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Friday, December 7, 2007

Nellie Bly Pre-K teaching ideas

Here are some ideas for using our song "Nellie Bly" in your Pre-K classroom:

Find or create large pictures of the following:
- an airplane
- a bus
- a mini-van
- a sampan
- a rickshaw

1. Tell the story of Nellie Bly very briefly. You can do this simply by saying "Nellie Bly was a woman who took a trip around the world."
2. Explain that the class be listening to a song about the places she went and the different moving things she used to get to those places.

LISTENING: Give each child large copies of all five of these pictures. Ask them to hold up the correct picture as they hear each mode of transportation mentioned.

This is an additional advanced activity for a different day or for a class that wants to listen to the song again.
1. Announce that now you're going to try to find out which moving things Nellie Bly did ride in and which ones she didn't ride in.
2. Play the song. Nod or shake your head if you think your class needs these prompts.
3. Hold up the picture of the airplane. Ask students "Did Nellie Bly fly in an airplane around the world?" If the students disagree on whether she did or not (or if they all say "Yes, she did"), say, "Let's listen to the song again." Play the part of the song that mentions the airplane again and shake your head as we sing "She didn't fly an airplane. No airplane!" Ask the students again if she flew in an airplane. Repeat for each moving thing.

Color a picture of one of the moving things. Or ask your students to draw a picture of themselves riding in their favorite moving thing.

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Historical Places to Visit

Here's a short (but soon-to-be long and out of control) list of some of my favorite historic places that you must visit with your children immediately. Tomorrow if you can.
- Ulysses S. Dee

The African-American Heritage Trail in Boston features Underground Railroad sites, the oldest known black church in America, a memorial to the 54th Massachusetts (the all-black Union army unit dramatized in Glory), and no end of cool stuff.

Harper's Ferry in West Virginia
The spot where John Brown made his famous raid is a well-preserved historical town framed by three mountains and two rivers. It's pretty exciting to stand there and imagine what it must have been like for Brown and his 21-man army to attack such a well-protected place. And in a nearby town, if you're interested in such things, you can see where Brown was hanged.

The Civil War and Underground Railroad Museum in Philadelphia
The Dees went here after our show at World Cafe Life to see Baldy's head, which resides here along with a research library full of Civil War books (many of which I'd never heard of, but now want to read), some of Grant's artifacts including a uniform and some letters, General George Meade's slouch hat and coat he wore at Gettysburg, and other shocking stuff. Skip the "LOVE" sculpture and the cheese steaks and go straight to this place. We even stumbled on a replica of Henry Box Brown's box upstairs!

Sagamore Hill on Long Island
Teddy Roosevelt's house on Long Island offers a great glimpse into the lost world in which he lived. Be sure to check out his wife Edith's room, which, with its soft color palette and delicate furniture, provides a sort of contrast to Teddy's den full of dead animals and dark wood, but still, alas, has some dead animals strewn around! I guess Teddy ran out of room.

Most importantly, though, find this guy, this one tour guide. You'll know who he is. Elderly gentleman. Wears an old-timey vest with a watch fob. I first learned about the incident where Teddy got shot then proceeded to give a long speech before going to a hospital from this man. He's a storytelling legend and your life will be sadder if you never get to hear him talk.

The Jumel Mansion, uptown Manhattan
Aaron Burr lived here with his final wife, Eliza Bowen. His bed is quite small and his chamber pot is nearby. There's also this neat triangular room from which Washington surveyed the five boroughs and New Jersey (before of course, the trees grew too tall to be able to see all of this.)

Trinity Church, downtown Manhattan
Alexander Hamilton is buried here. A little exhibit inside has some replicas of the pistols he and Burr used. Name someone of note before 1800 and they probably entered this church. Just go sit in a pew one afternoon.

Historical Reading List for Grown-Ups

The historical songs on Freedom in a Box are the result of many years of obsessively reading biographies and other histories, visiting museums and historical sites, searching the web for new info, watching PBS, and walking around New York and other cities reading signs and talking to people who also love the past as much as I do. Below is a brief list of some books I'd recommend if you'd like to find out more about the characters we sing about on the album. See also the posts titled "Historical Places to Visit" and "Websites We Like."
- Ulysses S. Dee

Books (organized by song):

"Henry Box Brown"
Narrative of the Life of Henry Box Brown - Henry Box Brown

"Teddy Days"
The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt - Edmund Morris
Theodore Rex - Edmund Morris
Empire - Gore Vidal

