“It’s nobody’s business but the Turks” — Jimmy Kennedy

December 6, 2011


Stephen Colbert, in his recent irreverent commentary on the new English translation of the ritual of the Roman Catholic mass, said something to this effect: “For the record, consubstantial is now Istanbul.” For the benefit of the uninitiated, consubstantial is a technical term in the Nicene Creed that expresses something we Catholics and many other Christians believe about the nature of God. In the translation in use from around 1970 until Nov. 27, the Latin phrase consubstantialem Patri was rendered “of one substance with the Father,” but in the new rendition it reads, “consubstantial with the Father.”

Anyway, that was the occasion for Colbert to make that play on words.


That had the unintended result of reviving in my brain the memory of a song written in 1953, with lyrics by Jimmy Kennedy and music by Nat Simon, namely “Istanbul (Not Constantinople”). I don’t know how historically accurate Kennedy was trying to be, but the song in general refers to the fact that in 1930, the government of the relatively new Republic of Turkey declared Istanbul to be the one and only name of a city that had had many names — sometimes more than one at the same time — over its very long history. Istanbul was not a new name in 1930. Far from it, the name was known in some form since at least the tenth century.

Things like that used to interest song writers, and Kennedy turned out a lyric that, in part, went like this:

Istanbul was Constantinople
Now it’s Istanbul, not Constantinople
Been a long time gone, Constantinople
Now it’s Turkish delight on a moonlit night

Every gal in Constantinople
Lives in Istanbul, not Constantinople
So if you’ve a date in Constantinople
She’ll be waiting in Istanbul

Even old New York was once New Amsterdam
Why they changed it I can’t say
People just liked it better that way

So take me back to Constantinople
No, you can’t go back to Constantinople
Been a long time gone, Constantinople
Why did Constantinople get the works?
That’s nobody’s business but the Turks.

The ‘fifties being what they were, that was a big hit for the Four Lads.It was played on the radio again and again, and it was bored into my subconscious mind, where it rested happily until Colbert summoned it from the tomb.Kennedy, incidentally, was a very talented guy who wrote several standards, including “South of the Border,” “The Isle of Capri,” and “Red Sails in the Sunset.” Nat Simon and Charles Tobias teamed up in 1946 to write “The Old Lamp-Lighter.”

But Kennedy’s best-known work may be the lyrics he wrote in 1939 for “My Prayer,” which had been composed in 1926 by violinist Georges Boulanger. Glenn Miller and the Ink Spots had big hits with that song, but its most popular interation was the 1956 recording by The Platters.

“Istanbul (Not Constantinople)” has been recorded by many performers, including Bing Crosby and Ella Fitzgerald, Caterina Valente, Bette Midler, and They Might Be Giants.

You can hear the Four Lads’ version by clicking HERE.


3 Responses to ““It’s nobody’s business but the Turks” — Jimmy Kennedy”

  1. shoreacres Says:

    Amazing. I almost could remember the song just from the word “Constantinople”, but it took only about six seconds of the video to bring it all back. Strangely, I never knew the lyrics. I just liked the bouncy tune.

    It was fun to see “Red Sails in the Sunset” and “The Old Lamp-Lighter” mentioned, too. I thought both were a little sad, but Mom sang both of them regularly – she said they made her happy.

    Oh – for what it’s worth, I really prefer “of one being with…” 😉

  2. charlespaolino Says:

    “The Old Lamp-Lighter” does have a sad tone. My favorite recording of that is by Kate Smith, who had a knack for melancholy. These lines are especially poignant:

    If there were sweethearts in the park
    He’d pass a lamp and leave it dark
    Remembering the days that used to be
    For he recalled when things were new
    He loved someone who loved him too
    Who walks with him alone in memories

  3. […] “It’s nobody’s business but the Turks” – Jimmy Kennedy (charlespaolino.wordpress.com) […]

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