MUSIC CLIP - OSCAR PETERSON, “MOONGLOW”
Welcome to Afterglow, [a show of vocal jazz and popular song from the Great American Songbook], I’m your host, Mark Chilla.
This week on the show, we’re exploring the work of two early 20th century songwriters: Walter Donaldson and Gus Kahn. Both songwriters were born in the 19th century and didn’t live past the 1940s, but they wrote some of the most enduring songs from the American Songbook. As a pair, they penned some of the biggest hits of the 1920s, including “Makin’ Whoopee” and “Yes, Sir, That’s My Baby.” But they also wrote separately, contributing to songs like “Little White Lie,” “Dream A Little Dream of Me,” and “It Had To Be You.” We’ll explore their extensive catalog this hour.
It’s The Songs Of Donaldson And Kahn, coming up next on Afterglow
MUSIC - HARRY NILSSON, “MAKIN’ WHOOPEE”
Pop singer Harry Nilsson from his 1973 album of standards titled A Little Touch of Schmilsson in the Night. That was the 1928 Walter Donaldson and Gus Kahn tune “Makin’ Whoopee,” with a witty arrangement there by one of the greats, Gordon Jenkins. Nilsson was often a little too sardonic for his own good, so naturally his wit was perfectly suited to the vaudeville innuendo of Gus Kahn’s lyrics to “Makin’ Whoopee.”
MUSIC CLIP - STAN GETZ AND CAL TJADER, “MY BUDDY”
Mark Chilla here on Afterglow. On this show, we’re exploring the songs of composer Walter Donaldson and lyricist Gus Kahn, two songwriters whose work dates back to the early days of the 20th century.
Gus Kahn was actually born not in America, but in Germany in 1886, before emigrating to Chicago when he was still a kid. He started writing songs for vaudeville when he was only 20 years old, and later wrote Tin Pan Alley tunes (although he refused to permanently settle in New York City). Walter Donaldson, on the other hand, was born into a musical family in Brooklyn in 1893, and after a brief dalliance in the world of finance, started writing songs for Tin Pan Alley around 1915.
The two first paired up in the early 1920s, and had their first hit together in the year 1922, a song that’s since gone on to be recorded over 100 times over the decades. Let’s hear a version now that comes from 1951.
This is Mel Tormé with the Donaldson and Kahn song “My Buddy,” on Afterglow.
MUSIC - MEL TORMÉ, “MY BUDDY”
MUSIC - ETTA JONES, “YES SIR, THAT’S MY BABY”
Two early songs from the songwriting team of Walter Donaldson and Gus Kahn. Just now, we heard the tune “Yes Sir, That’s My Baby” originally written in 1925. That recording comes from singer Etta Jones, the opening track of her 1960 album Don’t Go To Strangers. Before that, we heard Mel Tormé and arranger Nelson Riddle in 1951 with the song “My Buddy,” written in 1922.
Composer Walter Donaldson and lyricist Gus Kahn teamed up a few more times over the next decade, working together through 1935. The pair wrote one successful Broadway musical together in the year 1928. The musical was titled Whoopee, and was based on a play titled The Nervous Wreck by Owen Davis (which had also been made into a silent film a few years earlier). The show was a success not just because of the songs, but also because it was a showcase for one of the biggest stars at the time Eddie Cantor. Cantor helped introduce these songs into the canon, including the song “Makin’ Whoopee” and this next one.
Here is the Donaldson and Kahn song “Love Me Or Leave Me,” as performed by Nina Simone on her 1959 debut album, on Afterglow.
MUSIC - NINA SIMONE, “LOVE ME OR LEAVE ME”
MUSIC - NINA SIMONE, “MY BABY JUST CARES FOR ME”
Two songs from the 1959 Nina Simone album Little Girl Blue, Simone’s debut album for Bethlehem Records. We heard “Love Me Or Leave Me” and “My Baby Just Cares For Me.” Both of those songs were written by songwriters Walter Donaldson and Gus Kahn for the musical Whoopee, starring Eddie Cantor. “Love Me Or Leave Me” comes from original 1928 stage version of the musical for Broadway, and “My Baby Just Cares for Me” was written for the 1930 film version of the musical.
MUSIC CLIP - THE BUDDY DEFRANCO QUINTET, “MAKIN' WHOOPEE!”
After a short break, we’ll hear more songs written by composer Walter Donaldson and composer Gus Kahn, although songs they did not write as a pair, stay with us.
I’m Mark Chilla, and you’re listening to Afterglow
MUSIC CLIP - FATS WALLER & HIS RHYTHM, “LOVE ME OR LEAVE ME”
Welcome back to Afterglow, I’m Mark Chilla. We’ve been exploring the songs of Gus Kahn and Walter Donaldson this hour, two songwriters who worked both together and apart. And this next song is the most widely performed song by either songwriter. It’s got lyrics by Gus Kahn, music by Isham Jones, and it’s been recorded over 400 times over the decades, including this famous version from 1989. This is Harry Connick Jr with “It Had To Be You,” on Afterglow.