"Aaron Burr"
Burr - Gore Vidal
Founding Brothers - Joseph Ellis

"Underground Railroad"
John Brown, Abolitionist - David S. Reynolds

Mr. Catton's trilogy about the Army of the Potomac introduced me to Baldy and I'd recommend reading the whole thing if you, like Baldy, enjoy stories of "battles and bullets and gettin' shot." What sets his books apart, though, is his re-creation of the daily life of soldiers: the food they ate, the songs they sang, the horrible clothes shoes they wore, all of it.
Mr. Lincoln's Army - Bruce Catton
Glory Road - Bruce Catton
A Stillness at Appomattox - Bruce Catton

Underground Railroad lyrics and brief notes

Underground Railroad
music by Anand Mukherjee & Tavo Carbone, words by Lloyd Miller
arrangement by Chris Johnson, Ely Levin, Lloyd Miller, Anand Mukherjee

Innocent Dee - electric guitar, vocals
Ulysses S. Dee - upright bass, vocals
Otto von Dee - drums, vocals
Booker Dee - banjo, vocals

The Underground Railroad wasn't actually a railroad. It was a system made up of people, their houses, their businesses, their horses and carriages, and all sorts of other things. The system had one purpose: transport slaves to freedom. Runaway slaves and their helpers, known as "conductors," hid in the back of wagons and in barns, disguised themselves, rode all night in total darkness on horseback and did all sorts of other awesome, but extremely dangerous things.

The most famous conductor of all was Harriet Tubman, known to many as "Moses" because she helped people escape slavery just like Moses in the Book of Exodus. This song is a chance for you to cheer her adventures and shout out the names of many of the cities involved in the wide-reaching and complicated network known as the Underground Railroad.

Boston New York Montreal
Chester Cairo Ironton
New Haven Montpelier
Chicago and Port Huron

Boston New York Montreal
Albany and Rochester
Toledo Detroit Port Huron
Chicago and Davenport

Underground Railroad Harriet Tubman
freed 300 slaves, ain't that something?

Boston New York Montreal
Philadelphia Cumberland
Springfield Des Moines Percival
New Bern Charleston Leavenworth

you don't need a ticket just a secret password:
"friend of friends" all aboard!

Bucktown, Maryland she was born
but her name wasn't Harriet it was Araminta
later in life they called her Moses
cos she lead slaves to freedom I supposes

Boston New York Montreal
Albany and Rochester
Toledo Detroit Port Huron
Chicago and Davenport

Teddy Days lyrics and brief notes

Teddy Days
words & music by Lloyd Miller, arrangement by Chris Johnson, Ely Levin, Anand Mukherjee, and Lloyd Miller

Booker Dee - piano, keyboards, vocals
Otto von Dee - drums, vocals
Innocent Dee - electric guitar, vocals
Ulysses S. Dee - electric bass, vocals

This tune is a celebration of what the Deedle Deedle Dees do on our "Teddy Days," days when we recreate (in our mind) the action-packed days of one of America's great overachievers. The first two verses chart Teddy's rise from sickly childhood to robust manhood. Following his father's advice, he began a rigorous program of exercise that helped transform him into the burly bear of a president most people know. He also hunted big game, busted up illegal activities as police commissioner, fought in the Spanish-American war, negotiated treaties between world powers, survived an attempt on his life, and tried to read every book ever written. The song's finale is based on Teddy's actual journal where he meticulously cataloged his physical measurements and all his recent reading.

He was a puny, sickly child
until he found the weights (and lifted 'em)

He was a loudmouth vice president
until McKinley passed away

Teddy Roosevelt didn't start out cool
he used to be interested in birds

On my Teddy Days, I raid saloons selling beer on Sundays
and sleep under the snow at night

On our Teddy Days, we strap on chaps and bison say, "Look out!"
Maybe they've got beginner's luck like (oh no) Roosevelt!"

