Goodbye Mama (I'm Off to Yokohama)

J. Fred Coots, 1941

Where is Pearl Harbor? What happened there on December 7, 1941? Why? What were the effects of the events of that day? How is "Goodbye, Mama, I'm Off to Yokohama" a response to the attack at Pearl Harbor?

How does the song portray the Japanese? Why are they portrayed in that way? Is this portrayal understandable? Is it dangerous?

Compare "Goodbye Mama" to George M. Cohan's "Over There," a hit from the World War I years. How are they similar stylistically? Why do you think both of these popular songs—written in the context of mobilization for war—were written in this style?

"Goodbye Mama (I'm Off to Yokohama)" recorded by Teddy Powell and His Orchestra. Available on YouTube.

Rights have not been secured to reprint the words for this song. Please consult this online source:

"Goodbye, Mama, I'm Off to Yokohama" cover.

Tin Pan Alley composer J. Fred Coots (1897–1985) is mostly remembered today for a single composition —"Santa Claus Is Coming to Town" (1934)—but throughout his long career he wrote over 700 songs. His career in music began in 1914 when he started working as a song plugger. Three years later he published his first song, "Mr. Ford, You've Got the Right Idea," and he went on to become a pianist in vaudeville and composer of Broadway musicals and songs for movies. Some of his songs were written for renowned performers, including Sophie Tucker and Rosemary Clooney.

Ten days after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor and forced the United States into the Second World War, Coots wrote "Goodbye, Mama, I'm Off to Yokohama." Following the surprise attack many songs were written about the new enemy, the first being "We'll Knock the Japs Right into the Laps of the Nazis," which songwriter Burt Wheeler wrote and premiered just hours after the assault.

The lyrics of "Goodbye, Mama" are typical of songs written during the mobilization for war in December 1941. Like Wheeler's song, "Goodbye, Mama" glorifies going off to fight the Japanese and promises that the enemy will be swiftly defeated. Coots's song is even specific to the Christmas season within which the mobilization was occurring:

  On Christmas Eve when you and dad are trimming the tree
I'll do my share of trimming out on land and on sea.
So goodbye mama, I'm off to Yokohama
For my country, my flag, and you.

The song is characterized by a march tempo and meter with occasional syncopations, a style that is reminiscent of Cohan's "Over There" (see VAT Unit 6). Coots may have envisioned "Goodbye, Mama" as a World War II incarnation of the earlier song.

"Goodbye, Mama" was adapted for big-band performances, but its popularity was short lived because of the setbacks the United States suffered in 1942 in the war in the Pacific. According to Coots, shortly after the United States was defeated in May in the Battle of Corregidor, in which the United States lost control of the Philippines until 1945, a vaudeville team performing "Goodbye, Mama" was booed off the stage because the audience "hated the song" (quoted in Whorf, p. 63).



Creative Commons License
Voices Across Time is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.
Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at