“One Fish-Ball (One Meat Ball, The Lone Fish-Ball)”


A single man (who perhaps has abandoned his wife?) wanders into a restaurant, but finds he has only money for one (meat/fish) ball. Waiters and company abuse him, and he is told, "You get no bread with one fish ball"


According to the Caxton Club (Chicago) edition of _Il Pescoballo_ (1899), the one-act opera buffa with Italian words by Francis James Child and English translation by James Russell Lowell was first performed in 1862 to raise money for the Civil War Sanitary Commission (precursor to the Red Cross). The authors of the _jeu d'esprit,_ to quote Charles Eliot Norton's introduction, were originally given only as "Maestro Rossibello-Donimozarti."

"One Fish Ball," upon which the opera buffa was based, was written by a Harvard Latin professor, identified by Norton only as "Lane." It was a "local ballad which had had great vogue, written not many years before." Norton asserts Lane based the song on "an adventure of his own."

The Caxton Club edition prints a tune, crediting it as a "volkslied." - EC

Lewis Becker adds that Loesser's _Humor in American Song_ dates the song to about 1854 and claims it is "Founded on a Boston Fact."

Dick Greenhaus reports that the "One Meat Ball" version was popularized by Josh White in the 1940s. Popularized enough, in fact, that they taught it in my grade school! - RBW


  1. Spaeth-ReadWeep, pp. 74-75, "The Lone Fish-Ball" (1 text, 1 tune)
  2. Botkin-NEFolklr, pp. 580-584, "The Lone Fish-Ball" (2 texts, 1 tune, plus assorted items on the same theme)
  3. Pankake-PHCFSB, p. 22, "One Fish Ball" (1 text, tune referenced)
  4. Silber-FSWB, p. 264, "One Fish Ball" (1 text)
  5. BI, SRW074


Author: unknown
Earliest date: 1862 (parodied; see notes)
Keywords: food poverty
Found in: US