Sunday, October 13, 2013

WOODIN | 9A. Musician (Updated Mar 11, 2017)

Will Woodin and guitar, Cuba. Photo courtesy
of Anne Gerli, granddaughter of Will Woodin.
Right now one chapter is allocated to Will Woodin's music and collecting. But it may take two chapters. I am therefore calling this chapter on Woodin's music chapter 9A. The second half, on his coin and book collecting is called chapter 9B.

Woodin's Method of Composing

Will Woodin's love of music was genuine and strong – he had a good musical ear and played the guitar and piano all his life, though he rebelled against his piano teacher and stopped taking formal piano lessons at 7.

He seems to have picked up a wish to compose in Europe. He went to Vienna at 18 for a throat operation and then returned to Europe soon after his marriage, ostensibly to cover the Armenian war. He came back from his long second visit to Europe with a love of gypsy music.

He composed many tunes. He picked them out on his guitar and transcribed only the notes of the melody. Someone else would fill in the harmonic arrangements.

Woodin's opus can be sorted into four groups:
  • The Raggedy Ann Sunny Songs, which he composed with Johnny Gruelle.
  • Gypsy and Mediterranean music.
  • Asian music, which he did late in his life.
  • Raggedy Ann's Sunny Songs by Johnny
    Gruelle and Will Woodin (1930).
  • Marches, including the FDR inaugural march; many of his marches were played by the Navy and Marine bands.
Raggedy Ann Songs, with Johnny Gruelle

Johnny Gruelle in his cartoon makes fun of his partnership with Woodin.
Will Woodin got serious about his music starting in early 1930. It appears that Woodin's musical compositions were first performed in February 1930 and were an immediate success.

He said in 1930 that he had previously never taken his musical work seriously and looked at it simply as a diversion, an escape from the stress of business.

Some time that summer, Will Woodin started to partner with Johnny Gruelle, who had written a series of books about Raggedy Ann that had become a big hit.

Gruelle's daughter Marcella loved her doll, Raggedy Ann.
Marcella died tragically in 1915. Her distraught father wrote about the doll that his daughter loved, a rag doll with red yarn for hair and a triangular nose, and he decided to remember his daughter by promoting her doll.

Johnny Gruelle received US Patent D47789 for his Raggedy Ann doll on September 7, 1915. The character was introduced to the public in the 1918 book Raggedy Ann Stories

When a doll was marketed together with the book, both the book and the doll flew off the shelves. A sequel, Raggedy Andy Stories appeared in 1920, introducing the character of her doll brother, Raggedy Andy, dressed in sailor suit and hat. 
Johnny Gruelle and Will Woodin

The original Raggedy Ann Sunny Songs were written by Johnny Gruelle and Will Woodin and published along with sheet music in 1930 to great success. 

They were followed in 1931 by a series of 45 rpm records. 

Charlie Miner told me on July 31, "When the Raggedy Ann music was on records, everybody liked the music."

A set of the records can be purchased today for $200 or less, based on their condition, according to an online appraiser. 

The doll has been in production ever since 1915, and is said to be the oldest doll in continuous production. Take that, Barbie! 

Gruelle's Raggedy Ann story books feature "The Gruelle Ideal" - That books for children should contain nothing to cause fright, suggest fear, glorify mischief, excuse malice or condone cruelty. They are called "Books Good for Children".

Although Will Woodin is credited with the music for “Raggedy Ann’s Sunny Songs,” and Johnny Gruelle with the lyrics, the two collaborated closely.

There is some evidence that many lines and even songs were created by Will Woodin - for example, the character of Little Wooden Willie.

Will Woodin's Raggedy Ann music.
You might think these 1930 songs would be by now lost forever, but a 1944 movie featured one of the songs, "Heavenly Days".

In 2014 I met someone (Wilson Stone) who knew by heart all the words - and music - to at least one of the songs, "Little Wooden Willie."

There have been several postwar Raggedy Ann song recordings such as Jody Reynolds and Allen Reynolds (1963) and subsequently with Little Jimmy Dickens and Mindy Smith.

There was a Raggedy Ann movie that began promisingly but seems to have been prematurely released because the producers ran out of money.

I have looked up the Raggedy Ann books at the East Hampton Library, which has a superb and growing Children's Section. The library in 2013 had two of the Raggedy Ann books available, with others circulating. See photos.

The librarian in East Hampton knew exactly where the available books were and went straight for them. That could be because Johnny Gruelle and Will Woodin were such friends and Woodin was an East Hampton resident.

Johnny Gruelle's birthday is on Christmas Day. Will Woodin gave out to his friends the Raggedy Ann Sunny Songs books for Christmas 1930 and the records for Christmas 1931.

The 45-rpm records. They came as a set and
can be purchased for  $70-$200 online.
Raggedy Ann doll lovers include Princess Grace of Monaco (Grace Kelly to her movie fans), Margaret Truman, Caroline Kennedy and Bob Hope (who took them on tour with the troops).

Woodin was similarly multi-talented. He and Gruelle worked on songs together, on both the lyrics and the music.

His favorite musical instruments were the violin and the guitar, but he also played the piano by ear, having refused to continue piano lessons as a child.

Charles Miller, Librettist/Publisher

Woodin mainly composed the music, working only on the melody, leaving the rest to harmonizers or librettists.

Charley Miller was a librettist. For 15 years he was music editor for Harms Company - and previously Warner Brothers - and set up Miller Music, Inc. largely, it seems, to publish songs and other musical compositions whose melodies were invented by Will Woodin and the rest of the chords or orchestrations were worked out by Miller.
The threesome were very close. John Gruelle suggests humorously in a 1930 birthday letter to Will Woodin that if they purged the world of all the undesirables that they could collectively identify, there might be left only the three of them.

