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  • Writer's pictureLeigh Gerstenberger

Apple of My Eye – Flower of My Heart

On a recent morning while reading Daily Strength for Men by Chris Bolinger, I came across the expression, “the apple of my eye” and a discussion of the origin of the expression.

According to Bolinger, many believe the “apple” of the eye is the pupil. The Hebrew phrase for the “apple of your eye” can be translated as “the daughter of your eye” or “the little man of your eye.” If you look closely at the pupil of someone’s eye, you will see your own reflection in the pupil.

The expression, “the apple of his eye” is mentioned in several places in scripture, as well as in Shakespeare’s, A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

For some reason this got me thinking about another idiom, “flower of my heart” an expression popularized in the iconic, barbershop quartet song, Sweet Adeline, which contains the phrase, “…you’re the flower of my heart, Sweet Adeline.”

Sweet Adeline is a song loved and sung by generations of Americans, especially when in a mellow mood.

Although the song as it is now known dates from 1903, the melody was written by Henry Armstrong in 1896 when he was 18 years old. It did not for a time have any words, but when young Armstrong came from Boston to New York and went to work for Witmark, the music publishing house, he met another young man, Richard H. Gerard.

He asked Gerard to write some lyrics for the tune, and the song became You're the Flower of My Heart, Sweet Rosalie. This song went from publisher to publisher without finding a taker.

Then Gerard suggested that maybe a change of title would help.

According to the story, about this time Gerard and Armstrong happened to see a poster announcing the farewell concert tour of the famed prima donna, Adelina Patti. That was it. The girl in the song would be Adeline and the title shortened to, simply, Sweet Adeline.

In 1903 Witmark accepted and published the song. However, it still did not sell well. About a year later, The Quaker City Four, a vaudeville quartet, came to Witmark's looking for new material. They turned down song after song until they were shown Sweet Adeline. "That's what we've been looking for," one of them said. They sang the song shortly afterward in a program given at the Victoria Theatre in New York City. It was a hit right away and soon it was being sung all over.

Barbershop quartets especially found Sweet Adeline, a great song for the rough and ready choral harmonization which has always been their trademark. Today it is not only a favorite with members of The Society for the Preservation and Encouragement of Barber Shop Singing, founded in Tulsa, Okla., in 1938, but has also furnished the name for the female equivalent of the male barbershop singers, The Sweet Adelines, Inc.

Sweet Adeline was also used as the title of a musical comedy, written by Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II, which was made into a movie in 1929. This was not a success. However, John J. Fitzgerald--JFK's grandfather--used Sweet Adeline as the theme song for two successful campaigns that resulted in his being elected mayor of Boston. (

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