© 2024 Kansas City Public Radio
NPR in Kansas City
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

The Story Behind The Lost Song About Fairyland Park

Thousands of dancers flocked each week to the Fairyland Park Dance Pavilion in Kansas City, Mo., in the decades between opening day in 1923 and when the park closed in the 1977.  The park was owned by the Brancato family, a family of Italian immigrants and successful business people who'd come to the United States at the turn of the century.

Live music was a big part of Fairyland, and visitors would swing to Cab Calloway, Count Basie and Bennie Moten. But the iconic entertainment spot had an anthem of its own. It was called "Fairyland Park and You."

It was written by William R. Clay and Ned Underhill in 1927 — three years after the park opened. The piece was published by Clay, Underhill & Bentley Music Publishers of Kansas City.

Dr. Peter Munstedt, music librarian at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and formerly with the music library at UMKC, has written about music publishing in Kansas City. He says publication of "Fairyland Park and You" appears to be an example of vanity publishing in which composers published under their own names.

“Many early sheet music publications were issued that way,” Munstedt says.

The composers

William Rout Clay moved to Kansas City at a young age after taking part in the 1893 land rush, according to his obituary. He lived in Kansas City for 67 years. In addition to an interest in politics, Clay published a number of songs, including "Our Yesterday," "When Clouds Have Vanished and Skies Are Blue," "The Deep Elm Blues" "Only a Fades Rosebud, "and "Down By The Old Garden Gate."

Edwin "Ned" Underhill's obituary doesn't mention "Fairyland Park and You" either, it similarly identifies him as a songwriter, saying he submitted a "ditty" to the NRA (National Recovery Act), part of President Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal. It went:

"Keep faith in Roosevelt, He will not fail. Trust in his leadership, O'er the rocky trail. Pledge him your loyalty, Faithful and true. For our country is depending on Roosevelt and you!"

Clay and Underhill appear to have written the only song about Fairyland Park and it's difficult to know where and how often the piece was played. There is no mention of "Fairyland Park and You" in references to composers Clay and Underhill and no recording of the song turned up in a wide search of music archives in the Kansas City area.

This look at Kansas City's east side is part of KCUR's months-long examination of how geographic borders affect our daily lives in Kansas City. KCUR will go Beyond Our Borders and spark a community conversation through social outreach and innovative journalism.

We will share the history of these lines, how the borders affect the current Kansas City experience and what's being done to bridge or dissolve them. Be a source for Beyond Our Borders: Share your perspective and experiences east of Troost with KCUR.

I partner with communities to uncover the ignored or misrepresented stories by listening and letting communities help identify and shape a narrative. My work brings new voices, sounds, and an authentic sense of place to our coverage of the Kansas City region. My goal is to tell stories on the radio, online, on social media and through face to face conversations that enhance civic dialogue and provide solutions.
KCUR serves the Kansas City region with breaking news and award-winning podcasts.
Your donation helps keep nonprofit journalism free and available for everyone.