As March is Women’s History Month, we’ll dedicate Week Four of Jazz Goes to the Movies to a group of women that made major contributions to the earliest days of sound in film and to the Great American Songbook.
Dorothy Fields (1904-1974) began writing lyrics for songs and never seemed to stop as she would eventually compose the words for over 400 songs. “A Fine Romance” (music by Jerome Kern), “The Way You Look Tonight” (winning a Best Song Oscar in 1936 with music also by Kern), “Don’t Blame Me” (music by Jimmy McHugh) and “I’m in the Mood for Love” (also McHugh) are some of the best-known among them. In the 1960s she worked with composer Cy Coleman on the score to the Broadway musical “Sweet Charity” which included the song “Hey Big Spender”. She was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1971.
Composer and lyricist Nadine Dana Suesse (1911-1987) is a name largely forgotten today. She was a child prodigy as a pianist, giving her first concert at age 8. She composed the song “You Oughta Be In Pictures” which quickly became a hit for singer Rudy Vallee in 1934 and is still an invitation of sorts for those seeking fame and fortune in Hollywood. Among her other songs are “The Night is Young and You’re So Beautiful” (perhaps best known today from its appearance in the 1993 Mel Brooks film “Robin Hood: Men in Tights”) and “My Silent Love.” Many thought of her as the “girl” Gershwin.
Kay Swift (1897-1993) is best known for her songs “Fine and Dandy” and “Can’t We Be Friends.” Both continue to be used as background music in movies of today. Her autobiography was adapted into the film “Never a Dull Moment” (1950) starring Irene Dunne and Fred MacMurray. She wrote nine songs for it but only two were used. She had a long-term extra-marital relationship with George Gershwin which led to the eventual breakup of her marriage to banker James Paul Warburg. (Warburg wrote the lyrics to some of Swift’s songs under the pen name Paul James) Even into her 90s, she was able to play Gershwin’s music as George would have played it himself.
Dubbed the Queen of Tin Pan Alley by Irving Berlin, two of Bernice Petkere’s (1901-2000) songs have become jazz standards: “Close Your Eyes” and “Lullaby of the Leaves.” The KUVO library includes 85 versions of the former and 65 of the latter. Billed as “Baby Dolls”, she was a Vaudeville performer at the age of five. Her first published song “Starlight (Help Me Find the One I Love)” was made popular by Bing Crosby in 1931. She, along with lyricist Marty Symes, wrote “It’s All So New to Me” for M-G-M’s “Ice Follies of 1939” starring Joan Crawford and Jimmy Stewart.
Be sure to tune in to a very special edition of the Wednesday Night Beat with Doug Crane for Week Four of Jazz Goes to the Movies on Wednesday, March 22, beginning at 8 pm.
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