Ukulele Player's Guide

The Great Composers of Broadway and Tin Pan Alley

These composers wrote for an audience that was more mature and sophisticated than today.

They had various levels of formal training, but received thei real musical education from being in the business. Their great songs survive today because of musicians who continue to play them for their own enjoyment, not for commercial gain from a large audience. The chances of a composer today of writing anything as good as their best is is about zero. This website will try to direct you to sources where you can listen and play those songs.

Irving Berlin

Irving Berlin was born in Russia in 1888. His family emigrated to New York when he was a child. When he was 13 or 14 years old, his father died and he bacame a street singer to make money. From there he worked his way up to singing waiter and then song plugger and writer of lyrics. Eventually he wrote so many hit songs, both the words and lyrics that he was able to open his own publishing house and produce his own musical reviews on Broadway and to write for movies which starred Fred Astair. He lived to be 101 years old and wrote over a thousand songs. Even though he was a school dropout, such was his level of self education that he wrote words and music so sophisticated that today, most of his songs would be too mature to attract the mass audience that the music business now requires. You can find his songs on albums by Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers and in the musicals ANNIE GET YOUR GUN and CALL ME MADAM and the movie TOP HAT. The UKULELE GUIDE OPEN MIC SONGBOOK has one of his early hits: "Someone Else May Be There When I'm Gone" from 1919 originally sung by Beatrice Lille which can be heard on the CD the Ultimate Irving Berlin Vol II. Look for the Roy Smeck--Irving Berlin ukulele song book shown on the song books page of this site. Here is Michael Jackson performing the great Irving Berlin song: "Steppin' Out With My Baby".

Cole Porter

Cole Porter, second only to Irving Berlin among American composers ,was born in 1891 in Peru, Indiana, and was well-off all of his life because of his family's wealth. He studied music at Yale and in Paris and wrote music for shows from the time he was in college. Some of the hit shows he wrote for Broadway were later made into movies including THE GAY DIVORVCEE, KISS ME KATE, SILK STOCKINGS, and DUBARRY WAS A LADY, and these movies are available to be rented. Songs you should try on your ukulele include "Night and Day", "Anything Goes", "Just One of Those Things", "Brush Up Your Shakespeare", and "My Heart Belongs to Daddy". Here is Fred Astaire singing "All of You" from Silk Stockings.

George Gershwin

George Gershwin was born in New York City in 1898. His family bought a piano for his brother and George learned to play. At the age of fifteen after music instruction which included study with some of the best American composers, he dropped out of school and became professional. Today he is best remembered as the composer of "Rhapsody In Blue" and PORGY AND BESS which are not nearly as much fun as his other works such as OF THEE I SING (BABY), a prize winning musical produced in 1931, and LET THEM EAT CAKE in 1933 the sequel. His biggest hit was "Swanee" written in 1918, when he was 19 years old and sung to great effect by Al Jolson. A few of his other many great songs are "Embraceable You", "S'Wondeful", "Someone To Watch Over Me", "The Man I Love", and "I Got Rhythm". Grab all the Gershwin sheet music you can find. Here is "Who Cares" from OF THEE I SING.

Eubie Blake

Eubie Blake was born in Baltimore in 1883. His parents were freed slaves. They rented an organ when he was six years old and thus began his musical career. Later he played the cornet and finally the piano on which he was one of the all time greatest performers of ragtime and jazz music. Around 1915, he teamed up with vocalist Noble Sissle who wrote lyrics for his melodies. Their first big hit (with help from Eddie Nelson) was "Its All Your Fault" which was sung by Sophie Tucker. This song is in the UKULELE GUIDE OPEN MIC SONGBOOK and you can hear it performed by Sissle and Blake on the record set titled The Eighty Six Years of Eubie Blake on which record set you can also hear them do "Love Will Find A Way", another song that is in the UKULELE GUIDE OPEN MIC SONGBOOK. Eubie Blake's most popular hits are "Memories Of You" and "I'm Just Wild About Harry". Here is yours truly playing and singing Eubie Blake's and Noble Sissle's first big hit: "It's All Your Fault".

Noel Coward

Noel Coward is remembered these days mainly as one of thecharacters in a movie called The Italian Job. In fact he was a great composer and one of the few composers who could also write great lyrics. He was from England but had a hit on Broadway called Bittersweet which was later made into a movie by the same name. He spent a lot of hs later years in Las Vegas playing the piano and singing the great songs he had written such as "A Room With A View", "Poor Little Rich Girl" "I Like America!" and "I'll See You Again" and "Zigeuner" both from Bittersweet. Here is a medley of some of his best songs sung by Noel Coward himself. And here is "Don't Put Your Daughtor on the Stage Mrs. Worthington" sung by him and here is "Why Do The Wrong People Travel"


Turner Layton

You could say that the UKULELE GUIDE OPEN MIC SONGBOOK begins and ends with Turner Layton since he composed the first and last songs in the book "After You've Gone" and "Way Down Yonder in New Orleans". He was born in the US and performed in Vaudeville but later moved to England where he was a star performer playing the piano and singing. There he was a favorite of upper crust society people as well as the regular folks. You can see and hear him in several video clips on and read more about him here: Turner Layton Bio.

Frank Loesser

Frank Loesser was born in New York City in1910. His father was a German-born teacher of classical piano who distained popular music. Frank did not want to study classical music and so taught himself first on harmonica and then on piano. He started his professional music career writing lyrics for some of the greats such as Hoagy Carmichael with whom he wrote the timeless hit "Heart and Soul". He wrote for the movies including Esther Williams in "Neptune's Daughtor" who sang "Baby It's Cold Outside"which won an Academy award. In 1950 he wrote the words and music for Guys and Dolls a Broadway show later made into a movie. A complete list of his works takes up many pages. Some of my favorites include "Two Sleepy People" written with Hoagy Carmichael, "On a Slow Boat to China", "What Are You Doing New Year's Eve", and the musical comedy "How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying" which was made into a movie that you can rent or buy. "How to Secceed in Business" starring Daniel Radcliff (who played Harry Potter) is currently revived and playing on Broadway to rave reviews.

Rodgers an Hart

Befor there was Rodgers an Hammerstein there was Rodgers and Hart, music by Richard Rodgers and lyrics by Lorenz Hart. The songs from this duo were more clever, more pithy, less sentimental, more fun than Rodgers and Hart and thus good for ukulele players. As an example listen to "Manhattan". And here is "You Took Advantage of Me" with banjo uke accompaniment. And here is the great Blossom Dearie singing "Thou Swell".

Desylva, