|Born||June 11, 1918|
Worcester, Massachusetts, United States
|Died||August 27, 1988 (aged 70)|
New York City
Higginbotham was born on June 11, 1918, in Worcester, Massachusetts. While her closest connection in the popular music of the 1930s and 1940s was Billie Holiday, the prolific songwriter was niece of the classic African-American jazz trombonist J. C. Higginbotham. She was a music student of choral conductor Kemper Harreld, of Morehouse College fame, and Frederic Hall. She was also a concert pianist at the age of 15 and joined the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) in 1944 when she was about 26. She was a composer of nearly 50 published songs. However, because she was an African-American woman who worked as a composer on Tin Pan Alley during a period when composers there were overwhelmingly white and male, some scholars and musicologists have speculated that Higginbotham may have composed many more songs that were never published and/or where she was never given a credit as a composer or co-composer. It is known that she, like a few other composers, used a pseudonym, in her case "Glenn Gibson", in what was probably an effort to conceal the fact that she was female, and an African-American female at that. While Higginbotham remains one of the least well-known or heralded songwriters, her large contributions to jazz and popular song are undeniable.
Higginbotham died on August 27, 1988, in New York City.
Her popular-song compositions included:
- "Good Morning Heartache" (1946), recorded by Billie Holiday, Joe Williams, Billy Eckstine, Ella Fitzgerald, Tony Bennett and many others
- "No Good Man", recorded by Billie Holiday (1946), and Nina Simone (1961)
- "This Will Make You Laugh", recorded by Nat King Cole Trio in 1941 and in 1993 by daughter Natalie Cole, also Carmen McRae (1955), Marvin Gaye (1978), John Pizzarelli (1992), and Keith Ingham (1998)
- "Are You Livin' Old Man", recorded by Anita O'Day with the Stan Kenton Orchestra (1942), and June Christy with the Stan Kenton Orchestra (1945)
- "It's Mad, Mad, Mad", recorded by Duke Ellington (1947)
- "I Got News for You", recorded by Woody Herman (1948)
- "Mean and Evil Blues", recorded by Dinah Washington (1948)
- "No Sale", recorded by Louis Jordan & His Tympany Five (1945)
- "That Did It, Marie", recorded by Peggy Lee and Benny Goodman & His Orchestra (1941)
- "The Bottle's Empty" recorded by Coleman Hawkins (1945)
Also see ASCAP pages for a partial list.
The two Irenes
- "Irene Higginbotham", The Black Perspective in Music, Vol. 16, No. 2 (Autumn 1988), p. 247.
- Ted Gioia, "Five women songwriters who helped shape the sound of jazz", OUP blog, March 12, 2013.
- David "Chet" Williamson Sneade, "'Good Morning Heartache'", Worcester Songwriters of the Great American Songbook, December 22, 2012.
- Songs Composed by Irene Higginbotham
- ASCAP: Songs Composed by Irene Higginbotham