Theatre Songs

Spreadin' Rhythm Around


The black Afro American influence if not performance was total in Minstrelsy and black performers were the strength of Vaudeville but the Broadway Theatres were white and a resisting bastion. 

The original popular Musicals were perhaps, Gilbert & Sullivan from 1878. HMS Pinafore (1878) and The Mikado (1885)

And there was music in plays. 'Yankee Doodle Dandy' from the play 'Little Johnny Jones' written by George M Cohan. The play opened at the Liberty Theater on November 7, 1904.

Broadway did 'shows' ... entertainment ... but the theatre songs and music came out of Vaudeville ... there were 'Music Halls', 'Burlesques', 'Revues', 'Follies', 'Scandals', 'Gaieties', 'Hitchy-koos' and 'Passing Shows' ... 

By 1900 Broadway was a glittering prize for all musical aspirants and a few blacks dared. Nobody could stop spreadin' rhythm around ...

Prior to 1920 Bert Williams was the only 'crossover' star, he was co-opted by Ziegfeld in 1910. And only three black composers were know to the general public; James Reese Europe, Will Marion Cook and W C Handy. There were no black equivalents to Jolson and Cantor but there were delights. A charming graceful era.

The black shows had - zest, verve, snap, jazzy music and hot dance; 'speed shows'.

A Trip to Coontown (1898) was the first musical comedy entirely produced and performed by African Americans in a Broadway theatre (largely inspired by the routines of the minstrel shows). Bob Cole & Billy Johnson produced this the first all black review-like musical, an evening of coonery.

Bob Cole (1868-1911) and J Rosamond Johnson (1873-1954) providers of great songs for Broadway for 10 years. Cole produced 120 songs working with Broadway producers and Tin Pan Alley publishers.

Clorindy the Origin of the Cakewalk (1898) followed and was a hit at the Casino Theatre Roof Gardens, a Will Marion Cook (1869-1944) show tinged with ragtime and highly successful. 'Hottest Coon in Dixie', 'Who dat say Chicken in dis Crowd', 'Darktown is Out Tonight', 'I'm Coming Virginia'. A big orchestra played syncopated music with Ernest Hogan in the lead. Williams & Walker included the song 'Senegambian Carnival'.

In Dahomey (1902), a success with Williams & Walker, was a full length Broadway show. 'Swing Along'.

Hits - 'Bon Bon Buddy', 'Rain Song', 'Exhortation', 'Lovie Joe'

Shuffle Along (1921) black performers broke the mould. Eubie Blake and Noble Sissle with Paul Robson, Adelaide Hall, Josephine Baker in the chorus; 'Love will Find a Way', 'I'm Just Wild about Harry'

Chocolate Dandies (1924) - 'Dixie Moon'

Plantation Days (1922) James P Johnson was musical director, then 'Raisin' Cain'.

Runnin' Wild (1923) with Cecil Mack and 'Charleston'! The rest is history!
'Snowy Morning Blues' 1927. 'Keep Shufflin'' 1928 with Fats and Andy Razaf. 'Messin' Around' 1929.

Andy Razaf (1895-1973) lyrics with Fats Waller, he was a flip and jaunty black lyricist. 450 songs to his credit. 'Ain't Misbehavin'', 'Honeysuckle Rose', 'When You're Tired of Me', 'Squeeze Me', 'Louisiana', 'Dusky Stevedore', 'Keepin' Out of Mischief Now', 'The Joint is Jumpin'' ...

Were 'I Can't Give You Anything but Love' and 'On the Sunny Side of the Street' written by Waller/Razaf?

1929 what a year! 'Hot Feet', 'Hot Chocolates', 'Ain't Misbehavin'', 'Black and Blue', 'S'posin'', 'Honeysuckle Rose'. 

With Joe Davis, 'Blue Turning Grey Over You'.

