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This story first appeared in January 2018. Because you just may see these musical notes on your way to and from Summerfest this week, we're sharing it again.
Recently, my friend Meaghan Heinrich – who is chair of the Woodwind, Brass & Percussion Department at Wisconsin Conservatory of Music – asked if I knew what the song was engraved into the concrete wall at the I-794 ramp just outside the Summerfest grounds, built as part of the Lakefront Gateway Project (discussed here).
"I think about this every time I take the Lincoln Memorial exit ramp from 794," she said. "It seems too detailed to be random notes. I've sung it in my head and can't figure it out for the life of me. Something meaningful to Milwaukee?"
I said, I didn’t know it, but maybe if she hummed a few bars for me ...
So, Heinrich and WCM Percussion Coordinator – and great jazz pianist, according to Heinrich – Mitch Shiner did just that ...
Thanks to a tip from someone at the City of Milwaukee’s Department of City Development, we thought that perhaps the notes are the melody of "Smile," co-written by Charlie Chaplin for his 1936 movie "Modern Times."
Close, but no cigar, according to Michael Pyritz, Wisconsin Department of Transportation’s regional communication manager.
"The musical notes are the chorus to the song 'Smiles' and was written by Lee S. Roberts in 1917. Judy Garland and a number of other singers have sung it at various times," Pyritz told me in an email.
So, why not "On Wisconsin" or late Mayor Henry Maier’s Summerfest song?
"During the development of the Lakefront Gateway project, a group gathered with representatives from City of Milwaukee, Wisconsin Department of Transportation, Milwaukee County, Milwaukee World Festivals, Discovery World, and other local entities," Pyritz said.
"During the meetings, many options were considered for the design of the wall along the northbound exit from the Hoan Bridge. The group supported the idea of combining the ideas of water and music bringing together the themes that represent this area of the lakefront."
Shiner suggested "Smiles" is certainly appropriate as a reference to the Summerfest logo.
As an aside, Pyrtiz added that, "the oscillation of the staff and chord lines are meant to represents the waves of Lake Michigan."
Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.
He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.
With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in episodes of TV's "Party of Five" and "Dawson's Creek," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.
He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for OnMilwaukee.com and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.
In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area. He has also won awards from the Milwaukee Press Club.
He can be heard weekly on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories.