— by Kim Davenport
This is not as much as story about music as it is a story about Tacoma, community, and baseball. But before we get into all that, take a listen:
In my previous research into Joe Jordan (1882-1971), I’d seen reference to several songs he wrote for his chosen hometown of Tacoma: one for the city’s centennial, a new school song for Lincoln High School – and this song for the first team to play in a newly-built Cheney Stadium, the Tacoma Giants.
I didn’t hold out much hope for being able to actually hear period recordings of any of these songs – but that was before the librarians in the Northwest Room at the Tacoma Public Library were kind enough to take the time to bring several 45-rpm records up from the basement for me to peruse. And there it was: Go, Giants, Go!
Sporting the official Tacoma Giants logo and signed by Mr. Jordan himself, the album is stamped as being received by the library as a donation in December of 1965, a few years after it was first debuted at a game in the summer of 1963.
Instrumentals are provided by a combo led by Art Mineo, a prolific jazz pianist active in Tacoma for several decades. Like Jordan, Mineo was not a Tacoma native, being born in Brooklyn, but chose to make Tacoma his new home after being posted to Fort Lewis during World War II.
Another name on the album immediately intrigued me – the vocalist, William M. McMenamin. Who was this man who had such command of an ‘old timey’ baseball style? And was he any relation to the McMenamin brothers of local brewery and historic preservation fame? More on that in a bit, but first, back to the Giants!
Baseball fans in Tacoma today will recognize Cheney Stadium as home to the Tacoma Rainiers, since 1995 the AAA affiliate of the Seattle Mariners. Prior to that particular local affiliation, however, Cheney Stadium has been home to a AAA baseball team continuously since 1960, when Tacoma welcomed the Tacoma Giants.
It’s not known if a specific event spurred Joe Jordan to write a song for Tacoma’s team, but his civic spirit, connections to a variety of community organizations, and desire to continue composing even in his later years are enough to explain the song’s origins.
Go, Giants, Go was debuted at Cheney Stadium between double-header games on a Sunday in May of 1963. Joe Jordan was on hand to introduce the song to the crowd, describing it as “a jolly, rhythmic baseball song sung to a happy tune.” Jordan had rallied a large group for the debut: the Tacoma Giants Booster Club, led by baritone Jack Sonntag, were supported by Lincoln High School’s 80-piece band and 50-member male chorus. The response from the crowd was reported to be so enthusiastic that an encore performance immediately followed, with players in the clubhouse being called out to the field by teammates so as not to miss it.
The following year, Jordan, always diligent to copyright his works and do what he could to preserve them for posterity, submitted the sheet music for Go, Giants, Go! to the Library of Congress, and produced the recording heard above – with his proposed new state song for Washington on the B side (that’s a story for another day).
And this brings us back to the musicians he chose to invite into the studio to make the record. Art Mineo is no surprise – not only was he a prolific performer in Tacoma during this era, but he was also a versatile jazz-oriented musician who Jordan doubtless knew could channel a style reminiscent of baseball jingles from earlier in the century.
But William M. McMenamin was not a name I had ever come across in years of exploring Tacoma’s musical history. The reason soon became clear – a very promising young musician and music teacher, his life was cut tragically short by a heart ailment.
McMenamin was born in Tacoma in 1937, and pursued a successful career in music and music teaching. At the time of his early passing at age 31, he was head of the music department of Kennedy High School, south of Seattle.
McMenamin was well known as a young man in Tacoma for his musical theater performances at the Tacoma Little Theater, as well as for his work in barbershop quartet singing, having been director of the Barbershop Totemaires and a member of the Totem Tones Quartet.
Another Tacoma connection – he was a member of the Tacoma Elks Club. And yes, he is a not-so-distant cousin of the McMenamin brothers who are currently completing their renovation of the very same Tacoma Elks Club; William’s grandfather and the brothers’ grandfather were brothers, the family having Tacoma roots dating back to the early 1900s.
And so when that long-awaited project is complete in April 2019, know that the McMenamins name has been associated with Tacoma’s Elks Temple far longer than we may have realized!
For now, let’s enjoy Go, Giants, Go! and look forward to another season of baseball getting underway this Spring.
Thanks and further reading:
- Jacob Jordan’s exhaustive A History of the Tacoma Giants 1960-1965 is available at the Tacoma Public Library
- Thank you to Ilona Perry and Brian Kamens in the Northwest Room for accommodating my requests to peruse old record albums and borrow them for digitization!
- Thank you to Deb Freedman with Tacoma Historical Society for your work in researching the McMenamin family roots in Tacoma!