angie (coiro) Sun 29 Jan 06 12:23
Which dovetails nicely with my next question, so I'll post it now. It has to do with Berlin's personal life, and how much it entered into his work. I was struck in the early part of the book about his reluctance to write about his young wife's death. (And perhaps you can summarize that tale for those who haven't yet seen the book.) Berlin certainly had a grasp of what was popular, and sentimentality certainly had a market then (as ever). It's admirable he didn't initially want to parade his heart and his loss; but then he issued a song he'd written earlier that conveyed his grief superbly, and was a hit. Did this influence him to cross the line between business and personal a little more often? And to <fjf>'s question - were his personal politics fodder for his music as well, or was that, too, something he didn't care to bring into the equation?
David Leopold (dleopold1) Mon 30 Jan 06 06:20
As far as I know, Berlin never responded publicly to Guthrie, and while I am sure Berlin heard the song eventually, who knows when. According to Joe Kleins Guthrie biography (a great book), Guthrie first wrote the words to his song on February 23, 1940, and then put it away for four years. In the spring of 1944, Guthrie recorded the song with its new tag line at the end of the verse this land was made for you and me and with a new title. Woody did not treat it any differently that the nearly 132 songs he recorded that spring with Cisco Houston, Bess Lomax, and Sonny Terry, although Moe Asch would later say he knew it was an important song. I dont know when the song was released but within a year of its recording, Woody had a weekly 15 minute radio show on WNEW in which it was his theme song. (The radio show only last 12 weeks). Berlin could have heard it then, but would have never known that it was a parody of his song. But before anyone thinks it took Woody a long time to get his song out, Berlin waited 20 years from the time he wrote God Bless America in 1918 for his world War I show, YIP YIP YAPHANK! The amazing thing to me, is that both have become folk songs. Songs that everyone seems to know, but the man on the street probably has no idea who wrote either or that they were so recently. Like any good folk song or song for that matter they are topical and they seem like they have been around a few hundred years.
David Leopold (dleopold1) Mon 30 Jan 06 06:49
Berlin claimed throughout his life that his songs were not autobiographical, and that the sentiments he expressed were universal. This is true to some extent. The song you mention Angie was When I Lost You (1912), the first great Berlin ballad (which his friend Cole Porter paid homage to in Youre the Top when rhyming it with Waldorf salad). The story of the song is this. In February 1912, Berlin married Dorothy Goetz, the sister of his close friend and sometimes collaborator, E. Ray Goetz. The newlyweds honeymooned in Cuba, but soon after they returned Dorothy became ill. She died from a combination of pneumonia and typhoid fever, which she caught in Cuba, five months later. Berlin was devastated. His brotherinlaw first took him to Europe to distract him, and on returning encouraged Berlin to channel his pain into song. Berlin was skeptical. He saw songwriting as a business. A job that brought him joy, but work nonetheless. Soon though he found a love song he had put aside, and a welter of emotion come through in a poignant ballad that was unlike anything he had written before. The song, copyrighted in November of 1912,surprisingly, became a hit, second only in popularity to Alexanders Ragtime Band. Although he would not immediately write another similar song, he would write a string of ballads over the years that are among his greatest works. It was another 12 years, spurred on by the love for the woman that would be come his second wife, that again he wrote very personal songs such All Alone, Remember, and Always. I think his happiness at being a new father in 1926 inspired the great Blue Skies. I also think that God Bless America did express his true affection for his adopted homeland. It was a not a put on, and many people might be surprised to learn that the songs popularity almost from the moment it was first sung, made Berlin realize that it was indeed a special song. He set up a fund for all the profits of the song to go to, most of which has benefited the Boy and Girl Scouts (particularly now the NY chapter which does discriminate against sexual orientation). The song has generated over $10 million. His patriotic songs are also, I believe, personal statements as well. Berlin's patriotism was sincere. he really did feel grateful for all that Aemrica had allowed him to do, and repaid the kidness in a number of way. After being drafted in the first world war (only months after becoming a nautralized citizen) he staged a huge show on Broadway (the aformentioned YIP YIP YAPHANK) at the request of his commanding officer to raise funds for a new building at Camp Upton where Berlin was in basic training. In World War II, at the age of 52, he put his career then at his creative apex on hold for nearly three years as he wrote, roganized a three hundred soldier production, THIS IS THE ARMY, which he toured and performed with all over the world. Again all without making a cent for himself, and often times in difficult conditions. At the star tof WWII he also worte a number of songs for everything from the Navy to Liberty Bonds, all of the proceeds he donated to the government. I think his songs contain many personal feelings, most significantly humor. Berlin enjoyed life, did all right in it, and that comes through his songs. I think the joy he got from his work is contagious when one hears them. But in this age of the confessional memoir, self help books, Dr. Phil, it is easy to say that Berlin did not traffic in the personal. At the beginning of his career Berlin listened to the world around him, and the hum of the engine, the whirr of the wheels, the explosion of the exhaust were all incorporated into his music. As his songs became increasingly earmarked for productions (both stage and film) he wrote for their characters or their situations.
