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Vintage sheet music (1944) for
"Body and Soul"
music by Johnny Green
arrangement by Cy Walter
Born: John Waldo Green, October 10, 1908, New York City (Far Rockaway, Queens)
Died: May 15, 1989 (age 80), Beverly Hills, California
Primary songwriting role: composer; also an arranger, conductor and music director
Johnny Green was born and raised in New York City to well-to-do parents whose significant interest in the arts did not extend to their son becoming a musician, or more accurately not becoming a business man. Nevertheless it was Green's ambition to lead a band or orchestra from his earliest days, and it was his early exposure to Gilbert and Sullivan that focused his interest in some combination of music and theater.
At Harvard, which he began at the early age of fifteen, he not only studied music but started a dance band, The Harvard Gold Coast Orchestra in which he played and for which he arranged. This was a foreshadow of the part of his future for which he first became very well known. His Harvard experience led to a summer job with Guy Lombardo which not only included arranging for the orchestra but writing pieces as well, the first success being "Coquette" in 1927 on which he collaborated with Guy's brother Carmen Lombardo and the well known lyricist Gus Kahn.
A turning point for Green came when shortly after graduating from Harvard in 1928 with a degree in economics, he realized he would be fooling himself if he did not devote his life totally to music. He quit his job as a clerk at this uncle's Wall Street firm and went to work as a composer and arranger for Paramount studios in Astoria, Queens, New York City where he contributed to a dozen films between 1930 and 1932. At the same time he moonlighted by conducting the orchestra at the Paramount Theater in Brooklyn, orchestrating music for radio programs and accompanying singers such as Gertrude Lawrence and Ethel Merman. It was also during this period that he began composing the music for songs collaborating with lyricists such as Yip Harburg ("I'm Yours" 1932) and Edward Heyman ("Out of Nowhere," "I Wanna Be Loved" 1932, and "I Cover the Waterfront" and You're Mine, You", 1933). It was with Heyman and Robert Sour as lyricists that in 1930, he wrote the music for the American standard "Body and Soul" written when Gertrude Lawrence who was appearing in New York called and asked for some new material.
Green also undertook the writing of longer pieces for the concert stage: Poem (1931), and Night Club: Six Impressions for Three Pianos and Orchestra (1933), which was commissioned by Paul Whiteman, were both performed and recorded by major orchestras such as the New York Philharmonic and Boston Symphony in the U.S. and the BBC Orchestra in London. These performances often found Green as the featured piano soloist. Green's capacity to shift from popular music to the concert stage and back again is highlighted during the Thirties by the appearance of his dance band (Johnny Green, His Piano and His Orchestra) on various well known radio shows broadcast coast to coast.
Green's career in the1940's continued both on Broadway where in 1942 he was musical director for Rodger's and Hart'sBy Jupiter and composer on his own for Beat the Band, and in Hollywood where he signed with MGM as composer, conductor and arranger for films such as Broadway Rhythm (1944), Bathing Beauty (1944), Fiesta, (1947) and Irving Berlin's Easter Parade (1948) for which he won his first of four Oscars, writing the score and conducting the MGM Orchestra.
During the late Forties and the 1950's, Green was General Music Director for MGM making significant contributions to memorable films such as Summer Stock (1950), Royal Wedding and An American in Paris (1951) for which he won his second Oscar, and High Society (1952).
Green's also received Academy Awards for West Side Story (1960) and Oliver (1968) both of which were for studios other than MGM. Not only did Green receive multiple Academy Awards but was conductor for the ceremonies ten times. Continuing his flexibility in moving from popular to concert music, he conducted The Los Angeles Philharmonic at the Hollywood Bowl over a period of three decades.
The summary of Johnny Green's career above is based on David Ewen's article in his book American Songwriters.
A Short Subject Vitaphone movie on Johnny Green (1935)
Notes on the movie form ednayarkspay: "The first singer in this short s"The Rose In Her Hair") is unidentified, but she is followed by the Johnny Green Orchestra, showing off with the playing of "Dinah." We then see the male quartet known as the Foursome, also famous for their facility with ocarinas. The Foursome gained theatrical fame when they appeared in Broadway shows "Girl Crazy" and "Anything Goes." One of the Foursome, Del Porter, went on to solo with Spike Jones & His City Slickers. Here they sing "Rhythm Is Our Business." For several years Green's Orchestra featured the singing talents of Marjory Logan and Jimmie Farrell, who sing together on "You Can Be Kissed" by Harry Warren and Al Dubin. Logan also sings 16 measures of Green's "How Can I Hold You Close Enough" . . . . An excerpt of an original Green composition, "Poem" is performed in this film short. When this short was made, Green (and his large musical organization) was the star of the SECONY Sketchbook on the radio. Harry Von Zell is the announcer. With any luck a good print will be reissued in our lifetime."
William Zinsser writes "it was Astaire the singer not Astaire the dancer that the songwriters wanted to write for. They knew that whatever they wrote, he would sing it perfectly, every note true, every syllable clear, every nuance of emotion and humor caught with natural elegance and timeing and taste. . . . As each of the movies came out, the songs from the soundtrack were released on Brunswick records, brightly backed by the orchestras of Johnny Green, Ray Noble, Leo Reisman, and others. . . -- now preserved on the album Starring Fred Astaire -- are an education in the craft of the American popular song."
Johnny Greenresearch resources in print (listed chronologically):
ASCAP Biographical Dictionary, New York: American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers, Cattell/Bowker, Fourth edition, 1980 (dates, collaborators, shows/movies, songs, etc., entry p. 199)
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). -- a wide selection of used copies is available at abebooks.com (entry pp. 186-189).
Hugh Fordin, M-G-M's Greatest Musicals: The Arthur Freed Unit, Da Capo Press, 1996 (unabridged reprint of The World of Entertainment!: Hollywood's Greatest Musicals, New York Doubleday, 1975 (multiple references to Green).
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