Jacques Wolfe

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Sad Song in De Air.jpg

Jacques Leon Wolfe (April 29, 1896 – June 22, 1973) was a Romanian-born American songwriter.

Wolfe was born in Botoşani, Romania. His family emigrated to New York when he was a very young child. He displayed musical talent as a youngster and, at 16, he entered the Institute of Musical Art, now known as Juilliard School. During World War I, he was stationed at Governor’s Island, where he played clarinet in a military band. Transferred south, Wolfe made his first direct contact with African-American music. He was fascinated with the genre and did extensive research on the history of black folk songs and spirituals. He became inspired to write his own music based on the style. His spirituals and “work songs” became very popular in sheet music form in the early 1930s. In 1934 Wolfe collaborated with poet Langston Hughes to write "Sad Song in de Air," published by Robbins Music Corp.

Jacques Wolfe is credited with writing "Short'nin' Bread" in 1928. The song is a vaudeville "blackface" song written for stage during blackface shows. The music was published by Harold Flammer and distributed by G. Schirmer in New York City.

Also set "Three Negro Poems" by Clement Wood to music for "medium or low voice and piano". Published in 1928 by G. Schirmer, the three songs are entitled: "Debil-Foot", "De Glory Road" and "Gwine to Hebb'n". "De Glory Road" appears dedicated to Paul Robeson.

Wolfe wrote the music for the 1931 film The Prodigal and in 1938, composed the music for a Broadway musical based on Roark Bradford’s John Henry, starring Paul Robeson in the title role. The musical opened in January 1940 and, some reviewers thought because of a weak script, closed five days later.

Wolfe wrote the wonderful song "Sailormen" about three boys at sea in their backyard which was sung by Nelson Eddy in October 9, 1939 on the Chase and Sanborn Hour (NBC). (Hear the song on YouTube.)

In later life, Wolfe lived in Miami and took up photography. In a letter from 1950, Wolfe's wife Rose referenced a new show that he had written called "Comrade, Darling" - which she described as a "satire on Russia" - but it apparently was not produced due to a lack of financial backing.

In addition to his wife, Wolfe had a son and two granddaughters. Jacques Wolfe died in Bradenton, Florida, on June 22, 1973.

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