In this perennially popular series, John Eaton focuses on five of the most influential and fascinating composers in American song: Irving Berlin, Frank Loesser, Vernon Duke, Kurt Weill, and George Gershwin. A musical performance by Eaton highlights each session.
Feb. 26 Irving Berlin: The Founding Father
Born in Siberia in 1888, Israel Beilin came to the United States as a small child. By 1910, this Jewish immigrant from Imperial Russia was Irving Berlin—and almost singlehandedly invented the American popular song with his first hit, “Alexander’s Ragtime Band.” This was followed by an unprecedented body of work including “God Bless America,” “What’ll I Do?,” “White Christmas,” “Cheek to Cheek,” and many more hits, and Broadway shows like “Annie Get Your Gun” and “As Thousands Cheer.”
Mar. 5 Frank Loesser: A Most Remarkable Fellow
Though he began as a Hollywood-based lyricist, Loesser composed such standards as “Spring Will Be a Little Late This Year,” and “Baby It’s Cold Outside,” and then went on to gift Broadway with standing-room-only musicals including Guys and Dolls, The Most Happy Fella, and How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying. His shows have become classics that continue to entertain audiences.
Mar. 12 The Odysseys of Vernon Duke and Kurt Weill
Although Vernon Duke’s “April in Paris” and Kurt Weill’s “September Song” rank among the most-recognized American popular songs, the composers began as distinguished European classical composers who came to the U.S. as political refugees—Duke (born Vladimir Dukelsky) in 1920 and Weill in 1935. Eaton explores songs from Weill’s groundbreaking musical Lost in the Stars, based on the antiapartheid novel Cry the Beloved Country, and Duke’s “Autumn in New York,” “Taking a Chance on Love,” and his score for the musical Cabin in the Sky.
Mar. 19 George Gershwin: The Great Reconciler
In his tragically brief lifetime, Gershwin succeeded in breaking down the cultural barriers that separate classical and popular music. The results are seen in his signature composition Rhapsody in Blue and the opera Porgy and Bess. Eaton includes performances and investigations of great show and film tunes such as “Someone to Watch Over Me,” “I Got Rhythm,” “Love Walked In,” and other Gershwin classics.
Learn more about the American popular song, listen to clips from Smithsonian Folkways recordings>>