Longtime Songwriting Couple Still At It, Stay Topical with Al Franken Song

Bobbie and Henry Shaffner outside Hymie’s. | Photo by Andy Gotlieb

Henry and Bobbie Shaffner consider themselves big fans of resigning Minnesota Sen. Al Franken — and excitedly attended one of his book signings in May — but they aren’t above needling him a bit for his alleged sexual transgressions.

The longtime couple from Bala Cynwyd — this is their 50th year of songwriting — borrowed the tune from Oklahoma!’s “I Cain’t Say No” to write “A Guy Named Al.” The lyrics simultaneously call for giving Franken a little slack, but then note that there’s no excuse for 2006 (when some of the allegations against him occurred) and that “I acted like a pig, a Party Hack!” They had to slightly revise the lyrics after Franken announced Dec. 7 his intentions to resign.

The news shook the Shaffners.

“He was our favorite senator,” said Bobbie Shaffner, who, prior to Franken’s resignation had defended him on air on The Michael Medved Show. “We were hoping he would run for president. … It was a witch hunt. … We’re going to still work on our song and maybe get it recorded.”

The Franken song is just one in a series of interesting events that have punctuated the Shaffners’ lives.

Bobbie (née Caplan) Shaffner grew up in the Philadelphia area, the daughter of Central High School American history teacher Adolph S. Caplan, and attended Congregation Adath Jeshurun. She worked for a time at Channel 10 with broadcasting legends John Facenda, Ed McMahon and Jack Whitaker.

Stonewall Jackson | Wikimedia Commons

Henry Shaffner grew up in Winston-Salem, N.C., and claims all sorts of interesting relatives, including being the great-great-grandson of Confederate Gen. Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson. He’s also the grandson of the founder of Wachovia Loan and Trust, later known as Wachovia Corp., which was acquired by Wells Fargo in 2008.

On a trip to Philadelphia (where Henry Shaffner had relatives) to study with a private teacher, he met his bride-to-be as he played the piano at a fraternity party. It proved to be a match made in heaven, even if Henry Shaffner is not Jewish.

“But I’ve been adopted,” he joked, while sitting in a booth at quintessential Jewish deli Hymies.

What the couple shares — aside from former careers in market research — is a long history of music and songwriting. The two are members of the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) and have written some memorable tunes over the years.

Some of their work includes the lyrics to a Pennsylvania state song called “Pennsylvania. Gee! It’s Great!” and a municipal counterpart called “Philadelphia (Philly, I Love You).” The latter was premiered by the All Philadelphia Boys Choir at the Walnut Street Theatre.

They wrote an inaugural song for President Jimmy Carter as well. They met Carter in 1974 just before he decided to run for president. After he won the presidency, he invited them to the White House.

“We met him on the White House lawn, and he signed our sheet music,” Bobbie Shaffner said.

Many of their songs have had a political bent or were tied to the news of the day.

One YouTube video titled “Hillary, Oy Hillary” is sung in Yiddish by cabaret performer John Wallowitch to the tune of Groucho Marx’s “Lydia the Tattooed Lady.” It’s about Hillary Clinton’s senatorial campaign efforts to court the Jewish vote.

Other songs have included “The Phillies are Winning Again,” which was dedicated to broadcaster Harry Kalas; “The Two-Street Strut” for the opening of the Mummers Museum; and “Carolina’s Feeling Just Like Home,” which is about Henry Shaffner’s home state.

They also wrote a song about World War II hero Raoul Wallenberg, another about Stonewall Jackson for the 2003 movie Of Gods and Generals, and a ditty called “The Wachovia (W)Rap” about the 2001 merger of Wachovia and First Union.

Van Johnson | Wikimedia Commons

When the Shaffners aren’t busy at the piano, you might find them beating the drum for the late actor Van Johnson, star of such films as Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo, The Human Comedy and A Guy Named Joe. Johnson died in 2008.

The Shaffners have spent the past several years petitioning the U.S. Postal Service to issue a commemorative stamp honoring Johnson. At one point, they sponsored a website campaigning for the stamp, where they explained Johnson’s appeal.

“In film after film, he proved his ability to inhabit a character and shine through. … No other male star of that era approached him, in our opinion,” they wrote.

What’s next for the Shaffners, who declined to divulge their ages? It could be just about anything.

“We go with the flow,” Bobbie Shaffner said. “[Age] is just a number.”

Al Franken | U.S. Senate Photographic Studio-Rebecca Hammel


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