David Leopold (dleopold1) Tue 31 Jan 06 07:16
Someone pointed out to me off line that my last post said the following: the Boy and Girl Scouts (particularly now the NY chapter which does discriminate against sexual orientation). What I meant to say is that the NY chapter does NOT discriminate against sexual orientation. But yesterday's post about "God Bless America" got me thinking that perhaps Berlin was the greatest songwriter of all time. There are maybe those whose songs resonate with people, but I doubt there are any others who songs have not only seeped into the national vernacular the way that his has, but that reach as many people in so many generations.
John Ross (johnross) Tue 31 Jan 06 10:29
I think you could make a case for Stephen Foster.
David Leopold (dleopold1) Tue 31 Jan 06 13:02
You could make a case for Stephen Foster, the original Doo-Dah man. He was Berlin's idol. Berlin kept a signed etching of Foster in his office his whole career. ( I have pictured in the book). But as popular as Foster's songs are, I think more people know more Berlin songs than any other songwriter. I think you could stop just about anyone on the street and ask them if they knew all or parts of these songs: God Bless America White Christmas Anything You Can Do There's No business Like Show Business Puttin' on the Ritz Alexander's Ragtime Band Easter Parade Oh How I Hate To Get Up in the Morning to name a few I think you would be surprised at how many are known. How many would know Foster songs? Camptown Races of course, Hard Times, Jeannie with the Light Brown Hair, Swannee. They are all great tunes, but you might think of a few more, then the well might run dry after ten. With Berlin, the list is fairly extensive, and played professionally by so many different types of performers. I think Berlin inherited the mantel from Foster, and perhaps there's no one else.
Angie Coiro (coiro) Tue 31 Jan 06 13:08
>>But yesterday's post about "God Bless America" got me thinking that perhaps Berlin was the greatest songwriter of all time. What a fascinating thing to see you write! I would have guessed that was your inclination from the start. What was the shift, exactly? (As a personal aside, I'm always leery of the "best ____ ever" mantle. How can one compare Berlin to, say, Lennon and McCartney?)
Steve Bjerklie (stevebj) Tue 31 Jan 06 14:23
I was just thinking the same thing, Angie. "Greatest" whatever seems like a pretty useless title, all things considered. Greatest to whom? There are billions of people in China and/or India who likely don't know a single Berlin melody or lyric. Berlin's greatness falls within a specific realm. He was undoubtedly one of the greatest writers of classic-form, AABA songs.
David Leopold (dleopold1) Tue 31 Jan 06 17:16
I agree that "best " and "greatest" are essentially meaningless titles and/or descriptions, but when it comes to popular music, Berlin has got a claim on whatever the crown. He wrote the most popular song of all time, if one accepts the designation of records sold, sheet music sales, number of recordings, etc. The song: "White Christmas." When you combine that with the unofficial national anthem (and Berlin strenuously resisted any one declaring it the official), and a host of the tunes that people sing everyday, he's certainly near the top. If there are great songwriters of this type in China or India, they have escaped me. Which may only mean that I am not tuned to that frequency. But one of the things that is also remarkable about Berlin is his ubiquity. The aforementioned songs in this post, are at times, whether we like it or not, inescapable. People all over the world know songs from the Berlin songbook. And not just Americans living abroad, but throughout Europe and Asia. His songs and his story resonate with a wide audience. When I started my Berlin project Angie, I knew as much about Berlin as the next person. Which is to say the general arc of his career and a few songs. Actually, I thought I knew a few songs, but it turns out I knew lots of songs, some of which I had not known were his. I just felt he had the best story in 20th century popular culture and in this age of synergy, cross platforms and new media, Berlin virtually invented these things before radio, TV, film, records, etc. He was at the forefront of every new media of his sixty year career. His story tells the evolution of the popular song (in the 20th century), the stage musical, the film musical, and so much more. It has only been since Ive been making appearances connected with the book, that I have realized the breadth and depth of his popularity with audiences of all ages, hence my late breaking epiphany. How does he compare to Lennon and McCartney, Dylan, Hunter, Willie Dixon, and many of his own contemporaries? Well their beauty is in the eye of the beholder. I defer to personal preference. Berlin may be the greatest but Im not sure he is my favorite. I am not sure who may claim to that title, it depends on the day of the week and my mood.
