A twinkly gentleman named Lee passed away in February, and that got me thinking about signature songs. Bob Hope had “Thanks for the Memory”; “Minnie the Moocher” conjures up Cab Calloway. Who can hear “Over the Rainbow” without Judy Garland coming to mind? Sophie Tucker’s personal anthem was “Some of These Days.” Mary Ford and Les Paul are forever linked with “How High the Moon.”
Big band–era orchestras, too, had signature songs. For Artie Shaw’s group, it was “Begin the Beguine. ” For Tommy Dorsey, “I’m Getting Sentimental Over You.” Glenn Miller used “Moonlight Serenade.”
Some bands claimed more than one theme song. Les Brown, for example, used both the obscure “Leap Frog” (1941) and the better-known “Sentimental Journey,” written in 1944 by Brown, Ben Homer, and Bud Green. Benny Goodman’s orchestra played a signature opening, “Let’s Dance,” as well as a closing number, “Goodbye” by Gordon Jenkins.
In the cowboy song genre, Bob Nolan’s “Tumbling Tumbleweeds” became the theme of the Sons of the Pioneers.
One Wednesday, I ended my program at Lee’s assisted-living facility with the wistful 1946 standard “Tenderly,” signature song of Rosemary Clooney.
Lee wholeheartedly supported my volunteer pianist efforts for years. It was always a pleasure to look out from my place at the piano and see him in my audience. His ruddy, alert face seemed permanently set to “smile.” Early on in our talks, he told me he used to be an accordion player, even performed with his own group.
“Tenderly” was my theme song.
He watched me in quiet anticipation, waiting while I processed what he’d said. It took me a minute to get it. Oh, of course: Tender Lee. It suited him.
Copyright © 2015 by Paulette Bochnig Sharkey
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