11 October 2015


One of the loveliest uses of the Magnolia Chord Progression is to be heard in Broken-Hearted Blues, the 2009 composition written and sung by Erika Lewis with Tuba Skinny. This song is played in the key of C and the Magnolia Progression occurs several times. You can hear Erika perform the song on their 2009 CD or by watching this video. Click here to view. It is a pity the audience noise is so loud, but we have to be grateful to Peter Butler for filming it for us, as this seems to be the only version available on YouTube. (By the way, the other Broken-Hearted Blues - the quite different song composed in 1937 by Lil Johnson - is also played by Tuba Skinny and there are  several videos of that song. Don't be confused.)

The Magnolia Chord Progression is one with which several of the good old songs begin: start on the tonic chord; then the tonic 7th; then the chord of the 4th note in the scale; and then the 4th minor (or sometimes diminished).

So, in the Key of C, this means:

   C  :  C7 :  F :  Fm
It's known to jazzmen as The Magnolia Progression because it was used to begin the chorus of the famous 1928 Jimmy McHugh and Dorothy Fields jazz tune Magnolia's Wedding Day.
As you can see from the chords, it makes for a bright, positive start in the home key but gets you into a minor - with possibly just a hint of sadness - by the fourth bar.
This effect is particularly noticeable in the opening chords of  Cherry Red and Big Boat (both of them 8-bar blues), Girl of My Dreams, Got a Mind to RambleIn the Upper GardenMy Mother's EyesOld Rocking Chair, When the Moon Comes Over the MountainWhen You and I Were Young, Maggie, When the Swallows Come Back to Capistrano, I'll See You in the SpringDoes Jesus Care?Lonesome RoadLouisiana FairytaleI May Be Wrong But I Think You're Wonderful, You Were Only Passing Time With MeIf I Had YouAfter My Laughter Came Tears, and Carolina Moon - all of which start with the Magnolia Progression.
It is also used in some tunes where the 'saddening' effect is less obvious, though this is because they are generally brighter and faster. Examples are 'Deed I Do, Cornet Chop SueyI'm Gonna Meet My Sweetie NowI Want a Little Girl to Call My OwnI'm Putting All My Eggs in One BasketBrown Skin Mamma, the final theme of Stevedore Stomp, not to mention Magnolia's Wedding Day itself.
Here is the Magnolia Progression illustrated, in this case in the opening chords of the tune My Mother's Eyes: