"Don't shoot the pianist/piano player/fiddler, he's doing his best"

Bapopik at AOL.COM Bapopik at AOL.COM
Tue Nov 11 09:33:01 UTC 2003

   A memorable phrase, certainly Fred Shapiro-worthy.  I first heard it from
the Elton John album.
   Is it a pianist or a piano player or a fiddler?  Is it a man or a woman?
   Oscar Wilde said he'd seen it in Leadville, Colordao.  Ancestry has
excellent Colorado coverage of this period, but several queries (Oscar+Wilde+shoot,
shoot+best) turned up nothing in these newspapers:

Colorado Newspaper Title(s) Date Range
<A HREF="http://ancestry.com/search/rectype/inddbs/6921.htm">Colorado Spring Gazette (Colorado Springs, Colorado)</A> - Updated  1876-1902
<A HREF="http://ancestry.com/search/rectype/inddbs/6919.htm">Colorado Spring Gazette, The (Colorado Springs, Colorado)</A>   1876-1878
<A HREF="http://ancestry.com/search/rectype/inddbs/6917.htm">Daily Gazette (Colorado Springs, Colorado)</A>  1878-1885
<A HREF="http://ancestry.com/search/rectype/inddbs/6920.htm">Daily Gazette, The (Colorado Springs, Colorado)</A>     1878-1885
<A HREF="http://ancestry.com/search/rectype/inddbs/6918.htm">Out West (Colorado Springs, Colorado)</A>   1872-1872
<A HREF="http://ancestry.com/search/rectype/inddbs/6922.htm">Weekly Gazette, The (Colorado Springs, Colorado)</A>    1878-1899

   20 April 1883, NEWARK DAILY ADVOCATE (Newark, Ohio), pg. 2?, col. 4:
   _Oscar at the Pen and Pencil Club._
New York Tribune.
   Oscar Wilde bobs up again.  He was the guest, a fortnight ago, of the Pen
and Pencil club, of Paris, and made an after-dinner speech about his
experiences in America.  The brightest and best of the many stories he related was one
to the effect that at a ball in Leadville he saw a notice over the piano which
read: "Please don't shoot the pianist.  He is doing his best."  This
enterprising resurrection of an antediluvian almanac tradition set the company
roaring, gave his hearers a high opinion of Oscar as an observer and thinker, and
removed Galignani to remark that "there is a freshness of originality about the
man that is absolutely fascinating."

   8 January 1886, FRESNO REPUBLICAN (Fresno, California), pg. 13?
(illegible), col. 1:
   Senator Blackburn is credited with saying that the California Theater
manager who put up the sign saying: "Please do not shoot the pianist, she is doing
the best she can," expressed the feeling of the Democrats toward Cleveland

   29 January 1887, MARION WEEKLY STAR (Marion, Ohio), pg. 2?, col. 2:
   The great democratic editor of the Louisville Courier-Journal, Henry
Watterson, does not like President Cleveland very well.  In a letter from him,
which appeared in Tuesday's Courier-Journal, and in which he indulges in a
little-goof-natured ridicule of our Nation's statesmen, he closes as follows: But
this is personal, if not bigamous, and I desist.  It was Eustis, of Louisiana,
who said to a clump of brother Senators who were complaining of the
Administration: "Gentlemen, you should, in speaking of the President, bear in your minds
and hearts the legend over the music stand in the Colorado dive: 'Gentlemen
will please not shoot the pianist.  She's doing the best that she knows how.'"

   24 August 1888, MORNING OREGONIAN (Portland, Oregon), pg. 6, col. 2:
Washington Special (Aug. 6) to Philadelphia Press.
   "Chairman Brice," said a prominent democrat to-day, "ought to borrow the
sign out West, 'Please don't shoot the pianist; he is doing the best he knows

   23 November 1889, NEW YORK DRAMATIC MIRROR, pg. 6, col. 1:
   EDWIN ELROY, a comedian, tried to shoot a musician in Chicago on Thursday
evening last, but the bullet (which is supposed to have struck the cheek of
the musician) glanced off without doing any harm.  Mr. Elroy expressed the
sentiments of numerous professionals by his nobel action.  The motto which hangs
over the piano in every music-hall out West, "Don't Shoot, he's doing the best
he can," will now be in order in the Windy City.

Los Angeles Times (1886-Current File). Los Angeles, Calif.: Sep 29, 1906. p.
II4 (1 page):
   In an Arizona dance hall of the earlier time this legend was conspicuously
displayed: "Don't shoot the fiddler; he is doing the best he can."

(On the other hand, please shoot the lawyer/lexicographer.  He's doing the
best he can, and still he's worth more dead than alive, and no one loves

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