Begin the Beguine

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"Begin the Beguine"
Single by Artie Shaw and His Orchestra (original issues as "Art" Shaw)
A-side"Indian Love Call"
PublishedOctober 16, 1935 (1935-10-16) by Harms, Inc., New York[1]
ReleasedAugust 17, 1938 (1938-08-17)[2]
RecordedJuly 24, 1938 (1938-07-24)[3]
StudioRCA Victor, New York City
LabelBluebird B-7746
Composer(s)Cole Porter; arranged by Artie Shaw and Jerry Gray

"Begin the Beguine" is a popular song written by Cole Porter. Porter composed the song during a 1935 Pacific cruise aboard the Cunard ocean liner Franconia from Kalabahi, Indonesia, to Fiji.[4] In October 1935, it was introduced by June Knight in the Broadway musical Jubilee, produced at the Imperial Theatre in New York City.[5]

The first successful recording was a swing orchestral version released by Artie Shaw and His Orchestra in 1938. In 1981, Julio Iglesias released a Spanish language version which reached No. 1 on the U.K. chart, the first fully Spanish song to top the chart in the country.


The beguine is a dance and music form, similar to a slow rhumba. In his book American Popular Song: The Great Innovators 1900–1950, musicologist and composer Alec Wilder, described "Begin the Beguine" as

a maverick, it is an unprecedented experiment and one which, to this day, after hearing it hundreds of times, I cannot sing or whistle or play from start to finish without the printed music ... about the sixtieth measure I find myself muttering another title, 'End the Beguine'.[6]

Artie Shaw version[edit]

At first, the song gained little popularity, perhaps because of its length and unconventional form. Josephine Baker danced to it in her return to America in the Ziegfeld Follies of 1936, but neither she nor the song were successful. Two years later, however, bandleader Artie Shaw recorded an arrangement of the song, an extended swing orchestra version, in collaboration with his arranger and orchestrator, Jerry Gray.

After signing a new recording contract with RCA Victor, Shaw chose "Begin the Beguine" to be the first of six tunes he would record with his new 14-piece band in his first recording session with RCA. The session was held at the RCA Victor's "Studio 2" at 155 East 24th Street in New York City on July 24, 1938.[7] Until then, Shaw's band had been having a tough time finding an identity and maintaining its existence without having had any popular hits of significance. His previous recording contract with Brunswick had lapsed at the end of 1937 without being renewed.

RCA's pessimism with the whole idea of recording the long tune "that nobody could remember from beginning to end anyway"[This quote needs a citation] resulted in it being released on the "B" side of the record "Indian Love Call", issued by Bluebird Records as catalog number B-7746 B. Shaw's persistence paid off when "Begin the Beguine" became a best-selling record in 1938, peaking at no. 3, skyrocketing Shaw and his band to fame and popularity. The recording became one of the most famous and popular of the entire Swing Era. Subsequent re-releases by RCA Victor (catalog number 20-1551)[8] and other releases on LPs, tapes and CDs have kept the recording readily available continuously ever since its initial release.

Later popularity[edit]

After Shaw introduced the song to dance halls, MGM released the musical film Broadway Melody of 1940. The song is one of its musical numbers, first sung in dramatic style by mezzo-soprano Lois Hodnott on a tropical set, with Eleanor Powell and Fred Astaire dancing in flamenco choreography. It is continued in the then contemporary jazz style by The Music Maids, with Powell and Astaire tap dancing to a big-band accompaniment.

In short order, all the major big bands recorded it, including Harry James, Benny Goodman, Tommy Dorsey and Glenn Miller, often as an instrumental, as in the film. As a vocal song, it also became a pop standard, beginning with Joe Loss and Chick Henderson, the first pop vocal record to sell a million copies;[9] new interpretations are often still measured against renditions by Frank Sinatra and Ella Fitzgerald, and Elvis Presley did an adaptation of his own. "Begin the Beguine" became such a classic during World War II that Max Beckmann adopted the title for a painting in 1946 (which the University of Michigan Museum of Art purchased in 1948).[10]

Julio Iglesias version[edit]