He was a narrow-chested, asthmatic child
but then he charged up San Juan Hill

He took his father's words to heart ("you must make your body")
after that Teddy never stopped working out

Teddy Roosevelt didn't start out cool
he used to have trouble with math in school

On a Teddy Day, my horse-drawn carriage could throw me to the street
and I'd just stand up and say, "Neat!"
On a Teddy Day, we might take a bullet on our way to give a speech,
but we'd still give the speech, we'd even show the crowd where our chest was bleedin'

Edith hoped that Teddy's days
would mellow out after his second term
but he had a ticket for Africa
Theodore left for a year of wild animal Teddy days

Now my chest is 34 inches
and I just read book 4 of Gibbon
Now my waist is 261/2 inches
and I just finished the Nibelungenlied
Now my thigh is 20 inches
Goethe, Raleigh, red-thrushes, and finches
Now my calf is 12 1/2 inches
Swinburne, Homer, Virgil, and Dickens
Now my neck is 14 1/2 inches
Horace, Socrates, and Lincoln
Now my shoulders are 41 inches
Naval War of 1812 is full of statistics
arms up I measure 101/2 inches
the Russo-Japanese War is ended
arms straight I measure 9 3/4 inches

now my forearm measures 10 inches...

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Nellie Bly lyrics and brief notes

One by one we'll be adding the lyrics to songs from our upcoming album, Freeedom in a Box, to this blog. Gradually, we'll add entries including lesson plans, activity sheets, and more. Here's the album's opening track:

Nellie Bly

words & music by Lloyd Miller;
arrangement by Chris Johnson, Ely Levin, Anand Mukherjee, and Lloyd Miller

Booker Dee - piano, vocals
Innocent Dee - acoustic guitar, vocals
Otto von Dee - drums, vocals
Ulysses S. Dee - upright bass, vocals
Brooklyn kids - vocals

As a publicity stunt for the New York World newspaper, fearless reporter Nellie Bly set off around the world with the goal of beating the ficitional record set in the book Around the World in 80 Days by Jules Vernes. She made the trip in 72 days and became the most famous woman in the world.

This is the latest of many songs about her. By the way, the original song "Nellie Bly," written by Stephen Foster, isn't about her, but it's where she got her pen name (her real name was Elizabeth Jane Cochran).

The drawing up and to the right features the Deedle Deedle Dees serenading Nellie Bly while she rides in a rickshaw. Nellie's look is based on a series of beautiful trading cards that were among the many Nellie Bly-themed products that were sold to capitalize on her fame.

Nellie Bly... ...Nellie Bly!
Eighteen eighty-nine... ...eighteen eighty-nine!

Around the world... ...around the world!

Seventy-two days, girl

Ho-ho-hoboken... ...Ho-ho-boken

Ho-hong Kong... ...Ho-ho Kong

Egypt, London... ... Egypt, London
And back home to New York

She didn't fly an airplane... ...No airplane!

She didn't ride a bus... ...No bus!
She didn't drive a mini-van... ...No mini-van!

How'd she go?
I don't know

S-A-M-P-A-N Sampan Is that a boat?

It's a Chinese boat!

Nellie Bly rode lots of boats and the sampan is my favorite, yo
yo yo yo...

Nellie Bly... ...Nellie Bly!
Eighteen eighty-nine... ...eighteen eighty-nine!

Around the world... ...around the world!

Seventy-two days, girl

Ho-ho-hoboken... ...Ho-ho-boken

Ho-hong Kong... ...Ho-ho Kong

Egypt, London... ... Egypt, London
And back home to New York

She didn't fly an airplane... ...No airplane!
She didn't ride a bus... ...No bus!
She didn't drive a mini-van... ...No mini-van!

How'd she go?
I don't know

R-I-C-K-S-H-A-W... Is that a chair?
It's a chair with wheels!
But Nellie Bly didn't sit in a rickshaw too long

She used horses and her own feet to get along
long long long...

Nellie Bly... ...Nellie Bly!
Eighteen eighty-nine... ...eighteen eighty-nine!

Around the world... ...around the world!

Seventy-two days, girl

Ho-ho-hoboken... ...Ho-ho-boken

Ho-hong Kong... ...Ho-ho Kong

Egypt, London... ... Egypt, London
And back home to good old New York

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Welcome to Teach DDD!


Starting in March 2007, this blog will be a resource for teachers who would like to use the music of the Deedle Deedle Dees in their classrooms. Lesson plans, background notes, activity and coloring sheets, and reading lists will all be here for you to use.

The Deedle Deedle Dees are going to release our album, Freedom in a Box, on March 3rd. The album features a number of songs about our favorite obsession, American history, as well as movement-based songs developed in our toddler classes. You can hear some of these tunes now at

By the way, if there's something specific you'd like to know about one of our songs, please e-mail me at Or, if you have a suggestion for a song you'd like us to write, let us know right away. We work fast and we'd be happy to help you with your current curriculum!

sincerely yours,
Ulysses S. Dee