If there’s one thing that hits you over the head when you take even a brief look at popular music of the mid-20th century, it’s how much native talent and plain hard work were involved behind the scenes to bring about that great flourishing of America’s “new sound” — jazz and swing. This week’s Sometimes a Song, “Moonglow,” was written by a man known not primarily as a composer, but as a band leader and an arranger.
Will Hudson was born in 1908, on the Canadian side of Niagara Falls. His family moved to Detroit when he was a baby, and he had an ordinary pubic school education of the day. For him, that meant that by 1930, at the ripe old age of 22, he was co-leading his own popular dance orchestra with Eddie DeLange, the lyricist who added the words to the Hudson’s first hit song, a fox-trot called, “Moonglow.” The Hudson-DeLange orchestra flourished during the Great Depression, between 1930 and the start of World War II, at which time Hudson enlisted in the Army Air Force, and was shortly assigned to work as the arranger for Glenn Miller’s Army Air Force Band. What a resume for a young fellow barely in his 30’s. But the story doesn’t end here.
After the war, in 1948 at age 40, Hudson enrolled at the world-class Julliard School of Music to study advanced composition. He earned his diploma from Julliard in 1952, and continued for a post-graduation diploma, which he earned in 1953. After his formal studies at Julliard, Hudson, never satisfied to rest on his well-earned laurels, continued to study composition privately for years following.
As for “Moonglow,” the song has had a significant life of its own and is a mini-masterpiece of composition which I must leave to those more expert in musical theory than myself to expound upon. The song has been commercially recorded over 570 times, and that doesn’t count a considerably larger number of re-releases in the near century since Hudson wrote it. I find it interesting — and a bit appalling — that “Moonglow” was featured, uncredited, in the Theme from “Picnic,” a major film release by Columbia Pictures (1955). I can only hope that Hudson was well-compensated for the success of that recording, which skyrocketed on the charts for the Columbia Pictures Orchestra. “Moonglow,” as they say in the trade, is immortal.
And as aways when we are discussing such a great song, the problem arises: which version shall I share of such a classic of the genre, the era, and of musical composition in general? I’ve settled on two, but a brief internet search will yield you many many more great renditions. The first, below, is an early instrumental recording by The Benny Goodman Quartet — with Goodman on clarinet, Lionel Hampton on the marimba (a Vibraphone), Teddy Wilson on the 88’s, and Gene Krupa on drums. The second features a marvelous blues vocal by a young Ethel Waters, singing with The Dorsey Brothers Orchestra.
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