"Begin the Beguine (Volver a Empezar)"
Single by Julio Iglesias
from the album De niña a mujer
B-side"De niña a mujer"
Songwriter(s)Cole Porter, Julio Iglesias

Julio Iglesias recorded a Spanish version of "Begin the Beguine", titled "Volver a Empezar" in Spanish. Iglesias himself wrote new Spanish lyrics for this song, which is about lost love rather than dance.[12] Apart from the opening lines, the full song is in Spanish. The song was produced in Madrid with an arrangement by producer Ramón Arcusa, using the rhythm from Johnny Mathis's disco version of the song.[12]

The song reached No. 1 in the UK Singles Chart in December 1981.[13] It is the first fully Spanish language song to have reached No. 1 on the British chart, although Iglesias is the second Spanish act to top the chart (after Baccara who topped the chart with an English language song).[14] The song was certified Gold by the BPI in the UK.[15] The song also spent three weeks at No. 1 in the Irish Singles Chart.[16] In Japan, it sold 96,170 units.[17] He also recorded versions of this song in Italian "Venezia a Settembre", French "Une chanson qui revient", and German "...Aber der Traum war sehr schön".


Chart (1981–82) Peak
Austria (Ö3 Austria Top 40)[18] 8
Belgium (Ultratop 50 Flanders)[19] 17
Germany (Official German Charts)[20] 57
Ireland (IRMA)[21] 1
Netherlands (Single Top 100)[22] 44
New Zealand (Recorded Music NZ)[23] 25
Switzerland (Schweizer Hitparade)[24] 7
UK Singles (OCC)[25] 1

Other notable versions[edit]

