Donald Heywood

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Donald Heywood
Donald Heywood 1935.jpg
Born(1896-10-24)October 24, 1896
Died(1967-01-13)January 13, 1967

Donald Heywood (24 October 1896 – 13 January 1967) was a Trinidadian-born American songwriter, composer, writer and director. He is best remembered for composing "I'm Coming Virginia" in 1926, which became a hit for Ethel Waters. He became a prominent figure in black musical theater, and produced scores for films such as Moon Over Harlem (1939) and Murder on Lenox Avenue (1941).


Early years[edit]

Heywood born in Tunapuna, Trinidad and Tobago, in 1896.[1][a] He showed an aptitude for playing the piano and with other stringed instruments at an early age. Heywood's father, a physician, was intent that his son follow in his footsteps, and sent young Heywood to college at Queens Royal College in Trinidad,[4] and then to Fisk University in Nashville.[b] Heywood studied at Fisk for two years before moving on to Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois for medical studies.[2]

During his time at Northwestern, Heywood's interest in music began to take precedence over his medical education.[2] He moved to New York and began studying music at Kordkin Moser Conservatory.[4] In 1923, he got his first professional music-related job. Heywood composed music for The North Ain't South, which was performed at Harlem's Lafayette Theatre.[2]

Records, radio and Broadway[edit]

Heywood was working for RCA Victor by the early 1920s.[5][c] On 29 August 1923 his "I Want My Sweet Daddy Now" was recorded by Rosa Henderson.[6][d] On February 2, 1926 his "Charleston Ball" was recorded by the Charles Dornberger Orchestra.[7] Heywood is best remembered for composing "I'm Coming Virginia", teaming with Will Marion Cook who added the lyrics. It is often wrongly attributed to vocalist Ethel Waters, who first recorded it on September 18, 1926 on the Columbia Records label with Cook’s Singing Orchestra, though she is credited with popularizing it. Trumpeter Bix Beiderbecke, pianist Fats Waller and the Paul Whiteman Orchestra featuring Bing Crosby all recorded it in 1927. The song has become a jazz standard, popular with Dixieland musicians and was recorded by many other artists including Benny Goodman in 1938.[8]

In 1927, Heywood continued his collaboration with Waters, recording tunes such as "Keep an Eye on Your Man", "I Want My Sweet Daddy Now" and "Clorinda" with her. Heywood and Waters made their Broadway debuts on July 11, 1927 with the Heywood-written revue, Africana. Heywood also performed in the musical he had written when a replacement was needed for cast member Louis Douglas. The role called for someone who spoke fluent French; Heywood had studied the language when at Fisk and Northwestern.[9] The song "Clorinda" was part of the original score with "I Want My Sweet Daddy Now" added after the revue's first performance.[10][e] The production ran for 72 performances at the Nederlander Theatre and put Waters on the road to stardom.[3][12][13]

The same year, Heywood's "Mango Lane" and "Susanne" was recorded by Dan Michaels and Hilda Perleno, singing as a duet, with Heywood accompanying them on piano. On 4 January 1928, the Paul Whiteman Orchestra recorded Heywood's "Smile".[14][15][16] Heywood also made regular radio appearances with Hilda Perleno on WCGU during 1928.[17][18] By 1929, he had a local radio program of his own.[19]

In 1931, Cab Calloway recorded his song "Black Rhythm," a canny parody of stereotypes about black music.[20]

Theater and film[edit]

In the early 1930s, Heywood capitalized on the surge in popularity of plays with all-black casts, often with religious themes. He became known for his work in black musical theater.[21] Heywood's "The Black King", based on Marcus Garvey's life was a success on Broadway under Léonide Massine, prompting him to approach Bud Pollard to direct a screen version in 1932.[22] Heywood was later a film score composer for films such as Moon Over Harlem (1939) and Murder on Lenox Avenue (1941).[23] For Murder on Lenox Avenue he wrote the songs "Trying to Forget", "I'll Get Even With You, and "What You Know About That".[24] He also appeared in films; Oscar Micheaux's 1931 film, The Exile, featured Heywood's musical score and his appearance as "Don Heywood and his Band".[25][26] He appeared in Micheaux's film Veiled Aristocrats and arranged the music for Ten Minutes to Live with a role as the master of ceremonies in the film.[27][28]

Heywood died in New York City in 1967.[1][4]


