|Born||April 19, 1897|
|Died||January 28, 1993(aged 95)|
Katharine Faulkner "Kay" Swift (April 19, 1897 – January 28, 1993) was an American composer of popular and classical music, the first woman to score a complete musical. Written in 1930, Fine and Dandy includes some of her best known songs; the title song has become a jazz standard. "Can't We Be Friends?" (1929) was another important hit. Swift also arranged some of the music of George Gershwin posthumously, such as the prelude "Sleepless Night" (1946).
Swift was educated as a classical musician and composer at the Institute of Musical Art (now known as the Juilliard School). Her teacher of composition was Charles Loeffler, while harmony and composition were taught to her by Percy Goetschius. Her father, a music critic, died when she was young. She had played professionally with the Edith Rubel Trio. While performing at a social event, she met the sister of her future husband, who arranged their meeting. James Paul "Jimmy" Warburg was a member of a distinguished Jewish family that had made a fortune in banking. Swift was not Jewish, and Jimmy's uncle by marriage Jacob Schiff objected to the marriage. But his parents accepted the marriage. Swift had three children by Warburg between 1919 and 1924. She was also grandmother to the novelist Katharine Weber.
Before meeting George Gershwin in 1925, she was said to have been elitist about classical music. Gershwin encouraged her to write popular pieces. Kay and George were more and more frequently seen together. Frequently out of town on business, her husband Jimmy was tolerant, later saying that he liked Gershwin although he had some resentment toward the "self-centered genius" who had interfered with his life. Jimmy—under the pen name of Paul James— wrote Kay's lyrics, an attempt to compete with her interest in Gershwin. But Swift's marriage dissolved in 1934. Gershwin and Swift's affair, due to their similar personalities and musical interests, lasted perhaps ten years in all. Gershwin frequently consulted Swift about his musicals and other works. After Gershwin's death in 1937, his brother Ira Gershwin collaborated with Swift to complete and arrange some of his unpublished works. Despite their long relationship, Kay and Gershwin never married, likely because, as her granddaughter Katharine Weber has suggested, Gershwin's mother Rose was unhappy that she was not Jewish.
Before her 1930 hit show Fine and Dandy, Kay Swift contributed numbers to The First Little Show ("Can't We Be Friends?") and The Garrick Gaieties. In 1952, Paris '90, a one-woman performance by Cornelia Otis Skinner, featured a score by Kay Swift. In the intervening years Swift had composed a ballet for George Balanchine, been staff composer at Radio City Music Hall where she wrote musical numbers for The Rockettes, and been Director of Light Music for the 1939 World's Fair.
Swift met a cowboy at a rodeo in 1939, and eloped with him two weeks later. Her 1943 book about life on his Oregon ranch, "Who Could Ask For Anything More?" was made into the 1950 movie Never a Dull Moment, which featured Fred MacMurray as the cowboy and Irene Dunne as Kay.
Her later years were devoted to transcribing, performing, and annotating Gershwin's music, which she did until being diagnosed with Alzheimer's Disease in 1991. She died at the Alzheimer's Resource Center in Southington, Connecticut on January 28, 1993 at the age of 95.
- Hyland, William G. (2003). George Gershwin: A New Biography. Praeger Publishers. ISBN 0-275-98111-8.
- Ohl, Vicki (2004). Fine & Dandy: The Life and Work of Kay Swift. Yale University Press. ISBN 0-300-10261-5.
- Kay Swift Papers at Irving S. Gilmore Music Library, Yale University
- 1923 passport photo of Kay Swift