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Songwriters of The Great American Songbook

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Songwriters of The Great American Songbook -- Introduction

Cafe Songbook Master List of Songwriters

Outline of Cafe Songbook Songwriter Pages

Visitor Comments

Credits


Songwriters of The Great American Songbook
Introduction


Book cover Wilfred Sheed "The House That George: Built"
Wilfred Sheed, The House That George Built: With a Little Help from Irving, Cole, and a Crew of About Fifty,
New York: Random House, 2007 (paper-bound Ed., 2008 shown)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 



Howard Pollack

George Gershwin: His Life and Work
Berkeley: Univ. of California Press
2006

 

 

 

 

 

 

book cover: Max Wilk, "They're Playing Our Song"
Max Wilk, They're Playing Our Song: Conversations with America's Classic Songwriters (originally published 1973 as They're Playing Our Song: From Jerome Kern to Stephen Sondheim—The Stories behind the Words and Music of Two Generations), New York and Stratford, CT: Easton Studio Press, 2008.

 

 

 

 

 


book jacket: "Easy To Remember" by William Zinsser

William Zinsser.
Easy to Remember
The Great American
Songwriters and Their Songs
.
Jaffrey, New Hampshire:
David R. Godine, 2001.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


book cover: David Lehman. A Fine Romance Jewish Songwriters,  American Songs

David Lehman. A Fine Romance Jewish Songwriters, American Songs. New York: Next Book/Schocken, 2009.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


book cover: Charlotte Greenspan, "Pick Yourself Up: Dorothy Fields and the American Musical
Charlotte Greenspan
Pick Yourself Up: Dorothy Fields
and the American Musical

New York: Oxford University Press,
2010

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 



Astaire and Rogers
Ultimate Collectors Edition

DVD box set includes

 

 

 

 

 

 


book cover: "Reminiscing in Tempo A Portrait of Duke Ellington by Stuart Nicholson

Stuart Nicholson
Reminiscing In Tempo: A Portrait of Duke Ellington
Boston: Northeastern Univ. Press
1999

 

 

 

 


Book cover: Alec Wilder, "America's Popular Song"
Alec Wilder, American Popular Song The Great Innovators, 1900-1950, New York: Oxford University Press, 1972 (paper-bound Ed. pictured).

A great number of the songwriters of The Great American Songbook knew each other, were even friends. After all, they worked together in the same industry that had a very limited number of focal points:Tin Pan Alley, Broadway, Harlem, Hollywood. And they not only partnered up with one another to work, but they played together: open houses at Lorenz Hart's parents' apartment, parties at the Gershwins', (both in uptown Manhattan), tennis and golf in southern California. As late as the last half of the 1960s, Wilfred Sheed tells us in his book The House That George Built: With a Little Help from Irving, Cole, and a Crew of About Fifty, that he himself was able to run into some of them in New York. He had "lucked into" living in the same building as "the great lyricist Yip Harburg" and became his "devoted friend and fan." Sheed manages to capture the nature of these songwriters' world when he describes how "Yip invariably lingered in the lobby [of their apartment building] or in the open elevator doorway, pulling bits of paper out of his pockets, on which he jotted some verses about the day's news, and reading from them with glee, or else telling me how his friend Harold Arlen was coping with his recent depressive breakdown." He was also able to meet one of Harburg's writing partners, Burton Lane, who loved to talk, like Harburg, about politics or about songs, as long as Sheed wanted to, "especially if the topic was Judy Garland, whom he discovered, or the Gershwins, who discovered him." And it was in Harburg's apartment that Sheed met Arlen, then recovered, as well as Arthur Schwartz who told him how his co-writer Howard Dietz was inclined to comment on any of life's difficulties by asking the question, "What is life but dancing in the dark?" (Sheed, pp. xi-xii). These fellows, and all of them except for Dorothy Fields and a couple of others were men -- She called herself "one of the boys." -- constituted a world of their own, an exclusive club the members of which gazed on the world around them with an ironic yet deeply romantic eye.

