“I Got Rhythm”: Gershwin in 1931

Even in the midst of the Great Depression, George Gershwin’s 1931 piano performance of I Got Rhythm swings with youthful vitality and optimism. The melody, tossed off with sparkling virtuosity, displays an elegance comparable to the composer’s sleek, finely tailored suit. Gershwin remains eternally young in our collective imagination. Tragically, six years after the recording of this clip, he would succumb to brain cancer at the age of 38. Gershwin wrote I Got Rhythm for …

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Frank Loesser at 110

Today marks the 110th anniversary of the birth of Frank Loesser (1910-1969), the American songwriter who wrote music and lyrics for such legendary Broadway musicals as Guys and Dolls, The Most Happy Fella, and How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying. Loesser’s hit songs include Baby, It’s Cold Outside (1944), Luck Be a Lady (1950), Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ the Boat (1950), Standing on the Corner (1956), and The Brotherhood of Man (1961). In terms of the integrated musical, Guys …

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Irving Berlin’s “Blue Skies”: Fritz Kreisler’s 1927 Recording

Irving Berlin’s timeless 1926 song, Blue Skies, was a last-minute addition to a Rodgers and Hart musical called Betsy, produced by Florenz Ziegfeld. The vaudeville singer and actress, Belle Baker, called up Berlin complaining that the show’s score didn’t contain a “Belle Baker song.” According to Philip Furia and Michael Lasser, Berlin resented the interpolation of songs by other composers into the score of his shows, but he must have been delighted at the …

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Sondheim’s “The Miller’s Son”: A Celebration of What Passes By

Stephen Sondheim turned 90 last Sunday. This year, as Broadway is scheduled to remain dark through April 12, it seems especially important to honor Sondheim’s vast and enduring contribution to American musical theater. Sondheim’s songs take us deep into the psychology of the character. Gradually, they reveal layers of meaning in a way similar to the puzzles that have been a source of lifelong fasciation for the composer and lyricist. One such song …

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Stephen Sondheim’s Ironic Twist on the Romantic Ballad

In celebration of Valentine’s Day, let’s consider the “romantic ballad.” Surely, one of the most majestic and soaring examples of this genre is the song, “If Ever I Would Leave You,” which opens the second act of the 1960 Broadway musical, Camelot. Alan Jay Lerner’s lyrics befit the heroic and chivalrous Lancelot. The melody, by the Austrian-American composer Frederick Loewe, is expansive and noble. Lerner and Loewe is the team that, four years earlier, …

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Jerome Kern’s “All the Things You Are”: A Celebration of Modulation

Jerome Kern, one of the greatest composers of the American musical theater, was born on this date 135 years ago on January 27, 1885. Kern wrote over 700 songs, including Ol’ Man River and Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man, (lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II) from the landmark 1927 musical, Show Boat, Long Ago (And Far Away) (lyrics by Ira Gershwin), A Fine Romance (lyrics by Dorothy Fields), and Smoke Gets in Your Eyes (lyrics by Otto …

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Remembering Broadway’s Jerry Herman

The legendary Broadway composer and lyricist Jerry Herman passed away last Thursday at the age of 88. With hit musicals such as Hello, Dolly! (1964), Mame (1966), and La Cage aux Folles (1983), Herman was the exponent of popular and tuneful shows which continued the tradition of an earlier era. He was an unabashed defender of melody. In the 1960s, Alan Jay Lerner (the lyricist of My Fair Lady) called Herman “the Irving Berlin of this generation.” …

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