We’ll be loving you, always

Today marks the 124nd anniversary of the birth of the great Irving Berlin. One of history’s great tunesmiths, Berlin wrote more than hundreds of songs, 19 musicals and the scores of 18 movies over the course of his lengthy career.

“[Berlin is] the greatest songwriter that has ever lived.”George Gershwin

“Irving Berlin has no place in American music—he is American music.”Jerome Kern

Here are some of our favorite Irving Berlin songs:

“What’ll I Do?”The Nat “King” Cole Trio

“Say It Isn’t So”Annette Hanshaw

“Marie”Tommy Dorsey and His Orchestra

“Puttin’ on the Ritz”Leo Reisman and His Orchestra

A tip o’ the top hat to Fred Astaire

“As a dancer he stands alone, and no singer knows his way around a song like Fred Astaire.”—Irving Berlin

Today marks Fred Astaire‘s 113th birthday. He’s been gone nearly 25 years (he died on June 22, 1987), and if you wanted to make a list of the things that are wrong with the world today, the fact that Mr. Astaire no longer walks—nay, glides—among us would be on that list.

Astaire had a down-to-earth elegance that is all too rare, and, in addition to his legendary talents as a hoofer, he was an icon of classic style, a darned good singer, and, from all accounts, a fine gentleman, to boot.

This world’s just a little poorer for the 25 years we’ve been muddling through without Fred Astaire, but his film work reminds us of what we once had.

The clip below finds our Fred paired with the lovely (to put it mildly) Rita Hayworth in 1942’s You Were Never Lovelier, performing a Jerome KernJohnny Mercer song that could well serve as the Cladrite Radio theme song, “I’m Old-Fashioned.”

Happy birthday, Fred, wherever you are. And say hello to Ginger for us.

For more on Astaire, we recommend Trav S. D.’s overview of his life and career.

Times Square Tintypes: Irving Berlin

In this chapter from his 1932 book, Times Square Tintypes, Broadway columnist Sidney Skolsky profiles perhaps the greatest of American songwriters, Irving Berlin.
 

THE BIRTH OF THE BLUES

HE has a name that will live forever and he bought it for a song. IRIVING BERLIN.
Came to this country at the age of four, the youngest of eight children. In Russia his father was a cantor. Here a kosher butcher.
He has yet to find a hat to fit him.
He eats a lot for one of his size.
Plays the piano by ear. And only in F sharp. Has a specially constructed piano with a sliding keyboard. When the music calls for another key he merely moves the lever.
He is not a one finger player. Uses all his fingers badly.
Has a scar on his forehead. It was received on a Washington’s Birthday in Cherry Street, trying to start a bonfire.
Thinks he is a good stud poker player. His friends say he’s lucky.
His pet aversions are riveters and second verses.
Ran away from home at the age of fourteen. His first stop was Callahan’s saloon. Here he sang “The Mansion of Aching Hearts” until enough coins were tossed at him to pay for a night’s lodging. Later became a singing waiter at Nigger Mike’s place, 12 Pell Street. The barker on the trip to Chinatown bus now points out the place.
He wrote “Alexander’s Ragtime Band,” credited with starting the jazz vogue, at the age of twenty-three.
Crowds frighten him. So do certain individuals.
His idea of a great achievement is writing a song that reaches the million copy mark.
Maintains a home in West Forty-sixth Street. But lives elsewhere. The first of every month generally finds him moving.
His square moniker is Israel Baline. For a time, he went under the name of Cooney. Became Berlin because that was the way the Bowery pronounced Baline.
As a singing waiter he kicked a hoofer named George White out of the place for being a pest, and he served Al Smith.
Is always chewing gum. This can be observed by merely watching the funny way his hat moves on his head.
His favorite biographer is Alexander Woollcott.
He composes in this fashion: First playing the song on the piano. Then singing it to Arthur Johnson, his right and left hand man, who records upon paper what he hears. Then Johnson plays the written manuscript. This is the first draft. From this Berlin works on to the final version. Often after a song has been published he changes it.
His bill for flowers for the Mrs. is $1,000 a month.
His patent leather dinner shoes have more cracks than his hair has waves.
Of all the songs he has written, a figure exceeding four hundred, his favorite is “The Song Is Ended But the Melody Lingers On.”
Is very restless. Can’t sit or stand still. Always paces the floor. He walks miles in any room he is in. It is the only exercise he gets.
As far as playwrights go, his taste begins and ends with George S. Kaufman. As for music, he’ll whistle anything by Jerome Kern. For lyrics he hands first prize to B. G. De Sylva. And if asked to name the swellest guy in the theatrical game, he’d shout Sam Harris.
He has had to change his entire working schedule since he became a father.
He has never worn a diamond. The only jewelry he wears is, occasionally, a pearl tie pin.
Never eats the crust of bread or rolls. Always plucks the filling. This can be seen circled about his plate.
After finishing a song he sings it to the first person he meets. A bell boy at Palm Beach was the first person to hear “Lazy.” A Broadway taxi driver was the first to hear “All Alone.” A bewildered stranger, occupation unknown, was the first to hear “Say It With Music.”
He never writes anything in longhand but his signature on a check. Everything else he prints.
The one thing in life he is looking forward to is walking into a restaurant with his daughter, Mary Ellen.
Of all the songs ever written the one he’d love to be the author of is “The Rosary.”
On the fly leaf of a book containing every song he wrote there is this ditty which he believes sums up everything:

