Until now, the American Songbook selections I’ve shared have something in common: they are the result of collaborations between a composer and a lyricist. But in this regard, Cole Porter was unlike most of the Tin Pan Alley songwriters with whom he associated, because he wrote both the lyrics and the music for all of his songs. Like many of the composers of his era, Cole Porter was something of a prodigy. He wrote an opera at age ten. This musical precocity made Cole’s mother happy, but not his grandfather. With an eye toward preparing his grandson for a law degree, Cole’s grandfather sent him East to Worcester Academy. (Presciently, young Cole took an upright piano with him when he went!)
After graduating from Worcester as class valedictorian, Cole Porter went on to Yale, where he earned an English major and a music minor, all while developing a taste for Broadway and the New York high life, which were within easy reach of New Haven. Porter wrote 300 songs while he was at Yale, where he contributed his considerable talents to many theatrical productions, graduating with a major in English and a minor in music. Cole Porter did oblige his grandfather by enrolling in Harvard Law School. But fortunately for the world, a Harvard advisor recommended that he pursue a music degree instead of the law. (This slight change in plans was never disclosed to Grandfather Cole.)
Of the some 800 songs he wrote in his career, Cole Porter composed his most famous tunes for Broadway plays and for Hollywood films, a fact which explains why his lyrics so often tell a story or draw listeners into a dramatic situation. This dramatic element is a hallmark of Cole Porter songs. Yet despite his penchant for lyric drama, Porter was also rare among Tin Pan Alley songwriters in that so many of his tunes — “Begin the Beguine” comes immediately to mind — became huge hits as straight instrumentals with no singers and no lyrics involved their production at all.
I’ll have more Cole Porter songs to share, and more to say about his place in the great flourishing of American music in the first half of the 20th century. But for our week of mirth at Word & Song, I give you one of Mr. Porter’s most light-hearted compositions, performed on radio in a entertaining “duet” featuring The Voice, Frank Sinatra, and Mr. Television, Milton Berle. The song comes from Porter’s musical, Red Hot and Blue (1936). The story behind the song goes like this: Cole Porter and his wife were on the deck of a cruise ship watching a beautiful sunrise. Near them was their dear friend, actor Monty Woolley. Looking at the horizon, Cole Porter commented, “It’s delightful.” His wife immediately piped up, “It’s delicious!” And Woolley, not to be outdone in the Scintillating Wit Department, quipped, “It’s de-lovely.” And so dawned a new day and a new song. You may have heard this song before, but if you haven’t heard Frankie and Uncle Miltie sing it, you are in for a rare treat!
The night is young, the skies are clear So if you want to go walking, dear It's delightful, it's delicious, it's de-lovely I understand the reason why You're sentimental, 'cause so am I It's delightful, it's delicious, it's de-lovely. You can tell at a glance What a swell night this is for romance You can hear dear Mother Nature Murmuring low "Let yourself go!" So please be sweet, my chickadee And when I kiss you, just say to me "It's delightful, it's delicious It's delectable, it's delirious It's dilemma, it's de-limit, it's deluxe, It's de-lovely!"
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