Monthly Archives: November 2007

J25: Local songwriters, part III, Cole Porter found his voice at Worcester Academy

He is the songwriter’s songwriter, a genius, who is considered one of the first great American composers of popular song to seamlessly combine his words to his music. As Sammy Cahn once said: “When I met Cole Porter for the first time in my life, it was one of the great thrills for me because I think that he, alongside Irving Berlin, are the two most gifted men of American words and music – because they wrote both.”

Worcester certainly can’t claim Cole Porter as one of our own, but the fact is, he did spend his formative years here and by the accounts of his many biographers, this is where Porter began marrying melody to lyric. Dr. Daniel Webster Abercrombie, who was the headmaster of Worcester Academy before and after Porter’s tenure, is often attributed as the person who encouraged the young songwriter in that direction.

Charles Schwartz, in his biography on Porter, writes: “Harvard-trained, with a reputation among Worcester students and faculty as an enlightened but demanding pedagogue, Abercrombie turned out to be an important influence on Cole; in fact, practically a godsend for the youngster. Not only did Abercrombie respond to Cole’s avid attention in class and polite ways by taking a personal interest – almost as a substitute father would – in his progress at the school and his development as a human being, but he also influenced the youth’s future work as a lyricist-composer.

“Looking back on his stay at Worcester after he had established himself in the popular music field, Cole freely admitted that it was Abercrombie who first made him aware, by example, of the close correlation between meter and verse in the epic poems of Homer and other great Greek poets, of the importance of unifying music and text in his own popular songs. Speaking about the lesson learned from Abercrombie as it related to his own work, Cole said: ‘Words and music must be so inseparably wedded to each other that they are like one.’ Cole’s songs are a testament to this philosophy.”

Porter’s connection to jazz is equally inseparable. Consider the repertoire without such classics as “All of You,” “Every Time We Say Goodbye,” “From this Moment On,” “I Concentrate on You,” “I Get a Kick Out of You, “I’ve Got You Under My Skin, “I Love You,” “In the Still of the Night,” “Just One of Those Things,” “Love for Sale,” “Night & Day,” “What is This Thing Called Love?” and “You’d Be So Nice to Come Home To,” among others.

Singers also recognized Porter’s lyricism as indivisible between its poetics and song. “I particularly like Cole’s lyrics to sing because he made it fun to sing a song,” said Frank Sinatra. “He gave it a freshness. When I first would see one of his songs, the surprise of the couplet or the inner rhyme was always exciting to me. Consequently, when I worked in clubs – particularly in clubs – the material was fun to do because it was sophisticated enough for drunk audiences.”

Cole attended Worcester Academy from 1905 to 1909. That year the school’s registration numbered 240 students with 21 faculty members. Founded in 1834 as the Worcester County Manual Labor High School, the academy has a storied history with such prestigious and infamous alum as Abbie Hoffman, Congressman James McGovern, actor Charles Starrett (Durango Kid) and Charles Merrill, the founder of Merrill Lynch.

In a 2004 profile in the New Yorker magazine, titled King Cole: The not so merry soul of Cole Porter, writer John Lahr describes Porter’s state of being as he arrived in Worcester. He says that the composer’s entire life was one fashioned on not revealing his true self.

“From the moment in 1905 when the elfin fourteen-year-old from a powerful lumber and mining family in Peru, Indiana — the pampered and only surviving one of three siblings — arrived at Worcester Academy, in Massachusetts, with his paintings and an upright piano for his dorm room, he cast himself as a kind of dandy,” Lahr wrote. “The dandy’s strategy is to combine daring with tact, flamboyance with distance. Instead of breaking the rules, Porter learned to play with them. “At boarding school I was always taught,” he wrote in ‘I’m in Love,’ “not to reveal what I really thought, / Nor ever once let my eyes betray / The dreadful things I longed to say.”

In his book, The Life That Late He Led, another Porter biographer George Eells wrote this about Porter’s arrival at Worcester Academy: “From the first, he used his considerable array of talents – wit, music, energy, intelligence, enthusiasm and precocious conversational powers – to ingratiate himself with everyone from the headmaster’s wife to the athletic coach. It was typical of him that during his freshman year, having discovered picture postcards, he bombarded acquaintances with witty messages, even those classmates whom he saw every day.”