John Ross (johnross) Tue 31 Jan 06 20:52
Not to minimize his importance, but I wonder how many of his songs will still be universally known by all Americans within another generation or two. It seems like the old practice of sharing music across generations is breaking down. Sharing popular music anyway. I'm guessing that the vast majority of under-25s know little or nothing of the American Songbook of standards, except the ones that the singers of their own generation discover and record.
Angie Coiro (coiro) Tue 31 Jan 06 22:36
Well, let's do talk a little further about how Berlin's work has carried down the generations. I very much like the way the book is structured, David - tracing the America, Broadway, Hollywood themes down through the years, one to the next and then back again. Among other things, it's a way to see the artist, and the public he appealed to, change over the years. Do you see consistencies in what so far have proved to be his most timeless pieces? - and the opposite - which of his work is firmly tied to the period from which it dates? "White Christmas" comes to mind for me in the first category, "Alexander's Ragtime Band" in the second. He comes across as a sturdy, feet-on-the-ground type who didn't view himself in grandiose terms. Were there particular songs, or stretches in his life, where he was driven to create something for the ages? And this is a fun tease: >>it turns out I knew lots of songs, some of which I had not known were his. I'll bet that's downright common, for people who know a bit about Berlin not to attach his names to the songs they know. Any titles come to mind that, for whatever reason, people tend not to give him credit for?
David Leopold (dleopold1) Wed 1 Feb 06 19:30
You'll forgive me for not posting anything at the moment. I just got back from spending the day delivering and installaing two exhibitons. The primary is the more than 100 piece exhibiton on Berlin's Broadway career at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts that opens on Febraury 14th. It is coming together nicely. Today the Library found some Alex Gard drawings of Berlin's 1933 AS THOSUANDS CHEER and 1941's LOUISIANA PURCHASE which have never been exhibited. Gard is famous for the caricatures on the walls of Sardi's resturant. The other show is the second part of an exhibition of Hirschfeld's film art at the Walter Reade Theatre. This installament honors Black History Month by featuring black performers and productions. More soon.
David Scott Marley (nightdog) Thu 2 Feb 06 11:44
For the Irving Berlin song that I think the greatest number of people know (or at least could sing the first phrase of) without knowing who wrote it, I would nominate "A Pretty Girl Is Like a Melody". I would be willing to wager that more people know more Rodgers and Hammerstein songs than Irving Berlin these days, but as there's no way to ever test that, that's just my guess. But I think it's inevitable that one generation's popular songs are forgotten by the next generation; it's in the nature of each new generation to see the previous generation's popular art as corny and old-fashioned. (And incidentally to rediscover some of the popular art of two generations back, finding fresh meaning in what the previous generation had dismissed as corny and old-fashioned. We just saw a major revival of Annie Get Your Gun in which critics fell all over themselves exclaiming how fresh it all seemed. Call Me Madam can't be too far behind. I confidently expect that the trend will continue and in ten to fifteen years we will see important critics and academics explaining why Mr. President is actually a great musical far beyond the limited comprehension of the critics of the day, and whose only flaw was being so far ahead of its time.)
art siegel (arto) Thu 2 Feb 06 18:42
Wbile David L. is taking a break, I gotta say that I chuckled heartily at a picture in the book of Berlin and Kate Smith, sitting at a table together. The diminutive Berlin looks like Jerry Mahoney next to Kate. "Lavishly illustrated" doesn't begin to describe this. It's full of great photos, drawings, images of memorabilia, etc. The fact that it's a combinaton exhibition catalog and biography did throw me for a small loop on a few occasions when it seemed like I'd just read something in the catalog part that was being discussed in the bio part.
art siegel (arto) Fri 3 Feb 06 08:12
Sadly, I heard today from David's brother that their mother has passed away after a long illness. My thoughts are with you and your family today, Dave.
