"The Sheik of Araby" is a song that was written in 1921 by Harry B. Smith and Francis Wheeler, with music by Ted Snyder. It was composed in response to the popularity of the Rudolph Valentino feature film The Sheik. In 1926, to go with the film The Son of the Sheik, Ted Snyder worked parts of the melody into "That Night in Araby", a related song with words by Billy Rose.
"The Sheik of Araby" was a Tin Pan Alley hit, and was also adopted by early jazz bands, especially in New Orleans, making it a jazz standard. It was a well recognized part of popular culture. A verse also appears in the novel The Great Gatsby (1925) by F. Scott Fitzgerald. In 1926, Fleischer Studios released a cartoon with this song, recorded in Phonofilm, as part of their Song Car-Tunes series, and a live action short with this title was filmed in Phonofilm in the UK, directed by Miles Mander.
The "Araby" in the title refers to Arabia or the Arabian Peninsula. The appeal to New Orleans bands may have lain in "Araby" sharing the same pronunciation as Arabi, Louisiana, a town downriver from New Orleans' 9th Ward and a center for gambling just outside city limits until the early 1950s.
The song features in the film Valentino (1977) with words of parody by Ken Russell, performed by Chris Ellis.
Jean Shepherd frequently sang along with, spoke over, or played kazoo and Jew's harp to the song as one of his many musical interludes during his WOR radio show days.
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