Program : 
164
My Blue Heaven: The Life and Music of Composer Walter Donaldson
Walter Donaldson

Walter Donaldson. Courtesy of Donaldson Publishing.

Riverwalk Jazz celebrates the life and music of the prolific hit-maker and tunesmith Walter Donaldson with live performances of his compositions by The Jim Cullum Jazz Band and their guests. Also on the bill, an extended interview with Ellen Donaldson, the daughter of the composer, who shares personal memories of her father, and the stories behind some of her father's most famous songs.

 

Joining the Band on stage at The Landing for this broadcast are vocalists Nina Ferro, Banu Gibson, Rebecca Kilgore and Stephanie Nakasian; pianist Dick Hyman; and jazz violinist Andy Stein. Ellen Donaldson,

 

Walter Donaldson (1893-1947) was one of the most prolific American popular songwriters of the 20th century. He wrote more than 600 songs in his 30-year career. He composed most of his best material in the 1920s and 30s in collaborations with top lyricists of his day —among them, Gus Kahn, Bud de Sylva and Johnny Mercer. But Donaldson also wrote many of his own lyrics, including the popular "At Sundown," "Little White Lies," and "You're Driving Me Crazy."

 

Walter Donaldson family

Walter and Dorothy Donaldson with daughters Sheila, left, and Ellen in the Catskills, 1943. Courtesy of Donaldson Publishing.

Walter Donaldson wrote much of his music for New York stage shows and Hollywood movies, and his first success on Broadway was a 1918 song for Al Jolson in the show Sinbad, "My Mammy." The ditty became infamous for its insensitive racial overtones after Jolson painted up in black-face to sing "Mammy" in the first 'talking picture.'

The notable 1928 stage production Whoopee, starring Eddie Cantor and Ruth Etting was released as a film adaptation in 1930. Whoopee was the first full-color, feature-length motion picture, and also marked choreographer Busby Berkeley's film debut. The film produced three enduring hits for Walter Donaldson working with lyricist Gus Kahn— "Makin' Whoopie," "Love Me or Leave Me" and "My Baby Just Cares for Me."

 

Donaldson's music runs the gamut from catchy, easy-to-remember pop melodies to sophisticated, complex tunes which have become jazz standards. Some of Donaldson's well-known hits remain widely performed today, such as "I'll See You in My Dreams," "My Buddy," "My Blue Heaven," and "It's Been So Long." These songs seem to have captured the spirit of America and can be performed convincingly by a wide variety of artists in vastly different styles. Pop singers from Frank Sinatra to Fats Domino and Dr. John have recorded Walter Donaldson songs, and so have jazz artists including George Shearing, Django Reinhardt, Fats Waller, Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong.

 

Performers on this broadcast:

 

London-based vocalist Nina Ferro performs "My Baby Just Cares for Me." Pianist Dick Hyman backs up vocalist Stephanie Nakasian on "Love Me or Leave Me" and Stephanie performs "You're Driving Me Crazy" with Jim Cullum and his band.

 

Vocalist Banu Gibson offers her interpretation of "It's Been So Long" and vocalist Rebecca Kilgore has fun with the novelty song "Cuckoo In the Clock," a Donaldson collaboration with Johnny Mercer. Violinist Andy Stein swings out on the Donaldson jazz standard, "Louisiana."

 

Photo credit for home page teaser image: Walter and Dorothy Donaldson with Sheila, left, and Ellen; the Catskills, 1943. Photo courtesy of Donaldson Publishing.

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