With James P, 'A Porter's Love Song to a Chambermaid'. Lyrics were also written to Big Band songs like 'In the Mood' or 'Tar Paper Stomp' or 'Hot and Anxious'. 1922 'Birmingham Blues', 'Muscle Shoals Blues', 1923 'Wild Cat Blues' with Clarence Williams, 1924 'In Harlem's Araby'. Organist at the Lafayette. With Spencer Williams 'Charleston Hound', 'Senorita Mine'. 1927 'Brown Sugar' revue. 1928 'Keep Shufflin'', 'Sippi' piano duet with James P. 1929 'Connie's Hot Chocolates', 'Ain't Misbehavin'' with Louis.

1929 'I've got a Feeling I'm falling'. 'Load of Coal' and 'Honeysuckle Rose'. 1930 'Blue Turning Grey over You'. 1931 Fats sings 'I'm Crazy 'bout My Baby'. 1932 'Keepin' Out of Mischief Now'. 'Jitterbug Waltz', 'Black & Blue', 'Squeeze Me'. The Fats Waller Rhythm Club and The Ink Spots! Recording with 'His Rhythm'. 1942 after European tours finally Carnegie Hall. And 1943 Hollywood 'Stormy Weather'. Radio and Hollywood had taken over ... 

In 1920 there was only Bert Williams, by 1930 there were 10 leading black showmen, singers and dancers who put zip into the 'revues'!

Williams was followed by Florence Mills, Ethel Waters, Adelaide Hall and Edith Wilson. Fats dominated the 'black' 'Indian Summer' on Broadway but his fame came from recordings ... and radio. 

The European influence was around.

Victor Herbert (-) European trifles - 'Babes in Toyland' songs not integrated into the play story.

Rudolf Friml (1879-1972)
1924 'Rose Marie', 'Indian Love Call'
1925 'The Vagabond King'

Sigmund Romberg (1887-1951) born in the Austro Hungarian empire.
1920 'Sinbad'. Jolson had to sing 'Swanee' not a Romberg song!
1924 'The Student Prince', a German Prince in Heidelberg!
1926 'The Desert Song'
1928 'The New Moon', 'Lover Come Back to Me'

But all this was old hat European operettas and by 1929 the Afro American traveling shows and sheet music industry was ailing, the phonograph had taken over and there was 'free' music on National Radio from 1928 which contributed to the demise? And then there was the movie?!

Joe Burke (1884-1950) from Philadelphia, was a silent movie pianist. He wrote 'Painting the Clouds with Sunshine' with Al Dubin for 'Gold Diggers of Broadway' in 1929.
Many hits different lyricists. 'Oh How I Miss You Tonight' (1924), 'Tiptoe Through the Tulips' (1929), 'Carolina Moon' (1929), 'Moon Over Miami' (1935), 'It Looks Like Rain in Cherry Blossom Lane' (1937) and 'Rambling Rose' (1948).

1927 Showboat premiered at the Ziegfeld Theater

A new Golden Age of theatre songs started with 'Showboat' in 1927 as the great Jewish songwriters took over.

1933 As Thousands Cheer, the first musical with an African American star: Ethel Waters.

1940s highlighted hits from Cole Porter, Irving Berlin, Rodgers & Hart, Weill & Gershwin

1943 Oklahoma 

1941 Watch on the Rhine Lillian Hellman

Guys and Dolls, Peter Pan, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, The Boy Friend (Julie Andrews), My Fair Lady and the Music Man

1957 West Side Story

Hair sparked the rock musicals of the 1970s including: Jesus Christ Superstar, Godspell, and The Rocky Horror Show

