Sunday, December 27, 2009

Why This Blog? Who Is Harry Who?

My name is Chuck Prentiss. I am a Singer-Songwriter, and a member of ASCAP, who spent most of my years in Manhattan, and am now living in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

All my life, I have admired the songs of Harry Warren, since I first discovered that he wrote most of the wonderful songs for the Gold Diggers movie musicals of the 1930's, for those fabulous Busby Berkeley spectacles, and for so much more. I am constantly astonished that the name of Harry Warren is so little known, especially since everybody knows so many of his songs. He is one of the most successful American songwriters of the 20th century.

It's as though, in the 19th century, everyone could sing all those great Stephen Foster songs, without ever knowing the name of the man who wrote them.

Harry Warren was so amazed at his lack of name recognition by the general public that he used to call himself "Harry Who?"

Harry Warren was born in Brooklyn, New York on December 24, 1893 -- Christmas Eve. He was a Christmas gift to the world. He was one of eleven children of Italian immigrants, and was christened Salvatore Anthony Guaragna. By the time he started attending school, his name had been changed by his older sisters to Harry Warren. He died in Los Angeles, California, on September 22, 1981 -- nearly 88 years old -- and is interred in the Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery in Los Angeles.

During his 88 years, Harry Warren wrote many of America's most popular songs. In fact, 42 Harry Warren songs reached the Top Ten of Your Hit Parade -- more than any other songwriter. Irving Berlin ranks a distant second, with 33 songs in the Top Ten. No one else even came that close. Warren wrote three Academy Award winning Best Songs, and a total of eleven songs that were nominated for Oscars.

As a composer of melodies, Warren collaborated with many of America's finest lyricists, including Al Dubin, Mack Gordon, Johnny Mercer, Leo Robin, Jack Brooks, Harold Adamson, Leo McCarey, Ira Gershwin, Billy Rose, Mort Dixon, Sam M. Lewis, Joe Young, Edgar Leslie, Irving Kahal, Mack David and Gus Kahn.

He wrote the music for most of Hollywood's Busby Berkeley spectacles of the 1930's. In addition, his songs were introduced or performed by such stars as Dick Powell, Ruby Keeler, Al Jolson, Eddie Cantor, James Cagney, Glenn Miller, Tex Beneke, Carmen Miranda, Betty Grable, Alice Faye, Joan Blondell, John Payne, Ruth Etting, Helen Morgan, James Melton, Joe E. Brown, Kenny Baker, Rudy Vallee, Dolores Del Rio, The Mills Brothers, Dorothy Dandridge, The Nicholas Brothers, Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers, Gene Kelly, Judy Garland, Dean Martin, Jerry Lewis, Phil Silvers, Milton Berle, Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, Nat King Cole, and many others.

Glenn Miller's recording of Harry Warren's "Chattanooga Choo Choo" sold over a million copies, was the first Gold Record in History, and was Number One on Your Hit Parade on December 7, 1941, the day Pearl Harbor was bombed.

Warren's score for the movie "42nd Street", in 1933, launched the Golden Age of Hollywood musicals, and he lived to see that 1933 movie turned into a hugely successful Broadway show in 1980, featuring more than a dozen of his songs. That 1980 musical was revived as a smash hit on Broadway several years ago -- even now in the 21st century.

The purpose of this Blog is to assemble in a single place all the different You Tube postings of Harry Warren songs, so people can experience in one place his enormous talent. As much as possible, I have tried to post the original movie presentations of the songs, so viewers can recapture the full experience of how these songs first exploded into the world.

I wish I could have found on You Tube Jimmy Cagney's amazing performance of "Shanghai Lil" in 1933 [nearly ten years before the world discovered in 1942's "Yankee Doodle Dandy" what a superb Song and Dance Man Cagney was]; -- or good video recordings of "Remember Me", "Young Folks Should Get Married", "You Gotta Know How To Dance", "Rose of the Rio Grande", "Cryin' For The Carolines", "By The River Sainte Marie", "Ooh, That Kiss" and "The Girl Friend of the Whirling Dervish".

Well, maybe in time, those clips will show up.

Yet, even where the video is nothing more than a spinning old 78 RPM recording, it's still a treat to listen to those wonderful timeless Harry Warren songs.

In the meantime -- Behold and Be Amazed. You are about to enter the world of America's Greatest Unknown Composer: Harry Warren. Harry Warren may be Unknown. But no one will ever be able to say that about his songs.

1 comment:

  1. Hello, I am British, and aged 63. I have a life long interest in America's great songwriters, lyricists and composers of the 20's, 30's, and 40's, Harry Warren wrote brilliant tunes.

    But why, in generaL, are'nt all these songwriters, composers, and lyricists, from America's past, celebrated and honoured ?

    Thank you
    Michael UK