The history of the hokey cokey
Recently I saw a video of a woman in her nineties who had an obsession with one song, so much so that she tried to make her neighbours feel the same enjoyment for the song that she felt. And as the title of this may suggest to you, that song was indeed the hokey cokey. Or, well, it was the hokey pokey. This sparked me to wonder, where does this regional variation of the hokey cokey come from? Which name for the song is the original one? This prompted me to look into the history of the hokey cokey.
One of the earliest known variants of the song can be found first transcribed within ‘Popular Rhymes of Scotland’, a text published in 1826 by Robert Chambers. This song was called neither the hokey pokey nor the hokey cokey, but rather the Hinkum-booby. The lyrics of the rhyme were also different to the one that we know of now. Even the dance for the Hinkum-booby is one that is similar to the dance that we do today. Two sisters from Canterbury made another rendition of the song, with a similar set of dance moves, this time called “The English/Scottish ditty” in 1857. The development continued with “The Ugly Mug” in 1872, with adaptations in 1891 and 1892. All of this was before it was ever even known as anything resembling the ‘Hokey Cokey’.
Irish songwriter and publisher Jimmy Kennedy created a dance in 1942, with an accompanying instructional song, known as the ‘Hokey Cokey’, which was written as a way to entertain the Canadian troops stationed within London. Another composer entertaining the Canadian, Al Tabor, wrote a song called ‘The Hokey Pokey’ supposedly after the ice cream vendors of their youth. The dance that accompanied the song was very similar to the one that was composed and organised by Kennedy and the dances of some of the original versions. Oblivious to what was happening in England, two musicians in Pennsylvania created and composed an instruction song called the “The Hokey-Pokey Dance” to entertain vacationers in Poconos Mountain resorts. There are so many different believed ‘origins’ of the hokey cokey or the hokey pokey or whatever it is actually called, maybe we will never know which one is truly the original version of the song.
Because of the confusing history of this song, we may never know its complete or true origin. This can be said for many things in life. We do not always have a clear view of where things begin, where they started out and what they have stemmed from may never truly be known to the world. Our truth may not be the full truth or even what is really true. That is simply a reality that we must learn to live with.