Porter excelled both socially and academically at Worcester Academy. He was a member of the drama, mandolin (music) and glee clubs. In his junior year, as a member of Sigma Zeta Kappa, the school’s debating society, he won the Dexter prize for public speaking and upon graduating, he was the class valedictorian.

If Porter was a favorite of the headmaster, it was Mrs. Abercrombie who became his patron. Schwartz wrote: “In her drawing room, she plopped a cushion on the piano stool (so that Cole could reach the keyboard) and sat enthralled as he played selections from MacDowell. Mrs. Abercrombie thought him brilliant and Cole soon realized that his musical accomplishments were to stand him in even better stead in Massachusetts than in Indiana. For after his success at the Abercrombies, he was often invited to faculty wives’ parlors where his good manners, worldly chatter and easy amiability delighted adults.”

While Porter reportedly wrote a number of tunes attending the school, sadly none of the pieces have ever been located. Schwartz wrote that Porter had his own upright piano in his living quarters where he played and sang popular tunes for his classmates. “Cole often amused friends with musical takeoffs on the more obvious
idiosyncrasies of faculty members as well as with renditions of risque tunes of his own … From all reports all these early smutty songs were particular favorites of Cole’s peers.”

According to Eells, Porter characterized the songs years later as the kind of material that was heard in second-rate dives. “But, in 1908 these songs garnered enormous popularity for him as he performed them privately for his classmates and the more liberal minded faculty members,” Eells said. “The only three numbers that he could recall in later years were “The Tattooed Gentleman,,” “Fi Fi, Fifi,” and The Bearded Lady.”

These bawdy tunes almost got Porter expelled. Evidently Headmaster Abercrombie caught wind of the off-color pieces and demanded that Porter play them for him. Legend has it that in the middle of “Bearded Lady,” Abercrombie was so outraged by what he had heard and forbade the composer to ever play the songs again.

Porter recounted the incident in the Eells biography. “My own peculiar talents in musical composition first came to light at Worcester,” he said. “I indulged in writing songs that today would be considered rather boring in any good café but then were damned as downright risqué. I sang them to assorted groups, including a select number of the faculty. Finally the headmaster called me in. After hearing one, he threatened me with expulsion if I wrote more. I continued writing, of course, and my friends said nothing about it.”

In 1983, Worcester Telegram & Gazette reporter Robert Connelly wrote about Porter’s near expulsion and his social life spent on campus. “Porter was known for entertaining his fellow students by banging out the songs of the day on the upright piano he had in his room,” Connelly wrote. “He also improvised many songs, most of which dealt with school life or contemporary issues.”

On the school’s Website under the heading of “History: Influential Alum” there is a profile of Porter. Frank Callahan, class of 71, Director of Planned Gifts at Worcester Academy, is singled out for his contribution to the article that reads: “Cole was small and not athletic, but he had an ebullient personality and gained many friends by playing tunes on the piano. Most classmates remember him either playing the upright in his room or playing the Chickering grand piano in the Megaron. His formal performances were with the school band, then called the Mandolin Club, but sometimes Cole wrote and performed on the Megaron piano comical impersonations of the faculty.”

Callahan is a kind of on-campus expert on Porter. A couple of years ago Callahan produced a video about the great American composer called Cole Porter at Worcester Academy and Beyond. He says the first few minutes include pictures of Porter in Worcester. The last 35 minutes are clips of his songs in the movies featuring such stars as Cary Grant, Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers, Lena Horne, Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, Grace Kelly, and more.

“I did it in anticipation of the movie, De-Lovely coming out,” Callahan says. “He is our celebrity alumnus, so I wanted to tell the students about him. I also have some clips from the first movie done about his life, called Night and Day, with Cary Grant. They do have Yale in it but nothing about Worcester Academy.”

Callahan also noted that the school has a Grammy Award on campus that the Porter family donated to Worcester Academy. “It’s for the best score in the movie, Can-Can. There’s also a piano here, that I know he played, in the attic of the gymnasium. We should do something to get that fixed. It’s in really bad shape.”