 1957 West Side Story

1960 The Fantasticks 

1967 Hair   

1975 A Chorus Line

1985 Les Misérables

1986 The Phantom of the Opera   

1994 Rent 

2001 The Producers  

2003 Wicked  


The 2nd generation musicals of the immigrant Jews

Jerome Kern (1885-1945) - the 1st & the best. Kern created the modern Broadway Show, with square dance rhythms and jazz swing.
 700 songs for Broadway and Hollywood. An anglophile New Yorker with real English lyrics from P G Wodehouse. The 'Reviews' (with the high kickers), 'Music Hall (Vaudeville)', 'Burlesque' (cheap & lewd) and 'Operettas' (classy London fakes with no Afro American inputs) were superseded by musicals. Kern was thoroughly trained, an 'academic', but comically inept at the piano. Lyrics by P G Wodehouse (1917-24), were light & Gilberty, then came Hammerstein, sentimental crap, Harbach, Dorothy Fields, for Astaire & Rodgers, lastly Johnny Mercer. Songwriting became a respectable profession. Irving Berlin sired Tin Pan Alley but Jerome Kern made the Broadway Musical, the others followed. He went to London in 1904 and learned his craft, 'How'd you Like to Spoon with Me'. By 1912 he had contributed 100 plus songs to more than 30 shows.
1914 'The Girl from Utah', 1st masterpiece, an English import - 'They didn't Believe Me', non pretentious intimacy. 'Look for the Silver Lining' with Marilyn Miller.
1917 'Oh Boy' - 'Till the Clouds Roll By'
1920 'Sally', the rain songs - 'Sunny', 'Who?'
1925 'Sunny' - with Ukulele Ike,
1927 'Show Boat', 1st great American musical, on the Mississippi with marches, banjos, ragtime and blues - 'Ol' Man River', 'Can't Help Lovin' that Man', 'Make Believe', 'Why do I Love You', 'You are Love', 'Bill', 'Why was I Born'
1929 'Sweet Adeline' - 'Smoke gets in Your Eyes', 'I won't Dance'
1933 'Roberta' - 'A Fine Romance', 'The Way You Look Tonight', 
1936 'Swingtime' with Rodgers & Astaire - 'All the Things You Are'
1939 'Very Warm for May', one of the greatest - 'The Song is You'

Irving Berlin (1888-1989) - immigrant Jew, the common man, a natural, a busking bum, a singing waiter, with a lever to change key! 5 decades of American music. Was he ragtime, vaudeville, Souza marches, Tin Pan Alley ... or all the above? ... easy to sing ... easy to remember.

'Sadie Salome', 'What'll I Do', 'Heat Wave', 'Easter Parade', 'Blue Skies', 'God bless America', 'Everybody's doing It', 'Marie', 'Always', 'How Deep is the Ocean', 'Cheek to Cheek', 'Top Hat White Tie & Tails' ...
1914 'Watch Your Step' - 'Play a Simple Melody',
1935 'Top Hat' - 'Let's Face the Music & Dance'
1936 'Follow the Fleet' - 'I've got My Love to Keep Me Warm'
1937 'On the Avenue' - 'White Christmas,'
1942 'Holiday Inn' - 'There's No Business Like Show Business',
1946 'Annie get Your Gun' - 'Anything You can Do I can Do Better'
1950 'Call me Madam' -
1953 'As Thousands Cheer' - 'Easter Parade', 'How's Chances', 'Heat Wave'

Cole Porter (1891-1964) - the greatest who wasn't a Jew. A rich boy from Indiana with expensive tastes from Boarding School to Yale, to his love of Paris and the Riviera. 'Old money' rich parties, a millionaire with a homosexual bent. Lyrics by himself (as did Berlin & Noel Coward) enabled instantaneous composition of words & music. Self invented energy of eternal youth.
'Kiss Me Kate', 'Every Time we Say Goodbye', 'Don't Fence Me In', 'What is this Thing Called Love', 'In the Still of the Night'
1928 'Paris' - his first hit show. 'Love for Sale', 'You Do Something to Me', 'Let's Misbehave', 'Let's Do It'.
1930 'The New Yorkers' -
1932 'The Gay Divorce' - 'Night & Day', 'I get a Kick Out of You', 'All Through the Night', 'You're the Top',
1934 'Anything Goes' - 'Just One of Those Things, 'Begin the Beguine' 
1935 'Jubilee' - 'I get a Kick Out of You', 'In the Still of the Night',
1936 'Born to Dance' - 'Get Out of Town', 'My Heart Belongs to Daddy', 'I've got You Under My Skin'
1938 'Leave it to Me' -'I concentrate on You'
1940 'Broadway Melody' - 'You'd be so Nice to Come Home To' a minor key WWII song.
1943 'Something to Shout About'
1948 'Kiss Me Kate' - his best
1953 'Can Can' - 'It's All Right with Me;
1956 'High Society'

