Some of my audiences enjoy hearing a little background information about each song before I play it: when it was written and by whom, how it came to be. So I’m always on the lookout for music history anecdotes to share.
When I played “As Time Goes By” recently, I figured everyone already knew that Dooley Wilson performed it in Casablanca, so I added a couple of lesser-known facts: First, during the piano sequences in Casablanca, you see Dooley’s character Sam playing the keyboard, but you actually hear pianist Elliot Carpenter, playing offscreen. My second factoid is this: 11 years before the 1942 film, “As Time Goes By” was introduced by Frances Williams in a long-forgotten Broadway musical, Everybody’s Welcome.
Then I announced, reading from my sheet music: “Words and music by Herman Hupfeld.” Who?
I’d never heard of him; my listeners hadn’t either.
Hupfeld is what some call a “one-hit wonder” among composers of American standards. He wrote only one successful song, the musical equivalent of Gone With the Wind for Margaret Mitchell or To Kill a Mockingbird for Harper Lee.
Here are a few others who belong to the same unfortunate one-hit club:
- Herbert (“Happy”) Lawson: “Anytime”
— Lawson recorded the song himself in 1925, but the best known version is Eddie Fisher’s from 1952.
- George Bassman: “I’m Getting Sentimental Over You”
— Bassman orchestrated a lot of music for film and theatre, but wrote only a few songs himself, including this one in 1932, with lyrics by Ned Washington. Washington was most definitely not a one-hit wonder. He wrote the lyrics for many other successful songs of the era, including “The Nearness of You,” “My Foolish Heart,” and “Stella by Starlight.”
- Ruth Lowe: “I’ll Never Smile Again”
— Canadian pianist Lowe wrote this song in 1939, when her husband died only one year after their wedding. It was an early hit for Frank Sinatra, with the Tommy Dorsey orchestra.
- William Mayhew: “It’s a Sin to Tell a Lie”
— Mayhew is an obscure figure in music history, and doesn’t appear to have composed anything else. Fats Waller recorded a fast, swinging version of this song in 1936, and took some liberties with Mayhew’s lyrics.
- Donald Yetter Gardner: “All I Want for Christmas Is My Two Front Teeth”
— Music teacher Gardner wrote this novelty Christmas song in 1944, inspired by a room full of lisping second-graders, missing their front teeth. A couple of years later, it was a #1 record for Spike Jones and his City Slickers.
- Eily Beadell and Nell Tollerton: “Cruising Down the River on a Sunday Afternoon”
— Beadell and Tollerton composed this for a 1945 British amateur songwriting contest. They won, and by 1949 their entry was a top hit in the United States.
- Savannah Churchill: “I Want to be Loved, But by Only You”
— Singer Churchill wrote and recorded this #1 hit in 1947 with the Sentimentalists (later known as The Four Tunes).
- Erroll Garner: “Misty”
— A self-taught pianist who never learned to read music, Garner is known mostly for his lush interpretations of other people’s compositions. He wrote this jazz standard in 1954; the words by Johnny Burke came later.
Treat yourself to four minutes of Garner’s elegant pianism as he plays “Misty”:
Copyright © 2014 by Paulette Bochnig Sharkey
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