In addition to three aforementioned tunes, Porter also wrote the “Class Song” of 1909. Unfortunately, that tune is also among the missing.

In his four years at Worcester Academy, Porter rarely went home. During his stay in town he often ventured off campus. Callahan says, “You will hear stories about playing a piano on Germaine Street in a house of a family.”

In the school history of 1909 it mentions that socially, there were dancing classes held at Dean Hall in the city. “Seniors were given a reception at Piedmont Church. The Glee Club, under John W. Leydon, and the Mandolin Club, under Harold N. Cummings, gave concerts at Piedmont Church and at Shrewsbury High School, in addition to their annual concert on campus.”

William McBrien, in his book, Cole Porter, A Biography, wrote: Cole’s senior year is described in a history of Worcester Academy as a ‘great year.’ The boys were ‘thrilled by the singing of Geraldine Farrar [and] later they listened to two concerts by the Boston Symphony Orchestra and performances by Paderewski’ [no doubt at Mechanics Hall].”

Porter also tried his hand at acting, appearing in the commencement play as Bob Acres in Richard Sheridan’s The Rivals.” In a publicity photo, published by Worcester Academy, the caption reads: ‘Cole began his theatrical work as Bob Acres in The Rivals on Kingsley stage. At W.A., he started composing lyrics and the music for them for the entertainment of his friends among students and faculty.’”

The history also states, “Cole Porter starred again with a violin selection from Flotow’s opera Martha. Applause was prolonged, and as an encore, he sat down at the piano and sang … ‘original squibs on school life and faculty,’ which brought down the house. Never again would he be tied to the violin.”

In 2003, Robert C. Achorn, a former editor, publisher and president of the Telegram & Gazette wrote a terrific piece on Porter after the announcement of the making of De-Lovely, which at the time had the working title of Just One of Those Things.

Achorn opens with “At first glance, Cole Porter and Worcester are an odd mix. Porter was a small-town boy who lived most of his later years in a grand house in Paris, a palace in Venice and the Waldorf Towers in New York. But he warmed up for all that opulence with four years in Dexter Hall at Worcester Academy.

“Worcester bursts forth as the place he first attached clever lyrics to jaunty tunes and launched a career that ultimately produced 800 popular songs, many of them brilliant — songs such as “Night and Day,” “Begin the Beguine,” “Anything Goes,” “You’re the Top,” the entire glorious score of “Kiss Me, Kate,” and the classic pop number “Just One of Those Things” (“a trip to the moon on gossamer wings …”).

Achorn then proceeds to write that a half-dozen biographies of Porter tell certain stories about his Worcester years, but don’t answer all the questions. “Some mysteries have been solved,” he writes. “Some endure. Although Callahan doesn’t say so, it is conceivable that past academy movers and shakers were sometimes uncertain about the appropriate recognition for the school’s most famous graduate in its 170 years.

“There is no Cole Porter building on campus, no Cole Porter room. The archives from 1905 to 1909 — Porter’s time — cry for further indexing and study. When the academy created its Hall of Fame in 1976, the oh-so-famed Porter was not in the first group to be honored, or in the second. In fact, it took five years before his name was added to the 25 men and women already honored.

The harshest criticism Achorn fires at the school may be directed towards the fate of one of the pianos Porter played. “He was allowed to bring an upright piano into his dormitory room. He played it often for the enjoyment of fellow students,” he wrote. “At other times, he played classical works, and some of his own, on the Chickering grand piano in the Megaron recreation hall right behind Walker Hall on campus. The Megaron is still in rich use today, but the Chickering, replaced and in disrepair, collects dust in the attic. The contrast with the Waldorf-Astoria’s long-term zeal in keeping “Cole Porter’s piano” in a place of honor in its Peacock Alley restaurant may be suggestive of a campus attitude.”

Achorn lists a litany of reasons why Worcester Academy should proudly celebrate Porter. He also recognizes the contribution of Callahan, saying, “He is not the first academy staffer over the years to be interested in Porter, but he is determined to find answers that have eluded everyone… Unfortunately, neither Frank Callahan nor the Porter aficionados of past years have been able to track down the songs Porter wrote in his Worcester stay.”