Harry Warren (1893-) With Al Dubin and from 1940, Mack Gordon. A hit machine on the radio from 1930s to late 1950s. Failed on Tin Pan Alley then made it with -
1932 'Forty Second Street' a Warner Musical. Then - 'Gold Diggers of 1933', 'Moulin Rouge', 'Twenty Million Sweethearts', 'Dames', 'Gold Diggers of 1935', 'Broadway Gondolier', 'Shipmates Forever', 'Gold Diggers of 1937', 'Mr Dodd Takes the Air' ... all miracles from Hollywood ... the movies were hopeless but the songs magic.
He didn't write for Broadway, an invisible man. 'Rose of the Rio Grande' 1922, 'Chattanooga Choo Choo', 'Jeepers Creepers', 'Lullaby of Broadway'. He wrote for maybe 77 movies at 5 songs per film; all of them had durability & beauty.

Jimmy McHugh (1894-1969) with Dorothy Fields.

1928 'Blackbirds of 1928' - 'I can't Give You Anything but Love', 'I can't Believe You're in Love with Me', 'On the Sunny Side of the Street', 'Don't Blame Me', 'I'm in the Mood for Love', 'Exactly Like You' 
1930 successive 4ths & wide range

George Gershwin (1898-1937) - learned from a player piano, a potential concert pianist, caught the energy of jazz, played 'stride' piano, brought the American song to full flower, a song plugger inspired by Kern & Berlin's 'Alexander's Ragtime Band'. Ira wrote the lyrics. George Gershwin died early only 38 years old.
1918 Al Jolson in 'Sinbad' - 'Swanee', 'Lady be Good', 'Fascinating Rhythm', 'The Man I Love'
1920 'George White Scandals' - 'I'll Build a Stairway to Paradise' and flat blue notes.
1924 'Lady be Good' - 'Someone to Watch Over Me'
1924 'Rhapsody in Blue' for Paul Whiteman at only 26
1927 'Oh Kay' - 'Embraceable You',
1927 'Funny Face', Fred Astaire debut  - ''s Wonderful', 'Lisa'
1928 'An American in Paris' - 'Summertime'
1930 'Girl Crazy', Ginger Rodgers debut, the jazz standards - 'I got Rhythm', 'A Foggy Day', 'They can't Take that Away from Me', 'Shall we Dance'
1930 'Strike Up the Band' -
1931 'Of Thee I Sing' -
1933 'Let Them Eat Cake' -
1935 'Porgy & Bess' - a folk opera breaking the mould.
1937 'Shall we Dance', 'Damsel in Distress'. 'Love is Here to Stay', 'Love Walked In'
1938 'Goldwyn Follies' -

Vincent Youmans (1898-1946) a rare Christian sapped by TB, rivaled Gershwin and Rodgers during the 1920s but left only a few standards. No regular lyricist.

1923 'Wildflower' -,
1925 'No No Nanette' - 'Tea for Two', 'I Want to be Happy', 'Sometimes I'm Happy'
1926 'Oh Please' -
1927 'Hit the Deck' - 'Hallelujah'
1928 'Rainbow' -
1929 'Great Day!'  -
1930 'Smiles' - 

Hoagy Carmichael (1899- ) studied law and became a great exception, a product of rural America and writer of individual songs, not Broadway shows. Hoagy wrote about the Wabash, rather than love. He wrote fluid lines up and down the chords not the repeated notes of the city. His influence was Bix.
'The Nearness of You'. 'Lazy River', 'Riverboat Shuffle'. 'Memphis in June', 'Skylark' & ' Lazybones' with Johnny Mercer. 'Ole Buttermilk Sky',
1927 'Freewheeling' - 'Rockin' Chair'
1929 'Stardust' with Mitchell Parish, 'Georgia on my Mind', 'Two Sleepy People' with Frank Loesser.
1929 1930 1938 with Frank Leosser

