A few weeks back an intensely cute song came over my car radio as I was making my way home from the office. The diabetes-inducingly-sweet track, Cups (When I’m Gone) performed by Anna Kendrick, comes from the second volume of the Pitch Perfect soundtrack, More From Pitch Perfect. I am not a fan of a cappella, and as such had no desire to see Pitch Perfect, but the song is undeniably catchy. Correctly assuming that it had not originated from the film I wanted to know more about it.
I found a lot of people arguing as to who wrote the tune and deserved credit for it. It reminded me of the Glee/ Jonathan Coulton Baby Got Back controversy. It took me all morning (and well into the afternoon) to untangle all of the misinformation out there about the song, and I figure there were probably other people who wanted to know the surprisingly long and interesting history of this very cute song.
So I present my findings to you, Dear Reader!
The Carter Family
A.P. Carter, born in 1891 in Virginia, was a founding member The Carter Family, one of the most prolific country acts ever. The earliest recording of the song, then titled When I’m Gone, comes from 1931 (Not to be confused with their 1928 song Will You Miss Me When I’m Gone?). Carter’s career spanned decades, until his death in 1960, and members of his family are still putting out music.
UPDATE:12/21/13: I have learned that the song may in fact go back even further! Carter was known for recording old mountain tunes, so although The Carter Family are the first to have made a record and thus have gotten the writing credit the true writer and original singer may be lost to time.
Luisa Gerstein’s contribution to the track didn’t happen for another 78 years, and it bounced around a few times before that.
J. E. Mainer’s Mountaineers
This version of the song, with its blue grass tune, sounds like it belongs on the O’ Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack. It was performed by Joseph Emmet Mainer, a banjo/ fiddle player from North Carolina. His band, The Mountaineers, formed in 1933 and recorded it as Miss Me When I’m Gone in 1937. They when through a few line up changes but continued recording music until disbanding at the start of World War II.
This version of the song is often incorrectly identified as original, seemingly due to an error on Wikipedia. **
Charlie Monroe started out playing with his younger brother, Country/ Blue Grass legend Bill Monroe, touring the American south in the 1920s and 30s. They gained enough success to get their own TV show, broadcast daily in North Carolina. They parted ways in 1938 and Charlie struck out on his own playing with many other country artists until his retirement in 1957.
He initially recorded a version of You’re Gonna Miss Me When I’m Gone in 1938, but I would place the version above from around 1945 considering that he refers to someone named Lester at the beginning. I assume this to be Lester Flatt, a band mate of his from that time (and co-writer of the Beverly Hillbillies Theme).
Landshapes (aka Lulu and the Lampshades)
Luisa Gerstein and and another member of the band Landshapes, then known as Lulu and the Lampshades (they changed their name in May of 2012) uploaded a video of themselves performing the song with heavily reworked and brand new lyrics under the title You’re Gonna Miss Me. They famously utilized the “Cup Clap” for percussion. The video went viral after a Reddit posting, prompting dozens of other budding musicians to record cover versions of the song using the Cup Clap technique. It was soon dubbed ‘The Cup Song.”
Lulu and the Lampshades later recorded a more polished version of the song, titled as You’re Gonna Miss Me (Cups).
This scene in Pitch Perfect capitalized on the online popularity of the Lampshades’ version of the song. The extended pop version of song was released in March of 2013 under the title Cups (Pitch Perfect’s “When I’m Gone”). The video soon followed.
This quirky version of the tune introduced it to a whole new audience 80+ years after The Carter Family first recorded it. It now it is so popular that if you flip on the radio during your ride home from work today I just bet you are going to hear it.
* Update: Link to the soundtrack listing on IMBD was added to this post. 7/2/13
** Update: The error on Wikipedia has since been corrected on the page for Cups, but not on the page for J.E. Mainer. I don’t have a Wikipedia account so if someone is so inclined please give it an update! 7/2/13
That, so far as I can tell, is the long and fascinating history of this popular tune! If I missed something tell me below! Or tell me what your favorite cover song off a movie soundtrack is!