Songs with Earlier Histories Than the Hit Version

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Tagged: Ethel Waters

Jeepers Creepers

First performed by Louis Armstrong (1938).
First recorded by Ethel Waters (1938).
Hit versions by Al Donahue & His Orchestra (US #1 1938), Larry Clinton & His Orchestra (US #12 1938), Louis Armstrong (US #12 1939).

From the wiki: “‘Jeepers Creepers’ was written by Harry Warren, with lyrics by Johnny Mercer (Mercer claims to have first heard the expression from Henry Fonda), for the 1938 Warner Brothers movie Going Places. Louis Armstrong appears in the part of Gabriel, the trainer of a race horse named Jeepers Creepers. Jeepers Creepers is a very wild horse and can only be soothed enough to let someone ride him when Gabriel plays the song ‘Jeepers Creepers’ on his trumpet or sings it to him. Warren and Mercer would share an Academy Award nomination for Best Song in 1939.

Sweet Georgia Brown

First recorded by Ben Bernie & His Hotel Roosevelt Orchestra (US #1 1925).
Also recorded by Ethel Waters (US #6 1925), Isham Jones & His Orchestra (US #5 1925), Red Nichols & His Orchestra (1930).
Best-known recordings by Bing Crosby (US #5 1932), Stéphane Grappelli & Django Reinhardt (1938), Brother Bones & His Shadows (US #10/R&B #9 1948), Tony Sheridan & The Beat Brothers (1962).

From the wiki: “”Sweet Georgia Brown” is a Jazz standard and Pop tune written in 1925 by Ben Bernie, Maceo Pinkard (music) and Kenneth Casey (lyrics). It is believed Ben Bernie came up with the concept for the song’s lyrics – although he is not the accredited lyricist – after meeting Dr. George Thaddeus Brown in New York City: Dr. Brown, a longtime member of the State House of Representatives for Georgia, told Bernie about Dr. Brown’s daughter Georgia Brown and how subsequent to the baby girl’s birth on August 11, 1911 the Georgia General Assembly had issued a declaration that she was to be named Georgia after the state, an anecdote which would be directly referenced by the song’s lyric: ‘Georgia claimed her – Georgia named her.’ The tune was first recorded in March 1925 by Bernie & his Hotel Roosevelt Orchestra, resulting in a five-week run at #1.

I Got Rhythm

First recorded by Fred Rich & His Orchestra (1930).
Hit versions by Red Nichols & His Five Pennies (US #5 1930), Ethel Waters (US #17 1931), Louis Armstrong (US #17 1932), The Happenings (US #3/UK #28 1967).

From the wiki: “‘I Got Rhythm’ was composed by George Gershwin with lyrics by Ira Gershwin and first published in 1930. It has since become a Jazz standard; its chord progression, known as the ‘rhythm changes’, is the foundation for other popular jazz tunes such as Charlie Parker’s & Dizzy Gillespie’s Bebop standard ‘Anthropology (Thrivin’ From a Riff)’. ‘I Got Rhythm’ was first performed in the musical Girl Crazy. Ethel Merman sang the song in the original Broadway production, and Broadway lore holds that George Gershwin, after seeing Merman’s opening reviews, warned her never to take a singing lesson. A complete list of notable singers who have recorded ‘I Got Rhythm’ would take up several pages. The most popular versions are those by Red Nichols & His Five Pennies (US #5 1930), and The Happenings (#3 on the US charts in 1967). A version of the song, set to a Disco beat, was re-recorded by Ethel Merman for her Ethel Merman Disco Album in 1979.

Taking a Chance on Love

First performed by Ethel Waters (1940).
First commercial recording by Ella Fitzgerald (1940).
Popular versions by Helen Forrest (US #1 1943), Ethel Waters (1946), Frank Sinatra (1954), Anita O’Day (1957).
Also recorded by Dinah Shore (1958).

From the wiki: “‘Taking a Chance on Love’ was written by Vernon Duke with lyrics by John La Touche and Ted Fetter, and has gone on to become a standard recorded by many artists. It was first performed in the Broadway musical Cabin in the Sky which opened at the Martin Beck Theater on October 25, 1940. (‘Taking a Chance on Love’ was added only three days before the New York opening, but it turned into the hit of the show.) The show was choreographed by George Balanchine and was a ground-breaking musical with an all-black cast. The leads were played by Ethel Waters as Petunia, Dooley Wilson (‘As Time Goes By‘) as her husband Little Joe, and Katherine Dunham as the temptress Georgia Brown.

“Waters introduced ‘Taking a Chance of Love’ as a show-stopping solo, reprising it at the end of Act I with Little Joe. Despite the fact that the song never made it to the popular radio show Your Hit Parade, big band performances and many, many cover recordings of the song made it into a Jazz vocal standard.”

Stormy Weather

First recorded by Ethel Waters (US #1 1933).
Also recorded by Duke Ellington & His Famous Orchestra (1933), Frances Langford (1933).
Other popular versions by Leo Reisman & His Orchestra (US #1 1933), Guy Lombardo & His Royal Canadians (US #2 1933), Lena Horne (1941|US #21 1943), Kay Starr (1945), Billie Holiday (1952), Fats Comet (UK #17 1985).

From the wiki: “‘Stormy Weather’ was a 1933 song written by Harold Arlen and Ted Koehler. Ethel Waters first sang it at The Cotton Club night club in Harlem in 1933 as part of The Cotton Club Parade of 1933 where, according to her autobiography, she ‘sang ‘Stormy Weather’ from the depths of the private hell in which I was being crushed and suffocated.’

“When I got out there in the middle of the Cotton Club floor, I was telling things I couldn’t frame in words. I was singing the story of my misery and confusion, of the misunderstandings in my life I couldn’t straighten out, the story of wrongs and outrages done to me by people I had loved and trusted.”

“Leo Reisman’s orchestra version had the biggest hit on records in 1933 (with co-author Arlen himself as vocalist); Waters’ recorded version was also a top-seller. And it was Waters’ recording that would be inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2003, with the Library of Congress additionally honoring the song by adding it in 2004 to the National Recording Registry.

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