Composer Johnny Green wrote the music for several songs that went on to become staples of the jazz-and-popular-song canon, including “Body and Soul,” “Out of Nowhere,” and “I Cover the Waterfront.” Born in New York City on October 10, 1908, he went to Harvard at the age of 15, did some early arranging work for Guy Lombardo, and notched his first hit with “Coquette.” After an unhappy turn as a stockbroker, Green abandoned Wall Street in favor of songwriting and penned many of the tunes for which he’d gain fame, as well as leading his own orchestra throughout much of the 1930s.
Green spent much of his later career in Hollywood, working as an arranger, conductor, and filmscore writer. He was particularly proud of the theme song that he wrote for the adaptation of Ross Lockridge Jr.’s novel Raintree County, even telling an interviewer that he ranked it above “Body and Soul” as his favorite work.
“The Johnny Green Songbook, Part 1,” which originally aired last year as an Afterglow program, includes Nat King Cole’s “Song of Raintree County,” Lester Young’s take on “I Cover the Waterfront,” Ella Fitzgerald doing “Body and Soul” in concert, Dinah Washington with “I Wanna Be Loved,” and Charlie Parker on “Out of Nowhere.” I’m posting it here on the Night Lights site in honor of what would have been his 100th birthday.
Watch Johnny Green at the piano in a 1930s film short.
Listen to The Johnny Green Songbook Part 2
Watch Nat King Cole sing “Song of Raintree County” on his 1950s television show: