Tuesday, May 1

They Just Don’t Write Like That Any More

by Larry Rothenberg

In the 1930s in Los Angeles, a group of songwriters would get together at Ira Gershwin’s house- you might recognize a name or two among this group, such as Harold Arlen, Lorenz Hart, Oscar Hammerstein, Richard Rogers and Jerome Kern. They would play music for each other and together they would dig through the songbooks. These were the most successful songwriters of their day – perhaps of any day, and they searched the dictionary for just the right word to perfect their lyrics with the zeal of a California miner searching for a gold nugget.

The “big six” composers whose songs dominate the broad collection of American popular standards written before 1950. Top row (l-r): Jerome Kern, Irving Berlin, George Gershwin, Cole Porter. Bottom row: Harold Arlen (l), Richard Rodgers with partners Lorenz Hart (center) and Oscar Hammerstein II. Kern, Gershwin, and Arlen also relied on lyricist partners. Berlin and Porter wrote their own lyrics. Photo source here.

These were men, many of them Jewish immigrants or first generation Americans who respected the literary power of internal rhyme, precise wording or just the right turn of phrase – musically and literarily. Many of the songs they wrote are part of our American heritage. “Not for Me,” “Fascinating Rhythm,” “Stormy Weather,” Over the Rainbow” and “God Bless America” are just a tiny sampling of the music most of us know and love.

Together, these creative, brilliant American songs fall under the category of “American Popular Song.” In what other genre might you find lyrics such as these?

They’re writing songs of love, but not for me
Oh, lucky stars above, but not for me.
With love to lead the way. I’ve found more skies of gray
Than any Russian play can guarantee.

Said composer Alan Bergman, “Those people, their use of language shaped our use of language. If you want to know what’s wrong with the grammar of the television news writers and announcers (today), listen to the music they grew up on

On May 3, you can hear American popular songs from the movies as only a true expert like Richard Glazier can perform. This virtuso piano player and interpreter of this wondrous music of the era returns to his native Indianapolis to present his new multi-media show, “From Ragtime to Reeltime.” Click here for more information and for tickets.

More about Larry Rothenberg

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