David Scott Marley (nightdog) Fri 3 Feb 06 09:16
I'm so sorry to hear this. My thoughts and prayers will be with you, David.
David Leopold (dleopold1) Fri 3 Feb 06 09:50
First thank you all very much for your sympathy regarding my mother's passing. Hirschfeld once told me you have to be smart in picking your parents, and in that field I have excelled. I feel lucky that she had the opportunity to see the book and exhibitions become a reality. I will leave tomorrow for the trip back, but I hope to check into this discussion at least once each day. The quality of the conversation is good, and on a subject near and dear to me. Besides it may even keep my mind off the more depressing aspects of the situation. So, John Ross wrote <Not to minimize his importance, but I wonder how many of his songs will still be universally known by all Americans within another generation or two. It seems like the old practice of sharing music across generations is breaking down. Sharing popular music anyway. I'm guessing that the vast majority of under-25s know little or nothing of the American Songbook of standards, except the ones that the singers of their own generation discover and record.> I just happened to read a piece by Terry Teachout on the Beatles in Commentary in which he wrote: "Just as there is no longer a common culture, so there is no longer a common style of music to which most English-speaking people listen." This echoes what John said, and certainly rings true to me. But I do think that songs survive despite the changing tastes in popular music. Thats why Rod Stewart is on his fourth album of American Popular Song, or why the Gap can use Cheek to Cheek in an advertising campaign. The songs resonate. They live beyond their history, that is why they were written and enter the ether of songs we have always known. The songs I listed in my previous post, seem to be good candidates of ones that will survive. I also think a vast majority of under-25s dont know much about music or its history. I suspect many in our peer group know little about the American songbook, the history of American folk music, or even the history of hip hop. It is Darwinian to be sure in popular music, but the simplicity of Berlins songs I think may stand the test of time. 62 years after it was written, Berlin had a hit with a disco version of Puttin on the Ritz by an artist called (I kid you not) Taco. We dont know who he is, and he was not all the important in the scheme of things. It was the song that was the hit.
David Leopold (dleopold1) Fri 3 Feb 06 10:00
David Scott Marley wrote < For the Irving Berlin song that I think the greatest number of people know (or at least could sing the first phrase of) without knowing who wrote it, I would nominate "A Pretty Girl Is Like a Melody".> If I had to nominate something other that God Bless America or White Christmas, I would nominate Theres No Business Like Show Business whose title has entered the lexicon, and whose sentiments have made it the theme song of the performing arts. It would be difficult to see who is more popular Berlin or Rodgers and Hammerstein, although these days they are represented by the same office, so it may be moot. I do think that as we end the 21st century, there is a better chance than most that some of the songs of all three will still be sung. CALL ME MADAM has already done yeomans work for the theater, by showing audiences how important New Yorks Encore series is. It was the first show of the second season and all of the sudden, people started to take notice. A recording was made of Tyne Daly in the role, and soon the series begat Broadway productions of CHICAGO and WONDERFUL TOWN. As for MR. PRESIDENT, I would be very surprised if that is re-discovered as a great show. The book is weak, and the songs just are not up to the par of shows like MADAM and ANNIE. Its too bad that MISS LIBERTY, never came together, because it is a very good score, as anyone who say concert productions in either NYC or SF this fall can attest to.
