One account of the inspiration for the song is that, during her time at Radcliffe College, Ronell "had been struck by the loveliness of the willow trees on campus, and this simple observation became the subject of an intricate song". The song was not initially accepted by publishers, for several reasons. First, the song is dedicated to George Gershwin; a dedication to another writer was disapproved of at the time, so the first person presented with the song for publication, Saul Bornstein, passed it to Irving Berlin, who chose to accept it. Other reasons stated for its slow acceptance are that it was written by a woman and that its construction was unusually complex for a composition that was targeted at a commercial audience (i.e. radio broadcast, record sales and sheet music sales). An implied tempo change in the fifth bar, a result of a switch from the two quavers and a quaver triplet opening in each of the first four bars to just four quavers opening the fifth, then back to two quavers and a quaver triplet opening the sixth bar, which then has a more offset longer note than any of the previous bars, was one cause of Bornstein's concern. Notable recordings continued from the early 1950s, following the success of Stan Kenton's 1950 release (with vocal by June Christy) of the song.