MUSIC CLIP - OSCAR PETERSON, “MOONGLOW”
Welcome to Afterglow, I’m your host, Mark Chilla.
This week on the show, my spotlight is on one of the most prolific lyricists in the American Songbook—Dorothy Fields. From the 1920s through the 1970s, Fields worked alongside some notable composers to pen over 400 songs, establishing herself as the foremost female songwriter of her generation. This hour, we’ll explore her work with composers like Jerome Kern, Jimmy McHugh, and Cy Coleman, and sample from her songbook, which includes treasures like “Pick Yourself Up” and “They Way You Look Tonight.”
It’s A Fine Romance: The Dorothy Fields Songbook, coming up next on Afterglow
MUSIC - JUNE CHRISTY, “REMIND ME”
June Christy in 1960 from her album Off-Beat with the song “Remind Me,” music by Jerome Kern, lyrics by Dorothy Fields.
MUSIC CLIP - DAVE BRUBECK, “A FINE ROMANCE”
Mark Chilla here on Afterglow. On this show, we’re exploring the songbook of lyricist Dorothy Fields
Dorothy Fields was born in New Jersey in 1905, the daughter of notable vaudeville comedian Lew Fields. Although her father didn’t want his children to follow him into the family business, the young Dorothy caught the show business bug young, and began to sing, play piano, and write songs when she was studying at the Benjamin School for Girls in New York City. She never attended college, but instead started writing poetry and performing in New York as a singer in review shows. She sang in one review in 1920 that featured songs written by Rodgers and Hart (she even dated Richard Rodgers briefly when they were young).
It was composer J. Fred Coots who recognized Fields’ talent, encouraging her to go into songwriting, and introducing her to her first musical partner: Jimmy McHugh.
MUSIC CLIP - TEDDY WILSON, “I CAN’T GIVE YOU ANYTHING BUT LOVE”
McHugh asked Fields to help him write lyrics for songs he was composing for Harlem’s famous Cotton Club, a storied all-white venue which featured some of the most notable African-American performers at the time. After finding success at the Cotton Club, the two went on to write the music for their first big hit, the African-American musical Blackbirds Of 1928, which produced several notable hit songs.
I’ll play two now. First up, here is Louis Armstrong, a decade after he made the first definitive version of this song. This is him in 1939 with the Jimmy McHugh and Dorothy Fields song “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love,” on Afterglow
MUSIC - LOUIS ARMSTRONG, “I CAN’T GIVE YOU ANYTHING BUT LOVE”
MUSIC - ELLA FITZGERALD, “I MUST HAVE THAT MAN”
Ella Fitzgerald and her Famous Orchestra in 1943 with “I Must Have That Man,” a song written by Jimmy McHugh and Dorothy Fields in the musical Blackbirds Of 1928. Before that, Louis Armstrong in 1939 with another song from that musical “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love.” McHugh and Fields are officially credited with that song, but composers Andy Razaf and Fats Waller have also claimed to have written it.
Dorothy Field and Jimmy McHugh became in demand as songwriters as the 1930s began. Their next significant hits came with the Lew Leslie musical International Revue from 1930. Although the musical was a flop, it did produce two memorable songs. Let’s hear them now.
First up, a perennial pick-me-up. This is Frank Sinatra with the McHugh and Fields song “On The Sunny Side of The Street,” on Afterglow.
MUSIC - FRANK SINATRA, “ON THE SUNNY SIDE OF THE STREET”
MUSIC - BING CROSBY, “EXACTLY LIKE YOU”
Two songs from the 1930 Dorothy Fields and Jimmy McHugh musical International Review. Just now, we heard Bing Crosby in 1957 from the album Bing With A Beat performing “Exactly Like You.” Before that, Frank Sinatra in 1961 from the album Come Swing With Me with “On The Sunny Side Of The Street.”
After their success on Broadway in the late 1920s, Dorothy Fields and Jimmy McHugh, along with many Broadway composers of their day, traveled west to contribute their talents to Hollywood. The two became reliable songwriters for many MGM musicals in the 1930s, including Dancing Lady, Every Night At Eight, You’re An Angel, and Hooray For Love.
Let’s hear a song from one of those MGM musicals now, 1935’s Every Night At Eight. This is Doris Day in 1952 with “I’m In The Mood For Love,” on Afterglow
MUSIC - DORIS DAY, “I’M IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE”
Doris Day, from a radio transcription in 1952 with Jimmy McHugh and Dorothy Fields’ “I’m In The Mood For Love.”
Around 1934, Dorothy Fields began to work with other composers out in Hollywood, notably a fellow East Coaster who had made his way out there too, Jerome Kern. Kern’s 1933 hit musical Roberta was being made into a film, and Kern tasked Fields to help him write a new song for the film, as well as adapt some of the older songs he had previously written with lyricist Otto Harbach. The new number was the song “Lovely To Look At,” which earned Fields an Academy Award nomination for Best Song in 1935.
Let’s hear that song now, as performed by one of the co-stars of the film Roberta. This is Fred Astaire in 1952 with “Lovely To Look At,” on Afterglow.
MUSIC - FRED ASTAIRE, “LOVELY TO LOOK AT”
MUSIC - PEGGY LEE, “I WON’T DANCE”
Two songs from the 1935 film musical Roberta, with lyrics by Dorothy Fields and music by Jerome Kern. First in that set was Fred Astaire, the co-star of that film, with “Lovely To Look At.” That comes from the 1952 album The Astaire Story, featuring Oscar Peterson on piano. And just now, Peggy Lee in 1963 with “I Won’t Dance,” a song that originally was featured in a musical written by Kern, Oscar Hammerstein, and Otto Harbach, although Dorothy Fields helped punch up the lyrics.
