Song Spotlight: “When You Wore a Tulip and I Wore a Big Red Rose”

When you wore a tulip - Song Spotlight |
  • Mood: Light
  • Themes: Romance, Flowers
  • Tempo: Medium
  • Genre/Style: Vaudeville, 1920s

Spring has arrived here in the Midwest, and I have enjoyed spotting tulips blooming around the city. In introducing spring-themed songs in one of my groups last week, one of the nursing staff said she had never heard the song When You Wore A Tulip And I Wore A Big Red Rose. Since I think this is such a perfect song for this time of year, I had to make it the next song to spotlight here.

This song was composed in 1914 by Percy Wenrich, a vaudeville performer born in Carthage, Missouri, who also penned “Moonlight Bay” and “Put On Your Old Gray Bonnet.” It became a popular song on the vaudeville circuit in the years when piano sheet music was more common than sound recordings, so it is less likely to be associated with a particular recording artist than with singing family members. This is a song that many of my music therapy clients with dementia remember and sing along with me, even though it was probably more popular with their parents’ generation than with their own.

Here are the lyrics, written by Jack Mahoney:

When you wore a tulip, a sweet yellow tulip

And I wore a big red rose

When you caressed me, ’twas then heaven blessed me

What a blessing no one knows

You made me cheery when you called me deary

‘Twas down where the bluegrass grows

Your lips were sweeter than julep when you wore that tulip

And I wore a big red rose

Along with the strong visual image of a yellow tulip and red rose, which fits so well with a discussion of the flowers blooming in springtime (which is a concrete idea), this song also has a tender, romantic theme (which is a more abstract idea). (Concrete ideas may be best for elders with cognitive problems such as dementia, which abstract ideas may be better for discussion with elders with higher functioning levels.) I love the rhymes in this song, too: caressed/blessed, cheery/deary, julep/tulip. The melody is catchy and the words are jaunty and tender at the same time – it’s perfect for a springtime walk in the garden.

One idea for using this song in an intergenerational setting with younger children: this song paints a visual picture that could pretty easily be drawn by a child. If a kid were to want to draw a picture of this song, it would be a great visual reminder for the older adult and surely a treasured gift.

So there is my favorite springtime flower song, but I do have another flower song that I plan to learn very soon. Any guesses as to what this might be? This will be the next song spotlight, coming soon!

This post is part of an occasional series on special songs to share with your loved ones. For more song spotlights, click here.


  1. Kat Fulton on April 18, 2011 at 8:23 pm

    Yay! Love this song, too. And I have also used it in intergenerational settings!!! I think you and I were separated at birth, Rachelle. I wrote one BIG letter for each BIG 11X8.5 piece of paper (T-U-L-I-P), gave one letter to each older adult in order, taught the kids how to spell tulip by way of the tune of Bingo, then sang this song. We also included R-O-S-E on the big sheets. =)

    Next song, hmmmmm. Could it be Tiptoe through the Tulips? Moonlight and Roses? Everything’s Coming up Roses? Sweet Violets? San Antonio Rose?

    I learn new things every time you post a song! I never knew where/when/why this song was ever popular, so thanks for the education, too.

    • soundscapemusictherapy on April 19, 2011 at 12:04 pm

      Well, great minds think alike! I love your idea for using this song in an intergenerational group, too. Thanks, Kat!

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