Arthur Schwartz (1900-84) - educated as a lawyer. Lyrics by Howard Dietz. A class act. Less prolific than the others but left a few elegant standards from 1929, less raucous than the typical 1920s. 
'Dancing in the Dark', 'Alone Together', 'You the Night and the Music', 'I See Your Face before Me', 'A Gal in Calico', 'Haunted Heart' ...
The shows -
1930s The Second Little Show -
1930s Three's a Crowd - included Johnny Green's 'Body and Soul'
1930s Revenge with Music
1932 Flying Colours - 'Louisiana Hayride',
1937 Between the Devil - 'By Myself'.
1951 A tree Grows in Broklyn -
1953 The Band Wagon - 'A Shine on My Shoes', 'I guess I'll have to Change my Plan', 'New Sun in the Sky', 'I Love Louisa', 'That's Entertainment'.

Richard Rodgers (1902-79) reaped massive commercial benefit, with lyricists, Lorenz Hart (1885 - 43) in innocent love songs with wit and buoyancy & Oscar Hammerstein (1943-60) in theatre with middle aged music. 1935-42 were the golden years with Hart and 10 musicals. Inspired by Jerome Kern, although songs poured out of them Rodgers & Hart went for the longest time nowhere. Met in 1919 but 6 years before 'Manhattan' ...
'Fly with Me', 'Blue Moon', 'With a Song in My Heart', 'I wish I were in Love Again', 'The Song is You', 'Mountain Greenery', 'You Took Advantage of Me'
1925 'The Garrick Gaities' - 'Manhattan', 'There's a Small Hotel',
1926 'The Girl Friend' -
1927 'A Connecticut Yankee' -
1932 'Jumbo'
1936 'On Your Toes' - 'My Funny Valentine', 'The Lady is a Tramp', 'I Wish I were in Love Again',
1937 'Babe in Arms' - 'Bewitched Bothered & Bewildered',
193? 'I'd rather be Right
193? 'I Married an Angel', '
193? 'The Boys from Syracuse'
193? 'Too Many Girls',
193? 'Higher and Higher'
1940 'Pal Joey' -
194? 'By jupiter'
1943 'Oklahoma' - with Oscar Hammerstein, 'Oh What a Beautiful Morning', 'You'll Never Walk Alone', 'People will Say we're in Love', 'Surry with the Fringe on Top',
1945 'Carousel' -
1949 'South Pacific' -
1951 'The king & I' - 'Shall We Dance', 'Hello Young Lovers',
1958 'Flower Drum Song' -
1959 'The Sound of Music' -

Vernon Duke (1903- )
'April in Paris', 'Taking a Chance on Love'

Harold Arlen (1905-86) with Ted Koeler & E Y Harburg & Johnny Mercer - a pianist, singer & arranger from Buffalo. To New York in the late 1920s as a singer, then writer of the 'Arlen sound', those blue melodic lines. Mercer was consistently his best lyricist, with trains and rural images that sang with colloquial swing. Johnny was from the south and started as a singer with Paul Whitemen.
1930 'Get Happy' - Ruth Etting.
1932 'It's only a Paper Moon' with Yip Harburg. Jazz improvisers favourite.
1933 'Cotton Club Parade' - 'Stormy Weather' - then for the Cotton Club; 'Ill Wind', 'I've got the World on a String'. 'Between the Devil & the Deep Blue Sea', 'As Long as I Live'.
1939 'Wizard of Oz' - 'Over the Rainbow' with an octave jump, 'If I only had a Brain', 'Ding Dong the Witch is Dead'.
1942 'That Old Black Magic', a marvelous little snapper, 'Let's Fall in Love'. 'Blues in the Night' with Johnny Mercer, the vernacular poet.
1940s 'Bloomer Girl'
1940s 'St Louis Woman
1940s 'House of Flowers'

Johnny Green (1908-89)
'Coquette' 1928, 'Body & Soul' 1930, 'Out of Nowhere' 1931, 'I Cover the Waterfront' 1933, 'I Wanna be Loved' 1933.
Hired by Guy Lombardo. Jean Goldkette. Paul Whiteman.

