Thursday, September 22, 2016

National Medal of Arts

Medal of Arts, image from

The Medal of Arts is given to artists and art patrons who are, as the site says, “deserving of special recognition by reason of their outstanding contributions to the excellence, growth, support and availability of the arts in the United States.” Nearly 300 artists in areas from dance, film, design, architecture, literature, music, painting, sculpture, theater, and more have been given the honor over its 26-year history. Here is a list of the music-related recipients from 1985 to 2015:

  • Maurice Abravanel (1991)
  • Roy Acuff (1991)
  • Licia Albanese (1995)
  • Herb Alpert (2012)
  • Marian Anderson (1986)
  • Eddy Arnold (2000)
  • Harry Belafonte (1994)
  • William Bolcom (2006)
  • Brooklyn Academy of Music (2013)
  • Dave Brubeck (1994)
  • Sarah Caldwell (1996)
  • Cab Calloway (1993)
  • Benny Carter (1993)
  • Betty Carter (1997)
  • Elliott Carter Jr. (1985)
  • Johnny Cash (2001)

    Johnny Cash receives the Medal of Arts from President Bush, image from

  • Ray Charles (1993)
  • Van Cliburn (2010)
  • Aaron Copland (1986)
  • John O. Crosby (1991)
  • Celia Cruz (1994)
  • Dorothy DeLay (1994)
  • James DePriest (2005)
  • David Diamond (1995)
  • Fats Domino (1998)
  • Paquito D’Rivera (2005)
  • Bob Dylan (2009)
  • Ramblin’ Jack Elliott (1998)
  • Fisk Jubilee Singers (2008)
  • Ella Fitzgerald (1987)
  • Renée Fleming (2012)
  • Carlisle Floyd (2004)
  • Aretha Franklin (1999)
  • Dizzy Gillespie (1989)
  • Philip Glass (2015)
  • Francis Goelet (1988)
  • Berry Gordy Jr. (2015)
  • Eduardo “Lalo” Guerrero (1996)
  • Buddy Guy (2003)
  • Lionel Hampton (1996)
  • Kitty Carlisle Hart (1991)
  • Marilyn Horne (1992)
  • Vladimir Horowitz (1989)
  • Santiago Jiménez, Jr. (2015)
  • George Jones (2002)
  • Henry “Hank” Jones (2008)
  • Quincy Jones (2010)
  • John Kander (2013)
  • Gene Kelly (1994)
  • B.B. King (1990)

    1990 Medal of Arts recipient B.B. King, image from

  • Erich Kunzel (2006)
  • Morten Lauridsen (2007)
  • James Levine (1997)
  • Alan Lomax (1986)
  • Yo-Yo Ma (2001)
  • Wynton Marsalis (2005)
  • Audra McDonald (2015)
  • Lydia Mendoza (1999)
  • Robert Merrill (1993)
  • Meredith Monk (2014)
  • Bill Monroe (1995)
  • Rita Moreno (2009)
  • Mormon Tabernacle Choir (2003)
  • Jessye Norman (2009)
  • Odetta (1999)
  • Dolly Parton (2005)
  • Les Paul (2007)
  • Minnie Pearl (1992)
  • Itzhak Perlman (2000)
  • Roberta Peters (1998)
  • Preservation Hall Jazz Band (2008)
  • The Presser Foundation (2008)
  • Leontyne Price (1985)
  • Tito Puento (1997)
  • Smokey Robinson (2002)
  • Sonny Rollins (2010)
  • Linda Ronstadt (2013)
  • William Schuman (1987)
  • Earl Scruggs (1992)
  • Pete Seeger (1994)
  • Rudolf Serkin (1988)
  • Robert Shaw (1992)
  • Richard Sherman (2008)
  • Robert Sherman (2008)
  • George Shirley (2014)
  • Beverly Sills (1990)
  • Leonard Slatkin (2003)
  • Stephen Sondheim (1996)
  • Ralph Stanley (2006)
  • Isaac Stern (1991)
  • George Strait (2003)
  • Barbra Streisand (2000)
  • Billy Taylor (1992)
  • James Taylor (2010)
  • Michael Tilson Thomas (1988)
  • Mel Tillis (2011)

    President Barack Obama awards singer Mel Tillis the Medal of Arts, image from

  • Allen Toussaint (2012)
  • University of Idaho Lionel Hampton International Jazz Festival (2007)
  • University Musical Society (2014)
  • Doc Watson (1997)
  • Andre Watts (2011)
  • John Williams (2009)


Sunday, September 11, 2016

9/11/1909: Henry Burr takes “I Wonder Who’s Kissing Her Now” to #1

image from

Henry Burr “I Wonder Who’s Kissing Her Now”

Writer(s): Joe Howard/ Harold Orlob/ Frank Adams/ Will Hough (see lyrics here)

First charted: 9/4/1909

Peak: 18 US, 12 GA (Click for codes to singles charts.)