Achorn said that Callahan still hopes that academy records will produce the “Class Song” Porter wrote for the June 1909 graduation. “It might be printed in the graduation program,” he wrote. “That at least could provide some hint of the quality of his work in Worcester.

In summation, Achorn wrote that the broader influence of Worcester and the academy on Porter is difficult to quantify. “Obviously, Abercrombie’s love of Greek language and tradition was significant. Porter’s later work is laced with references to Greek and Roman mythology, particularly in his 1950 musical Out of This World. So there were many influences here. Not all are clear and sharp. But Frank Callahan, with his growing collection of Porter material reflecting his interest, continues to follow every lead.”

J24: Local songwriters, part II, Joe Goodwin and John Redmond

Here again is a take on area tunesmiths, who, although could never be called jazz writers, found many an improvising artist covering their songs.

Joe Goodwin is the author of “When You’re Smiling,” one of Louis Armstrong’s earliest and most endearing hits. Goodwin was born in Worcester on June 6, 1889. He died in the Bronx on July 31, 1943.

According to the Internet Movie Database (IMDb), Goodwin was charter member of the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) since 1914. He was recognized as a songwriter during World War I, having written tunes for the Wildcats of 81st.

Goodwin, who was educated in Worcester Public Schools, next became a monologist in vaudeville and a manager for music a publishers. Parlor Songs, which features writings on popular songs from the 1800s to the 1920s, wrote that Goodwin continued to develop his songwriting craft as well.

Authors Richard A. Reublin and/or Robert L. Maine, write this about him: “As a lyricist, his output was relatively small but significant. He collaborated with the best that Tin Pan Alley had to offer, including George Myer, Al Piantadosi, Nat Ayer and Gus Edwards.”

In addition to “When You’re Smiling,” published in 1930, they also mention that Goodwin’s other popular works are “Baby Shoes” (1916), “Three Wonderful Letters From Home” (1918), “Tie Me To Your Apron Strings Again” (1925) “Everywhere You Go” (1927), which was recorded by Jimmy Dorsey and “Strolling Through The Park One Day” (1929).

IMDb talks about Goodwin’s contribution to film-music and the musical material that he wrote for London revues. Other popular songs credited to Goodwin include such long forgotten parlor songs as “That’s How I Need You,” “When You Play in the Game of Love,” “Liberty Bell It’s Time to Ring Again,” “I’m Knee Deep in Daisies” and “They’re Wearing ‘Em Higher in Hawaii.”

In his book, The Unsung Sonwriters: America’s Masters of Melody, author Warren W. Vache writes: “A number of [Goodwin's] songs have been successfully revived, and therefore well-known – possibly more now than when they were first published. A prime example is “Billy” (For When I Walk), published in 1911, with Goodwin collaborating with James Kendis and Herman Paley.

“Revived by Orrin Tucker with a vocal by Bonnie Baker on a Vocalion record in 1939, it was carried along to success by the sensational “Oh, Johnny, Oh Johnny Oh!” that Tucker and Baker recorded a few months later for Columbia.”

Vache also reports on another Goodwin song often covered by jazz artists. “In 1919 Goodwin, Ballard MacDonald, and James F. Hanley combined their talents on “Breeze” (Blow My Baby Back to Me), a tune that has endeared itself to jazz musicians with its interesting and moving melodic line and its hospitality towards improvisation. Illustrating this is the Bluebird recording by the irrepressible Wingy Manone.” Other jazz performers to cover the piece include Andy Kirk, Al Hibbler and Jess Stacy. Bix Beiderbecke recorded Goodwin’s “Hoosier Sweetheart,” Gene Krupa covered “I’d Love to Call You Mine” and Ray Noble waxed “On a Steamer Coming Over.”

Vache has done his homework on Goodwin. He details other songs by the Worcester lyricist such as “When I Get You Alone Tonight.” It was written with composer James F. Hanley and published in 1912. “Singer Dick Robertson, in his long series of Decca recordings aimed at jukebox trade, revived it in 1940, and it did very well,” writes Vache. “That same year Teddy Grace, one of the better female vocalists, recorded, “Gee, I Hate to Go Home Alone,” also for Decca, a 1922 collaboration between Goodwin, Joseph McCarthy, and Fred Fisher.”

