Monday, November 16, 2009

A Fine Romance: Jewish Songwriters, American Songs

Does It Ain't Necessarily So, George Gershwin's song from Porgy and Bess, have its basis in the blessings before reading the Torah? Is his introduction to Swanee based on the melody sung while returning the Torah to the ark? That's what David Lehman suggests in his warm, humorous, nostalgic look at the period between 1914 and 1965 when most American popular music, now known as the American Songbook, was written by mostly Jewish songwriters and composers.

During that rich musical time, Irving Berlin, Rodgers and Hammerstein, Jerome Kern, Harold Arlen, Lorenz Hart, Frank Loesser, and the Gershwin brothers were responsible for creating the music that America sang and played. These Jews were immigrants or their American-born children, and they used wit and romantic lyrics and melodies to express the American dream. Even Cole Porter, a millionaire Episcopalian from Indiana, told Richard Rodgers that he found the key to success by writing "Jewish tunes."

Lehman's book, A Fine Romance: Jewish Songwriters, American Songs was published last month by Nextbook press, and would make a nice gift for Chanukah, together with some CDs of the music that these talented songwriters produced.

Here's a short video with the author introducing his book.

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