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Overview and Commentary
Lew Brown (This section is currently in preparation)
David Ewen. American Songwriters, An H. W. Wilson Biographical Dictionary. New York: The H. W. Wilson Co., 1987 (includes 146 bios of composers and lyricists).
Lew Brown was born in Odessa, Russia in 1893, but immigrated with his parents, Jacob and Etta Brownstein (or Bronstein), to the United States in 1898, living first in New Haven, Connecticut and then New York City, where he attended DeWitt Clinton high school. He began writing in his late teen years and had early professional successes when his lyrics were bought by prolific composer Albert von Tilzer, whom he met as early as 1912, for his melodies. The two went on to write songs for shows like Hitchy-koo (1917), which was interpolated into the war-time ballad "I May Be Gone for a Long, Long Time," and The Greenwich Village Follies (1920).
Between 1922 and 1925, Brown collaborated successfully with several writing partners including Ray Henderson, and in 1925, they joined with the already widely published lyricist B. G. (Buddy) De Sylva to form the songwriting trio that became famous as De Sylva, Brown and Henderson. Their first Broadway score was for George White's Scandals of 1925, followed by the Scandals of 1926, which included "The Black Bottom," so emblematic of the Twenties, and "The Birth of the Blues," now an American standard. In September 1927, the team, with Henderson music and De Sylva/Brown lyrics, had another major Broadway hit with the show Good News, which included such songs such as "The Best Things in Life are Free" and "Varsity Drag." Following the success of Good News, the now famous group started a music publishing company bearing its own name.
Even though their partnership lasted only six years and all went on to successful but separate careers in New York and Hollywood, all three are remembered primarily as part of this songwriting team. Their names taken together have become synonymous, as William Zinsser has put it, with "the mindless optimism of the twenties," and their songs the perfect expression of the temper of that time, songs such as " You're the Cream in My Coffee," "Life Is Just a Bowl of Cherries," I'm a Dreamer, Aren't We All?"), "(Keep Your) Sunny Side Up," etc. Zinsser adds:
Those amiable songs are gems of economy: not many words and not many notes, but all of them just right--easy to sing and easy to remember (Zinsser, p. 55).
Ken Bloom points out how "the threesome's music exemplified the Roaring Twenties with its emphasis on speed and rhythm. Their songs incorporated jazz and blues into the Broadway idiom."
Perhaps Brown's most popular post De Sylva, Brown and Henderson song was "Beer Barrel Polka," 1939. He wrote the words but borrowed a Czech tune for the melody, which was interpolated into the movie Yokel Boy. A standard from Brown was the 1937 "That Old Feeling," for which Sammy Fain composed a melody to accompany Brown's lyric. Over time Brown became the most prolific writer of the triumvirate with the lyrics for over 100 songs to his credit, written with collaborators such as Harry Akst, Charles Tobias. Sam Stept, Con Conrad, Moe Jaffe, Sidney Clare, Harry Warren, Cliff Friend, Jay Gorney, Louis Alter, Harold Arlen. By the time the biopic of De Sylva, Brown and Henderson -- The Best Things In Life Are Free -- came out in 1956, Brown, who was played by Ernest Borgnine, had been more or less retired for ten years. He died of a heart attack in his apartment in New York City at the age of sixty-four.
Edited and with an Introduction by Robert Gottlieb and Robert Kimball, New York: Pantheon Books, 2000.
Lew Brown (This section is currently in preparation)
Then and not so then -- De Sylva, Brown and Henderson songs performed in contrasting styles:
1920s and 1940s
"Good News" by De Sylva, Brown and Henderson, recorded in 1928, by George Olsen and his Music one year after it was first heard as the title song for the songwriting trio's big hit show.
Nat King Cole sings the De Sylva, Brown and Henderson song, "You're the Cream in My Coffee"
(with the Nat King Cole trio, Oscar Moore, guitar, Johnny Miller, bass, Nat King Cole, vocal and piano, 1946).
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" You're the Cream in My Coffee, Nat King Cole Trio: Jan Adamec
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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.
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