They Wrote The Words, Part 2


BETTY COMDEN (1915-2007)
ADOLPH GREEN (1915-2002)

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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 second installment (see Part 1) honoring and examining some great, lesser-known wordsmiths includes brief portraits and the best songs of Mitchell Parish, Betty Comden & Adolph Green and Paul Francis Webster.

These three illustrious careers[one an exclusive partnership] represent the three principal avenues down which a popular songwriter of that age could successfully proceed: Tin Pan Alley[Parish], Broadway[Comden & Green] and Hollywood[Webster].

Mitchell Parish went to work for song publisher Irving Mills in the early Twenties, wrote “Sweet Lorraine” in 1928 and for the next 30 years provided America with some of its most familiar lyrics: “Stardust,” “One Morning in May,” (both with Hoagy Carmichael), “Sophisticated Lady,”(with Duke Ellington), “Stars Fell on Alabama,” “Stairway To the Stars,” “Deep Purple,” “Moonlight Serenade” (Glenn Miller´s theme song), and with semi-classical American composer Leroy Anderson “Belle of the Ball,” “The Syncopated Clock” and “Sleigh Ride.” His last great commercial success was “Volare” in 1958, and he lived out his long life as one of American songwriting´s elder statesmen.

New Yorkers Betty Comden & Adolph Green met as young struggling actors and began writing their own sketch material and lyrics in the late 1930s. The major breakthrough came with 1944´s ON THE TOWN, collaborating with Green´s friend and classical music wunderkind Leonard Bernstein[“New York, New York, A Helluva Town,” “I Can Cook Too,” “Lonely Town,” “Some Other Time”]. This memorable look at wartime Manhattan would lead to Comden & Green´s long association with MGM in Hollywood where they provided original storylines and incidental lyrics to such movie musical classics as GOOD NEWS, THE BARKLEYS OF BROADWAY, SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN and THE BANDWAGON. Along the way, they reunited on Broadway with Bernstein for WONDERFUL TOWN [“Ohio,” “It´s Love”] and with composer Jule Styne on Peter Pan[“Neverland”, “Captain Hook´s Waltz”], BELLS ARE RINGING [“Just in Time,” “The Party´s Over,” “Long Before I Knew You”] and “Make Someone Happy” from DO RE MI. Their partnership would become the most enduring arrangement of its kind in theatre history, stretching all the way into the 1990s with a Tony Award for book & lyrics for Cy Coleman´s WILL ROGERS’ FOLLIES.

Paul Francis Webster´s success would begin in Tin Pan Alley [“Two Cigarettes in the Dark,” “I Got It Bad and That Ain´t Good”, “Lamplighter´s Serenade”] and peak triumphantly with an Academy Award winning career in Hollywood: “Baltimore Oriole,” “Doctor Lawyer Indian Chief,” “Secret Love,” “Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing,” “Friendly Persuasion,” “The Twelfth of Never,” “April Love,” “A Certain Smile,” “Song of Raintree County,” “A Very Precious Love,” “The Green Leaves of Summer,” “Somewhere My Love,” “The Shadow of Your Smile.”

The achievements of these notable men & women 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.