Theodore Metz: A Hot Time in the Old Town Tonight

A few words this morning on German-American bandmaster and composer Theodore “Theo” Metz (1848-1936).

Born the same year as Europe’s multiple “Revolutions of 1848”, Metz became one of thousands of Germans who emigrated to New York City in the aftermath, settling first in Brooklyn, later moving to the midwest. By 1886, he had moved to Chicago the town with which he is now most associated. Having seriously studied music since boyhood in Hanover, he began leading bands specializing in the popular American musical forms of marches and ragtime, becoming the bandleader for McIntyre and Heath’s Minstrels. Today, he is most associated with tune “There’ll Be a Hot Time in the Old Time Tonight” (1897), with original lyrics by singer Joe Hayden, although (as we wrote here) today the best known version is a parody that associates it with the Great Chicago Fire. It was originally associated with the Spanish-American War; the sheet music above demonstrates that Metz also tried to popularize it during World War One.

I needn’t inform our readers that while marches were a German musical form, ragtime was most definitely invented by African Americans. So the true origins of Metz’s most famous tune, and maybe some others, are not clear. Some believe he copped his most famous tune from some brothel musicians in St. Louis. In forensic terms, this is (ironically) the very definition of a cold case, and the truth will never be sorted. What’s known for sure is that Metz copyrighted the song and popularized it. Other songs that bear his name include “Walk Baby Walk”, “Dat Cake Belongs to Me and Liza”, (both suggesting a connection to the popular cakewalk dance), as well as “When the Roses Are in Bloom” and “Never Do Nothin’ for Nobody”. In 1908 he co-wrote an operetta on a Native-American theme called “Poketa” with Monroe “Rosie” Rosenfeld, himself a popular songwriter and journalist of the day, best known today for helping to popularize the nickname “tin pan alley” for New York City’s row of music publishing companies.

At the time of his death at age 87 (then quite rare) he was living in New York City. He is not to be confused with Ted Metz, manager of the sideshow of the Tom Mix Circus, and one-time guardian of “Schlitzie”.

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For more on vaudeville and show biz history, please see No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous.