It has been said that in a song the music provides its feeling and the lyrics provide its thoughts. Sung together, one feels thoughts. Such is the immeasurable gift of great song.
Fred Miller’s Lectures-In-Song series is a musical and anecdotal series showcasing the most notable personalities in America’s Golden Age of Popular Song, including the men and women who provided us with some of the most memorable “lyrical” poetry written in the twentieth century.
THEY WROTE THE WORDS celebrates a number of high-caliber lyricists not as celebrated or prolific as Oscar Hammerstein II, Lorenz Hart, Ira Gershwin, Dorothy Fields, Alan Jay Lerner or Johnny Mercer. This first installment (see Part 2) honoring and examining some great, lesser-known wordsmiths includes brief portraits and the best songs of Otto Harbach, Ted Koehler, Leo Robin and Arthur Freed.
These four distinguished careers cover the entire range of twentieth century song, beginning with Otto Harbach, presumably America’s best-known Mormon songwriter and the lyricist behind such varied fare as “Cuddle Up a Little Closer,” “Every Little Movement,” “Love is Like a Firefly,” all dating from the pre-WWI musical theatre. Later on, as Oscar Hammerstein II’s mentor and collaborator, he co-authored such operetta classics as the full score of ROSE-MARIE and THE DESERT SONG. Eventually, Harbach would also provide lyrics for Jerome Kern’s THE CAT AND THE FIDDLE and ROBERTA which included the beloved “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes.”
Ted Koehler is best known for the unforgettable lyrics he set to a number of Harold Arlen’s best early work, much of it written for the Cotton Club Revues: “Get Happy,” “Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea,” “I’ve Got the World on a String,” “Let’s Fall in Love,” “Sing My Heart,” and “Stormy Weather.” Collaborating with others including Jimmy McHugh and Ray Henderson, Koehler also penned words to such Depression-era classics as “Wrap Your Troubles in Dreams,” “Animal Crackers,” and “I’m Shooting High.”
Pittsburgh native Leo Robin had one of the most varied lyric-writing careers on record, working with Vincent Youmans(“Halleujah”); Richard Whiting(“Louise,” “Beyond the Blue Horizon,” “My Ideal”); Ralph Rainger(“Please,” “Love in Bloom,” “June in January,” “With Every Breath I Take,” “Thanks For the Memory”); Harry Warren (“No Love, No Nothin'”); Jerome Kern(“In Love in Vain”)’ Harold Arlen(“Hooray For Love”); Arthur Schwartz(“A Gal in Calico,” “Oh, But I Do”)’ and perhaps most triumphantly, with Jule Styne on the Broadway classic GENTLEMEN PREFER BLONDES (“A Little Girl from Little Rock,” “Bye Bye Baby,” “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend”).
Arthur Freed was the celebrated producer behind the unequaled two decade winning streak of MGM musicals that included THE WIZARD OF OZ, MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS, EASTER PARADE, THE BAND WAGON, GIGI, and most significantly, SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN. The latter is considered by many to be the greatest film musical of all time, and it is built entirely around the songs that lyricist Freed wrote with Nacio Herb Brown in the early days of Hollywood: “Broadway Rhythm,” “You Were Meant For Me,” “You Are My Lucky Star,” “Good Morning,” “All I Do Is Dream of You,” and, of course, “Singin’ In The Rain.”
The achievements of these notable men have tended to be overshadowed by those of their more glamorous music-writing counterparts, but one must ask, “What would the songs be without them?” THEY WROTE THE WORDS is designed to attach these distinguished names to some of our most beloved songs.
If you would like to engage Fred Miller for one of his Lectures-in-Song, please contact him directly at any time. For a full listing of all Lectures, click here.
Fred Miller’s Lectures-In-Song comprise a series of solo programs, each an historical, anecdotal and musical profile of some great personality or important aspect of American Popular Song. These Lectures are delivered by singer/pianist/narrator Miller at the piano, and each reflects his lifetime passion and appreciation for great music. He studied classical piano in his hometown of Albuquerque from ages 7-15 but early on gave up any notion of music as a profession. At that time, Fred assumed a musical career was either one devoted to the rigid discipline of classical music or being a freewheeling rock star, and he accurately decided he had no aptitude for either. However, at age 22, upon hearing Ella Fitzgerald sing Cole Porter, he found his calling and life’s mission.
Through the Seventies and Eighties, Miller studied and absorbed in minute detail the life and times and songs of nearly all the great American composers and lyricists who thrived during Broadway & Hollywood’s Golden Age between the two World Wars. In 1987, he founded Silver Dollar Productions in order to produce operettas, dramas, musicals and small cabarets. Silver Dollar Productions required ensemble casts, props, costumes and, most significantly, the challenges of publicity and selling tickets, and for a dozen busy years, the company presented an unbroken string of varied and highly lauded performances.
In 1999, Miller was simultaneously underwritten by both his local Hunterdon County Library and the Art Alliance of Philadelphia to present a series of six solo Lectures-In-Song, each devoted to one of the premiere Broadway/Hollywood songwriters: George Gershwin, Cole Porter, Irving Berlin, Richard Rodgers, Jerome Kern, and Harold Arlen.
In presenting history, biography and psychology while sitting at a piano singing the superlative songs of his heroes, Miller has found a single performing medium that utilizes most of his intellectual and musical passions.The list of Lectures-In-Song that began with six in 1999 is now more than seventy(and growing!), a joyful tribute to the boundlessly rich field of American Popular Song.