Jule Styne (-) with Sammy Cahn. A piano prodigy. Born in England, settled in Chicago. From Hollywood to Broadway.
1949 'Gentlemen Prefer Blondes' - 'Diamonds are a Girls Best Friend'
1959 'Gypsy' - with Stephen Sondheim. 'Everything's Coming Up Roses'

Jimmy van Heusen (1913-90) - 'But Beautiful', 'Come Fly with Me' and the Road songs.
Paired with Sammy Cahn by Frank Sinatra in 1954 'Love and Marriage'

Harry Warren

Harry and Jimmy stayed in Hollywood.

Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim were something else; heavyweights.
1957 'West Side Story'

Frank Loesser (1910-69) was steeped in classical music from his father. He had a fabulous ear. Lyrics first then songs. Initially he had 'a rendezvous with failure'. From Tin Pan Alley to Hollywood to Broadway.
'Two Sleepy People' & 'Heart & Soul' with Hoagy, 'Slow Boat to China' 1948, 'Baby it's Cold Outside' 1949.
1948 'Where's Charley' -
1950 'Guys & Dolls' -
Big smoker who died of cancer at 59.

Frederick 'Fritz' Loewe (-) with Alan Jay Lerner who wrote the lyrics.
'Paint your Wagon',
1956 'My Fair Lady',
1958 'Gigi',
1960 'Camelot'

Vernon Duke (-) aka Vladimir Dukelsky. 'I Can't get Started'

Ray Henderson (-) - with B G DeSylva & Lew Brown.
'Follow Thru'
'Good News' - 'The Varsity Drag'
'Sunny Side Up' - 'If I had a Talking Picture of You'

The Brits were around too - Jack Buchanan (1891-1957) 'And her Mother Came Too',  'The Band Wagon', Ivor Novello (1893-1951) 'Keep the Home Fires Burning', 'And her Mother Came Too', Noel Coward (1899-1973) ... but the money was on Broadway and in Hollywood.

Then the telly and electronic entertainment.

Clemences closed in 1965, the volume was turned up and the lyrics didn't matter.

Andrew Lloyd Webber (-) 'Cats' ran for 18 years. 

... and then the Rock Mega Musicals

... and Jonathan Larson (-) & 'Superbia' & 'Rent' - Incities & Outs (transfixed with Fake Noos 'entertainment' from their iPhones in their couch cocoon!)

'American Popular Song: the great innovators 1900-50' by Alec Wilder, 1972.

Ella Fitzgerald sang the 'songbooks' ...

and Frank Sinatra sang everything from 1939 with Harry James and still at it in the 1990s.

A list ... and a name this show Christmas Quiz still popular in 2021 !

Musicals QuizA Trip to Chinatown (1891)
El Capitan (1896) John Philip Sousa
A Trip to Coontown (1898)
In Town (1892), London
Gaiety Girl (1893), London
Belle of New York (1898)
Irene (1919)
Lady Be Good
No, No, Nanette
Oh, Kay!
Funny Face
Shuffle Along (1921)
Show Boat (1927)
Band Wagon (1931)
On Your Toes (1936)
Babes In Arms (1937)
Boys From Syracuse (1938)
Hellzapoppin (1938)
Of Thee I Sing (1931)
As Thousands Cheer (1933)
Porgy and Bess (1935)
Oklahoma (1943)
Carousel (1945)
South Pacific (1949)
King and I (1951)
Sound of Music (1959)
Annie Get Your Gun (1946)
Kiss Me, Kate (1948)
Guys and Dolls (1950)
Call Me Madam (1950)
Paint Your Wagon (1951)
My Fair Lady (1956)
Boy Friend (1954)
Salad Days (1954)
West Side Story (1957)
Gypsy (1959)
Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (1962)
Fiddler on the Roof (1964)
Pajama Game (1956)
Damn Yankees (1957)
Hello, Dolly (1964)
Funny Girl (1964)


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