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42nd Street: Harry Warren and the Golden Age of the Hollywood Musical
Harry Warren

Harry Warren at the piano. Photo courtesy of lastfm.

One of the most prolific popular songwriters of the 20th century, Harry Warren had a long life and a productive career. Warren published over 900 songs covering almost every popular music style. Between 1935 and 1950 twenty-one of his songs made it to #1 on the radio show Your Hit Parade. He won eleven Academy Award Best Song nominations and three Oscars. His piece "Chattanooga Choo Choo" sold over a million copies, making it the first gold record in history.

 

Harry Warren. Photo courtesy harrywarren.com

In spite of his achievements and unlike other popular composers of the era (George Gershwin and Irving Berlin), Harry Warren's name was practically unknown to the American public at the peak of his career.

 

When asked why, Harry joked, "Even my best friends don't know who I am." He went on to explain, "At the Academy Awards show in 1936 when they gave me an Oscar for 'Lullaby of Broadway,' I had trouble getting past the security guard. On the very first record I ever made, 'Rose of the Rio Grande,' they left my name off the label."

 

This week Riverwalk Jazz celebrates Harry Warren's towering musical legacy. The Jim Cullum Jazz Band welcomes to the stage of the Crest Theatre in Sacramento the Chicago-based jazz trombonist Russ Phillips.

 

"Chattanooga Choo Choo" record label image courtesy Wikimedia.

Born Salvatore Anthony Guaragna in Brooklyn, NY in 1893 Harry Warren started out in the music business as a song-plugger for a Tin Pan Alley publishing firm. After his initial success in 1922 with "Rose of the Rio Grande" he produced a steady stream of hits such as the now-standard jam session tune "Nagasaki" and collaborated with top lyricists Gus Kahn and Kalmar & Ruby.

 

1932 saw Warren's career rise to new heights. He was asked to score the movie musical 42nd Street with lyricist Al Dubin. The phenomenal success of this movie led to a decades-long career scoring movie musicals in partnership with Dubin. The Warren and Dubin legacy produced the popular Gold Diggers series, Dames and many others. Together they created enduring songs like the Gold Diggers theme "We're in the Money " and "I Only Have Eyes for You."

 

Jazz musicians have always been attracted to Harry Warren songs as vehicles for improvisation. Bix Beiderbecke, Fats Waller, Benny Goodman, George Shearing and Dave Brubeck are among only a handful of top jazz artists to record Harry Warren compositions. This week The Jim Cullum Jazz Band and trombonist Russ Phillips perform Harry Warren's memorable standards, including "Lulu's Back in Town," "The More I See You" and "September in the Rain."

 

Photo credit for home page teaser image: Capitol Sings Harry Warren cover. Image courtesy sharingcentre.net

 

 

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