David Leopold (dleopold1) Fri 3 Feb 06 10:17
Angie asked <Do you see consistencies in what so far have proved to be his most timeless pieces? - and the opposite - which of his work is firmly tied to the period from which it dates? "White Christmas" comes to mind for me in the first category, "Alexander's Ragtime Band" in the second.> its hard to pin down what makes a song popular or timeless. I am sure we all have songs in which we feel will live forever with us, and for which the next person will say it doesnt mean much for them. White Christmas became a wartime anthem as it appealed to soldiers who longed to be home, and their loved ones who looked forward to a return to the simple pleasures of a holiday celebrated together. Berlin wrote his friend, the director of HOLIDAY INN, Mark Sandrich, The song seems to have a quality that can be applied to the world situation as it exists today. I understand many copies are being sent to the boys over-seas, and it is just possible, while it isnt a war song, it can be easily associated with it . There are only so many of these kind of songs in a songwriters system. They are the milestones, all the others are filler-ins, even if they become popular. Released at another time, it may have simply become another great Christmas song, but circumstance made it timeless. I think the consistency in Berlin songs come from their directness, both in words and music. They are relatively east to sing and play, and often times just good fun. Now I might disagree with you that songs like "Alexander's Ragtime Band" are period pieces. The melody line of that song always seems fresh to me, and while it mentions ragtime, it isnt, and the rest of lyrics are fairly generic, and can even be viewed as timely today. What I think is remarkable about Berlin is that even when the lyrics are dated, the music has a freshness to it. Angie also wrote <He comes across as a sturdy, feet-on-the-ground type who didn't view himself in grandiose terms. Were there particular songs, or stretches in his life, where he was driven to create something for the ages?> In the case of God Bless America he really wanted to write a song that thanked his country. After several attempts he remembered a song he had written 20 years earlier, dusted it off, and revised the lyric slightly and the tune right up until the day Kate Smith sang it. Right away he knew it was something special. So I think this is a case that he wanted to write something for the ages. But after that, while he did talk about writing an opera in ragtime early in his career, I think he was content with writing hits for shows and films.
Richard Wolinsky (richwol) Fri 3 Feb 06 16:08
Hi, David. I'm enjoying reading this discussion immensely and the book is gorgeous. Some thoughts on this conference and on the book: When you talked about the Jewish influence in Berlin's work, I keep thinking of something else, which is the use of minor keys, which seems to come from the shtetl tradition. I don't think it's coincidence that so many of the great popular song composers of that era, with the exception of Cole Porter, were Jewish --- Berlin, Kern, Arlen, Gershwin, Rodgers, Weill, and so on --- and even later --- Marc Blitzstein, Cy Coleman, Stephen Sondheim, Jerry Herman, Frederick Loewe, Leonard Bernstein and on and on and on. In addition, the great Broadway songs for Black performers, written in minor keys, all drew on the Jewish tradition as well (the whole score for Porgy and Bess, Old Man River, Stormy Weather). Insofar as I know, Berlin worked less in that vein than the other composers but I think there's a hint at work in "Let's Face the Music and Dance." Probably others, though I can't think of any off-hand. When I was working on a couple of Gershwin radio documentaries around fifteen years ago, I was told that one of the reasons Berlin was noted for his business acumen is that nothing slipped by him --- he kept track of every scrap or royalty and was the least likely composer to allow rights to be used without payment, and he counted every penny. I don't remember my source on that one. I also wouldn't give Berlin all that much credit for writing an integrated book musical in 1946. "Oklahoma!" had so changed the scene that the integrated musical was already in full swing. By the time "Annie Get Your Gun" came along, Broadway had already seen "Song of Norway," "Bloomer Girl," "On The Town," "The Firebrand of Florence", "Carousel, and "St. Louis Woman". Within a couple of years, even Cole Porter was required to write a book musical, "Kiss Me Kate." I think what what makes "Annie Get Your Gun" special is the sheer number of great songs in the show. The recent revival on Broadway seemed more like a live rendition of "Irving Berlin's Greatest Hits as Performed by Bernadette Peters and Tom Wopat" than an actual book musical --- it didn't help that Peters was horribly miscast. But given that she sang that score --- and nailed "I Got Lost In His Arms," the one song Merman couldn't sing --- the whole evening was heaven. I don't think the show as a whole holds up very well compared with "Carousel" or "Kiss Me Kate". But the music is sublime. I had a chance to speak briefly by phone with Kitty Carlisle Hart the other week. I asked her about Berlin, hoping to get some kind of substance in her reply. "He was a very nice man" was all she said. Oh well.
