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Vintage sheet music for
words and music by Irving Gordon
(Nat King Cole on cover)
Born: Irving L. Gordon, February 14, 1915, New York City
Died: December 1, 1996 (age 81), Los Angeles, California
Primary songwriting role: lyricist; also a composer
Overview and Commentary
Irving Gordon (This section is currently in preparation)
Edited and with an Introduction by Robert Gottlieb and Robert Kimball, New York: Pantheon Books, 2000.
Robert Gottlieb and Robert Kimball attest to Irving Gordon's versatility by pointing out that he wrote songs made into hits by both Billie Holiday ("Me, Myself and I") and Patti Page "(Throw) Mama from the Train (a kiss)." Patti Page also recorded another one of his novelty songs from a series based on the names of a states, "Mister and Mississippi." Among his other songs are "What Will I Tell My Heart?" "Moments in the Moonlight," "All Dressed Up To Smile," and perhaps his most important contribution, the lyric for Ellington's "Prelude to a Kiss."
Gordon grew up in Brooklyn, started his music training on the violin, later worked at Catskill resort hotels writing musical parodies for their shows, and in the thirties, was employed by Mills Music, a publishing and performer management company in New York City, as a contract composer and lyricist. It was there in 1937 that he was introduced to Duke Ellington who asked him to put words to some of his compositions including "Prelude to a Kiss." According to the Wikipedia article on Gordon (based on Gordon's obituary by Benny Green in The Guardian, London), "Working with Ellington was probably the most difficult commission there was, because most of the Ellington songs were really instrumental pieces whose singable potential only emerged after they had been played and recorded by one or another of the soloists in the Ellington orchestra."
Also according to Wikipedia, "Gordon did not care for Rock music, which he said was composed not of 'melodies but maladies.' Gordon told the Los Angeles Times that by 1960 the vogue for rhymed words and hummable melodies had passed, 'So I became a tennis pro. I have many lives'."
His last and biggest hit had two lives itself, first by a father and then, after his death, by his daughter as a duet with her father: Nat King Cole's version of "Unforgettable" (for which Gordon wrote both words and music), reached the charts in 1952, and Natalie Cole's recording, on which her voice was superimposed over her father's to create the effect of a duet, won a Grammy in 1992. So neither Cole, Sr. nor Gordon were around for the award.
A Sampling of the Wide Variety of Musical Styles for Which Irving Gordon's Wrote
"Me, Myself and I" (words and music by Irving Gordon, Allan Roberts, and Alvin S. Kaufman; sung by Billie Holiday (with Buck Clayton (trumpet) Edmond Hall (clarinet) Lester Young (tenor sax) James Sherman (piano) Freddie Green (guitar) Walter Page (bass) Jo Jones (drums)--1937
album: The Quintessential
Billie Holiday Vol. 4
"Prelude to a Kiss" (music by Duke Ellington and Irving Mills, words by Irving Gordon,
sung by Billie Holiday with Harry ‘Sweets’ Edison (trumpet) Benny Carter (alto sax) Jimmy Rowles (piano) Barney Kessel (guitar) John Simmons (bass) Larry Bunker (drums) -- 1955
"The Kentuckian Song" (1955, words and music by Irving Gordon) was the theme song of the movie The Kentuckian starring Burt Lancaster. Sung here by The Hilltopers, it was also a #8 hit for Eddy Arnold on the Country chart that year.
"Mister and Mississippi" (1951, words and Music by Irving Gordon) vocal by Patti Page
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