You would think the origins of such a song would be fairly easy to trace. And you’d be right. The trouble is, there are multiple origins.
According to a 2018 article written for “Mental Floss” by Eddie Deezen, there were similar songs popping up all over the world, nearly at the same time. That would be called going viral, today, but this was back in the 1940s. Were all the similar songs original, or had the catchy tune earwormed into the composer’s heads and come out later as their own creations?
There was much haggling among those who had written songs called “The Hoey Oka” (1940) and “The Hokey Cokey” (1942), both published in the United Kingdom. Another composer was entertaining the troops with his “Hokey Pokey” in wartime London.
Those British songs were news to two composers in Scranton, Pennsylvania in 1946 when they came out with their dance tune called, “The Hokey Pokey Dance.”
Though similar, none of those songs was quite the one you’ve likely heard. That one came out of Sun Valley, which is why we’re rattling on about a song that you’ve never pulled up on Spotify (note: you could).
Charles Mack, Taft Baker, and Larry Laprise, known as The Sun Valley Trio, played “The Hokey Pokey” for skiers at Sun Valley in 1949. The Scranton composers sued, but Laprise won the court case and the right to claim “The Hokey Pokey” as his.
In 1953, Ray Anthony’s Orchestra recorded and released the version you are likely familiar with.
It went to number 13 on the charts. The flip side was also a hit, called “The Bunny Hop.”
So, there’s a solid Idaho connection to “The Hokey Pokey,” but don’t start moving those celebrating feet yet. There’s more to the story. Even those early 40s versions were about 114 years after the fact. A similar dance with similar instructions was published in 1826 in Robert Chambers' Popular Rhymes of Scotland. Speculation is that the traditional folk dance had been around since the 1700s. The song, or something like it, showed up in 1857 in the United States when a couple of sisters from England were visiting New Hampshire and passed along the steps to locals there. You know the steps. “You put your right foot…”