March is Women’s History Month. Week Four of Jazz Goes to the Movies makes note of the contributions of a group of four women composers and lyricists 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” and (music by Jimmy McHugh) “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”.
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” 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). She wrote nine songs for it but only two were used. She had a long-term relationship with George Gershwin which, depending upon what book you read about it, was borderline platonic or lascivious. 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, songs by Bernice Petkere (1901-2000) are currently performed and recorded by musicians including Kurt Elling, Charlie Hunter, Mary Stallings, and Queen Latifah. Her best-known songs include “Close Your Eyes” and Lullaby of the Leaves.” She was a Vaudeville performer as a child. Her first published song “Starlight” was a hit for Bing Crosby in 1931.
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 23, beginning at 8 pm.
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