When thinking about the songwriters of The Great American Songbook, this club as it were, the notion of tiers comes to mind. Some of these writers were extraordinarily well known and still, to an extent, are. Others were not very famous then and completely unknown now. The first tier includes those Songbook songwriters everyone has heard of or, if that is too optimistic a notion in the twenty-first century, then the first tier are those everyone who has any idea about The Songbook at all has heard of; that is, George Gershwin, Irving Berlin, Richard Rodgers, Oscar Hammerstein II, Duke Ellington, Johnny Mercer and a few others. And it should be added that many people who have, in fact, heard of these songwriters will not associate them with The Songbook, e.g. Ellington will be associated with jazz, Rodgers and Hammerstein with musical theater, Berlin with "God Bless America" and "White Christmas" (the former of which isn't even in "The Songbook," at least as it is construed by us).

All of them lived (and most were born between the last two decades of the nineteenth century and the first decade of the twentieth) in New York City. The great majority were from first or second generation Jewish immigrant families. Only when the money ran out on Broadway when The Depression began, did they hop trains for Hollywood where the movie studios were booming and hired them to write songs for their creations. Some, such as Harry Warren, lived out their careers there. George Gershwin, who after becoming king on Broadway, moved with his brother and writing partner Ira to Beverly Hills in 1934, where he wrote scores for the Astaire-Rogers films, and died there at thirty-seven of a brain tumor, perhaps the most severe premature loss in the history of American music, both popular and classical. Rodgers, Hart, Hammerstein, Arlen, Loesser and others moved back to New York and Broadway sooner or later to write again for musical theater.

The second tier includes songwriters like Harold Arlen, Hoagy Carmichael, Frank Loesser, Lorenz Hart, Dorothy Fields, and others whose names are familiar to those who have done even a little reading about The Songbook -- or listen to Jonathan Schwartz on the radio. And yet looking at the Cafe Songbook Master List of Great American Songbook songwriters, which appears immediately at the right of these words, one can count the names of over 200 songwriters, the great majority of whom constitute the third tier, those who these days lie in virtually total obscurity even though they have written songs many of us know and even love, songs that are still sung and listened to with some regularity in cabarets and jazz clubs, on certain radio stations and cable TV music channels, and on iPods around the world.

The names on this list are mostly men and a few women who, to a great extent, made their livings writing songs for American musical theater, for Hollywood movies, for publication as sheet music onTin Pan Alley, to be sold to professional performers or to a piano playing and singing public. Mostly they wrote in teams of two: a composer and a lyricist, thus instigating the most commonly asked question of songwriters of the era, "What came first the words or the music?" (The answer depends on which writing team is being discussed. For example, Rodger's music generall came before Hart's words, but Hammersteins words were usually written before Rodgers' music.

They were, almost exclusively, professional songwriters as opposed to performers. Still most of them (composers and lyricists alike) could sing their own songs. Indeed Harold Arlen and Johnny Mercer were both professional singers, Mercer having had a singing career that came close to rivalling his work as a songwiter.) An image that comes to mind from early TV is of the songwriter sitting at the piano having been asked to do a few of his songs and invariably using the transition phrase "and then I wrote" to move from one to the next, with the audience applauding as it recognized one cherished melody after another. If the audience was fortunate enough to have both composer and lyricist present, the composer was usually at the piano with the other, or maybe both of them, doing the vocals. In this age, however, we are used to the concept of the singer-songwriter uniting creator and performer into one entity, leading to the "original" version of a song being written and performed by the same individual (or group) and forever associated with him, her or them. All performances or recordings of the work by others are called "covers," meaning the song does not "belong" to that performer, he or she is only covering someone else's work. "Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes" (1986) will forever be associated with singer-songwriter Paul Simon (and a little with Ladysmith Black Mambazo). On the other hand, "Diamonds Are a Girls Best Friend" took a different path, had what might be termed a different trajectory. It was written in 1949, with music by Jule Styne and lyrics by Leo Robin for the Broadway show Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, and was introduced in that show by Lorelei Lee. It had only one recording that was a modest hit: Jo Stafford in 1950. When the show became a movie in 1953, it was sung mainly by Marilyn Monroe and secondarily by Jane Russell, to be followed over the years by countless others performing it in clubs and on records, on the radio and on TV. What is revealed by this is the idea that there were, with few exceptions, two distinct classes involved in the process of producing popular music during the first half of the twentieth century in America: one was the songwriters, the other the performers -- and this was not just songs for musical theater and movie musicals; all popular music was done pretty much this way. There was Johnny Mercer, of course (as noted, both songwriter and singer), but he sang mostly songs written by others. And these songwriters' songs have continued to exist in the American culture in their own right, pretty much separate from their creators and their performers. The best of them are simplystandards, performed by everybody and his brother.