MUSIC - HARRY CONNICK, JR., “IT HAD TO BE YOU”
MUSIC - FRANK SINATRA, “THE ONE I LOVE (BELONGS TO SOMEBODY ELSE)”
Two songs by Gus Kahn and Isham Jones. Just now, we heard Frank Sinatra in 1959 with “The One I Love Belongs To Somebody Else,” written in 1923. And before that, Harry Connick, Jr. and the song that made him a star. That was him in 1989 from the soundtrack to the classic romcom When Harry Met Sally, performing the Gus Kahn and Isham Jones song “It Had To Be You.” Kahn wrote that song with Jones in 1924 and it was one of the best-selling songs that year.
The partnership Gus Kahn had with composer Isham Jones rivals that of the one he had with composer Walter Donaldson. They wrote many enduring hits as a pair, including the song “The One I Love Belongs To Somebody Else,” “Swinging Down The Lane,” “On The Alamo,” and this next dreamy tune.
This is Anita O’Day in 1956 with the Gus Kahn and Isham Jones song “I’ll See You In My Dreams,” on Afterglow.
MUSIC - ANITA O’DAY, “I’LL SEE YOU IN MY DREAMS”
MUSIC - JULIE LONDON, “YOU STEPPED OUT OF A DREAM”
MUSIC - THE MAMAS AND THE PAPAS, “DREAM A LITTLE DREAM OF ME”
A trio of dreamy songs with lyrics by Gus Kahn. Just now, some of Kahn’s dreamiest lyrics, “Dream A Little Dream of Me.” That was the famous 60s pop version by The Mamas and The Papas, featuring “Mama” Cass Elliott in 1968. Before that, Julie London in 1960 with “You Stepped Out Of A Dream,” co-written by composer Nacio Herb Brown. And starting that set, Anita O’Day in 1956 with “I’ll See You In My Dreams,” co-written by Isham Jones.
Gus Kahn passed away in 1941, but in his more than 30 years in the music business worked with almost every major composer of the day, including Jerome Kern, Vincent Youmans, Bronislaw Kaper, Richard Whiting, Harry Warren, and many more. He’s also one of the few lyricsts who worked with both of the Gershwin brothers. Let’s hear their song that all three of them wrote together in 1929 for the Broadway musical Show Girl.
This is Chris Connor in 1957 with “Liza (All the Clouds'll Roll Away),” on Afterglow
MUSIC - CHRIS CONNOR, “LIZA (ALL THE CLOUDS’LL ROLL AWAY”
MUSIC - NAT KING COLE, “I’M THROUGH WITH LOVE”
Two songs with lyrics by Gus Kahn. Just now, Nat King Cole and the King Cole Trio in 1945 with the song “I’m Thru With Love,” co-written with Matty Malneck and Fud Livingston in 1931. Before that, Chris Connor in 1957 with “Liza (All The Clouds’ll Roll Away),” co-written with George and Ira Gershwin in 1929.
We’ve been exploring the songs of lyricist Gus Kahn and composer Walter Donaldson this hour, two early 20th-century songwriters who often worked together, but not always. Donaldson didn’t team up with as many other songwriters as Kahn did, likely because Donaldson was often self-sufficient.
On several occasions, Donaldson would write his own lyrics, including on this next song, which he wrote in 1930 originally for a young Ethel Merman.
Here’s a version from about a decade later, an early song for Ella Fitzgerald and Chick Webb’s band. This is Ella Fitzgerald in 1939 with “Little White Lies,” on Afterglow
MUSIC - ELLA FITZGERALD, “LITTLE WHITE LIES”
MUSIC - MAVIS RIVERS, “AT SUNDOWN”
MUSIC - DORIS DAY, “MY BLUE HEAVEN”
Some songs with music by Walter Donaldson. Just now, we heard Doris Day with “My Blue Heaven,” a radio transcription from 1952. Donaldson wrote that with vaudeville star George Whiting in 1927, and it became a huge seller in the 20s both in terms of sheet music and phonograph record sales. Before that, Mavis Rivers in 1960 with “At Sundown,” a song Donaldson wrote alone, also in 1927. And first in that set, another Donaldson solo song “Little White Lies,” performed by Ella Fitzgerald and Chick Webb in 1939.
One of the things I find interesting about the songs of Walter Donaldson and Gus Kahn is that, since they are all relatively simple tunes, and since many of them have been around for nearly a century, they’ve been performed many times over the decades in many styles. As we’ve heard this hour, their reach goes beyond just jazz. We’ve heard recordings of their songs by Harry Nilsson and The Mamas and The Papas. Their songs even helped form the roots of rock and roll.
Here’s a recording from 1956, featuring rock ‘n’ roll pioneer Big Joe Turner, along with his fellow Kansas City boogie woogie icon Pete Johnson, performing Walter Donaldson’s “You’re Driving Me Crazy,” on Afterglow.
MUSIC - BIG JOE TURNER, “YOU’RE DRIVING ME CRAZY”
Singer Big Joe Turner and pianist Pete Johnson, two Kansas City boogie woogie pioneers, teaming up in 1956 on the album The Boss Of The Blues, and performing a song that songwriter Walter Donaldson wrote in 1930 for the Broadway musical Smiles. That was “You’re Driving Me Crazy (What Did I Do?)”
Thanks for tuning in to this look at the songs of songwriters Walter Donaldson and Gus Kahn, on this edition of Afterglow.
MUSIC CLIP - J.J. JOHNSON AND KAI WINDING, “YES SIR, THAT’S MY BABY”
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