The Who2 Blog

Hokey-Pokey Creator No Longer Has One Foot in Grave

Robert Degan, writer of the song “The Hokey Pokey,” has put his whole self in at age 104.

Degan claimed, at least, to have written the Hokey Pokey. So did Larry LaPrise, who died in 1996. LaPrise said he wrote the song for the apres-ski crowd in Sun Valley in 1949. Degan said he filed a copyright for “The Hokey-Pokey Dance” in 1944. (Yet another claimant, songwriter Jimmy Kennedy, said he wrote the song under the title “The Cokey Cokey” in 1942.)

Degan’s obit says that he sued LaPrise in the 1950s and that they settled out of court. LaPrise’s obit says that country star Roy Acuff paid LaPrise royalties after Acuff bought the rights to the song in the 1960s.

Both men lived a long time — LaPrise was 83, Degan 104. If you believe a clean conscience leads to a long life, both can put in a claim, but Degan gets the clear edge.

The Jimmy Kennedy claim is possibly the most interesting. Per the Irish Culture website:

“American GI’s are on record as saying they heard and danced to a version of it in England during World War II… As for its original title, Cokey Cokey, it’s said that Kennedy thought it had started among 19th-century Canadian miners and had to do with cocaine, but others say that ‘cokey cokey’ was how Italian ice cream vendors in England hawked their product.”

Taking things one step further into weirdness, the song has been called anti-Catholic:

Some Roman Catholic churchmen, meanwhile, have said that the words “hokey pokey” derive from “hocus pocus” — the Oxford English Dictionary concurs — and that the song was written by 18th-century Puritans to mock the language of the Latin Mass. Last year the Catholic Church in Scotland, concerned that some soccer fans were using the song as a taunt, raised the possibility that singing it should be prosecuted as a hate crime.

At least we’re spared the spectacle of a 104-year-old man being indicted for hate crimes. Good luck to you, Mr. Degan, wherever you are.

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