Lew Brown

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Lew Brown
from promotional CD, issued c.1998
from promotional CD, issued c.1998
Background information
Birth nameLouis Brownstein
Born(1893-12-10)December 10, 1893
OriginOdessa, Russian Empire
DiedFebruary 5, 1958(1958-02-05) (aged 64)
New York City, United States
GenresPopular music
Years active1910s–1940s

Lew Brown (born Louis Brownstein,; December 10, 1893 – February 5, 1958) was a lyricist for popular songs in the United States. During World War I and the Roaring Twenties, he wrote lyrics for several of the top Tin Pan Alley composers, especially Albert Von Tilzer. Brown was one third of a successful songwriting and music publishing team with Buddy DeSylva and Ray Henderson from 1925 until 1931. Brown also wrote or co-wrote many Broadway shows and Hollywood films. Among his most-popular songs are "Button Up Your Overcoat", "Don't Sit Under the Apple Tree", "Life Is Just a Bowl of Cherries", "That Old Feeling", and "The Birth of the Blues".

Early life and family[edit]

Brown was born December 10, 1893, in Odessa, Russian Empire, part of today's Ukraine, the son of Etta (Hirsch) and Jacob Brownstein.[1] His family was Jewish. When he was five, his family immigrated to the United States and settled in New York City.[2] He attended DeWitt Clinton High School but, at the suggestion of a teacher, he left to pursue his songwriting career without graduating.[3]

Lew Brown was married first to Sylvia Fiske, then to Catherine "June" Brown until his death. He had two daughters from his first marriage, Naomi Brown Greif and Arlyne Brown Mulligan. The latter was married to the prominent jazz saxophonist Gerry Mulligan.[4][5][6][7]


Brown started writing for Tin Pan Alley in 1912 and collaborated with established composers, like Albert Von Tilzer. Two of their well-known works that year were "(I'm Going Back to) Kentucky Sue"[8] and "I'm the Lonesomest Gal in Town".[9] Brown then wrote a string of popular World War I songs during 1914–1918, teaming with Von Tilzer, Al Harriman, and other composers.[10][11]

In 1925, Brown formed his most-successful songwriting partnership with Buddy DeSylva and Ray Henderson. Their cheerful hits, such as "Button Up Your Overcoat" and "The Birth of the Blues", earned lasting appreciation for "the rich variety of verbal mosaics" and "the suggestive imagery that was their trademark".[8] DeSylva left in 1931 but Brown and Henderson continued scoring Broadway shows. Brown also worked with other composers, like Sammy Fain.[9] "Brown in 1939 estimated that he had written or collaborated on about 7,000 songs."[6]

Brown wrote the lyrics to "Don't Sit Under the Apple Tree" (1942), which appeared in the film Private Buckaroo. Recordings by Glenn Miller and by the Andrews Sisters popularized the song with World War II soldiers and radio audiences. Not long after this hit, Brown retired from songwriting.[2]

Honors and awards[edit]

Brown and Fain's "That Old Feeling" (1937) was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Song.[12] "Don't Sit Under the Apple Tree" was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.[13] Von Tilzer, DeSylva, Brown and Henderson were all included in the inaugural class of the Songwriters Hall of Fame.[14]

Biographical film[edit]

The DeSylva, Brown and Henderson songwriting team was the subject of the 1956 musical biopic: The Best Things in Life Are Free. Brown was portrayed by Ernest Borgnine.[15]


Brown died of a heart attack at home in New York City on February 5, 1958.[16]

Individual songs[edit]

Theater and film productions[edit]

Theater source: Playbill Vault[17]

Posthumous credits


  1. ^ Furia, Philip (2002). American Song Lyricists, 1920-1960. ISBN 9780787660086.
  2. ^ a b Jasen, David A. (2003). Tin Pan Alley: An Encyclopedia of the Golden Age of American Song. New York: Routledge. pp. 54–55. ISBN 0415938775.
  3. ^ Pellison, Gerard J. (July 2018). DeWitt Clinton High School Notable Alumni (PDF). DeWitt Clinton Alumni Association. p. 10.
  4. ^ Ramsaye, Terry, ed. (1938). International Motion Picture Almanac 1937–38. Quigley Publishing Company. p. 154.
  5. ^ Copyright Office (1970). Catalog of Copyright Entries: Third Series, Volume 23, Part 5. The Library of Congress. p. 794.
  6. ^ a b "Lew Brown, 64, Wrote Hit Songs" (PDF). The New York Times. February 6, 1958. Retrieved November 14, 2018.
  7. ^ Josephson, Sanford (2015). Jeru's Journey: The Life & Music of Gerry Mulligan. Hal Leonard Corporation. p. 42. ISBN 978-1495050435.
  8. ^ a b Furia, Philip (1990). The Poets of Tin Pan Alley: A History of America's Great Lyricists. Oxford University Press. pp. 87–94. ISBN 0195064089.
  9. ^ a b c d Layne, Joslyn. "Lew Brown: Biography". AllMusic. Retrieved June 28, 2017.
  10. ^ a b c d e Parker, Bernard S. (2007). World War I Sheet Music - Volume 1. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, Inc. pp. 237, 250, 255, 277, 295. ISBN 978-0-7864-2798-7.
  11. ^ a b c d e f Parker, Bernard S. (2007). World War I Sheet Music - Volume 2. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, Inc. pp. 465, 587, 691, 705, 747, 749, 761, 803. ISBN 978-0-7864-2799-4.
  12. ^ "The 10th Academy Awards". Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Retrieved November 14, 2018.
  13. ^ "Grammy Hall of Fame". The Recording Academy. October 18, 2010. Retrieved November 14, 2018.
  14. ^ "Inductee Exhibits by Year of Induction". Songwriters Hall of Fame. Archived from the original on March 14, 2016.
  15. ^ The Best Things in Life Are Free, Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved January 19, 2016.
  16. ^ "Lew Brown, songwriter". Cafe Songbook. Retrieved November 18, 2018.
  17. ^ "Lew Brown", Playbill. Retrieved January 19, 2016.

External links[edit]