Keepapitchinin, the Mormon History blog » George Albert Smith: “Shut It!” (updated with picture)
 


George Albert Smith: “Shut It!” (updated with picture)

By: Ardis E. Parshall - January 31, 2012

I haven’t searched the pages of this year’s Teachings of the Presidents manual, but I feel reasonably secure in supposing this story isn’t one that made it into that book:

George Albert Smith’s childhood home was one of financial struggle, in comparison to the homes of his neighbors and those we might consider his social equals. Their homes had lawns; his did not. Their homes had organs; his did not. “But I did have a Jew’s harp,” he recalled, “a harmonica, banjo and a guitar, and I learned to play them.”

He also learned to sing … not necessarily the finest classical tunes, or the romantic hits of the day, but comedy songs, with words that suited his somewhat comedic appearance. He was, after all, very tall, and very thin, with long arms and legs, which he could work to his comedic advantage by exaggerating their disjointed, floppy, gangliness. He also could work his face into a living caricature of himself. His mouth, especially, could be stretched and opened to an exaggerated distance.

George also found a suit somewhere that he liked to wear when he performed, an ugly plaid suit with a bright, bold pattern, one that made his audience laugh at their first sight of him, before he even began to strum his guitar and sing his tunes at ward talent shows or neighborhood parties. A friend recalled his appearance at such events:

He would get up at these entertainments and sing [his] song, opening and closing his mouth real wide, which caused much merriment. All of the children just loved him.

And what did he sing? This:

I’m not very handsome, I know that I’m not.
I’m as ugly as sin, and I ought to be shot.
My mouth is a feature that can’t be forgot
If you travel east, west, north or south.

Shut it! Shut it! Don’t open it quite so wide,
Shut it! Shut it! I don’t want to get inside.

He was still singing that song when as a young man touring the Territory of Utah to promote the MIA. After preaching to the people in Beaver who demanded that he sing to them, he sang “Shut It.” He recorded in his journal that night that the applause was “quite enough to take the roof off if it hadn’t been fastened.” Underscoring the fact that it was his manner more than the words of his song that drew the applause, he records another evening during that same 1891 MIA mission: “After supper at Brother Paxman’s I got a funny streak and the folks nearly died laughing at me. Sister Paxman nearly fainted, and I had to stop.”

Preach it, Brother George!

UPDATE: As report by L.F. Olsen in a comment, here’s a picture of the young George Albert Smith in what can only be described as an ugly plaid suit. Surely he couldn’t have had the unfortunate taste to own two such notoriously ugly plaid suits? This must surely be the one!



11 Comments »

  1. This story makes me want to be a time traveler.

    Comment by Diana — January 31, 2012 @ 9:25 am

  2. Ardis, I heard somewhere that some minutes or journals show that the Quorum of the Twelve ended a meeting early on at least one occasion to see one of these performances by GAS. Do you know if there is any truth to that?

    Comment by Craig M. — January 31, 2012 @ 10:25 am

  3. Wow! This is even better than imagining President Hunter playing on a cruise ship…

    Comment by Paul — January 31, 2012 @ 10:41 am

  4. Craig, I haven’t run into that, but my ignorance certainly doesn’t rule it out. It would be a hoot to confirm that story!

    Fun, isn’t it Diana and Paul? And it doesn’t detract one bit from his stature as a leader, does it?!

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — January 31, 2012 @ 10:51 am

  5. #1 – Amen, Diana, amen!

    Comment by JB — January 31, 2012 @ 11:33 am

  6. Ardis, re your #4, I really enjoyed listening to President Packer speak to the youth at the seminary fireside a couple of weeks ago. He stumbled on the number of miles he had traveled as an apostle (over 2.5 million!), and after trying two or three times to get it right, he laughed and said, “a lot of miles!”

    I think seeing the human side of these men endears them to us all the more. You are right that it does not diminish their stature at all.

    Comment by Paul — January 31, 2012 @ 11:38 am

  7. I love the image of his audience laughing out of control. This line is tops: “Sister Paxman nearly fainted, and I had to stop.” Ha!

    Comment by David Y. — January 31, 2012 @ 2:33 pm

  8. Ardis, The April 1950 Improvement Era has an article about Pres. Smith’s humor. it includes a picture of his “suit”. (page 274).

    Comment by L.F. Olsen — January 31, 2012 @ 2:47 pm

  9. Thanks, L.F., I’ll scan it and post it here tomorrow.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — January 31, 2012 @ 2:58 pm

  10. I would love to have witnessed him singing in his suit. I’m anxious to see the picture tomorrow.

    Comment by Maurine Ward — February 1, 2012 @ 1:03 am

  11. Post photo addition:

    Wow, just wow. But as awesome as the suit is, check out his lid! Men, please start wearing these again. Thanks. :-)

    Comment by Ellen — February 1, 2012 @ 11:06 am

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