Spelling Bee, 1875. Septimus Winner, 1827-1902. Music Division, Library of Congress. Call number: M1621.W
Though he wrote and published many choral arrangements, Winner was not primarily a choral composer. Like Stephen Collins Foster (1826-1864), his choral writing was limited to close harmony settings of song choruses, usually no longer than a few pages.
Spelling Bee, written in 1875 and published in Philadelphia by the Lee & Walker Company, followed that model. The same company also published Winner's most famous song, Listen to the Mockingbird, purchased from Winner for five dollars. That song sold twenty million copies between 1855 and 1955.
Spelling Bee has a lilting dancelike melody with a strummed-mandolin style piano accompaniment. The playful verses, which invite the listener to take part in the fun, are followed by the nonsensical choral refrain, "B, A, Ba, B, E, Be, B, I, Bickibi, B, O, Bo, Bickibibo, B, U, Bu, Bickibibobu." Under the last system, Winner wrote, "Repeat the chorus several times at the end of the second verse, taking a new letter at each repeat."
Though not originally considered one of Winner's more popular songs, Spelling Bee achieved immense popularity as Swinging the Alphabet, a novelty song sung by the Three Stooges in their 1938 film, Violent Is the Word for Curly. It was the only full-length song performed by the Three Stooges in their short films, and it marked the only time they mimed to their own pre-recorded soundtrack.