David Leopold (dleopold1) Sat 4 Feb 06 11:15
Richard, thank you for the compliments on the book. I appreciate them. Now I dont know as much as I should about the background of all the composers you mentioned, but Berlin might have an inside track on the shtetl tradition as a) he was a cantors son; and b) as one of the oldest of the group mentioned, he might have been closer to it. All the songs for black performers you mentioned were, of course, written by Jewish composers. I wonder what you think of Eubie Blakes work, or Noble and Sissles. do you know if they were written in minor keys. But all of the composers you mentioned, when they wrote for Broadway, they were writing to be popular. Creating art was a happy by product of the experience. Now one might argue about Sondheim and Bernstein, two who generally always shooting for something larger. Gershwin, it seems to me, saved that type of ambition for his symphonic composition and Porgy and Bess. Berlin, without any formal music education, did not seem to be thinking about minor or major keys, at least at the beginning. He avoided the label composer, claiming to be only a songwriter, and while that distinction might seem slight , I think it important to remember that he was writing for crowds not critics. He might have not relied on minor keys to the extent of others, because he was always trying to come up a fresh angle, both in lyric and in music. As for his business acumen, he was one of the founders of ASCAP. As a music publisher, once he struck out n his own, he went back and bought back all of his old copyrights. I think it is remarkable that he not only was one of the few who worked with out a collaborator, he also ran a very successful business publishing his work and others, and continued to write a string of hits. He always got the good end of a deal. And as he passed his active years, he kept even a tighter rein on those pennies. I dont think Berlin should be given much credit for the integrated musical, but he certainly rose the occasion when he needed to. The songs in ANNIE are great and they are just right for the characters. And You Cant Get a Man with A Gun and anything You Can Do manage to tell us more about the characters than any of the book. I do agree that the 1999 revival with Peters was nice to hear, but somewhat senseless otherwise. But I think most revivals treat the music as greatest hits rather than an integrated part of the whole. It is almost as if they stop the action to wind up the music box when a song comes on. But I disagree that it doesnt hold up as well. Having seen revivals of all three, on an entertainment level, they seem the dame. CAROUSEL might have the better book, but when it comes to songs, they are all great. Finally Kitty Carlisle Hart is one of the wonders of the world. 95, still singing and entertaining. Now no one will ever buy a record of hers, but she has the type of presence that can still fill a theater. The last of the dying breed. She doesnt remember as much as she used to, but dont put anything past her. She remembers more than you think.
Richard Wolinsky (richwol) Sat 4 Feb 06 20:02
David, thanks for the detailed response. I don't know about the work of Blake or Noble and Sissle, but rather to look at American black folk music and spirituals. Gershwin worked hard to authenticate his music for Porgy & Bess by spending time with the black inhabitants of the islands off the Carolinas. He was well-accepted there, which was unusual for a white man in the 1930s. His musical choices were certainly based on their folk music, but that doesn't discount his relationship to his own ethnic tradition. I think what Gershwin discovered, and what Arlen and others probably learned from Gershwin, is the relationship between American Black music and the music of Jews from Eastern Europe, that is, the sorrowful sound of the minor keys. Kern was born in 1885, Berlin in 1888, then skip a decade and George Gershwin, Harold Arlen, Vincent Youmans, Marc Blitzstein, Arthur Schwartz, Jule Styne, and Richard Rodgers were all born within seven years of one another, between 1898 and 1905, and Ira Gershwin was born in 1896, so I wouldn't necessarily say Berlin was that much closer to shtetl life than the others, cantor father notwithstanding. They were all the children of immigrants or immigrants themselves. Also, insofar as I have been able to find out, all were secular Jews with little interest in the religion, but they were all familiar with the Jewish liturgical tradition. They were also all familiar with the Tin Pan Alley tradition, and many began their careers as song pluggers. I just find it interesting that all of these great songwriters, and so many others, were Jewish and must have had a working knowledge of Jewish music, both in the religion and in the folk music. As for creating art, you're right: none of them considered their work particularly artistic, which is one of the reasons why Gershwin worked so hard to achieve success in the field of "serious" music, and why according to all his biographers, Bernstein was so schizophrenic when it came to moving between Broadway on the one hand and his work as serious composer and conductor on the other. An indication of the lack of "seriousness" in the songwriting field is that fact that as soon as a show closed in the pre-Oklahoma era, the arrangements and orchestrations were often thrown out. This is true for hits as well as flops, but mostly for flops --- so much so that several Gershwin songs are permanently lost. I can't find the exact date off-hand, but back in the '80s, some cartons were discovered in a warehouse in Paramus, New Jersey which contained the original orchestrations to several Gershwin shows, including the flop "Pardon My English" as well as the 1927 version of "Strike Up The Band", along with other material. This was a cause for major celebration. So much material, even into the 1960s, is lost because nobody figured anyone would want to save it. This isn't that unusual: no one bothered to save the outtakes to "The Magnificent Ambersons" either, which is the holy grail of film restorers. Insofar as Kitty Carlisle Hart is concerned, I have no doubt that you are right. I spoke with her in a 15 minute phone interview in which she did not seem particularly interested in yielding any new information. But as I've seen from other interviews, her mind can be very sharp when she wants it to be. It's difficult, though, when you ask any question beyond the old standbys, and her response is a quick, "I don't remember." I rarely do phone interviews, and it's possible I was sufficiently off my game because of that. So the fault could well lie with my inability to break through whatever walls she has erected around herself. I doubt if I'll ever air it, though should I ever finish my second Gershwin documentary, I'll use some scraps in it. Some of it was pretty funny. At the end, I asked if there was anything in American life these days that particularly disturbed her, hoping for a comment about the current political scene. She said she didn't understand why girls walked around showing their navels, that it wasn't attractive.
