April 11, 2013

“Everybody wants to go to heaven, but nobody wants to die.”


“Everybody wants to go to heaven, but nobody wants to die.”
       Tom (Thomas Henry) Delaney (1889-1963)
       African-American blues and jazz composer, pianist for Ethel Waters
       Title of (and lyric from) a song Delany wrote sometime prior to 1948
       According to research by quote maven and Oxford English Dictionary contributor Barry Popik, the earliest verifiable use of this insightful saying seems to be as a song title and lyric by Delaney. The date of the song’s composition is uncertain, but it was mentioned as one of Delaney’s popular sings in an article about him in The Afro American newspaper on October 16, 1948. Delaney was a prolific blues and jazz music composer whose career started in the 1920s. His early hits included “Down Home Blues” (1921), popularized by Ethel Waters, and
“Jazz Me Blues,” first recorded by Lillyn Brown, the “Indian Princess,” in 1921 and later covered by many other jazz singers and musicians. In 1950, a version of “Everybody Wants to Go to Heaven, but Nobody Wants to Die” was recorded by Tommy Dorsey and his orchestra, using the spelling “Ev’rybody wants to go to Heaven (But Nobody Wants to Die).” The writing credits on that popular version were given to three people: Tom Delaney and the pioneering African-American comedians and musicians Timmie Rogers and Al Fields. (There’s a video of Rogers performing it on YouTube.) One recent book cites “Everybody wants to go to heaven, but nobody wants to die” as an African-American proverb, which suggests that it might not have been coined by Delaney. However, I searched the Internet and online newspaper archives and, although I did find a few examples of similar quotes, I found no prior uses of the specific line used in Delaney’s song. So, at the least, his song appears to have popularized the saying and it looks like Delaney may have coined it. Since 1950, the line has been appropriated as the title of, or in the lyrics of, other songs by various musicians, including bluesman Albert King and country stars Loretta Lynn and Kenny Chesney. My own favorite musical use of the line is in the song “Equal Rights,” by the late Reggae music pioneer Peter Tosh. (NOTE: The illustration at left is from a greeting card sold on Zazzle.com. I’m not quite sure what occasion it’s supposed to be used for.)


“The modern budget covers many items for community benefit unknown a century ago... While nobody wants high taxes, practically everybody wants the things that make taxes high.” 
       The Wisconsin State Tax Commission
       This observation, from the Commission’s Biennial Report to the Wisconsin Legislature in 1916, seems just as true now as it was nearly a century ago.


“Almost all of us long for peace and freedom; but very few of us have much enthusiasm for the thoughts, feelings and actions that make for peace and freedom. Conversely almost nobody wants war or tyranny; but a great many people find an intense pleasure in the thoughts, feelings and actions that make for war and tyranny.”
Aldous Huxley (1894-1963)
       British writer and social critic
       From one of the essays included in Huxley’s book Brave New World Revisited (1958)


“Nobody wants to be regulated, but everybody wants everybody else regulated.”  
George W. Cartwright (1863-1920) 
       California businessman and state senator
       From a speech included in his book Mutual Interests of Labor and Capital (1918)


“Every man wants to live long, but no man wants to be old.” 
       Said to be an ancient Turkish Proverb 

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