Sales (in millions): 3.0 (sheet music sales)

Radio Airplay (in millions): -- Video Airplay (in millions): --

Review: This “evergreen standard” JA-91 is “one of the most popular songs in the history of Tin Pan Alley… Considered cliche today, the number’s flowing music, and heartbreaking lyric made it one of the first conversational and down-to-earth torch songs.” RCG

Joe Howard claimed he heard a college student in Chicago utter the title phrase and then turned to Frank Adams to write words. RCG The song appeared in the Broadway musical The Prince of Tonight, but really took off when Howard sang it in the show Miss Nobody from Starland (1910), eventually selling three million in sheet music sales. JA-91

Henry Burr’s chart-topping version was followed by two top ten versions by Billy Murray, #4) and (Manuel Romain, #6) the next year. In 1947, the song was revived in a 1947 biopic of the same name about Howard, JA-91 resulting in three more charted versions – Perry Como with Ted Weems (#2), Ray Noble (#11), and Dinning Sisters (#12).

The renewed interest in the song also brought about a court case in which musical arranger Harold Orlob sued Howard. JA-91 The case established that Howard had paid Orlob for his work and that in 1909 it was legitimate for Howard to publish the song as his own. Orlob was awarded songwriting credit, RCG but no additional money since he’d already been compensated for his work. TY-132

Resources and Related Links:

Note: Footnotes (raised letter codes) refer to sources frequently cited on the blog. Numbers following the letter code indicate page numbers. If the raised letter code is a link, it will go directly to the correct page instead of the home page of a website. You can find the sources and corresponding footnotes on the “Lists” page in the “Song Resources” section.


We Will Never Forget: September 11, 2001

Initially posted 9/11/2011.

Alan Jackson: Where Were You When the World Stopped Turning

Country music is often stereotyped as a redneck musical genre and it certainly has moments to confirm that. Toby Keith’s “Courtesy of the Red, White, and Blue” tapped into a revenge mentality with its “we’ll put a boot in your ass” line. However, Alan Jackson’s “Where Were You When the World Stopped Turning” was the song which best captured the overall sadness evoked by the average American. Sure, there were plenty of people who immediately wanted to throttle someone, but Jackson tapped into the emotion of those who just wanted to hold their loved ones close.

Bruce Springsteen: We Shall Overcome

As a Jersey boy raised in the shadow of New York City, Bruce Springsteen made a career of tapping into Americana with tales of teen angst, blue collar workers, and a celebration of where one was born. His entire album The Rising was written as a tribute for 9/11. It included the song “My City of Ruins” which was written prior to 9/11, but took on immense power as a commentary on post-9/11 New York City when performed for the television special America: A Tribute to Heroes.

However, by the end of the day September 11, 2001, Springsteen’s cover of “We Shall Overcome” was the one plastered across the news. This protest song has been covered by many, but took on a new poignancy through Springsteen’s reading of it in the context of a country suffering profound devastation.

Eddie Vedder: My City of Ruins

In 2009, “My City of Ruins” sadly took on relevance again when its words seemed to be about New Orleans and the horror of Hurricane Katrina. Vedder performed the song for the Kennedy Center Honors as Springsteen looked on. Much like a visibly moved Springsteen, it is hard not to get choked up as one considers the song in the context of America’s two worst tragedies of the 21st century.

All Star Tribute: What’s Going On

Marvin Gaye’s classic “What’s Going On” has long been an anthem for pondering the state of the world. An all-star version of the song was recorded prior to 9/11 with the intent of benefiting AIDS programs in Africa. Bono, Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, Jennifer Lopez, Gwen Stefani, Limp Bizkit’s Fred Durst, Destiny’s Child, Wyclef Jean, and Backstreet Boys were among the artists featured on the remake. When the song was released in October, a portion of the proceeds were also given to the American Red Cross’ fund for 9/11.