On the tune, Grace is supported by an all-star cast called the Summa Cum Laude band, featuring tenor saxophonist Bud Freedman. Vache says the trend of Goodwin revival continued with “Everywhere You Go,” recorded by Guy Lombardo in 1949. Doris Day also later covered it.

As for Goodwin’s best known piece, “When You’re Smiling,” which was co-authored with Mark fisher and Larry Shay, Vache says, it was a song that never needed to be revived, because it never went out of style. “Introduced by Louis Armstrong, it quickly became a standard and has been played and recorded ever since. It was the title song for a 1950 movie [in a cast that included Frankie Laine, Bob Crosby and Kay Starr], and Frank Sinatra sang it in the film Meet Danny Wilson in 1952.”

Other jazz artitists recording the song include, Benny Carter, Nat Cole, Billie Holiday, Joe Williams and Lester Young.

John Redmond

Although not much is written about John Redmond, he is the author of “I Let a Song Go Out of My Heart,” one of Duke Ellington’s better known popular songs.

Born in Clinton on February 25, 1906, Redmond went on to publish more than 300 songs. In the late 1940s, he was featured in a Worcester Telegram & Gazette column called “They Made the Headlines,” a colorful little feature written by A. Phillips, complete with a portrait of Redmond and illustrations of the lyricist at different times in his career.

The piece mentions “I Let Song,” as well as other songs by Redmond, such as “The Gaucho Serenade [Paul Whiteman],” “Dream, Dream, Dream [The Mills Brothers],” and “You’re Breaking My Heart All Over Again [Tommy Dorsey with Frank Sinatra].” Glenn Miller recorded Redmond’s “Crosstown.” Fats Waller cut “Old Plantation.” Billie Holiday minted “Where is the Sun.” The Mills Brothers also documented “I Still Love You” and “Wish Me Good Luck Amigo” with Count Basie.

Redmond also wrote a novelty tune with Jackie Gleason called, “Hey Mr. Dennehy,” and penned “Massachusetts, My Home State” and “Old New England Town,” which have never been recorded. He also wrote songs with a score of collaborators, including Jack Berch, James Cavanaugh, Allan Flynn, Martin Fryberg, David Lee, Nat Simon, Jack Ward, Frank Weldon and Lawrence Welk.

Phillips also notes that a collection of 12 songs titled “Songs of Brotherly Love,” were being featured on the Jack Berk Show daily, heard over a national radio network. “After studying voice in New York, Redmond made his radio debut as a singer over WTAG Worcester,” Phillips wrote. “Later he sang over all networks out of New York on ‘Major Bowes Family Hour,’ ‘Music Festival Programs’ and others.” Phillips added that Goodwin served in the U.S. Navy during WWII doing rehabilitation work.

Penned with Ellington, Henry Nemo and Irving Mills, “I Let a Song Go Out of My Heart” was first recorded by the Duke Ellington Orchestra in 1938. A partial list of the singers who have recorded this great American standard includes, June Christy, Rosemary Clooney, Ella Fitzgerald, Al Hibbler, Mel Torme, Sarah Vaughn and Dinah Washington. Instrumental versions include recordings by Kenny Burrell, Count Basie, Erroll Garner, Benny Goodman, Lionel Hampton, Sonny Stitt, and Toots Theilemans.

J23: The Tin Pan Alley Tobias Brothers

The Tobias brothers were known as “The Esquires of Tin Pan Alley.” By no means could you call them jazz songwriters, but collectively their material has been covered by the likes of Bing Crosby, Jimmy Dorsey, Nat Cole, Ella Fitzgerald and Lou Rawls.

The Tobias name is remembered for penning such tunes as “Sweet and Lovely,” “Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree,” “Miss You,” “Comes Love,” “If I Had My Life to Live Over,” “It’s a Lonesome Old Town,” and the eternal summer novelty hit “Lazy, Hazy, Crazy Days of Summer.”

