A Fine Romance: Jewish Songwriters, American Songs by David Lehman
A Fine Romance: Jewish Songwriters, American Songs
David Lehman's book, A Fine Romance: Jewish Songwriters, American Songs, examines the history of Jewish songwriters in twentieth century America, pointing out that White Christmas, perhaps America's favorite Christmas carol was written by Irving Berlin, and countless hit songs from musicals of the thirties, forties and fifties such as Someone to Watch Over Me, Easter Parade, Come Rain Come Shine, were written by legendary Jewish-American popular songwriters--from George and Ira Gershwin, Harold Arlen, Richard Rodgers, Leonard Bernstein to more recent composers such as Bob Dylan, Stephen Sondheim, Carole King, Billy Joel, Burt Bacharach, Herbie Mann, Neil Sedaka, Mel Torme, Neil Diamond and many others.
Lehman suggests that one reason why there have been so many all star Jewish songwriters, especially compared to all star baseball players is that many prosperous Jewish homes had a grand piano and or a violin. Several of the songwriters' fathers were cantors, and he points to what he believes to be Jewish influence or DNA in their music, for example, the sound of the shofar in the music of Bernstein and the phrasing of some of Ira Gershwin's lyrics. .
Although anti-Semitism was rife in the days of Gershwin, Berlin and Arlen, they didn't experience a lot of criticism for appropriating jazz or blues from the black musical tradition or for appropriating or secularizing Christian traditions in their popular Christmas or Easter songs. Lehman points out that White Christmas was written during World War II when Americans of all faiths were in European trenches, far from home. Moreover, most of the songwriters grew up in families which celebrated Christmas and Hannukah. He points out that the songs of Gershwin, Arlen, Jerome Kern and others were made popular by black singers who benefited from their collaboration with the songwriters of Tin Pan Alley.. Lehman points out that Gershwin insisted on an all black cast for Porgy and Bess. Lehman characterizes the relationship between the Gershwins, Kern, Arlen and African American entertainers as a collaboration which benefited both the Tin Pan Alley songwriters and the African-American singers and musicians.
Cole Porter was the one WASP exception to the domination of Tin Pan Alley by Jewish songwriters. He once remarked to his friend Irving Berlin that he would be a better songwriter if he were Jewish. They don't get much better than his "Night and Day," however, in my opinion.
Come Rain or Come Shine, Dinah Washington
Is the Great American Song Book Jewish?
- Is the Great American Songbook Jewish? - Speakeasy - WSJ
Rufus Wainwright, Van Dyke Parks and others will celebrate Jewish songwriters in a concert at Lincoln Center tomorrow.