Limb Bizkit with Johnny Reznik: Wish You Were Here

I wish I could remember the context, but soon after the musical tributes starting flowing, I remember someone taking an unnecessary shot at Fred Durst of Limp Bizkit. If memory serves, the person was reflecting on who would be appropriate to tap into the pain and anguish Americans were feeling and slammed Durst as a musician no one could take seriously. With an assist from the Goo Goo Dolls’ Johnny Reznik, Durst proved otherwise on this Pink Floyd cover. At times the line “wish you were here” sounds like a memorial for the fallen. There’s a moment in the performance, though, when Durst looks straight into the camera and seemingly sings the line directly to Osama bin Laden as a dare to show his face.

Melissa Etheridge: Tuesday Morning

Sure, it made a political statement, but even the most hard-nosed anti-gay right winger would have to think twice if they heard this song. Etheridge powerfully reminds us that Mark Bingham, one of the passengers of United Airlines Flight 93, was gay. As one of the heroes who attacked the hijackers on the plane seemingly bound for the White House, was his heroic effort any less than that of his heterosexual counterparts?

Paul McCartney: Freedom/Let It Be

Paul McCartney was sitting on the tarmac at John F. Kennedy Airport in New York City when the planes hit the Twin Towers. He wrote the song “Freedom” the next day in response. He commented in an interview that he wrote the song as a sort of “We Shall Overcome”. He explained that the song’s notion of fighting for freedom tapped into the idea that an immigrant coming to America was saying, “Don’t mess with my rights, buddy. Because I’m now free.” WK

Sheryl Crow: Safe and Sound

I’ve never read anything to confirm this suspicion, but I suspect this song was originally written as a tribute to Kevin Gilbert. He was a little known singer/songwriter and musician (one of my personal favorites) who was part of the collective who brought Sheryl Crow’s Tuesday Night Music Club to the world. The pair dated and parted bitterly with more than a few fingers pointing at Crow that she was taking credit for more work than what she really did. This song could be interpreted as regret for how that relationship soured and sadness that Gilbert had died (he passed away in 1996). Of course, those feelings of pain and sadness also made for a fitting 9/11 tribute.

Neil Young: Let’s Roll

Todd Beamer was one of the passengers on Flight 93 who stormed the cockpit, attacking the hijackers and foiling their initial plans. His final known words were “Are you guys ready? Let’s roll!” The phrase became a battle cry for Americans ready to fight back against terrorism. Neil Young turned it into a song on his Are You Passionate? album released in November of 2011.

David Bowie: America

Bowie opened the October 20, 2001 Concert for New York City with his own appropriately themed “Heroes” paired with a cover of Simon & Garfunkel’s “America”. The concert celebrated the police officers and fire fighters and other heroes who put their lives on the line to respond to the tragedy.

Alicia Keys: Someday We’ll All Be Free

Donny Hathaway recorded this song for his 1973 album Extension of a Man. Over the years, it became an R&B standard covered by many artists. When Spike Lee used it for the film Malcolm X, it took on new meaning as a black anthem. When Alicia Keys, then one of the hottest new talents around, covered it for America: A Tribute to Heroes it became a message of hope for peace.

Wyclef Jean: Redemption Song

Wyclef Jean performed another of the powerful covers for America: A Tribute to Heroes with his take on Bob Marley’s “Redemption Song”. Rita Marley, said her husband was already facing his own mortality when he wrote the song in 1979 after just being diagnosed with cancer. He based the song on a 1937 speech by Marcus Garvey which called for people to emancipate themselves from mental slavery.

John Hiatt: When New York Had Her Heart Broke

Hiatt wrote this song in the days after 9/11, but had mixed feelings about recording it. It took ten years before he felt comfortable, finally putting it on his 2011 Dirty Jeans and Mudslide Hymns set. It is marked by a powerful video which shows New York’s fire and police departments responding.

Links to More 9/11 Songs:

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

9/7/1935: ”I’m in the Mood for Love” hits #1

image from

Little Jack Little “I’m in the Mood for Love”

Writer(s): Jimmy McHugh/ Dorothy Fields (see lyrics here)

First charted: 8/17/1935

Peak: 13 US, 11 HP, 2 GA (Click for codes to singles charts.)

Sales (in millions): 3.0 US

Radio Airplay (in millions): -- Video Airplay (in millions): --

Review: Frances Langford introduced the song in the 1935 film Every Night at Eight and had a #15 hit with it. However, three other versions charted that year as well – Little Jack Little (#1), Louis Armstrong (#3), and Leo Reisman (#18). Eleven years later, Billy Eckstine brought the song back to the charts with his #12 version. It returned again in 1961 when the Chimes took it to #38.

