Swanee (song)

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1919 "Swanee" sheet music with Jolson on the cover. For the full sheet music, see Wikisource.

"Swanee" is an American popular song written in 1919 by George Gershwin, with lyrics by Irving Caesar. It is most often associated with singer Al Jolson.

The song was written for a New York City revue called Demi-Tasse, which opened in October 1919 in the Capitol Theater. Caesar and Gershwin, who was then aged 20, claimed to have written the song in about ten minutes riding on a bus in Manhattan, finishing it at Gershwin's apartment. It was written partly as a parody of Stephen Foster's "Old Folks at Home", even filching the title for the Swanee lyrics. It was originally used as a big production number, with 60 chorus girls dancing with electric lights in their slippers on an otherwise darkened stage.[1]

The song had little impact in its first show, but not long afterwards Gershwin played it at a party where Al Jolson heard it. Jolson then put it into his show Sinbad, already a success at the Winter Garden Theatre, and recorded it for Columbia Records in January 1920.[2] "After that", said Gershwin, "Swanee penetrated the four corners of the earth." The song was charted in 1920 for 18 weeks holding the No. 1 position for nine.[3] It sold a million sheet music copies, and an estimated two million records.[4] It became Gershwin's first hit and the biggest-selling song of his career; the money he earned from it allowed him to concentrate on theatre work and films rather than writing further single pop hits. Arthur Schwartz said: "It's ironic that he never again wrote a number equaling the sales of Swanee, which for all its infectiousness, doesn't match the individuality and subtlety of his later works."[5]

Jolson recorded the song several times in his career and performed it in the movies The Jolson Story (1946), Rhapsody in Blue (1946), and Jolson Sings Again (1949). For the song's performance in The Jolson Story, Jolson, rather than actor Larry Parks, appeared as himself, filmed in long shot. Although usually associated with Jolson, "Swanee" has been recorded by many other singers, most notably Judy Garland in A Star Is Born.[1] Rufus Wainwright performed the song on his 2007 album, Rufus Does Judy at Carnegie Hall. In 1979 "Swanee" was performed by the Muppets.[6]

The song was also used by the Sydney Swans Australian Rules Football Club for its marketing promotions in the late 1990s.

The University of Florida’s marching band, The Pride of the Sunshine, plays "Swanee" at Florida Gators football games.

Recorded versions[edit]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b Pubdomian-Popular Public Domain Music | Love Songs | Swanee song lyrics | George Gershwin
  2. ^ Al Jolson Society
  3. ^ CD liner notes: Chart-Toppers of the Twenties, 1998 ASV Ltd.
  4. ^ Britannica Educational Publishing (2009-10-01). The 100 Most Influential Musicians of All Time, p. 164. The Rosen Publishing Group. Retrieved 2012-03-14.
  5. ^ Open Writing: Swanee Archived 2008-06-01 at the Wayback Machine
  6. ^ Video on YouTube

External links[edit]