Songs with Earlier Histories Than the Hit Version

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Tagged: Connee Boswell

Alexander’s Ragtime Band

First recorded by Arthur Collins & Byron G. Harlan (US #1 1911).
Other hit versions by Billy Murray (US #1 1911), Prince’s Orchestra (US #3 1912), Bessie Smith (1927), The Boswell Sisters (1935), Louis Armstrong (1937), Bing Crosby & Connee Boswell (1938).

From the wiki: “‘Alexander’s Ragtime Band’ was written by Irving Berlin in 1911, one of his oldest compositions and his first major hit.

“It is believed by some (especially in New Orlean jazz and ragtime circles) that Berlin was writing about a real band and bandleader, which were popular at the time in New Orleans, and actually was known as Alexander’s Ragtime Band, after its leader, Alexander Joseph Watzke. Others regard the song as a sequel to ‘Alexander and His Clarinet’, which Berlin wrote with Ted Snyder in 1910 (and which was not a hit), with the newer composition telling the story of Jack Alexander, a cornet player and bandleader.

“‘Alexander’s Ragtime Band’ was first popularized in 1911 by Emma Carus, a big shouter from Chicago, who worked it into her local vaudeville act. (Her picture’s on the oldest sheet music edition.) The song was more widely introduced that same year by Eddie Miller and Helen Vincent performer in the Frolic of Berlin’s New York City ‘Friars Club’ chapter. In 1911-1912, no fewer than four of the first recordings of ‘Alexander’s Ragtime Band’ charted nationally, including #1 hits by Arthur Collins & Byron Harlon, and Billy Murray.

“The 1927 Bessie Smith cover of ‘Alexander’s Ragtime Band’ featured Coleman Hawkins on clarinet, Fletcher Henderson on piano, along with Joe Smith (cornet) Jimmy Harrison (trombone) and Charlie Dixon (banjo).”

I’m Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter

First recorded by Fats Waller & His Rhythm (US #5 1935).
Other hit versions by The Boswell Sisters (US #3 1936), Billy Williams (US #3 1957), Willie Nelson (C&W #26/CAN #25 1981).
Also recorded by Frank Sinatra (1954 & 1962), Bing Crosby with Bob Scobey’s Frisco Jazz Band (1957), Bill Haley & His Comets (1957).

From the wiki: “‘I’m Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter’ was composed in 1935 by Fred E. Ahlert and Joe Young, and has become a standard of the Great American Songbook. The first recording on the song was by Fats Waller & His Rhythm, in a Victor Records recording session on May 8, 1935. It was covered the following year by The Boswell Sisters, reaching #3 on US popular music charts. (Connee Boswell would record a solo version in 1952.)

Blue Moon

First recorded by Glen Gray & The Casa Loma Orchestra (1934).
Based on ‘The Bad in Every Man’ by Shirley Ross (1934).
Also recorded by Coleman Hawkins with the Michel Warlop Orchestra (1935), Elvis Presley (1954), Sam Cooke (1959).
Hit versions by Connee Boswell (US #1 1935), Mel Tormé (US #20 1947), The Marcels (US #1/R&B #1/UK #1 1961).

From the wiki: “The melody to ‘Blue Moon’ goes back further than the first recorded version of the song by The Casa Loma Orchestra. Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart were contracted to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer in May 1933. They were soon commissioned to write the songs for Hollywood Party. ‘Prayer (Oh Lord, make me a movie star)’ was written for the movie but never recorded.

“Hart wrote new lyrics for the melody to create a title song for the 1934 film Manhattan Melodrama, but it was cut from the film before release. (Manhattan Melodrama wasn’t so much famous for having left what would become ‘Blue Moon’ on the edit room floor but for being the film John Dillinger went to see in the Chicago movie theater where he was gunned down by police bullets at the exit.) Rodgers still liked the melody so Hart wrote a third lyric, ‘The Bad in Every Man,’ which was sung by Shirley Ross. The song, which was also released as sheet music, was not a hit.

“Jack Robbins, the head of MGM studio’s publishing company, decided that the tune was suited to commercial release but needed more romantic lyrics and a punchier title. Hart was initially reluctant to write yet another lyric but was persuaded and the result was ‘Blue moon/you saw me standing alone/without a dream in my heart/without a love of my own’.”

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