A Brief and Incomplete History of Yodeling

It's another list of fascinating facts about something you didn't even know you were interested in, from our friends at mental_floss.

1291: Switzerland is founded, and yodeling gets off to a trilling start!

Early Alpine shepherds discover how to yodel by alternating their voices between natural singing tones and falsetto pitches. Shepherds began using the distinctive calls to round up cattle and communicate with others across the Alps. But these aren't the first people to yodel. Apparently, the Roman emperor Julian was already complaining about the "wild, shrieking songs" of northern mountain people way back in the 4th century C.E. (Image credit: Flickr user carydunn)

1619: Yodeling comes to North America (but not from where you think).

While the Swiss have contributed to America's love for cheese-making and pocket knives, yodeling in the US has nothing to do with the Alps. American warbling traditions trace back to African Pygmy and Bantu tribes, who are known for their pitch-hopping songs. In fact, when people in Nairobi first hear American yodeler Jimmie Rodgers centuries later, they embrace the familiar sound and pen tribute songs in his honor.

1892: Edison records a yodeler.

Singer L.W. Lipp shows off his vocal stylings for none other than Thomas Edison in the inventor's New Jersey Phonograph Company. Whether or not the sound inspires Edison to refine his electric chair is debatable.

1927: Yodeling goes pop.

The Jimmie Rodgers song "T for Texas" sells more than 1 million copies. Jimmie, known as "The Father of Country Music", helps yodeling evolve into blues, and eventually country. He even does his part to spread yodeling to the world of jazz in 1930, when he records "Blue Yodel #9" with a young trumpeter named Louis Armstrong.

1931 Tarzan gets into the swing of things.

To prepare for the role, actor Johnny Weissmuller reaches back to his Allegheny Mountain roots and incorporates his childhood yodeling skills into what will become Tarzan's iconic wail. The sound quickly finds a home on jungle gyms and rope swings everywhere.

1992: A new world record!

On February 9th, Thomas Scholl and Peter Hinnen each yodel 22 tones (including 15 in falsetto) in one second.

2005: The Zen of yodeling.

Yodeling classes at the Zurich Conservatory of Music start attracting abnormal amounts of attention when word gets out that the yoga-like breathing exercises double as a stress reliever. The courses offer hope to 9-to-5ers who would prefer to sing rather than bend and twist their way to inner peace.


The article above, written by Eric Alt, appeared in the Jan - Feb 2010 issue of mental_floss magazine. It is reprinted here with permission.

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Wait! There's More!

(YouTube link)

As a special bonus, here are Riders in the Sky with their version of "That's How the Yodel was Born." -Thanks, BuffaloRanch!

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Although this is quite humorous and interesting, you may have wanted to credit the book the author got most of these fun 'facts' from, although the author did manage to get some of them wrong in the process. you did credit the photographer... YODEL-AY-EE-OOO: THE SECRET HISTORY OF YODELING AROUND THE WORLD by Bart Plantenga is a fun and informative read!
- Nina
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