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Emperor Norton's Hunch: "Lu Watters Original" or Variation on an Earlier Theme?

Many who follow Emperor Norton are fond of a Dixieland revival tune, “Emperor Norton’s Hunch,” that was performed, recorded and popularized in the late 1940s by Lu Watters and his Yerba Buena Jazz Band.

For decades, Lu Watters has been credited as the composer of the song. But, on a 1950 album released by Watters and the band, the composer credit went to someone else.

Getting under the surface of that exception suggests that, perhaps, Watters is not the original composer of “Emperor Norton’s Hunch” but is better understood as an arranger who produced a variation on an existing theme — and who also, in this case, was a self-promoter who was able to brand himself as the composer simply by being the first to say so in a public, official way, gambling that the risk of a serious challenge was low.

Read on to learn the fascinating story of the sometime composer Wilbur Watkins Campbell — and about why there is reason to believe that the roots of “Emperor Norton’s Hunch” lie in an earlier work by him.

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