  1. ^ Another source says he was born in 1901.[2] Other sources say he was born in Venezuela of West Indian descent.[3]
  2. ^ Some sources say Heywood studied music at Fisk.[3]
  3. ^ Donald Heywood's West Indian Band provided the backing for Sam Manning's rendition of "Touch Me All About, But Don't Touch Me Dey".[5]
  4. ^ There were seven takes of this recording. The first was on August 29, 1923 and the last on September 19, 1923. According to Victor's records, all masters of these recordings have been destroyed.[6]
  5. ^ Heywood's name has been misspelled at the Internet Broadway Database as "Heyward"[11]


  1. ^ a b "Donald Heywood". Radio Swiss Jazz. Retrieved 14 March 2017.
  2. ^ a b c d Hill, Errol G.; Hatch, James V. (2003). A History of African American Theatre. Cambridge University Press. p. 276. ISBN 978-0-5216-2443-5.
  3. ^ a b c Peterson, Bernard L. (1990). Early Black American Playwrights and Dramatic Writers: A Biographical Directory and Catalog of Plays, Films, and Broadcasting Scripts. Greenwood. pp. 97–99. ISBN 978-0-3132-6621-8.
  4. ^ a b c "Composer, Author, Conductor Donald Heywood Dies". Jet. Johnson Publishing: 59. February 2, 1967. ISSN 0021-5996. Retrieved March 18, 2017.
  5. ^ a b Mazor, Barry (2015). Ralph Peer and the Making of Popular Roots Music. Chicago Review Press. p. 134. ISBN 978-1-6137-3388-2.
  6. ^ a b "Victor matrix B-28517. I want my sweet daddy now". Discography of American Historical Recordings. Retrieved March 18, 2017.
  7. ^ "Charleston ball recording". Discography of American Historical Recordings. Retrieved March 18, 2017.
  8. ^ "I'm Coming Virginia (1927)". Retrieved 14 March 2017.
  9. ^ "Count Heywood Appearing at the National Theatre". Pittsburgh Courier. September 10, 1927. p. 15. Retrieved March 21, 2017 – via open access
  10. ^ "Africana (1927)". Broadway World. Retrieved March 18, 2017.
  11. ^ "Donald Heyward". IBDB. Retrieved March 18, 2017.
  12. ^ Mordden, Ethan (2015). Sing for Your Supper: The Broadway Musical in the 1930s. St. Martin's Press. pp. 91–92. ISBN 978-1-4668-9347-4.
  13. ^ "Africana (1927)". Playbill vault. Retrieved March 18, 2017.
  14. ^ "Donald Heywood (composer)". Discography of American Historical Recordings. Retrieved 14 March 2017.
  15. ^ "Victor matrix BVE-41710. Susanne". Discography of American Historical Recordings. Retrieved 17 March 2017.
  16. ^ "Victor matrix BVE-41708. Mango Lane". Discography of American Historical Recordings. Retrieved 17 March 2017.
  17. ^ "Radio News and Reviews". Long Island Daily Press. January 13, 1928. p. 10. Retrieved March 17, 2017.
  18. ^ "Radio News and Reviews". Long Island Daily Press. January 31, 1928. Retrieved March 17, 2017.
  19. ^ "On the Air Tonight". News-Herald. November 23, 1929. p. 3. Retrieved March 21, 2017 – via open access
  20. ^ Richard Middleton, "Epilogue," in

    Jazz Worlds/World Jazz

    , ed. by Philip V. Bohlman and Goffredo Plastino, p. 447.
  21. ^ Springer, Robert (2007). Nobody Knows where the Blues Come from: Lyrics and History. Univ. Press of Mississippi. p. 217. ISBN 978-1-934110-29-4.
  22. ^ Weisenfeld, Judith (2007). Hollywood be Thy Name: African American Religion in American Film, 1929-1949. University of California Press. p. 138. ISBN 978-0-520-22774-3.
  23. ^ Cripps, Thomas (3 February 1977). Slow Fade to Black. Oxford University Press. p. 435. ISBN 978-0-19-987845-1.
  24. ^ Gevinson, Alan (1997). Within Our Gates: Ethnicity in American Feature Films, 1911-1960. University of California Press. p. 685. ISBN 978-0-520-20964-0.
  25. ^ Green, J. Ronald (2004). With a Crooked Stick: The Films of Oscar Micheaux. Indiana University Press. pp. 119–124. ISBN 978-0-2532-1715-8.
  26. ^ "The Exile full cast". IMDB. Retrieved March 19, 2017.
  27. ^ "Veiled Aristocrats". IMDB. Retrieved March 21, 2017.
  28. ^ "Ten Minutes to Live". IMDB. Retrieved March 21, 2017.

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