MEANWHILE, BACK AT THE ZILCH

Wanna know something? January 16 is NATIONAL NOTHING DAY. Since I can think of nothing I’d rather do today than filch some zilch, I’m going to take this day and make Nothing of it. Actually, Nothing couldn’t have come at a better time for this post, ’cause if there’s one thing I gotta lotta, it’s nada.

For you language purists out there, when I said I gotta lotta nada, whata oughta said was….

Now that you’ve had your fill of nothing and I’ve made the case that there’s nothing better than nothing, I have all the nothing that’s everything I need to amount to anything. Ain’t that something!

Watch out, piggy!

TWO TO GO

As 2019 goes into the history books, we close out the year and our series of 1920s-30s female songwriters with two of the best: BERNICE PETKERE and DOROTHY FIELDS.

PETKERE, the longest lived (1901-2000) but perhaps least remembered of the women in this series, had her greatest success as a composer in the 1930s. This hit (with lyrics by Joe Young) was recorded in early 1932 by a rising star by the name of Bing Crosby:

Petkere, primarily a composer, also wrote the lyrics to a few of her songs, including….

Saving the class of the field for last, we turn to the most prolific lady lyricist of the era (and the first woman to be elected to the Songwriters Hall of Fame), DOROTHY FIELDS, “the only female songwriter of the golden age whose name has not sunk into oblivion with time.” –Deborah Grace Winer, author of ON THE SUNNY SIDE OF THE STREET, subtitled THE LIFE AND TIMES OF DOROTHY FIELDS

Named after Dorothy of Wizard of Oz fame, she teamed with composer Jimmy McHugh in 1927 to write many hits over the next eight years, including this all-time standard in 1930:

Fields went on to write many songs with other composers until her death in 1974….but as much as I’d like to post links to more of Fields work, I’m going to resist temptation (you know what they say about too much of a good thing), Take It Easy*, and call it a Fields day

….except to say, Happy New Year!

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

*the title, it so happens, of a Fields song I resisted linking to (recorded by Fats Waller)

 

WHAT VEE/TOT BEGOT, BE WHAT WE GOT (AND THEN SOME)

In a comment to my last post (on composer Kay Swift), a certain mister mused that more posts should follow devoted to women songwriters of the 1920s-30s, of whom there were too few. I’ve since found that two of those few got together to form what was the era’s only successful female songwriting partnership: VEE LAWNHURST (composer) and TOT SEYMOUR (lyricist). We shall proceed accordingly forthwith….or forthwith accordingly. Whatever.

Let’s start with their biggest hit, a #1 bestseller for 11 weeks in 1935, AND THEN SOME:

VEE LAWNHURST (1905-92), born in NYC, was a pianist, singer, teacher, and a pioneer in radio broadcasting. She worked with several lyricists before teaming with Tot to write a lot of hits in the mid to late 1930s, including the title song from the 1935 film ACCENT ON YOUTH, played here by the DUKE ELLINGTON Orchestra (Johnny Hodges on alto sax):

TOT SEYMOUR (1889-1966), also born in NYC, was a multi-talented writer, including special material for such stars of the day as Fannie Brice and Mae West, then turning to popular song writing in 1930, working with various composers until teaming with Vee Lawnhurst. Among their many fine songs is this 1937 Billie Holiday classic featuring such jazz greats as Jonah Jones, Ben Webster, Teddy Wilson and Cozy Cole:

Apparently Vee and Tot wrote no Christmas songs, which is just as well because you’ve probably already had more than your fill. So I’ll just close by wishing you a Happy Humbug….and then some.

 

SWIFT, UP AMONG THE CHIMNEY POTS

chimney pot, a pipe of earthenware or metal fitted on top of a chimney to increase the draft and carry off the smoke. –The World Book Dictionary

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Today I’d like to tell you about a classy dame by the name of KAY SWIFT, who was the first woman to write the complete score for an American musical (FINE AND DANDY, in 1930). To be honest, though, that wasn’t what prompted me to write this post — the real trigger was that, although I’ve long been a fan of her music, today I came across a song of hers I hadn’t heard before, and I liked it so much that I’d like to share it with you (along, while I’m at it, with two other Swift favorites).

