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Johnny One-Note


Written: 1937

Music by: Richard Rodgers

Words by: Lorenz Hart

Written for: Babes in Arms
(Broadway Show (1937)

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On the Main Stage at Cafe Songbook

Two "Divas," Two Renditions of "Johnny One Note"

Nicole Henry


"Johnny One-Note"

at the San Jose Summer Jzzz Fest

Nicole Henry writes on YouTube, ""I learned this [Johnny One Nore] from versions by Shirley Bassey and Ella Fitzgerald."

Nicole Henry albums at

Amazon iTunes



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Shirley Bassey


"Johnny One-Note"

on a Shirley Bassey TV Speical

Shirley first recorded and released this song on her 1966 LP Shirley Bassey - I've Got A Song For You.It has been a staple in her reservoir ever since.

Shirley Bassey "Johnny One-Note" recordings:

Amazon iTunes
More Performances of "Johnny One-Note" in the Cafe SongbookRecord/Video Cabinet
(Video credit )

Cafe Songbook Reading Room

"Johnny One-Note"

Critics Corner || Lyrics Lounge

About the Show Babes in Arms

Songs from Babes in Arms other than "Johnny One-Note" included in the Cafe Songbook Catalog of The Great American Songbook:

1. I Wish I Were in Love Again

2. My Funny Valentine

3. The Lady Is a Tramp

4. Where or When


For a complete listing of songs used in the original production of the Broadway show Babes in Arms, see IBDB song list.


For a complete listing of songs used in the movie Babes in Arms, see IMDB soundtrack.

Babes in Arms was not only a typical "Come on kids, let's put on a show" musical, but perhaps the first of its kind. The idea for it emerged while Rodgers and Hart were walking in Central Park and noticed some creative children making up their own games. It's plot was slight and far fetched but the Rodgers and Hart score produced more American standard songs than any other show by the songwriting team.

The story begins when a troupe of Depression era vaudevillians are unable to get work and so decide to light out for the territories in an attempt to make some kind of living--leaving behind their kids to fend for themselves. The youngsters resist being sent to a work farm by putting on a show of their own to raise money for a local youth center. Nothing much comes of it until a deus ex machina in the form of a French transatlantic aviator crash-landing his plane in their midst generates enough publicity to make the kids' show a hit.

Babes in Arms tried out in Boston and then opened in New York at the Shubert Theater April 14, 1937. Despite its lack of the de rigueur line of semi-nude show girls to stir up ticket sales, it ran for the better part of a year (289 performances), closing December 18, 1937. Rodgers and Hart had decided they wanted this show to be all their own so they wrote the book as well as the words and music; and they brought in ballet genius George Balanchine for the choreography. The cast was restricted to youngsters, many of whom eventually became stars, including Mitzi Green, Alex Courtney, Alfred Drake, Ray Heatherton, The Nicholas Brothers, Dan Dailey, Robert Rounseville, Grace MacDonald, and Wynn Murray.

The show within the show that the kids put on is a revue, and all but one of the Rodgers and Hart songs are the focal points for its skits. The only exception is "My Funny Valentine." It is integrated into the main story, Billie, played by Mitzi Green, singing it about her new love "Val," short for "Valentine," played by Ray Heatherton. Richard Rodgers has noted that because he and Hart were so interested in writing songs that helped to develop the story, they went so far as to change the name of one of their characters to Valentine to make the song fit the story. (Musical Stages, p, 181, hard-bound Ed.).

"Johnny One-Note" is introduced in Babes in Arms by Wynn Murray aided by Douglas Parry, Alfred Drake, Elenore Tennis, The Nicholas Brothers, Bobby Lane, Mitzi Green, and Duke McHale. The vignette that features the song satirizes a show-off opera star who claims she can outsing anybody and anything even though she can only manage to produce a single note. Philip Furia and Michael Lasser in thier book America's Songs, note that the music for "Johnny One-Note" was a left-over, having been written for but not used in the Rodgers and Hart score for the movie Mississippi where it had been titled, "Pablo, You Are My Heart." For Babes in Arms, "Rodgers revised the melody by repeatedly pulling it down to middle C and then gave it to Hart, who enlivened this monotonous device with a lyric about [the] dazzling but limited vocalist who could sing only one note" (pp. 138-139).

Wynn Murray sings Johnny One-Note" in 1937. the same year as she sang it in the original production of Babes in Arms. The recording can be found on the album, The Hits of Broadway Volume 1.

