Music Room THE STACKS

In Tune with the Times

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On Today’s Menu:
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** Share some black & white cookies
for the birthday of a songwriter of Hollywood musicals.
** Linger to consider
how music can feel like home.
** Savor a last ½ cup smiling over
a kindergartener’s version of Name That Tune.
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STT-22

First Sip:

Grab your coat, and get your hat
Leave your worries on the doorstep
Life can be so sweet…

– lyrics by Dorothy Fields

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Slice of Cake:

There’s a lot of stories about lyricist Dorothy Fields.
Here is one my favorites:

A Songwriter in 1940s New York

In 1945, Dorothy Fields had an idea for a musical.

Naturally, she first took her idea to Mike Todd. In the past three years, Dorothy and her brother Herbert had co-written the book for three shows that Todd had produced—two of them with music by Cole Porter. (All 3 were big successes on Broadway at the time. All 3 are now all but forgotten.**)

But Mike Todd wasn’t interested.

Next, Dorothy talked to Oscar Hammerstein II. She told him she had an idea for a musical based on the life of the famous sharpshooter Annie Oakley. Not only that, but she had the perfect person to star in it: Her good friend, Ethel Merman.

Inspiration for the musical
“Annie Get Your Gun”

Hammerstein liked the idea! They began work, with Hammerstein as producer,
Dorothy writing the lyrics, and Jerome Kern writing the music.

This was not the first time Fields & Kern had worked together.
In fact, they had already won an Oscar together.

A brief jump back in time
to 1930s Hollywood

In 1936, Dorothy Fields and Jerome Kern won the Academy Award for Best Original Song. ***

Some day,
when I’m awfully low
and the world is cold,
I will feel a glow
Just thinking of you…

– lyrics by Dorothy Fields

The song was “The Way You Look Tonight.”

It was sung in the movie Swing Time
which just happens to be
my all-time favorite Fred Astaire & Ginger Rogers movie. ++

Plus, this movie has, in my opinion, Astaire & Rogers’ all-time best dance—
it’s to another Dorothy Fields/Jerome Kern song: “Pick Yourself Up.”

Despite being famous for romantic dances in long gowns with feathers,
for this dance Ginger Rogers is wearing a simple, black, midcalf-length dress— appropriate for her character as teacher.

Here are 4 minutes of cinematic gold.  Enjoy.

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First, the song with Dorothy Field’s lyrics.

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And here’s Fred & Ginger’s dance:

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Back to New York,
November 1945

So Jerome Kern and Dorothy Fields began work to turn Annie Oakley’s story into a Broadway musical.

Only three days into the project, Jerome Kern was walking down Park Avenue and collapsed with a brain hemorrhage. He died less than a week later.

Eventually, Irving Berlin agreed to write the music for the show. Dorothy Fields offered to step down as lyricist as Berlin usually worked alone on both words and music for his songs.+++
Instead, Dorothy worked with her brother Herbert Fields to create the story for the musical.

Annie Get Your Gun premiered on Broadway in 1946 starring Ethel Merman and ran for over a thousand performances. In London, starting the next year, it played for a thousand more.

Happy 115th Birthday
Dorothy Fields

– born July 15, 1904
in Allenhurst, New Jersey.


Linger Awhile:

Been thinking this week about the gift that music has given me over the years. Time and again, music has given me a place to feel at home.

At age 28, and at age 35, and again at age 38,
I moved to a brand new city where I knew almost no one.

Each time, one of the first things I would do,
certainly before I was done unpacking,
(am I ever done unpacking?)
in Ann Arbor, in Nashville, in Christchurch
one of the very first things I’d do,
was to find my place.

A place where, when I walk in,
they say, Welcome!

Then they ask, What are you?
And I know the answer.
I’m an alto, I say.
Altos are right here, they say, pointing.
And there I am. In my place.
At home in the alto section of a choir.

my school choir, Vacaville 1976
director: Velma Fruhling
(I’m there, in the alto section,
front row, third from right.)

“Half Cup More”

Speaking of song writing, I found this true story in my journal circa 1999:

The 6-year-old liked a game where one person hummed a song and everyone had to guess what song it was. Sort of a homemade ‘Name that Tune.’

It was the 4-year-old’s turn first.

4yo: (starts humming, then stops) Oh. This is the hard kind.
6yo: Okay.
4yo: (resumes humming)
me: Is it ‘I’ve Been Working on the Railroad’?
6yo: No, it’s a tune that he made up, and you have to make up words and if he thinks they’re good words for the song, he says: You’re right.
me: …??
6yo: (turning back to her brother) Okay, what’s the tune again?


Take-Away Box

Starting today, we must
pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off,
and begin again the work
of remaking America
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– inaugural speech of
President Barack Obama
January 20, 2009

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Nothing’s impossible I have found,
For when my chin is on the ground,
I pick myself up,
Dust myself off,
Start all over again.

– lyrics by Dorothy Fields
1936

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Thank you for reading!
Kelly J Hardesty

Thoughts? Questions?
Scroll down to the endand you can leave me a note!
Always so lovely to hear from you.
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You Can Read More…

lots o’ footnotes:

** There is one exception in these now-unknown Broadway shows:
A single song endures from the forgotten musical Mexican Hayride (1944),
which Dorothy and Herbert Fields wrote the book for,
with Cole Porter providing all the songs.
The song is “I Love You.” (Talk about a memorable title.)
It’s a jazz standard that’s been recorded by Bing Crosby,
Tommy Tucker, Jo Stafford, Perry Como, Billy Eckstine,
Frank Sinatra, Bill Evans, Art Pepper, John Coltrane,
Oscar Peterson, Keith Jarrett, Barbra Streisand

Supposedly, this boring title came from a bet that
“even Cole Porter couldn’t make a good song out of bad lyrics.”
His friend, the actor Monty Woolley, gave Porter the title,
as well as the most cliché line Woolley could think of:
“It’s spring again, birds are on the wing again.”

(This story is from Fred Reynolds in his 1986 book
about Bing Crosby called The Crosby Collection 1926-1977.)

Here’s Jo Stafford
singing the song that Cole Porter came up with
to win the bet.

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*** The Way You Look Tonight was the first of two Oscars
that Jerome Kern won for best song.
His second win was for The Last Time I Saw Paris
with lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II
for the movie Lady Be Good (1941).

Here is “The Way You Look Tonight”
sung by Billy Holiday:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6WIBx0ngZeQ

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++ I want to warn you that this is the movie
where, in a solo dance, Fred Astaire pays tribute to
his former dance teacher, John W Bubbles,
as well as to Bill ‘Bojangles’ Robinson,
both African-American tap dancers that Fred Astaire admired.
Unfortunately, Astaire chose to do this dance in blackface.

Here’s how the American Film Institute describes the dance:
‘Bojangles of Harlem’ is an instrumental piece,
a tribute to Bill ‘Bojangles’ Robinson.
Fred Astaire dances in the style of his one-time teacher John W Bubbles,
and Astaire is dressed like ‘Sportin’ Life,’ the character that
Bubbles played the year before in Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess.”
It is the only time on film that Fred Astaire wore blackface.
And once is way too many times.

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+++ from Broadway: The American Musical (2004)
by Michael Kantor and Laurence Maslon

STT-22

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© Kelly J Hardesty 2022

1 thought on “In Tune with the Times”

  1. I loved reading this post and listening to the songs and watching Fred and Ginger dance. Thanks for ending my day with a lot of smiles.
    Xoxo

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