John Ross (johnross) Sat 4 Feb 06 21:14
Where does Burt Williams fit into all of this? He was a Black performer who performed in blackface, and he was one of the Ziegfeld stars. But what I don't know is if he influenced the Broadway songwriting world as well as the Vaudeville and Ziegfeld-style revues. As far as enduring songs, it seems like "Alexander's Ragtime Band" might hav acheived folk song status.
Berliner (captward) Sun 5 Feb 06 04:25
Incidentally, Noble Sissel was one person, and was Eubie Blake's collaborator.
David Leopold (dleopold1) Sun 5 Feb 06 09:39
Richard, thank you for your post which was rich in detail and insight. You write < Kern was born in 1885, Berlin in 1888, then skip a decade and George Gershwin, Harold Arlen, Vincent Youmans, Marc Blitzstein, Arthur Schwartz, Jule Styne, and Richard Rodgers were all born within seven years of one another, between 1898 and 1905, and Ira Gershwin was born in 1896, so I wouldn't necessarily say Berlin was that much closer to shtetl life than the others, cantor father notwithstanding.> While not splitting too fine of a hair, I do think that Berlin may have indeed been closer to shtetl life as an immigrant and cantors son. The decade separating him from many of the other composers was a huge divide in terms of acceptance and assimilation. Rodgers grew up uptown in a middle class neighborhood, the son already settled parents. He had a rich musical education. Kerm was born in NYC, grew up e. 56th Street and was encouraged to take musical lessons by his mother. Arlen was born and raised in Buffalo (also the son of a cantor). Gershwin was born in the city, and his parents bought a piano for he and his brother to play. Youmans and many of the others were born in NYC or Philadelphia, etc. Berlin came to this country at five, lived in tenement, was on the street at 13, and discovered songwriting (see Post #23). One reason his story is held up as a rags to riches story is that he really did start in rags. I dont think any of the others mentioned could say that their first memory was their home being burned down in a pogrom. So shtetl life was not something he heard about, but lived. It is remarkable though how much all of them drew on the Jewish tradition in their work. It is hard to believe that so much of the great Broadway musicals were thrown away when the shows closed. The same is true with visual art for publication. No one thought this work had any secondary value. Two or three years ago I came across a treasure trove of orchestrations by one of the great Broadway orchestrators, Don Walker. His family had kept, but didnt think any one was interested in the material. I convinced them there were many people, both musicians and historians, that would find worthwhile material in the collection, and introduced them to the Library of Congress. It is now saved. As a curator, I find that the next decade of blockbuster exhibitions will not be the Impressionist, but perhaps popular culture shows. All the ephemera, manuscripts, etc that bring this work to life is what excites audiences today. No matter how great a painting, few people have spent a night with that type of work, compared to the number of people who spent an evening with Gene Kelly in SINGIN IN THE RAIN. While it troubles museum professionals I often find once the show is mounted, they understand the impact of the work and how it connects with a wider audience. In this sense they come the long way round, what Berlin and his contemporaries understood. That art was important, but audiences were just as important. Berlin was unembarrassed by his success on the sentiments of his songs. They really were what America wanted to hear.
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