Rodgers recalls in his autobiography that they were free to have fun with numbers in "the show within the show" portion of Babes in Arms, because they had no direct connection to the plot of the main story. Because "Johnny One-Note" didn't have such a connection, they set it in ancient Egypt for some reason Rodgers couldn't even recall. Their rationale was, according to the composer, that because the characters were kids operating on a shoe string it seemed appropriate "to emphasize the do-it-yourself nature of the show by having the cast come out wearing such household appliances as towels, bath mats, coat hooks, and scrub mops" (Musical Stages, p. 181, hard-bound edition).

Revivals: There have been no Broadway revivals of Babes in Arms perhaps because despite the spectacular score, the book is just too slight and too dated; however, there have been two studio albums: one with Mary Martin on Columbia Records, from 1951; and one with Judy Blazer and Judy Kaye from 1989. This production uses the original 1937 orchestrations and therefore provides a rare opportunity to hear the musical portions of the show more or less as originally performed, before so many of the songs emerged as standards creating their own indelible impressions. There was also one New York concert revival by City Center Encores! in Feb. 1999, for which there is a cast album. Despite the lack of a Broadway revival, Babes in Arms has been mounted countless times in high school and stock productions using a revised book with a summer theater as the setting and in which the interns put on the show within the show.

The Lorenz Hart Website in its discussion of the revivals of Babes in Arms offers a refutation of the notion that Babes in Arms has never been recreated in its original form because it is "too slight and too dated."


"Johnny One-Note" in the Movie Babes in Arms

"Johnny One-Note" was dropped from the film. The Hollywood forces that created the movie version of Babes in Arms (1939, with Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney) inexplicably got rid of most of the great Rodgers and Hart songs leaving only "Where or When" and the title song of the show.


Johnny One-Note in the Movie "Words and Music"

Words and Music, (1948), the very much less than accurate biopic of Rodgers and Hart, is nevertheless valuable for the performances of their songs. "Johnny One-Note"" is sung by Judy Garland.

Judy Garland sings " Johnny One-Note"
in Words and Music, 1948

Richard Rodgers,
Musical Stages: An Autobiography New York: Random House, 1975
(Da Capo paper bound ed., 2002, pictured above).

Babes in Arms
studio cast album

Babes in Arms
studio cast album

Babes in Arms
studio cast album

"Johnny One-Note" on the charts:


Hal Kemp and His Orchestra with Skinny Ennis vocal (Brunswick 7856): first charted 6/12/37, remained on charts for 3 weeks peaking at number #15.


Victor Young (Decca 1280): first charted 6/19/37, remained on charts for 1 week at number #17.


Source: Joel Whitburn,
Pop Memories 1890-1954: The History of American Popular Music
, 1986.

The Mickey Rooney & Judy Garland Collection
(Babes in Arms /
Babes on Broadway /
Girl Crazy /
Strike Up the Band)

DVD box set

Dorothy Hart, ed.
Thou Swell Thou Witty The life and Lyrics of Lorenz Hart, New York: Harper and Row, 1976. (a compilation of Hart's lyrics and of first hand accounts of Hart from those who knew him).

book cover: Edward Jablonski, "Lorenz Hart: Poet on Broadway"
Edward Jablonski
Lorenz Hart: Poet on Broadway
, Boston: Northeastern UP, 1996
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Critics Corner
Cafe Songbook logo

Hart's Critique of Johnny One-Note amd His Critics

Hart's lyric tells a tale of conspiracy, a comic conspiracy that produces bad theater, a conspiracy between the ham performer and the simple-minded critics who rave about him. The song portrays an opera singer who can sing only one note. He over-compensates for this defect by "overlord[ing] the place," by "yelling willy-nilly / Until he [is] blue in the face." When "he sings," the orchestra can't be heard, not even the brass or the drum. And when he "got in Aïda," made "Verdi turn. . . round in his grave!" He is cheered, ironically, by the critics who, "rave" about him -- which Hart rhymesneatly with "grave." Hart implies that the critics prefer the biggest and the loudest and in their shallowness miss all substance and subtlety. (JAC, Cafe Songbook)

Book cover: Philip Furia, The Poets of Tin Pan Alley"
Philip Furia, The Poets of Tin Pan Alley: A History of America's Great Lyricists,
New York: Oxford University Press, 1990.

Philip Furia sees the character who sings "Johnny One-Note" as "defiant," as defiant as the singer in another song from Babes in Arms, "The Lady Is a Tramp." He also calls him "primitive" --instead of merely lacking musical dexterity. Furia goes on to acknowledge, however, that the singer's cry in fact produces "ear-shattering monotony" saved only by Hart's skill with lyrics, which he demonstrates using

complex double and triple rhymes: "gusto" and "just overlorded the place," "yelled willy-nilly" with "until he was blue in the face," and "got in Aïda indeed a great chance to be free." (Furia, p. 119)

Hart, it seems, felt that the critics would have been more on the mark praising his skills as a lyricist (the ones enumerated by Furia) rather than raving about the "overlord[ing]" performer, whom the songwriter himself was criticizing.

