Early Songwriters


The first musicals, a form that evolved from vaudeville, revues, and follies, were variety shows made up by a potpourri of songs alternating with comics and dancers. It was inevitable that the next stage in the musical’s development was to incorporate drama, to make it a play with music instead of dialogue. The first “book” musical was introduced in 1927 -- the same year as the first movie with sound, “The Jazz Singer” -- “Show Boat,” with music by Jerome Kern and lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II, and based on a novel by Edna Ferber. Songs were part of the plot, not simply inserted between episodes. Eventually, this became the standard musical form.

The early songwriters, most of whom came from immigrant families, wrote for first, Broadway. and then, Hollywood, The best of their songs passed the test of time and were performed and recorded so often, they became known as "the standards," or The Great American Songbook. Musician-songwriters such as Duke Ellington and Hoagy Carmichael also contributed some of our most cherished standards.


IRVING BERLIN (1888-1989) wrote both words and music to songs that became not only American anthems (“God Bless America”) but a substantial portion of the Great American Songbook. He was also an influential impresario and producer. Composer Jerome Kern said ”Irving Berlin has no place in American music; he IS American music!



COLE PORTER (1891–1964) was one of the few songwriters to write both words and music. His songs, such as “Let’s Do It; Lets Fall in Love” and “Miss Otis Regrets,” are noted for their witty, urbane lyrics, and many of his scores for Broadway and film were highly successful.
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FRANK LOESSER (1910-1969 )was another songwriter who wrote both music and lyrics. He wrote among others "Guys and Dolls" and "How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying"  He won separate Tony Awards for the music and lyrics in both. Some critics claim: "Guys and Dolls" is the best musical ever written.

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  • Bing Crosby’s recording of “White Christmas” has sold an estimated 50 million copies worldwide.  It was written by Irving Berlin in 1940, recorded in 1942, and introduced in Berlin’s musical movie Holiday Inn of that year.
  • OVER THE RAINBOW is considered by some the greatest movie song of all time, The tune itself is pop perfection. At just over two minutes, its lilting, free-floating melody and uplifting orchestral backing perfectly evoke Dorothy’s hopes of leaving the only home she’s known. Judy Garland’s delicate, hopeful vocal performance is the definitive version.

The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) and the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) ranked it number one on their Songs of the Century list. The American Film Institute named it the best movie song on the AFI's 100 Years...100 Songs.

Oscar Winner 1942

Oscar Winner 1949