Yes, We Have No Bananas!

Update 28 Jan 2002: One Brianna Cole of the Banana Site (offsite) has decided to link to this page. Darrick is bemused that somebody has the time to maintain such a page.

Q: "Yes! We Have No Bananas." In one of our client meetings, this phrase has come up very often. One of the members of the group wants to know the origin of the phrase. We know that it traces back to the vaudeville song of the same title, but do you have any information on the phrase which predates the song? Or did the phrase simply emerge because of the song itself?

A: You must have some fun clients (or some very odd ones!) YES! WE HAVE NO BANANAS (offsite) by Frank Silver and Irving Cohn, was arguably the most popular song of the 1920s. It was released on March 23, 1923 and kicked around the Vaudeville stage without much impact until Eddie Cantor happened to hear it. Cantor put the song into his new show "Make it Snappy" and the rest is history. Popular recordings were made by Cantor and by Billy Murray and by Billy Jones. The song became a hit, then a mega-hit, then a phenomenon. In England, the sheet music sold more than half a million copies during its first month of sales. Unlike most popular songs of the era, it never faded in popularity and even today it is one of the few songs that you can count on virtually anyone to know.

Legend has it that the songwriters overheard a Greek fruit stand owner utter the famous phrase. It may be true, but the Greek fruitier was also a stock character in Vaudeville and it is just as likely that it was the song was inspired by a Vaudeville routine or written as yet another in a tradition of dialect songs. However it was inspired, you can safely say the song originated the phrase. There is also a story that "Ja, Wir Haben Keine Bananen (Heute)" was banned by Nazi censors as anti-Aryan propaganda.

After the song became a hit, the Westman Company, which published the sheet music for Handel's Messiah took the publishers of "Bananas" to court, claiming that the melody was a direct steal from a portion of the Messiah. They won and were awarded a share of the song's profits. Actually the song seems to be a pastiche of several popular pieces of music. According to "The Treasury of Popular Song", the tune of the chorus goes:

<Moved to the end>

The song that everyone knows is actually just the chorus of the original song. Hardly anyone knows that verses ever existed. In fact, I didn't until I looked!

UPDATE FROM THE WEB -- John W. Kennedy writes: "By chance, I happen to know that the opening words of 'Yes, We Have No Bananas' in German are 'Ausgerechnet Bananen'. It is not a literal translation, because in German the words for "opposite of 'yes'" and "opposite of 'some' " are not the same words, making a literal translation impossible. The song is mentioned by name in the 1928 operetta "Die Herzogin von Chicago" ('The Duchess of Chicago'), and if it weren't for the world-wide web, we'd still be going nuts trying to figure out what the strange comment about bananas meant.

Yes, We Have No Bananas (Cohn and Silver, 1923)

There's a fruit store on our street It's run by a Greek. And he keeps good things to eat, But you should hear him speak!

When you ask him anything, he never answers "no". He just "yes"es you to death, and as he takes your dough, he tells you...

Yes of course, we have no bananas! We have no bananas today!

We have string beans and onions, cabBAges and scallions And all kinds of fruit and say, We have an old fashioned toMAHto, A Long Island poTAHto, but

Yes! We have no bananas! We have no bananas today!

--interlude--

Business got so good with him, He wrote home to say, Send me Pete and Nick and Jim, I need help right away.

When he got them in the store, There was fun you bet. Someone asked for sparrowgrass, And then the whole quartet all answered:

Yes, we have no bananas, We have no bananas today!

Just try those coCOnuts Those walnuts And donuts There aint many nuts like they!

We'll sell you two Kinds of red herring, Dog brown, And ball bearing, but

Yes, we have no bananas; We have no bananas todaaaay!

--talking:

You gotta strumbly pie? Yes, i don't think we got strumbly pie.

You got coconut pie? Yes, i don't think we got coconut pie.

I'll have one step of coffee. We got no coffee.

Well, whattayou got? I gotta banana.

OH, you gotta banana!

Yes, we gotta no banana, no banana, no banana, We gotta no bananas today. i tellaya no banana.

Eh, arianna, You gotta no banana? Well, thisa man, he no believe what i say! Now, whattya wanta mister, you wanna buy a 12 for a quatta? No? well, just a oneofadozen?

Ima gonna calla my daughtta HEY, arian, you gotta banana? no? yes, banana, no? yes, nono, no banana today. No banana today.

...and the song ends. What? what? Here's a random verse! Seems to go with the first verse very well.

Hallelujah, Bananas Oh bring back my Bonnie to me!

I dreamt that I dwelt in marble halls the kind that you seldom see I was seeing Nellie home to an old fashioned garden, but

Hallelujah, Bananas Oh bring back my Bonnie to me!

Listen to a MIDI version of this song.

Copyright ©1996-2017, Darrick Wong. All Rights Reserved. Send feedback.