Lone Fish-Ball

In 1855, the Latin scholar and Harvard professor George Martin Lane wrote a song about an experience he had at a Boston restaurant when he was an undergraduate student at Harvard. "Lone Fish-Ball" recounts the story of a diner who went to a restaurant with very little money and could only afford to purchase a single fish ball. As the story goes, he only had 25 cents with him at the time, and half of that money was needed for fare back to Cambridge. He ordered a half portion of macaroni, which got changed to the New England delicacy of a fish ball in the song. The song remained popular with Harvard undergraduates for years. The song got used as a fund raiser for Union soldiers, and it was turned into the mock operetta Pesceballo that was created by Francis James Child.

Nearly 100 years later, the song got a remake in 1944 by the South Carolina musician Josh White as "One Meat Ball." This recording made him the first Black male singer to have a million-selling record. It soon then appeared as the b-side to the single "Rum and Coca-Cola," as performed by the popular White group, The Andrews Sisters. It remains a favorite of folk singers and kids at summer camps to this day.

Resources at the Boston Public Library

Pasticcio and Temperance Plays in America [includes Pesceballo]

Lone Fish-ball

One Meat Ball: the Album and Cookbooklet

Free and Equal Blues

Other Resources

"Song for Hard Times" from the Harvard Magazine, opens a new window

One Meat Ball, opens a new window

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