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Overview and Commentary
Bart Howard (This section is currently in preparation)
Bart Howard, who was born Howard Joseph Gustafson in Burlington, Iowa on June 1, 1915, began his musical career early when he left home at sixteen to tour with a dance band for which he was pianist. By 1934 he was working in Los Angeles accompanying a female impersonator, and three years later, after working with various vaudeville acts, arrived in New York because he had become accompanist to the comedian Elizabeth Talbot-Martin, who was to appear at the Rainbow Room at the top of Rockefeller Center. This had the effect of simultaneously bringing him to the city that would become his professional home for the rest of his life (He was twenty-two when he first arrived.) and of introducing him to the world of New York cabaret.
Not long after his arrival in New York he met Mabel Mercer and after serving in the Army from 1941 through 1945 became her accompanist from 1946-1949, at the club that made Mercer famous, Tony's on 52nd Street. It was there that a song by Bart was first performed, "If You Leave Paris," and Mercer, who sang it, became a champion of his songs for many years.
By far Bart Howard's best known composition is "Fly me to the
Moon" for which he wrote both words and music in 1954, and which served more than any other feature of his career to bring him widespread fame. By that time, however, he was already a fixture in the world of New York Cabaret, a fact which was confirmed when he was hired for an eight year gig as host, director and intermission pianist for shows at the Blue Angel, one of New York's leading night spots. It was there that he regularly introduced singers such as Eartha Kitt, Dorothy Loudon and Johnny Mathis who were at or near the beginning of their careers. He remained at the Blue Angel through 1959 and it was during this period that he wrote some of his other most widely recorded songs including 'Let Me Love You'' and ''Don't Dream of Anybody but Me'' and met many of the performers who would sing them.
James Gavin in his book Intimate Nights; The Golden Age of New York Cabaret described Howard during his time at the Blue Angel as having been "blond, debonair, impeccably groomed and supremely elegant" and quotes him saying, "'My dinner jacket got to be my uniform."
Gavin describes Howard's duties at the Blue Angel as more than host and pianist. In fact he was the general factotum doing everything from fixing the lights to counseling the performers: "'I was the backstage psychiatrist, too,' he said, 'They all had problems. Kaye Ballard used to say before she went on, "Oh tell me I'm good!" And he helped the severely myopic Anita Ellis from her dressing room. "I'd practice a lot of Bart's songs, then I'd be afraid to sing them, because he was there," she said."'"
And Gavin sums up the substance of Howard's songs thus:
Few other songwriters glorified romance or mourned its failure as passionately as Howard. His lyrics spoke of commitment, of the great love that lasts forever, or of the crushing pain when it ends. They captured an era when nothing seemed more enchanting that the thought of pledging one's hand for a lifetime (Gavin, p. 91).
Bart Howard (This section continues to be in preparation)
"Burlington, Iowa native Bart Howard sings and plays the piano to images and other items from his archives. The video came from a performance shot in the late 80's in New York City. The "Fly Me to the Moon" audio came from the "Today Show" with Barbara Walters in 1965. The image stills came from his archives which are on display at the Des Moines County Heritage Museum in Burlington, Iowa. . . ."
Two albums of Bart Howard songs by cabaret singers devoted to his music:
Portia Nelson (1956) and KT Sullivan (1997), his two "muses."
Bart Howardresearch 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. 205, listed as Howard Joseph Gustafson).
Robert Gottlieb and Robert Kimball (Eds.), Reading Lyrics, New York: Pantheon Books, 2000. (pp. 502-503, brief biography and lyrics to four songs.)
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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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