The song has been recorded more than 500 times by a wide variety of artists, including Fats Domino, doo-wop group the Flamingos, Joni James, Liberace, Julie London, the McQuire Sisters, Charlie Parker, Les Paul, Oscar Peterson, and Roger Williams. MM-168 The song may be best known for its use in the Little Rascals’ short “The Pinch Singer” (1936) in which Alfalfa and Darla each perform the song. It has come to be known as his signature song. WK The song was amusingly parodied in 1954 by Spike Jones and the City Slickers as “I’m in the Nude for Love.” JA-98

The song also inspired the jazz standard “Moody’s Mood for Love.” Saxophonist James Moody recorded a jazz solo using the chords from “I’m in the Mood for Love” as the base for a new melody, which was also given new lyrics by Eddie Jefferson. Music critic Will Friedwald has said the record launched the new jazz movement of vocalese. SB

The song has also been sampled by rap artists Slick Rick (“Indian Girl (An Adult Story)”, 1988) and Prince Paul (“Mood for Love,” 1999). The song was also used in the Michael J. Fox film The Secret of My Success (1987) and the remake of Lolita (1997). WK It was also used in a 1980 episode of TV soap opera General Hospital in which characters Luke and Laura dance to an instrumental version of the song. WK

Resources and Related Links:

Note: Footnotes (raised letter codes) refer to sources frequently cited on the blog. Numbers following the letter code indicate page numbers. If the raised letter code is a link, it will go directly to the correct page instead of the home page of a website. You can find the sources and corresponding footnotes on the “Lists” page in the “Song Resources” section.


Tuesday, September 6, 2016

9/6/1924: Isham Jones takes “It Had to Be You” to #1

image from

Isham Jones “It Had to Be You”

Writer(s): Isham Jones/ Gus Kahn (see lyrics here)

First charted: 7/19/1924

Peak: 15 US, 2 GA (Click for codes to singles charts.)

Sales (in millions): -- US, -- UK, -- world (includes US and UK)

Radio Airplay (in millions): -- Video Airplay (in millions): --

Review: “This is one of the high points in Tin Pan Alley era songwriting” RCG and “one of the most enduringly popular ballads of the 1920s.” SS-589 Unlike many of its Great American Songbook counterparts, “this effortless classic” RCG didn’t “put love and lovers on a pedestal,” TM but opted for the reality of being “smitten in spite of the significant other’s bossy and cranky nature,” TM and acknowledging that “if we’re lucky, we find somebody who loves us and can’t live without us, in spite of our faults.” TM

It was a sophisticated song “with grown-up, often witty lyrics that have stood the test of time, are endlessly revived and still sound as good today as they did then.” LW-48 Kahn “uses simple masculine rhymes and short but potent phrases throughout” RCG and “easily captivates all the romance and humanity in a simple, straightforward love song.” RCG

Interestingly, the most successful version of the song is Isham Jones’ instrumental recording. Jones took it to #1, as he did eight times total, including with “On the Alamo,” “Swingin’ Down the Lane,” “Spain” and “I’ll See You in My Dreams.” PM-240 While they were all instrumentals, Gus Kahn provided lyrics for all of them, as he also did for classics like “Carolina in the Morning,” “Yes Sir! That’s My Baby,” and “Makin’ Whoopee.” SS-589

The “perennial nightclub favorite” JA-103 charted six times in 1924 alone. It has been recorded hundreds of times, including versions by Tony Bennett, Ray Charles, Nat “King” Cole, Cliff Edwards (#6), Helen Forrest and Dick Haymes (#4), Marion Harris (#3), Earl Hines (#18), Betty Hutton (#5), Vera Lynn, Billy Murray with Aileen Stanley (#8), Harry Nilsson, Kenny Rogers, Artie Shaw (#10), Frank Sinatra, Barbra Streisand, Danny Thomas, John Travolta, Paul Whiteman, Andy Williams. The song has been featured in more than 40 films, including Casablanca (1942), Incendiary Blonde (1944), the Gus Kahn biopic I’ll See You in My Dreams (1951), Annie Hall (1977), and When Harry Met Sally (1989). RCG

Resources and Related Links:

Note: Footnotes (raised letter codes) refer to sources frequently cited on the blog. Numbers following the letter code indicate page numbers. If the raised letter code is a link, it will go directly to the correct page instead of the home page of a website. You can find the sources and corresponding footnotes on the “Lists” page in the “Song Resources” section.