Let Me Be a Troubadour,
And I Will For Nothing More
Than One Short Hour Or So
To Sing My Song And Go.

He has a form-fitting couch which was especially designed for him.

Times Square Tintypes: George Gershwin

In this chapter from Times Square Tintypes, Broadway columnist Sidney Skolsky profiles George Gershwin, who then cast one of the longest shadows over Broadway.
By 1932, when this book was published, Gershwin had written most of the orchestral works that remain so celebrated today, including Rhapsody in Blue (1924), Piano Concerto in F (1925), An American in Paris (1928), and The Second Rhapsody (1931), and had experienced great success on Broadway with such shows as “Oh, Kay!” (1926), “Strike Up the Band” (1927), “Funny Face” (1927), “Girl Crazy” (1930), and “Of Thee I Sing” (1931).
 
 

“STRIKE UP THE BAND”

 
A man of note. George Gershwin.
He loves to go shopping. Is always buying presents for friends.
Suffers from indigestion. Every night before retiring he takes agar-agar, a new medicine.
Was born in Brooklyn, September 16, 1898, and came to this country at the age of six weeks. Has two brothers, Ira and Arthur, and one sister, Frances. As a youngster he was the champion roller skater of his neighborhood.
Smokes a cigar out of the side of his mouth and wears a high hat gracefully. He didn’t start to smoke until he was twenty.
His father, Morris, because of his unconscious humor, is the life of his Gershwin parties. Morris has been designer of fancy uppers for women’s shoes, owned several cigar stores, owned a billiard parlor, owned a Turkish bath place and was a bookie. Morris also entertains by imitating a trumpet.
Took his first piano lesson when he was thirteen. At sixteen he was working for Remick’s. His boyhood idols were Jerome Kern and irving Berlin.
The thing he values most is an autographed photograph of King George of England. It bears this inscription: “From George to George.”
He wrote his first song when he was fourteen. It was a nameless tango. His second composition (now he had learned to title them) was “Since I Found You.” It was never published. His first published song, “When You Want Them You Can’t Get Them And When You’ve Got Them You Don’t Want Them,” he sold to Harry Von Tilzer for five dollars.
Twice a week he visits an osteopath.
Hates cards. His favorite game is backgammon. Occasionally he shoot craps.
He once worked as relief pianist at Fox’s City Theatre. Was fired because an author complained that he didn’t know how to play the piano.
An English publisher sends him copies of rare and first edition of such authors as Galsworthy, Shaw and Barrie in return for an occasional song.
His first piano teacher, whose memory he cherished, was Charles Hambitzer. His present teacher is Mme. Boulanger in Paris. The first time he went to Paris to study he came back with a trunkful of shirts and ties. On his last trip he returned with a $10,000 organ which he has yet to unpack.
Hard liquor doesn’t appeal to him. He likes a glass of real beer. After more than one cocktail his eyes begin to shine.
The first long piece he ever wrote was not “The Rhapsody in Blue.” But one called “135th Street.” It was performed by Paul Whiteman in the Scandals of 1921 for one performance only. It was taken out because it was too sad.
He is very particular about his clothes which are made to order. Even when he made only $25 a week he spent $22 for a pair of shoes.
Writes whenever the mood seizes him. He may have just returned home after a party and still attired in his evening clothes he will sit down at the piano. Or he may compose wearing pajamas, or a bathrobe—or even nude.
He is physically very strong. Especially his arms which are powerful. He is a swell wrestler.
His brother Ira writes the lyrics for his songs. Before, Irving Caesar and Buddy De Sylva had the honor.
“The Rhapsody in Blue” was played for the first time, February 12, 1924, at Aeolian Hall. It took him three months to write it. It took him eight months to write “An American in Paris.” His first real popular hit was “Swanee.” This was written for the revue that opened the Capitol Theatre.
Is bashful about playing the piano at parties. He has to be coaxed. Once he starts, however, you can stop him. He says, “You see the trouble is, when I don’t play I don’t have a good time.”
In the volume called Great Composers As Children he is the only living composer listed.
One evening the family discussing the new Einstein paper. George expressed his surprise at the compactness of the scientific vocabulary. He said: “Imagine working for twenty years and putting your results into three pages?” “Well,” said Papa Gershwin, “It was probably very small print.”