They were three songwriting brothers in a family of five boys who grew up on Harrison Street in Worcester. Out of the three, only Henry was actually born here. Brothers Harry and Charlie were born in New York City. Henry was the musician of the family, playing piano as well as being a prolific songwriter like his older brothers. He was also a recognized show-biz personality who shared stages with such legendary figures as Eddie Cantor, Milton Berle, Jimmy Durante and Sophie Tucker.

In addition to his music, Henry spent much of his career as social director and master of ceremonies at a host of famous Catskill resorts like Grossinger’s, Totem Lodge and Fontainbleau.

In his autobiography, Music in my Heart and Borscht in my Blood, published in 1987 by Hippocrene Books, Henry opened with memories of Worcester. In Chapter One, called “How it all started,” he wrote, “I was born in Worcester, Massachusetts, on April 23, 1905, and given the first name of Hyman, later changed to Henry for professional reasons. My father, Max, was a struggling tailor who had decided to leave New York several years before I was born and try his luck out of town.

“He chose Worcester because a fellow cloak-and-suiter had moved there and painted a pleasant picture of small-town life and steady work as compared to life in New York slums. I was the fourth boy in the family of five brothers. My three older brothers, Harry, Charlie and Nathan, were born in New York City. Milton was born 10 years after I was, in Worcester.

“Up until I was about 10 years-old, nothing unusual happened that I can remember other than that I led a very normal kid’s life – going to Providence Street School, living on the top of the hill near the Worcester Academy, enjoying the usual children’s pleasures: in the winter romping in the high snow, racing downhill with our double-runner sleds; in the summer going to White City at Lake Quinsigmond with the family. I recall my father teaching me to swim the breaststroke for the first time, getting my first taste of hero worship when I was introduced to Jess Willard, the heavyweight champ of the world, at the lake.

“My life has been so closely associated with show business that my memories really start with the first day I faced an audience. I was only nine years old and, like other kids attending Hebrew School, I had to recite a poem in my synagogue at the foot of Providence Street Hill. I chose the 23rd Psalm, ‘The Lord is My Sheppard.’

“That was my first appearance before an audience. I was petrified. The next big event of my life was when I met Eddie Cantor, but more about that in a later chapter. We moved back to New York City because my brothers Charlie and Harry chose songwriting as their careers and knew that they could accomplish their ambitions only in the big town.

“The folks bought a piano and Harry and Charlie encouraged me to learn to play. They said it would be nice if someone in the family could play music as they were both lyric writers.”

Henry’s book reaches through most of the 20th century – from Tin Pan Alley into the 1980s when he appeared in 1983 at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, DC, in a one-man concert, “A Tribute to the Royal Family of Tin Pan Alley.” Henry is credited with writing “Miss You,” which he wrote with his brothers Harry and Charlie. It was covered by, among others, Bing Crosby, Nat Cole and the Mills Brothers. He wrote “If I Had My Life to Live Over” with Moe Jaffe and Larry Vincent, and recorded by Lou Rawls. He and Don Reid composed “The Sleep Song,” which was recorded by Glenn Miller. Lastly, he penned “Moon on My Pillow,” with brother Charles and his son Elliot Tobias, recorded by Jimmy Dorsey.

When Harry Tobias died in 1994, James Dempsey, the long time columnist for the Worcester Telegram & Gazette wrote a column about the Tobias family. The piece was called, “Some tunes are hard to forget; Tin Pan Alley trio hit all the right notes.” He opened with “Harry Tobias died this month just one year shy of a century old. During his long inning here, he wrote more than 1,000 popular songs, providing material for musicians who ranged from vaudevillians to rock ‘n’ rollers. He lived in many places, including Worcester, New York and Los Angeles, but his real home was Tin Pan Alley.”

Dempsey wrote soulfully about the Tobias boys’ days spent on Grafton Hill saying, “The family settled into the second floor of a three-decker at 79 Harrison St., and it was there that Harry Tobias and his four brothers did their growing up. The older boys sold newspapers at Union Station to earn money. In summer they climbed the cherry tree in the back yard, and in winter sledded down the hills around Providence Street with a lookout at the bottom to make sure there were no carriages or cars coming. The old man who lighted the gas street lights every night outside the Tobias’ three-decker was later memorialized in “The Old Lamplighter,” a song by Harry’s brother Charles.”

