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Grace Notes: Review of "Stardust Melodies" by Will Friedwald

10/11/2016 8:37 AM | Kelly Diamond (Administrator)

Stardust Melodies, A Biography of 12 of America’s Most Popular Songs, by Will Friedwald, gives the background and subsequent interpretations of a number of song standards. Of course, almost all of discussed interpretations are available on YouTube, so you can listen as you read. One of the songs, “Old Man River,” has a tenuous Washington DC connection. It was the last song added to the musical “Show Boat.” Oscar Hammerstein, who wrote the lyrics, thought that the show needed a song to bring out the river theme which had been so much of the Edna Ferber novel, on which the show was based. Jerome Kern, who wrote the melody, did not have time to work on it but Hammerstein reworked parts of melodies Kern had already written for the show. The melodies of “Old Man River” ended up running through the show like a leitmotiv and like a river. Florence Zeigfeld, the producer, was well known for his women-focused shows and “Old Man River” had to be sung by a man. In the midst of many changes to show, Ziegfeld told Evelyn Walsh McLean, the famous District socialite, that he was considering cutting the song. McLean who had seen the show in Washington previews told him that she would give him the Hope Diamond if “Old Man River” was not the instant hit of the show. The song stayed in and McLean kept her diamond.

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