The song I hadn’t heard before (with the curious title UP AMONG THE CHIMNEY POTS) is sung here by jazz vocalist Louise Carlyle, with the composer at the piano:

SWIFT was born in NYC in 1897. She trained as a classical musician and composer at what is now called the Julliard School, but was a great fan of popular songwriter Irving Berlin and, later, George Gershwin, with whom she became intimately involved (for more, go to this link, then click BIOGRAPHY (upper left below the word SWIFT):

http://www.kayswift.com/

Swift married her first husband, banker James Warburg, in 1918. A banker might be the last person you think of as a writer of lyrics to romantic songs, but’s that’s exactly what he was (under the name Paul James) to the music of his composer wife….until they divorced in 1934 — the same year he resigned as financial advisor to President Franklin Roosevelt.

I turn now to the first-written (1929) of my favorite Kay Swift/Paul James songs:

Let’s close with the title song from the aforementioned 1930 musical FINE AND DANDY:

HOLLYWOOD’S GOLDEN AGE: END OF THE TRAIL

Just as all good things must come to an end, so too must all bad things (even Trump’s evil rule will run out of recourse eventually — e.g., the fat lady’s last aria at the opera seems to go on forever; will it end short of becoming a hoarse opera?). What it all a-mounts to is….

Meanwhile, back at the ranch , we bid happy trails to “bad” actors not named Trump, and end our HOLLYWOOD’S GOLDEN AGE series with a roundup of some of the era’s great song & dance stars, starting with this incomparable pair whose magic outlasted their time:

When it comes to high-energy dancing, no one outshined Gene Kelly. Here he is in THE PIRATE (1948), clowning around with the fabulous Nicholas Brothers:

I do have one regret about this retrospective: so many musical stars, so little time and wherewithal for them all. Perhaps, as time goes by, I will use a favorite star’s birthday as an occasion to do an occasional post.

In closing (speaking of when A STAR IS BORN), if ever someone was born to be one, it’s this star-crossed girl/woman with whom we bring down the curtain on this series:

SONG SMITHS

By all accounts, SMITH has long been the most common surname in America. On the other hand, SMITH has been one of the least common surnames among popular songwriters. Take the example of when, in 1939, Mr. Jimmy Stewart Smith goes to Washington and becomes a sen-sation, rather than going to Tin Pan Alley to become a song-sation. We can surmise why mistermuse goes to Word Press in 2009 but doesn’t become a pun-sation; misterstewartsmith could’ve had A Wonderful Life acting like a songwriter in Hollywood musicals.

During the period with which I am most musically in tune (1920s-1950s), I can count on one hand the number of songsmiths named Smith whose compositions achieved contemporary hit status (much less, lasting status as standards). Compared to the percentage of Smiths in the overall (or, for that matter, the underwear) population, there were fewer Smiths of note in music than in the Hollywood Senate — which, for better or verse, leads us to the first of our handful of Smiths, Chris Smith, composer of….

Next, time to rise and shine with Billy Dawn Smith, composer of….

Next next, we turn to lyricist Harry Bache Smith for the words to this somber classic:

Speaking of serious stuff, Stuff Smith composed this wonderful ballad. It may not be your cup of tea, but I can say without fear of contradiction that It’s Wonderful:

We close with a song written by Dick Smith. Yes, THAT Dick Smith. If you don’t believe me, look him up and ask him.

 

 

“IF MUSIC BE THE FOOD OF LOVE, PLAY ON”

No doubt, the above words are familiar to you, but do you remember who penned them? If not, may I suggest that you….

Friends, Romans, countrymen: now that your Shakespeare is refreshed, are you in the mood for some food music? If so, let’s meat our next song:

No potatoes? That will never do, especially if you’re short of moolah and longing for love….

That’s all for now. If you didn’t dig the chow, don’t have a cow. I love you anyhow.