Composed by Ann Ronell “Willow Weep for Me” was introduced by vocalist and whistler Muzzy Marcellino performing with Ted Fio Rito and His Orchestra in 1932. Their Brunswick recording entered the pop charts December 3, 1932, and rose to number 17.
Later in 1932, Paul Whiteman and His Orchestra’s Victor recording with singer Irene Taylor topped the charts at number two. More than 30 years later in 1964, “Willow Weep for Me” reemerged on the pop charts thanks to British duo Chad and Jeremy.
Whether Ted Fio Rito or Paul Whiteman introduced “Willow Weep for Me” is a matter of some dispute. Ann Ronell originally sold the song directly to Paul Whiteman, who presumably performed it first. Fio Rito, however, had the edge by two weeks in introducing the song to the public at large.
Ronell dedicated “Willow Weep for Me” to George Gershwin, the composer who helped her get her start in the music industry. In Joan Peyser’s Gershwin biography, The Memory of All That: The Life of George Gershwin, Ronell is quoted as saying, “George was sacred to me. He was my idol. I became like a sister to the family and was his protege.”
Though a highly evocative song, “Willow Weep for Me” is unusually vague for a lament. Throughout its A-A-B-A format, there are few hints as to the exact cause of the heartbreak. The singer asks of the willow tree, “weep for me,” “bend your branches,” “whisper to the wind,” and “murmur to the night.”
Within the second “A” section there’s a wisp of a clue as to the cause of the melancholy: “Gone my lover’s dream, lovely summer’s dream.”
Notable covers include recordings by Art Tatum, Sarah Vaughn, and Louis Armstrong.
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