Graduation Day – Stark Whiteman- Song of the Day

http://youtu.be/tq6hUkPm7XoIn a town where the question “where’d you go to high school?” is as ubiquitous as “would you like that dressed?” it is appropriate that the Crescent City has its own traditional R&B graduation song, and for thousands of New Orleanians, that anthem is Stark Whiteman’s “Graduation Day,” dripping though it is with sickly-sweet sentimentality, teenage melodrama, and high school clichés. This is the dancefloor dirge that launched 10,000 belly-rubbers for teenage lovers in the New Orleans of the 1960s.

According to Times-Picayune columnist Angus Lind, Stark Whiteman’s 1960 hit was “written by bass player Henry Schroeder and saxophonist Roy ‘Big Daddy’ Wagner. It gained Whiteman, a bass player and a lead singer with The Jokers, a lot of popularity. It was recorded on the White Cliffs label at Cosimo Matassa’s studio in 1959 with three female singers from Nicholls High School who never sang professionally.”

Yat cottage-industry kingpin Benny Grunch, in relating to Lind the story of the song, which inspired Grunch to record a hurricane-themed parody titled “Evacuation Day,” said “Matassa told Whiteman his song would be a hit. Whiteman asked him how he knew and the response was straight out of Yogi Berra’s playbook: ‘If it sounds like a hit record, it’s a hit record.’”

Local writer Robert Fontenot had this to say about “Graduation Day”: “Recorded by an obscure New Orleans outfit, this sad Fifties ballad was a hit in the region but never made the charts. It’s one of the best odes to the day in question, expressing a real, tangible sadness at the idea of leaving your friends behind forever.”

Indeed, let the lyrics themselves attest:

Though we all shall try, we may never meet again
(never meet again, never meet again)
School is almost over. Graduation’s near.
Though we try to hide it, we all shed a tear.
Happy days are over. School is near its end
Though we all shall try, we may never meet again.
As the school year ends, we will surely try
Try to face our friends. Try to say goodbye
Happy days are over. School is near it’s end
Though we all shall try, we may never meet again.

What will happen now is not for us to say.
We will each go on, our own and separate way.
As the years go by, time will have its say
But we will all remember graduation day.

When we stop to look back, we will surely say
The best day of our lives was graduation day.

Not to be outdone by New Orleans, the Acadiana region also has its monster graduation song, differentiating itself from “Graduation Day” by focusing on the nocturnal side of commencement with all its pseudo-majestic pomp and circumstance: “Graduation Night (As You Pass Me By),” sung by the now-legendary swamp-pop singer TK Hulin.

According to the Edsel Records/Crazy Cajun label’s liner notes to a TK CD: “Hulin was born Alton James Hulin in St. Martinville, LA on Aug. 16, 1943. At age 16 he formed the Lonely Knights, making his solo debut the following year with ‘I’m Not a Fool Anymore’; the single, issued on the LK label (a venture co-owned by Hulin’s father and local songwriter Robert Thibodeaux) became a massive hit throughout Louisiana and Texas, and was followed by other regional smashes like ‘As You Pass Me By (Graduation Night).’ According to the Acadian Museum’s bio on Hulin: “’Graduation Night’ was recorded in 1964 and sold over 150,000 copies. Each year around May, one can always hear this famous recording with the song being popular in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas.”

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