The singer-songwriters of the last forty years sing, almost exclusively their own songs. The songs of The Songbook writers were sung and played by a host of performers from the moment they came out or just after they were introduced in movie or show, right up to now. So although the songs, if they were hits (and not all Songbook songs were) might be associated with the performer whose recording was the biggest hit, finally they were the songwriters' songs. "Over the Rainbow" is certainly associated with Judy Garland but having been sung by so many others, its ownership goes finally to Harold Arlen and Yip Harburg. Even in that earlier era, the great performers were generally far better known than the great songwriters, nertheless, the songwriters did have a following. William Zinsser recalls in his elegantly written book on this music, Easy to Remember, how as a young person, his enthusiasm for it resulted from becoming a fan of the writers:

Harold Arlen and Ted Koehler were the first ones to hook me, with "Stormy Weather" (it was so emotional), and then Arthur Schwartz and Howard Dietz, with "Dancing in the Dark" ( it was so suave), and Cole Porter with "You're the Top" (it was so clever), and then Irving Berlin, Jerome Kern, Dorothy Fields, and George and Ira Gershwin with their brilliant scores for the Fred Astaire-Ginger Rogers movies. Those were my first giants, and I studied how they had constructed their songs, marveling that so much originality and wit could be achieved in so small a space . . . .

Zinsser not only enumerates his songwriting heroes but with his own marvellous economy of expression, captures the essence of their accomplishment as well as perhaps the most salient quality of the body of work we are calling The Great American Songbook: "that so much originality and wit could be achieved in so small a space" (Zinsser, pp. 9-10). The songwriters with whom Zinsser came of age lie at the center of The Songbook. It is their names, both great and a little less great, that appear on The Cafe Songbook Master List.

The most often sited and no doubt the most revered commentator on these songwriters' body of work is Alec Wilder, a highly regarded composer in his own right, who in his classic study American Popular Song emphasizes two, among many, qualities inherent in The Songbook. James T. Maher, the author of the introduction to the book, points them out. One is that despite the widespread use of the term "America's Classical Music," to describe the contents of The Songbook, Maher wishes to disabuse Wilder's readers that the book is any kind of academic study, even though for a long while Wilder was an academic. And despite the degree of musical and lyrical sophistication that can be found in their work, these composers and lyricists should not, in Wilder's view, be treated with "undue gravity," as that would be a violation of the essence of their art, an art that was popular at its core and beyond.

Another of these qualities that Wilder conveys is that these songwriters and their work are distinctly American; and although there is no attempt to derive an over-arching principle that defines exactly how American popular song of the era is more native than foreign (i.e. European), the genius of these songwriters was their "creative ingenuity," seen in their ability to express over and over and over again "within the musically narrow confines of a popular song" the fusion of a street smart simplicity and a marvellous sophistication. It doesn't get more American -- or more Songbook than that.

We hope that the above yields up some sense of the songwriters who reside, along with their songs, between the covers of The American Songbook, and that it is obvious both from the list of links in the Master List of Songwriters at the right as well as from the pages of this website that Cafe Songbook is striving to provide a multi-media presentation of the songs and stories of the songwriters of The Great American Songbook. Much of it is still a work in progress but much is also here now. Take a look. The most comprehensive point of entry is The Cafe Songbook Catalog of The Great American Songbook.

JAC

 
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Outline of Cafe Songbook Songwriter Pages


album cover: The Essential Gershwin
The Essential George Gershwin

Amazon iTunes
Cafe Songbook Songwriter pages provide an array of information and material relating to songwriters, both composers and lyricists, who have written at least two songs that have Cafe Songbook song pages devoted to them. Songwriters who have written only one such song are listed on the Cafe Songbook Master List of songwriters, but no songwriter page is devoted exclusively to them.