MUSIC CLIP - MARIAN MCPARTLAND, “I WON’T DANCE”
Coming up in just a moment, we’ll hear more music written by Dorothy Fields, including more songs she wrote with Jerome Kern. Stay with us.
I’m Mark Chilla, and you’re listening to Afterglow.
MUSIC CLIP - KING COLE TRIO, “DON’T BLAME ME”
MUSIC CLIP - ROY ELDRIDGE, “THE WAY YOU LOOK TONIGHT”
Welcome back to Afterglow, I’m Mark Chilla. We’ve been exploring the Dorothy Fields songbook, and where we left off, we were discussing her work with composer Jerome Kern. Kern and Fields collaborated for only a brief stretch in the mid 1930s, writing songs for several film musicals. And although their time together was brief, many of the best songs from both of their catalogs come from these few years.
Their biggest success came in 1936 on the Fred Astaire-Ginger Rogers film Swing Time, which in addition to producing dazzling dance sequences, created several hit songs, including one that won the Academy Award for Best Song in 1936.
Here’s that tune now, as performed by Frank Sinatra in 1964. This is Jerome Kern and Dorothy Fields’ “The Way You Look Tonight,” on Afterglow
MUSIC - FRANK SINATRA, “THE WAY YOU LOOK TONIGHT”
MUSIC - BILLIE HOLIDAY, “A FINE ROMANCE”
Two songs from the 1936 Astaire-Rogers musical Swing Time, with lyrics by Dorothy Fields and music by Jerome Kern. Just now, Billie Holiday in 1955 with “A Fine Romance” and Frank Sinatra in 1964 with “The Way You Look Tonight.” Some great lyrics in both of those songs by Fields. I love, in particular, some of the imagery in “A Fine Romance” like: “You're calmer than the seals In the Arctic Ocean. At least they flap their fins to express emotion.” Or some of the nuanced rhymes in “The Way You Look Tonight,” like rhyming “awfully low” with “feel a glow” or “smile so warm” with “nothing for me.” It’s delicate and careful in its craft, but natural in its delivery.
Swing Time was ripe with songs, in fact. Here’s another one from that musical. This Ella Fitzgerald with Dorothy Fields’ words of wisdom “Pick Yourself Up,” on Afterglow.
MUSIC - ELLA FITZGERALD, “PICK YOURSELF UP”
MUSIC - SYLVIA MCNAIR, “YOU COULDN’T BE CUTER”
Two songs with music by Jerome Kern and words by Dorothy Fields. Just now, we heard Sylvia McNair and Andre Previn in 1994 with “You Couldn’t Be Cuter,” from their Jerome Kern songbook album Sure Thing. That song comes from the 1938 musical Joy Of Living. Before that, Ella Fitzgerald and Nelson Riddle in 1962 with “Pick Yourself Up.” That comes from the 1936 musical Swing Time.
After a brief but successful partnership with Jerome Kern, Dorothy Fields changed the path of her career slightly. In the 1940s, she and her brother Herbert Fields wrote the books to several notable musicals, including Mexican Hayride by Cole Porter and Annie Get Your Gun by Irving Berlin, although they didn’t contribute any songs. She did continue writing songs, mostly in the late 40s and early 1950s, working with several composers, including Sigmund Romberg, Morton Gould, and most notably Arthur Schwartz. While her songs with Schwartz may not be as memorable as those with Jerome Kern or Jimmy McHugh, a few have been recorded over the years by other artists. Let’s hear one now.
This is Dinah Washington in 1955 with the Dorothy Fields and Arthur Schwartz song “Make The Man Love Me,” on Afterglow
MUSIC - DINAH WASHINGTON, “MAKE THE MAN LOVE ME”
Dinah Washington in 1955 from her album For Those In Love, arranged by Quincy Jones. That was the Arthur Schwartz and Dorothy Fields song “Make The Man Love Me,” originally from the 1951 musical A Tree Grows In Brooklyn.
Not many songwriters can claim to have made significant contributions to the American songbook both in the 1920s AND in the 1960s, but Dorothy Fields was not just any songwriter. In 1966, Fields (now in her 60s) teamed up with composer Cy Coleman (still in his 30s) to write the songs for the new musical Sweet Charity starring Gwen Verdon. The musical was a smash hit, and earned Fields and Coleman a Tony nomination. She and Coleman collaborated again in 1973 for her 19th and final Broadway production Two For The Seesaw. She died in her home the following year at age 69.
To close out this hour, let’s hear one of the songs from Sweet Charity, although a song that was only included in the film version of the show a few years later, starring Shirley McLain. This is New York cabaret legend Bobby Short with the Cy Coleman and Dorothy Fields song “My Personal Property,” on Afterglow
MUSIC - BOBBY SHORT, “MY PERSONAL PROPERTY”
Cabaret singer Bobby Short at his favorite haunt the Cafe Carlyle in 1995 with “My Personal Property,” a song by Dorothy Fields and Cy Coleman, from their musical Sweet Charity. That comes from Short’s album Songs Of New York.
Thanks for tuning in to this Dorothy Fields edition of Afterglow.
MUSIC CLIP - BENNY GOODMAN SEXTET, “ON THE SUNNY SIDE OF THE STREET”
Afterglow is part of the educational mission of Indiana University and produced by WFIU Public Radio in beautiful Bloomington, Indiana. The executive producer is John Bailey.
Playlists for this and other Afterglow programs are available on our website. That’s at indianapublicmedia.org/afterglow.
I’m Mark Chilla, and join me next week for our mix of Vocal Jazz and popular song from the Great American Songbook, here on Afterglow.