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Jerome Kern Songbook Series
Perhaps Kern's most often quoted statement is about another songwriter. When asked, "What is Irving Berlin's place in American music, Kern famously (and modestly) replied, "There is no place for Irving Berlin in American music -- Irving Berlin is American music."
Another pithy Kern comment came when he and Dorothy Fields were working on the score for the 1935 movie Roberta. After first playing the melody for "Lovely To Look At" for Fields, she commented that it was indeed beautiful but asked why it was so short. "I had nothing more to say," Kern replied.
"A 19-year-old songwriter, full of talent and ambition, leaves his New Jersey home and lands a job with a Manhattan music publisher. He travels to England and is heavily influenced by the cutting-edge artists in the London music scene. Before long he scores a hit, which captures attention partly because of a streetwise slang term in the title. The song is the first in a string of compositions that will be recorded by the greatest bands and singers in America. Ultimately, he will die too soon while leaving an unparalleled collection of music and an unfinished project that will be completed by (and provide a triumph for) another legendary composer.*
The New Jersey songwriter didn't come from Bruce Springsteen’s world. He certainly wouldn’t recognize the London of the Stones, Clash, or Sex Pistols. And his first hit song had nothing to do with drugs or associated paraphernalia, notwithstanding the cryptic use of the word “spoon” in the title. Sex, however, was a clearly understood subtext when the song 'How’d You Like to Spoon with Me' debuted in the musical The Earl and the Girl. The year was 1905, and the young composer was Jerome Kern" (Cutchin, Rusty. Jerome Kern [Internet]. Version 12. Knol. Apr 2, 2011.
[Eds. note: Kern returned to New York from Hollywood in 1945 to write the score for the show that became Annie Get Your Gun, but he died shortly after arriving. Rodgers and Hammerstein, the producers of the show, prevailed upon their reluctant friend Irving Berlin to step in and do the score.]
The young Angela Lansbury performs one of Kern's early songs,
'How’d You Like to Spoon with Me' (1905)
in the 1946 Kern biopic Till the Clouds Roll By.
Some ten years after Kern's 50th birthday tribute, Judy Garland, the Les Paul Trio and the Paul Whiteman Orchestra and Chorus perform a medley of Kern songs as a tribute to the songwriter on the Philco Radio Hall of Fame, December, 1944, shortly before his sixtieth birthday and about one year before his death.
Kern turned 50 on January 27, 1935, the year in which I Dream Too Much with Lily Pons premiered at Radio City Music Hall in New York. The songwriter was living in Hollywood at the time writing songs for the movies but his friends in New York and elsewhere were determined to celebrate his fiftieth on a "national scale."
A tribute to be nationally broadcast on Alexander Woollcott's CBS radio show from New York (a program Kern often listened to) was planned. Gerald Bordman, Kern's biographer, notes that arrangements had been made so that Kern would be listening in his Beverly Wilshire hotel room. Woollcott began by announcing that his entire program would be devoted to Kern. First came performances of Kern's works followed by words of praise from the likes of Ethel Barrymore, Kathleen Norris, and Noel Coward, who called Kern his "favorite composer." The surprise climax came when, as Kern listened to the ensemble sing Happy Birthday to him from across the country, there was a knock at his door. When he opened it he found "Irving Berlin standing there with a bouquet of flowers." Woollcott later reported that Berlin said he had been teary eyed listening to the tribute and that when Kern saw him, the two of them "fell on each other's necks, 'just a couple of old Jewish pansies'" (Bordman, p. 353, paperback edition).
Jerome Kernresearch 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. 267-268).
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. 240-248).
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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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