Book cover Laurence Bergreen, "As Thousands Cheer The Life of Irving Berlin"
Laurence Bergreen,
As Thousands Cheer The Life of Irving Berlin
,
New York: Viking, 1990.

Every Cafe Songbook Songwriter Page includes the following sections:

  1. two search tools: "Find on this page" and "Search Cafe Songbook.com";
  2. page menu;
  3. an illustration portraying or associated with the songwriter;
  4. basic information on the songwriter: birth and death dates; place of birth and death, primary songwriting role, listing of co-writers;
  5. overview and commentary;
  6. music-video cabinet (videos and albums focusing on the songwriter);
  7. songwriter's songs included in the The Cafe Songbook Catalog of The Great American Songbook;
  8. bibliography of songwriter research resources on the web;
  9. bibliography of songwriter research resources in print;
  10. Visitor Comments area (for reading visitor comments on the songwriter and for submitting them);
  11. Credits (for material used on the page)
   
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Visitor Comments

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Credits

(this page)

 

Credits for Videomakers of videos used on this page:

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Any other images that appear on CafeSongbook.com pages are either in the public domain or appear through the specific permission of their owners. Such permission will be acknowledged in this space on the page where the image is used.

 

For further information on Cafe Songbook policies with regard to the above matters, see our "About Cafe Songbook" page (link at top and bottom of every page).

Cafe Songbook
Master List
of Great American Songbook Songwriters

Names of songwriters who have written at least one song included in the Cafe Songbook Catalog of The Great American Songbook are listed below.

 

Names of songwriters with two or more song credits in the catalog (with rare exceptions) are linked to their own Cafe Songbook pages, e.g. Fields, Dorothy.

 

Names of songwriters with only one song credit in the catalog are linked to the Cafe Songbook page for that song, on which may be found information about the songwriter or a link to an information source for him or her.

 

Please note: Cafe Songbook pages for songwriters are currently in various stages of development.

A B C D E F G H I-J K L M N-O P-Q R S T-U
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Adair, Tom

Adams, Lee

Adams, Stanley

Adamson, Harold

Ager, Milton

Ahbez, Eden

Ahlert, Fred

Akst, Harry

Alexander, Van

Allen, Lewis

Allen, Steve

Alter, Louis

Altman, Arthur

Anderson, Maxwell

Andre, Fabian

Arlen, Harold
Arnheim, Gus

Arodin, Sid

Atwood, Hub

Astaire, Fred

Austin, Gene

Ayer, Nat D.

Barbour, Dave

Barnes, Billy

Barris, Harry

Bassman, George

Belle, Barbara

Bennett, Dave

Bergman, Alan and Marilyn

Berlin, Irving

Bernie, Ben

Bernstein, Leonard

Best, William "Pat"

Blackburn, John

Blackwell, Otis (a.k.a. John Davenport)

Blake, Eubie

Blane, Ralph

Blitzstein, Marc

Bloom, Rube

Bock, Jerry

Block, Martin

Boland, Clay

Borne, Hal

Borodin, Alexander

Bowman, Brooks

Boyd, Elisse

Brent, Earl K.

Bricusse, Leslie

Brooks, Harry

Brooks, Shelton

Brown, Les

Brown, Lew

Brown, Nacio Herb

Brown, Seymour

Burke, Joe

Burke, Johnny

Burke, Sonny

Burnett, Ernie

Burns, Ralph

Burwell, Cliff

Bushkin, Joe

 

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Caesar, Irving

Cahn, Sammy

Caldwell, Anne

Campbell, Jimmy

Carey, Bill (William D.)

Carmichael, Hoagy

Carroll, Harry

Carter, Benny

Casey, Kenneth

Casucci, Leonello

Chaplin, Charlie

Chaplin, Saul

Charlap, Moose

Clare, Sidney

Chase, Newell

Churchill, Frank

Clarke, Grant

Clifford, Gordon

Clinton, Larry

Coates, Carroll

Coleman, Cy

Comden, Betty and Adolph Green

Conley, Larry

Connelly, Reginald

Conrad, Con

Cooley, Eddie

Coots, J. Fred

Cory, George

Coslow, Sam

Creamer, Henry

Crosby, Bing

Cross, Douglas

Daniels, Charles N.
Davenport, John (See Otis Blackwell.)