External audio
audio icon You may hear Xavier Cugat and his Waldorf-Astoria Orchestra performing Begin the Beguine in 1951 Here on
  • Xavier Cugat and his orchestra recorded one of the first versions in 1935, with a stronger Latin sound than later versions. The song was recorded as an instrumental, although a vocalist (Don Reid) sings the title and the beginning and end of the song. This recording reached the charts of the day.[26]
  • Leslie Hutchinson recorded a version on April 3, 1940. This recording was given to the Indian spiritual figure Meher Baba, who later asked that it be played seven times at his tomb when his body was laid to rest, which occurred a week after his death on January 31, 1969.[27][28]
  • Eddie Heywood and his orchestra recorded a single version in 1944 and this reached the USA charts in 1945 peaking in the No. 16 spot.[29]
  • Frank Sinatra recorded a version on February 24, 1946,[30] which reached the Billboard charts in the No. 23 position.[31]
  • Johnny Mathis recorded a popular disco version in 1978.
  • Ella Fitzgerald recorded a version for her 1956 album Ella Fitzgerald Sings the Cole Porter Songbook.
  • Ann-Margret recorded a version on her 1962 album The Vivacious One.
  • Melora Hardin performed the song in the 1991 film, The Rocketeer. It was featured on both the original and expanded motion picture soundtracks, released in 1991 and 2016 respectively.[32]
  • American singer-songwriter Michael Peter Smith recorded a version for his 1994 album Michael Margaret Pat & Kate[33] which featured songs from his autobiographical play of the same name.
  • Pete Townshend recorded a version for the 1970 collaboration album Happy Birthday, an album dedicated to Meher Baba.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Library of Congress. Copyright Office. (1935). Catalog of Copyright Entries 1935 Musical Compositions New Series Vol 30 Pt 3. United States Copyright Office. U.S. Govt. Print. Off.
  2. ^ "Bluebird B-7746 (10-in. double-faced) - Discography of American Historical Recordings". Retrieved June 13, 2022.
  3. ^ "Victor matrix BS-024079. Begin the beguine / Artie Shaw Orchestra - Discography of American Historical Recordings". Retrieved June 13, 2022.
  4. ^ Cryer, Max. "Love Me Tender: the stories behind the world's favourite songs" (Auckland: Exisie Publishing Co., 2008), pp. 86–89
  5. ^ Rice, Jo (1982). The Guinness Book of 500 Number One Hits (1st ed.). Enfield, Middlesex: Guinness Superlatives Ltd. p. 219. ISBN 0-85112-250-7.
  6. ^ Wilder, Alec. American Popular Song: The Great Innovators 1900–1950 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1972), p.240
  7. ^ Inventory of the Artie Shaw Collection, 1910–2005 (bulk 1936–1955) Collection Number: MMS 5 University of Arizona School of Music Archived May 29, 2015, at the Wayback Machine page 15 retrieved August 24, 2014
  8. ^ "RCA Victor 78rpm numerical listing discography: 20-1500 – 20-2000". Retrieved March 29, 2014.
  9. ^ "Chick Henderson Biography". AllMusic. Retrieved August 30, 2022.
  10. ^ "Exchange: Begin the Beguine". Retrieved March 11, 2020.
  11. ^ Molanphy, Chris (March 31, 2020). "La Vida Loca Edición". Hit Parade | Music History and Music Trivia (Podcast). Slate. Retrieved November 27, 2023.
  12. ^ a b Simpson, Dave (October 28, 2019). "Julio Iglesias: how we made Begin the Beguine". The Guardian.
  13. ^ Roberts, David (2006). British Hit Singles & Albums (19th ed.). London: Guinness World Records Limited. p. 403. ISBN 1-904994-10-5.
  14. ^ Kutner, Jon; Leigh, Spencer (2010). 1,000 UK Number One Hits. Omnibus Press. p. 490–492. ISBN 9780857123602 – via Google Books.
  15. ^ "British certifications – Julio Iglesias". British Phonographic Industry. Type Julio Iglesias in the "Search BPI Awards" field and then press Enter.
  16. ^ "The Irish Charts - All there is to know". Retrieved July 7, 2023.
  17. ^ Oricon Album Chart Book: Complete Edition 1970-2005. Roppongi, Tokyo: Oricon Entertainment. 2006. ISBN 4-87131-077-9.
  18. ^ "Julio Iglesias – Begin the Beguine (Volver a Empezar)" (in German). Ö3 Austria Top 40.
  19. ^ "Julio Iglesias – Begin the Beguine (Volver a Empezar)" (in Dutch). Ultratop 50.
  20. ^ "Julio Iglesias – Begin the Beguine (Volver a Empezar)" (in German). GfK Entertainment charts.
  21. ^ "The Irish Charts – Search Results – Begin the Beguine". Irish Singles Chart.
  22. ^ "Julio Iglesias – Begin the Beguine (Volver a Empezar)" (in Dutch). Single Top 100.
  23. ^ "Julio Iglesias – Begin the Beguine (Volver a Empezar)". Top 40 Singles.
  24. ^ "Julio Iglesias – Begin the Beguine (Volver a Empezar)". Swiss Singles Chart.
  25. ^ "Julio Iglesias: Artist Chart History". Official Charts Company.
  26. ^ Whitburn, Joel (1986). Joel Whitburn's Pop Memories 1890-1954. Wisconsin, USA: Record Research Inc. p. 116. ISBN 0-89820-083-0.
  27. ^ Susan Kidder Herr, "Darshan I: A Fairy Tale for Old Souls," The Awakener Magazine, vol.13, nos. 1 & 2 (1970), p. 8.
  28. ^ Fred Marks, Thoughts on Begin the Beguine, The Awakener Magazine, vol. 21, no. 2 (1985), p. 40.
  29. ^ Whitburn, Joel (1986). Joel Whitburn's Pop Memories 1890-1954. Wisconsin, USA: Record Research Inc. p. 211. ISBN 0-89820-083-0.
  30. ^ "Frank Sinatra Discography".
  31. ^ Whitburn, Joel (1986). Joel Whitburn's Pop Memories 1890-1954. Wisconsin, USA: Record Research Inc. p. 392. ISBN 0-89820-083-0.
  32. ^ "The Rocketeer: Expanded Motion Picture Soundtrack".
  33. ^ "Michael Peter Smith – Michael Margaret Pat & Kate (1994, CD)". Discogs. 1994. Retrieved July 5, 2023.