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Fridays with Rudy: Vagabond Dreams Come True, Ch. 17

In Chapter 17 of his 1930 memoir, Vagabond Dreams Come True, Rudy Vallée regales the reader with tales of the songwriting game and music publishing business.

Chapter XVII

SONGS AND SONG WRITING

I DO NOT want to destroy any illusions that my songs may have built up about me but I am really not, at least in the accepted sense of the word, a “veteran” song writer, although I have more than the required number of songs to my credit to entitle me to make application for membership in the American Society of Authors, Composers, and Publishers.
Along Tin Pan Alley the real song writer, in the accepted sense of the word, is he who has not only one or more hits to his credit, but whose mind is continually filled with lyrics and melodies and who can write a song almost at command. Of course it is greater proof of this gift to have five or six or even more successful hits to one’s credit; but the man whose mind is prolific enough to produce one song after another that will be at least moderately successful, if not a terrific hit, is the veteran song writer.
Of course the greatest in the game are the men whose names stand out almost like names in history, such as Irving Berlin, with all his successful waltzes and early fox trots, Walter Donaldson, the Von Tilzers, Victor Herbert, creator of a higher type of semi-classical, popular music, Seymour Brown, Jerome Kern and many others I may have forgotten to mention.
Of recent years there has grown up a group of young men who have twisted the music scale into odd combinations to the satisfaction of their purses and vanity. Benny Davis has the most hits to his credit, Gus Kahn is considered the greatest lyric writer of them all—at least he is the highest paid individual, and his name has appeared on so many song that it is almost impossible to keep count of them. George Gershwin has also written some very clever popular tunes besides his rhapsody, although his popular show tunes have never achieved sensational success. Mabel Wayne, perhaps the only really successful woman writer, has several hits to her credit; while Mary Earl who wrote “Beautiful Ohio” several years ago, seems to have rested on her oars ever since. Marian Gillespie is another not heard from in years.
The clever team of Jimmy McHugh, once a plumber, and Dorothy Fields, daughter of the great comedian, evolved some very fine music for several Broadway productions of the season of 1928-1929, including the year’s hit, “I Can’t Give You Anything but Love, Baby.”
After having written “Dardanella” and left it on the shelf for two years, Fred Fisher was finally persuaded to allow a famous re-write musician to make a beautiful arrangement of it, thus turning it into a really salable piece, and its success was instantaneous and historic. He had written several hits before, but Dardanella was his greatest.
Nearly everyone in the East knows of the fantastic record of three young boys, one of whom for years had displayed his talents in University productions, while another had been a night club wiseacre and the third who had always been a song writer. These three boys, after collaborating on a few tunes for other publishers finally incorporated and their success is the talk of Tin Pan Alley. Within the period of a year Bud De Sylva, Lou Brown, and Ray Henderson not only wrote enough tunes to pay for the building they now own but declared a handsome dividend for themselves at the end of their first year.
Theirs is the outstanding success of the song world, but of course, they are perhaps the most gifted trio of song writers in existence, having to their credit the music of “Good,” “Three Cheers,” “Hold Everything,” “Follow Through,” “Sonny Boy,” “Together,” and many other tunes too numerous to mention.
Two newcomers, Roy Turk and Fred Ahlert, have written three or four successes and can feel very pleased with themselves. Who doesn’t know their “I’ll Get By,” “Mean to Me,” and “To Be In Love, Specially With You?”
I could go on indefinitely.
On the Pacific Coast there are two young men, Herb Brown and Arthur Freed, whose “Broadway Melody” hits, “Doll Dance,” “Pagan Love Song,” “Singin’ in the Rain,” and many other tunes of an instrumental nature have earned them a princely fortune, enough so they can retire at any time.
Other famous west coast and middlewest writers are Isham Jones whose work with Gus Kahn gave us such beautiful tunes as “I’ll See You in My Dreams,” “Spain,” “The One I Love Belongs to Somebody Else,” “It Had to Be You,” and many others.
But I must end my list even at the risk of injuring the feelings of those whom I have not mentioned. I feel the ones enumerated are the outstanding writers, and anyone I may have failed to speak of will forgive me.
Most of these songsmiths are at the time of my writing either on the Pacific Coast, or en route to it or from it, as the creation of sound pictures and the need for music to fit situations in these sound pictures has required the presence of these fertile musical minds. They must be on the spot where, as the picture is rehearsed, they can see more easily just how the song must fit the scene. At unheard of guaranteed weekly salaries, with their royalties from each song sheet and record as an extra bonus, these men have rushed to the Coast with even greater anticipation and hope than did the miners in the gold rush of ’49.

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