Dempsey also reported that the Tobias family was related to great vaudeville singer Eddie Cantor. One night after performing at the Poli Theater on Pleasant Street, Cantor dropped by the Tobias’ Harrison Street apartment and the boys were bitten by the show-biz bug. At the time of Dempsey’s writing Henry was 89 and lived in West Hollywood. “In those days, you only used the parlor for important events like weddings and bar mitzvahs, and the most important event of my childhood was when Eddie Cantor came,” he told Dempsey. “That’s what made me want to be in the business.”

Dempsey said after the Cantor visit, Harry was so eager to get into the business that at the age of 16 he borrowed $25, then a small fortune, to have his first song published. He knew he was being taken, but even so he said later there was no thrill as great as that of seeing his name on a real piece of published music. To recoup the money, he sold the 200 copies around Worcester, knocking on doors and playing the song on the upright pianos that were then in almost every household. It was at this time he learned there were two parts to being a songwriter — composing the song, and then selling it.”

Dempsey reported that Harry Tobias wrote songs for 25 movies and several Broadway shows. He again quoted Henry who said, “Harry wrote at least a thousand songs. He wrote his first when he was working for the MacInnes department store (which was on Main Street opposite City Hall). He got fired for spending too much time on his lyrics. He sent $25 to one of these phony songwriting ads to have his first song published.” That was “National Sports,” a tribute to Harry’s boyhood hero Ty Cobb.”

According to the Big Bands Database Plus Website, Harry mainly worked with brother Charles. Other composers and songwriters that he collaborated with during his seven decades of writing include Harry Barris, Neil Moret, Percy Wenrich, Harry von Tilzer, Al Sherman, Jean Schwartz, Jack Stern and Gus Arnheim, with whom he penned the standard, “Sweet and Lovely.”

In his book American Popular Song: The Great Innovators 1900-1950, Alec Wilder wrote this about the song: “‘Sweet and Lovely’ (1931), by Gus Arnheim, Harry Tobias and Jules Lemare, impressed me mightily when it first appeared, due, I’m certain to its unusual harmony. Actually, its four-measure concentration on C-dominant seventh and its suspension should have irritated me somewhat. But looking at it after all these years I don’t know what else the writers could have done – in so far as they wanted such a beginning and they also wanted the F-dominant seventh in the fifth bar as well.

“What is particularly unusual is the B-flat major chord in the sixth measure, moving arbitrarily on in the seventh measure to a G-dominant chord. The release is even more innovative — here the song moves way out from its key center and
very deftly back.”

“Sweet and Lovely” is registered with ASCAP and list more than 100 performers recording the tune, including such heavyweights as Ella Fitzgerald, Erroll Garner, Dizzy Gillespie, Coleman Hawkins, Lee Konitz, Thelonious Monk, Gerry Mulligan, George Shearing , Art Tatum and McCoy Tyner.

Wikipedia has an entry on Charles. They report that he was born on August 15, 1898 in New York City, writing, “He started his musical career in vaudeville. In 1923, he founded his own music publishing firm and worked on Tin Pan Alley. Tobias referred to himself as “the boy who writes the songs you sing,” a title which he richly deserves.”

The Big Bands Database Plus Website also writes about him: “Lyricist Charles Tobias is mainly recalled today as a lyricist who was active from the mid-1920′s into the 1960′s. But he really was a very busy Keith-Albee vaudevillian.”

Dempsey’s, whose outstanding columns can be found online, archived on the Telegram‘s site, refers to Charles in a column called, “Street lamps solid fixtures of old charm; Gaslights brighten streets and hearts of residents.” He writes: Once, all public illumination in Worcester came from the city’s gaslights. They were tended by men who bore ladders, tapers and matches, and whose predictable evening rounds became a well-loved part of a neighborhood’s life. Old-timers will remember the song Worcester’s Charles Tobias wrote about the man who cared for the lights along the Harrison Street of Mr. Tobias’ childhood in the first decades of the century. The Harrison Street lights and their tender are long gone, but they live on in the words and music of “The Old Lamplighter.”