“The Song is You” – composed by Jerome Kern, with lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein – debuted in the 1932 Broadway musical, “Music in the Air.”
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As a result of the Great Depression and disputes with theatrical unions, “Music in the Air” closed after 342 performances, but not before “The Song is You” gained renown in the musical community.
In the Broadway show, the tune is introduced by Tullio Carminati and Natalie Hall, who portray a composer and a glamorous operetta star, respectively. After spending two acts paired with incompatible suitors, the duo discover their passion for one another and are reunited at the end of the second act, at which point they perform “The Song is You.”
Hammerstein’s lyrics depict the chemistry between the lovers, proclaiming, “I hear music when I look at you/ A beautiful theme of every dream I ever knew/ Down deep in my heart, I hear it play/ I feel it start then melt away.”
According to Hugh Fordin’s biography of Hammerstein, “The Song is You” was one of the Kern’s favorite melodies. After penning the melody, Kern called Hammerstein to have him play it over the phone. Fordin claims that “The Song is You” is cited as a masterpiece of theater songwriting due to the skillful manner in which it “combines a romantic mood with a comic one.”
Wilder, another critic, contends that the song “moves gracefully, and the release is masterful. Up to the release there is no particular harmonic interest, but in the release both the harmony and the melody are brilliant. It is clear that the melody in this section is conditioned by the harmony and truly needs its support.”
Though “The Song is You” experienced an initial smattering of recordings in 1933 and 1934, it did not gain real traction until 1945 with popular renditions by Glenn Miller, Tommy Dorsey, and Claude Thornhill.
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