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Lyrics Lounge

Click here to read the lyrics for "Johnny One-Note" as sung by Ella Fitzgerald
on the album Ella Fitzgerald Sings the Rodgers and Hart Songbook

Amazon iTunes

Most, if not almost all, singers do the relatively rare thing of including the versein their performances of Johnny One-Note." This is most likely because of the combination of it being very short and being critical to understanding the rest of the song, both in terms of stating Hart's premise and of introducing that one note in an extraordinarily forceful way:

Johnny could only sing one note
And the note he sang was this:

The "Ah" is held for countless bars, and as Alec wilder points out the "one note" in the sheet music is C, and it is "sung continuously throughout the song no matter where it goes even into F minor in the trio." (Alec Wilder, American Popular Song The Great Innovators, 1900-1950, New York: Oxford University Press, 1972, p. 205, hard cover edition.)

The complete, authoritative lyrics for "Johnny One-Note'" can be found in:

book cover: "The Complete Lyrics of Lorenz Hart" Ed. by Dorothy Hart and Robert Kimball
The Complete Lyrics Of Lorenz Hart.
Dorothy Hart and Robert Kimball (Eds.), New York: Knoph, 1986
(Da Capo Press expanded, paper bound edition 1995 shown).

Click here to read Cafe Songbook lyrics policy.

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Posted Comments on "Johnny One-Note":


Jim P, 1/12/2017: The best version of "Johnny One Note" I've ever heard was sung by 7th grader Susan Mussman in my grade school auditorium in 1959 in suburban Philly. She was a beautiful girl with Italian features, and really belted out that song to an up-tempo accompaniment. I can hear her in my head clear as a bell, lo those many years ago.

Cafe Songbook responds: Thanks for the vivid memory. Not an easy song for an adult professional singer. Susan must have had some special talent. No YouTube in 1059 however, so we'll have to use our imaginations. I appeared in a high school production of Brigadoon that year and I am forever thankful no YouTube (or any other kind of) recording survives. No Susan Mussman I!

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The Cafe Songbook
Record/Video Cabinet:
Selected Recordings of

"Johnny One-Note"

(All Record/Video Cabinet entries below
include a music-video
of this page's featured song.
The year given is for when the studio
track was originally laid down
or when the live performance was given.)

Performer/Recording Index
(*indicates accompanying music-video)

Wynn Murray
album: The Great Songwriters:
Richard Rodgers

View and listen to the 1937 Wynne Murray performance, center column below.

Amazon iTunes

Notes: An anthology of Rodgers' songs by various artists including many recordings by those who first recorded the songs of which the Murray recording is one. Murray also introduced "Johnny One-Note" in the original cast of Babes in Arms in 1937
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Judy Garland
album: Words and Music

Amazon iTunes

Notes: Although Garland starred in the 1939 movie version of Babes in Arms, "Johnny One-Note" was cut from the film. Garland made up for this by singing it on film in the biopic of Rodgers and Hart, Words and Music. The above recording is from that soundtrack.

From Amazon customer reviewer Theseus "theseus":

"Here's some good news: perhaps realizing that the screenplay was weak, MGM haphazardly threw all sorts of talent at this odd film (including Gene Kelly in a ballet.) Thus we have some highlights: Lena Horne performing two numbers, including a sprightly, authoritative "The Lady is a Tramp," Perry Como schmearing his way through a couple of songs
June Allyson nailing "Thou Swell"
an extended version of "Way Out West"
a Mickey and Judy duet (their last one in a film?) "I Wish I Were in Love Again"
Tunes from On Your Toes, Love Me Tonight, Peggy Ann, and The Boys from Syracuse,
and, my favorite, Judy Garland's "Johnny One Note."
Music-Video: View clip of Garland's performance in Words and Music, center column.
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Ella Fitzgerald
album: Sings the Rodgers And Hart Songbook, Vol. 1

