Barbary Coast

“In the hottest hot place anywhere around, anywhere around
Step up to the wicket,
Get yourself a ticket San Francisco bound! I said Frisco bound!”

With lyrics by Ira Gershwin and music by George Gershwin, “Barbary Coast” (1954) was written for the musical “Girl Crazy,” starring Ethel Merman. The song was written for the character Frisco Kate, “a rough-and-tumble ‘floozy’ from San Francisco’s Barbary Coast,” played by Merman (Furia, 77).

According to Philip Furia, in Ira Gershwin: The Art of the Lyricist, “the song was designed for Kate to illustrate her former career as a Barbary Coast chanteuse, and Ira gave Merman a lyric laced with slang to recount the tale of Delilah, a ‘floozy’ who ‘never gave a damn’ until the day she fell for a ‘swell buckaroo whose name was Sam’” (77). For more on how this song represents Gershwin’s sonic innovation, check out Furia’s book.

Full sheet music courtesy of SFPL Sheet Music Collection