David, Mack

Davis, Benny

Davis, Jimmy

Dee, Sylvia

De Lange, Eddie

Denniker, Paul

Dennis, Matt

De Paul, Gene

De Rose, Peter

De Sylva, B.G. (Buddy)

DeVries, John

Dietz, Howard

Distel, Sacha

Dixon, Mort

Donaldson, Walter

Dorsey, Jimmy

Dougherty, Doc

Drake, Ervin
Drake, Milton

Dreyer, Dave

Dubin, Al

Duke, Vernon

Edens, Roger

Edwards, Michael

Egan, Raymond B.

Eliscu, Edward

Ellington, Duke

Elman, Ziggy

Engvick, William

Evans, Ray

Evans, Redd

Eyton, Frank

 

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Fain, Sammy

Fetter, Ted

Fields, Dorothy

Fischer, Carl

Fisher, Dan

Fisher, Fred

Fisher, Mark

Fisher, Marvin

Forrest, George

Freed, Arthur

Freed, Ralph

L. E. Freeman

Gaines, Lee

Gallop, Sammy

Gannon, Kim

Garner, Errol

Gaskill, Clarence

Gensler, Lewis E.

George, Don

Gershwin, George

Gershwin, Ira

Gillespie, Haven

Golden, John

Goodman, Benny

Goodwin, Joe

Gordon, Irving

Gordon, Mack

Gorney, Jay

Gorrell, Stuart

Goulding, Edmund

Grainger, Porter

Grand, Murray

Grant, Ian

Gray, Chauncey

Gray, Timothy

Grever, Maria

Grey, Clifford
Green, Adolph and Betty Comden

Green, Bud

Green, Freddie

Green, Johnny

Gross, Walter

Haggart, Bob

Hamilton, Arthur

Hamilton, Nancy

Hamm, Fred

Hammerstein, Arthur

Hammerstein II, Oscar

Hampton, Lionel

Handy, W. C.
Hanighen, Bernie

Hanley, James F.

Harbach, Otto

Harburg, E. Y. (Yip)

Harling, W. Franke

Harline, Leigh

Hart, Lorenz

Henderson, Jimmy

Henderson, Ray

Herbert, Victor

Herman, Woody

Herron, Joel S.

Herzog Jr., Arthur

Heyman, Edward

Heyward, Dubose

Higginbotham, Irene

Higgins, Billy

Hilliard, Bob

Hirsch, Walter

Hodges, Johnny

Holiday, Billie

Holiner, Mann

Hollander, Frederick

Holofcener, Larry

Homer, Ben

Hopper, Hal

Howard, Bart

Hubbell, Raymond

Hupfeld, Herman

 

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I-J

Jacobs, Jacob

Jaffe, Moe

James, Freddy (Pseud. for Teddy Powell)

James, Harry

James, Paul

Jenkins, Gordon

Johnson, James P.

Johnston, Arthur

Johnston, Patricia

Jolson, Al

Jones, Isham

Kahal, Irving

Kahn, Gus

Kahn, Roger Wolfe

Kalmar, Bert

Keith, Marilyn
Kent, Walter

Kern, Jerome

Kisco, Charles

Kitchings, Irene

Koehler, Ted

Kosma, Joseph

Kramer, Alex

Kramer, Joan Whitney

Kurtz, Manny

Laine, Frankie

Lamare, Jules (a.k.a Charles N.

Daniels and Neil Moret)

Lane, Burt
Landesman, Fran

Latouche, John

Lawrence, Eddie

Lawrence, Jack

Layton, Turner

Lee, Peggy

Leigh, Carolyn

Leonard, Anita

Lerner, Alan Jay
Leslie, Edgar

Levant, Oscar

Lewis, Morgan

Lewis, Sam M.