Each of the threesome had a specific objective from their relationship. 

  • Johnny Gruelle wanted to write the words to songs and make a living from them. 
  • Charles Miller wanted to arrange and publish the songs and make a living from that. 
  • Will Woodin wanted to create melodies and help his friends make a living.
Various stories attest to Woodin's being a demanding client for both of them. 

The cartoons at right show how the Woodin-Gruelle duo looked from the Gruelle perspective.

To get Miller's perspective, all we need is the May 1931AP story by Richard G. Massock: 
William H. Woodin, big-time captain of industry, is also a tune composer […] He composes on the guitar and often in bed. A few weeks ago he telephoned to his music publisher, Charles Miller. It was 3 o’clock in the morning and Woodin said he was sitting up in bed, unable to sleep. A theme had come to him, which he could neither get out of his head, nor set down on paper properly. Miller took a pencil and music paper, listened awhile and then copied down the notes as they came over the phone. Then Miller was unable to resume his slumber, so he began arraying the tune. The next day he gave it to a radio organ recitalist and the following Sunday night it was played over the air.
The modus operandi of the group can be conveyed by two telegrams sent by Charles Miller 15 months apart: 
  • December 13, 1930. Telegram from Miller to Woodin, c/o Terafa, Havana. “Dear Will, Book [Raggedy Ann's Sunny Songs] published yesterday.  Sent first copy to Mrs. Woodin. Orders coming in by mail and telegraph. Outlook most encouraging.
  • February 3 1932. Telegram from Charles Miller to W.H. Woodin c/o ACF, “Arrived New York this morning. Hope you are well. Reviews of Sunday’s concert beyond all expectations. Congratulations, Best Wishes.
The Legacy of Raggedy Ann

My older sisters Olga and Brigid grew up in the late 1930s and 1940s and they remember the Raggedy Ann dolls, but not the song books.

I remember seeing the dolls at other people's homes but not our own. Brigid says that Mom didn't approve of Raggedy Ann for some reason - maybe because Johnny Gruelle gave her a "candy heart" which the U.S.  Catholic Church of the time may have found objectionable because a candy heart is not a soul. Brigid says that a neighbor in the Chevy Chase area of Washington, DC, Lois Dean, had a Raggedy Ann doll. My two sisters would go play with the doll at the Deans' house.
Collection of Raggedy Ann Stories.

At a singalong party with the Harvard Din & Tonics in East Hampton in August 2013, several of the Raggedy Ann songs were sung by Ray Warner, accompanied by Christine Cadarette. Here are  the lyrics of the first two stanzas of the title song, "My Raggedy Ann":
Raggedy Ann is a very old doll,
She lay in the Attic for years.
She lived in a trunk there for 50 long years,
With her legs doubled over her ears.
And that's where I found her, my Raggedy Ann,
And grandmother gave her to me.
So I love every wrinkle in Raggedy Ann,
And that's why she's smiling at me
Woody Rowe, grandson of Will Woodin, remembers the Raggedy Ann songs from his childhood:
By day, I toted around a small but heavy blue Victrola. You had to wind it up with a silver crank so it would play two or three records, comically distorted as the mechanism ran down. When I was three or four, it amused my parents when I said: “Shall we have a little music?” I don't think I knew it, but the music I played was by Grandpa Woodin: the Raggedy Ann and Andy Songs.
Top to bottom: Will Woodin, Nan Woodin
Libby Woodin Rowe, Bill Rowe. Photo 
courtesy of Woody Rowe.
My favorite was “Snoop-Wiggy, Snoop-Wiggy, runs upon four feet, you see. Green his head, hair is red; looks like a dunce does he!” Woodin’s capacity to entertain made him a good salesman and a business success.
While Will Woodin’s main contribution to the Raggedy Ann franchise was to create the music for the songbooks, he was not above writing his own lyrics.

For example, Woody Rowe writes:
Mother [Elizabeth Woodin Rowe] told me that a popular rhyme of her day was: “Father, father, may I go out to swim?” / “Yes, my darling daughter. / Hang your coat on a hickory limb, / but don't go near the water.” Grandpa sent the following to Life Magazine: “Father, father, may I go out to fly?” / “Yes, my dear, but beware. / Hang your coat on a hickory limb, / but don't go up in the air.” Life Magazine paid Grandpa $5 for that creation.
For comparison, $5 in 1928 would be worth $68 in 2013, according to the BLS inflation calculator.

Mar 11, 2017—I just found out that the Raggedy Ann song was included in the Fibber McGee wartime movie Heavenly Days. The actors in the movie are praised, and the music, but the script was not written by the writer who made Fibber McGee famous and reviews noted the propagandistic feel to the dialog.


Will Woodin's Musical Ability: Wayne Homren, "William H. Woodin's Political Journey And Musical Talent", December 16, 2007.

The Woodin Appreciation of Music: Emails from Woody Rowe.

Telegrams from Charles Miller - Original copies from Bill Phipps, Red Album.

Charles Miller as Librettist - From clipping in Glendale, Calif. News-Press, May 19, 1931. In Bill Phipps, Red Album.


Woodin, William H. and Johnny Gruelle,  A Raggedy Ann Song Book.

Woodin, William H.,  A Raggedy Ann Song Book - Easy Piano Arrangements, by John Lane, 1971.

Woodin, William H. FDR Inaugural March. Music of Marines. United States, Royal and Merchant. By United States Merchant Marine Academy, Regimental Band Music CD - 2001?

© John Tepper Marlin 2013-2015. For permissions or other information, contact the author at