Tea for Two (song)

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"Tea for Two"
Record label for a 1924 recording by Marion Harris
Record label of 1925 number one hit by Marion Harris[1]
Single by Marion Harris
B-side"The Blues Have Got Me"
PublishedJune 10, 1924 (1924-06-10) Harms, Inc.[2]
ReleasedJanuary 1925 (1925-01)
RecordedOctober 15, 1924 (1924-10-15)[3]
StudioBrunswick Studios, 799 Seventh Avenue, New York City
GenrePopular music, musical theater
LabelBrunswick 2747
Composer(s)Vincent Youmans
Lyricist(s)Irving Caesar
Official audio
"Tea for Two" (Recorded November 1924) on YouTube

"Tea for Two" is a 1924 song composed by Vincent Youmans, with lyrics by Irving Caesar.[4][5] It was introduced in May 1924 by Phyllis Cleveland and John Barker during the Chicago pre-Broadway run of the musical No, No, Nanette.[6][4] When the show finally hit Broadway on September 16, 1925, Nanette was played by Louise Groody, and her duet with Barker of "Tea for Two" was a hit. The song went on to become the biggest success of Youmans' career.[7]


Youmans had written the basic melody idea of "Tea for Two" while he was in the navy during World War I, and he used it later on as an introductory passage for a song called "Who's Who with You?" While in Chicago, Youmans developed the idea into "a song that the hero could sing to the heroine" for the musical No, No, Nanette. He soon after played his composition for Irving Caesar and insisted he write the lyrics then and there. Caesar quickly jotted down a mock-up lyric, fully intending to revise it later on. Youmans, though, loved the mock-up and convinced Caesar it was just right for the melody.[8][4]

It has been proposed, with little supporting evidence, that the phrase 'Tea for Two' was originally shouted by hawkers on the streets of 18th century England who wanted to attract business by lowering the price of a pot of tea from thruppence to tuppence. While this may be the case, 'tea for two' would have been a commonplace order for a couple in 19th-century English cafeterias.[9][10]

Musical characteristics[edit]

"Tea for Two" has an A1-A2-A3-B form, a range of just over an octave, and a major tonality throughout.[11][12] The song's original key was A major with a pivot modulation to C major during the second "A" section.[11] It is rhythmically repetitive (as the entire song consists of eighth and quarter notes, except for a pattern of eighth, quarter, and eighth notes which briefly emerge in the second section) and has a relatively simple harmonic progression, as well as a simple yet charming melody.[11][12]

Charting recordings[edit]

  • January 1925 (1925-01): The Benson Orchestra of Chicago's instrumental rendition reaches number five on the US Billboard chart and stays there for five weeks.[13][9]
  • January 1925 (1925-01): Marion Harris's rendition reaches number one on the US Billboard chart and stays there for 11 weeks.[13][9]
  • 1939 (1939): Art Tatum's rendition, for which he posthumously received a Grammy Hall of Fame Award, hits number eighteen on the US Billboard chart and stays there for a week.[13][9]
  • September 1958 (1958-09): Tommy Dorsey's rendition reaches number seven on the US Billboard chart and stays there for twenty weeks and number five on the weekly top 50 charts from the Toronto radio station 'CHUM' and stays there for thirteen weeks.[13][9]
  • October 1958 (1958-10): Tommy Dorsey's rendition reaches number three on the UK Singles chart and stays there nineteen weeks.[13][9]

Adaptations and notable covers[edit]

  • In 1926, Boris Fomin arranged it for inclusion in his operetta "The Career of Pierpont Blake" (Карьера Пирпойнта Блэка), with Russian lyrics by Konstantin Podrevsky, under the title "Tahiti Trot".[14]
  • In 1927, Dmitri Shostakovich arranged "Tea for Two", known in the Soviet Union as Tahiti Trot, from memory after conductor Nicolai Malko bet him he could not do it in under an hour. He completed the orchestration in 45 minutes.

The following artists covered the song: Benny Goodman (1937), Fats Waller (c. 1938–1939), Gene Krupa with Anita O'Day (c. 1942), Art Tatum, Stan Kenton with O'Day (1944–1945), Frank Sinatra and Dinah Shore (1947), Doris Day (1955), Duke Ellington, appearing on a 1999 expanded version of Ellington at Newport (1956), Bud Powell, The Genius of Bud Powell (1956), Teddy Wilson (1956), Anita O'Day, Anita O'Day at Mister Kelly's (1959).

In popular culture[edit]


  1. ^ Whitburn, Joel (1986). Joel Whitburn's Pop memories, 1890–1954 : the history of American popular music : compiled from America's popular music charts 1890–1954. The Archive of Contemporary Music. Menomonee Falls, Wis. : Record Research. ISBN 978-0-89820-083-6.
  2. ^ Library of Congress. Copyright Office. (1924). Catalog of Copyright Entries, 1924 Musical Compositions New Series Vol 19 Part 3. United States Copyright Office. U.S. Govt. Print. Off.
  3. ^ "Brunswick matrix 13957-13959. Tea for two / Marion Harris – Discography of American Historical Recordings". adp.library.ucsb.edu. Retrieved October 17, 2021.
  4. ^ a b c Lewens, Alan (2001). Popular Song: Soundtrack of the Century. New York: Billboard Books. p. 50. ISBN 0823084361. Retrieved April 8, 2019.
  5. ^ Grossiels, Dirk. "Tea for Two". SecondHandSongs. Retrieved March 28, 2019.
  6. ^ "No, No, Nanette (Pre-Broadway Production, 1924)". Ovrtur. Retrieved October 17, 2021.
  7. ^ Zinsser, William Knowlton (2001). Easy To Remember: The Great American Songwriters And Their Songs (1st ed.). Jaffrey, N.H.: David R. Godine. p. 52. ISBN 1567921477. Retrieved April 8, 2019.
  8. ^ Ewen, David (1970). Great Men Of American Popular Song. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall. p. 152. ISBN 0133641740. Retrieved April 8, 2019.
  9. ^ a b c d e f Wilson, Jeremy. "Tea for Two (1924)". Jazz Standards Songs and Instrumentals. Retrieved March 28, 2019.
  10. ^ Furia, Philip (1990). The poets of Tin Pan Alley: A history of America's great lyricists. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0195064089.
  11. ^ a b c McElrath, K.J. "Musical analysis of "Tea for Two"". JazzStandards. Retrieved March 30, 2019.
  12. ^ a b c d e Hawtin, Steve. "Song title 697 - Tea For Two". tsort - The World's Music Charts. Retrieved March 29, 2019.
  13. ^ "Б. Фомин, К. Подревский – Таити-трот (к оперетте "Карьера Пирпойнта Блэка", с нотами)". a-pesni.org. Retrieved July 13, 2019.