Link, Harry

Lippman, Sidney

Livingston, Fud

Livingston, Jay

Livingston, Jerry

Loeb, John Jacob

Loesser, Frank

Loewe, Frederick

Lombardo, Carmen

Lowe, Ruth

Lown, Bert
Lyman, Abe

 

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M

MacDonald, Ballard

Magidson, Herb
Malneck, Matty

Mancini, Henry

Mandel, Frank

Mandel, Johnny

Mann, David

Marks, Gerald

Martin, Hugh

Maschwitz, Eric

Mayer, Henry
McCarey, Leo

McCarthy, Joseph

McCarthy, Jr., Joseph

McHugh, Jimmy

McCoy, Joe

Mellin, Robert

Mercer, Johnny

Merrill, Bob

Mertz, Paul Madeira

Meyer, Joseph

Miles, Dick

Miller, Glenn

Miller, Nathan Ned

Mills, Irving
Mitchell, Sidney D.

Moll, Billy

Monaco, Jimmy

Moret, Neil (aka Charles N. Daniels)

Morey, Larry

Moross, Jerome

Mundy, Jimmy

Muse, Clarence

Myrow, Josef

Nemo, Henry

Newley, Anthony

Nichols, Alberta

Noble, Ray

Norman, Pierre
Norton, George A.

Oakland, Ben

Overstreet, Benton W.

Palmer, Jack

Palmer, Bee

Parish, Mitchell

Parker, Dorothy

Parker, Sol

Parsons, Geoffrey

Perkins, Frank S.

Phillipe-Gérard M(ichel)

Pinkard, Maceo

Porter, Cole

Prima, Louis

Prince, Graham

Prince, Hughie

 

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Rainger, Ralph

Raksin, David

Ram, Buck

Ramirez, Roger (Ram)

Rand Lionel

Raye, Don

Razaf, Andy

Reardon, Jack

Redmond, John

Rene, Leon T.

Rene, Otis

Revel, Harry

Reynolds, Ellis

Reynolds, Herbert

Rhodes, Stan

Robin, Leo

Robin, Sid

Robison, Willard

Rodgers, Richard

Romberg, Sigmund

Rome, Harold

Ronell, Ann
Rose, Billy

Rose, Fred

Rose, Vincent

Ruby, Harry

Ruby, Herman

Ruskin, Harry

Russell, Bob

Sampson, Edgar

Sanicola, Henry

Santly, Lester

Savitt, Jay

Secunda, Sholom

Segal Jack
Schertzinger, Victor
Schwandt, Wilbur

Schwartz, Arthur

Scott, Bertha

Shapiro, Ted

Shavers, Charlie

Shay, Larry

Shearing, George

Sherman, Jimmy

Sherwin, Manning

Sigman, Carl

Signorelli, Frank

Silvers, Phil

Simons, Seymour

Sinatra, Frank

Sissle, Noble

Skylar, Sunny

Snyder, Ted

Sondheim, Stephen

Sour, Robert
Spence, Lew

Springer, Philip

Stept, Sam H.

Stock, Larry

Stordahl, Axel

Strachey, Jack

Strayhorn, Billy

Strouse, Charles

Styne, Jule

Suessdorf, Karl

Suesse, Dana

Sullivan, Henry

Swan, Einar Aaron

Swift, Kay

Symes, Marty

 

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T-U

Tauber, Doris

Teagarten, Jack

Thompson, Kay
Tobias, Charles

Tobias, Harry

Tormé, Mel

Tracey, William G.
Trent, Jo

Troop, Bobby

Turk, Roy

Turner, John

Van Heusen, Jimmy (James)

Vimmerstedt, Sadie

Waller, Fats

Warfield, Charles

Warren, Harry

Washington, Ned
Watson, Johnny

Webb, Chick

Webster, Paul Francis

Weill, Kurt

Weiss, George David

Wells, Robert

Weston, Paul

Whiting, Richard A.

Whiting, George A.

Wilder, Alec

Wiley, Lee

Wilkinson, Dudley


Williams, Clarence

Williams, Spencer

Wodehouse, P. G.

Wolf, Donald E.

Wolf, Jack

Wolf, Tommy

Wood, Guy B

Woods, Harry M.

Wright, Lawrence

Wright, Robert

Wrubel, Allie

Yellen, Jack

Youmans, Vincent

Young, Joe

Young, Trummy

Young, Victor

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