same track as on album referenced above

Amazon iTunes

Notes: The Amazon link is for Vol. one only; the iTunes link for Vols. 1-2. The track for "Johnny One-Note" is the same on both albums. Both volumes together constitute the Rodgers and Hart portion of the seminal set of Ella Ftizgerald Songbook albums produced by Norman Granz from the mid-fifies through the early sixties. The Rogers and Hart recorddings were made at Capitol Studios, Los Angeles, California from August 27-31, 1956. Personnel includes Ella Fitzgerald (vocals); Paul Smith (piano); Barney Kessel (guitar); Joe Mondragon (bass); Alvin Stoller (drums). Buddy Bregman (conductor and arranger).
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c. 1956
Blossom Dearie
album: Blossom Dearie

same track as on album referenced above

Amazon iTunes

Notes: This is Blossom's debut album from 1956, plus a few added tracks, including "Johnny One Note," recorded some time in the 1950's. The rendition of "Johnny One Note" on the album is a group performance. Dearie had a history of singing as part of small vocal ensembles (Joined Blue Flames vocal group with Woody Herman's big band and the Blue Reys with the Alvino Rey band in the late forties, and having relocated to Paris in the early fifties sang with Les Blue Stars). It may have been with this group that record producer Norman Granz came across her, which led to a recording career with Verve, and it is likely that the performance of "Johnny One Note" (a bonus track added to the original 1956 album when the CD was released in 1989) was sung by The Blue Stars or a version thereof. In any case, you might be interested to know that when a young John (many-note) Pizzarelli discovered Blossom, having come up with her debut album, he "fell in love with her"; and he commemorates this on his radio show Radio Deluxe, (6/25/11) by relating the story to his children, John IV and Madeline, and then playing the track of "Johnny One Note" (video just below). Pizzarelli (III) does his own version of the song below.

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Anita O'Day
album: Anita O'Day and Billy May
Swing Rodgers and Hart

same track as on album referenced above

Amazon iTunes

Notes: "This 1960 collaboration between vocalist Anita O'Day and arranger Billy May features the beloved repertoire of composer Richard Rodgers and lyricist Lorenz Hart. May's sensitive orchestral arrangements bring out O'Day's resplendent voice, and the big band on this date performs these standard tunes with great energy and precision. . . ."

"Personnel: Anita O'Day (vocals); Al Hendrickson (guitar); Ted Nash, Wilbur Schwartz (alto saxophone); Fred Falensby, Justin Gordon (tenor saxophone); Chuck Gentry (baritone saxophone); Conrad Gozzo , Pete Candoli, Uan Ransey (trumpet); Murray McEachern, Ed Kusby, Tommy Pederson , Bill Schaeffer, Tommy Shepard (trombone); Joe Castro (piano); Ralph Pena (double bass); Stan Levey, Irving Cottler (drums)." -- from CD Universe album description
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Bobby Short
album: Bobby Short Celebrates Rodgers and Hart

same track as on album referenced above

Amazon iTunes icon

Notes: "Bobby Short is the just the man for the classic show tunes of Rodgers & Hart. Throughout this recording, he sustains a fantasy of New York that exists only on the big screen, and only in black and white" (from iTunes review).

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Wesla Whitfield
album: My Romance

album cover: Wesla Whitfield: "With A Song in My Heart"

Amazon iTunes

music-video currently unavailable

Notes: Nearly all the songs in Wesla Whitfield's CD of songs by Rodgers and Hart (or Hart and Rodgers, as she prefers to emphasize the considerable gifts of the lyricist) have been recorded countless times by jazz singers, not even tabulating similar songbooks devoted to one of Broadway's most gifted songwriting partnerships. But Whitfield makes sure she includes every commonly omitted verse, utilizing her powerful alto to mesh with pianist (and husband) Mike Greensill's innovative arrangements to add her own touch to each of the songs. . . . The phenomenal bassist Michael Moore adds a lot to this session as well; his matchless arco bass introduces the medley of "My Romance," which segues into the lively but neglected "Johnny One Note" (from iTunes Album Review)

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John Pizzarelli
album: With a Song in My Heart

a live performance, not the same track as on album referenced above -- but with a similar feel

Amazon iTunes

Notes: album personnel: John Pizzarelli (guitar and vocals), Larry Fuller (piano), Martin Pizzarelli (bass), Tony Tedesco (drums), John Mosca (trombone and baritone horn), Andy Fusco (alto and tenor saxophone, clarinet), Kenny Berger (baritone saxophone and bass clarinet), Tony Kadleck (trumpet and flugelhorn). With special guests: Cesar Camargo Mafiano (piano), Bucky Pizzarelli (guitar), and Don Sebesky (Swing Seven Arrangements).
Video: Unidentified live performance by John Pizzarelli, guitar and vocal; Larry Fuller, piano; Martin Pizzarelli, Bass; Tony Tedesco (?), drums. not the same performance as on the album above.

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