilhelm Scream” became part of Hollywood’s stock sound library, and as such, it went on to be been used – often multiple times in a single film – in hundreds of movies, TV shows, and video games, including the Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Lord of the Rings, Kill Bill, Toy Story, Cars, The Incredibles, and Lethal Weapon franchises; Reservoir Dogs; Aladdin; Beauty and the Beast; The Fifth Element; Breaking Bad; The Simpsons; The XFiles; The Mandalorian; the list goes on and on!

I offer up two video links. The first one features what WatchMojo considers the “10 best” Wilhelm Screams:

The second link below features literally hundreds of Wilhelm Screams – that is, the same scream as recorded by Sheb Wooley in 1951 – over the course of its 12 minutes and 22 seconds!

Maestro Wooley, yours is a cinematic legacy of which to be proud!

We Transition!

Okay, enough screaming. We proceed to Johannes Brahms and A German Requiem. For your information, the remainder of this post and tomorrow’s Dr. Bob Prescribes is going to constitute a “twofer”, as Dr. Bob Prescribes will pick up where today’s Music History Monday leaves off.…

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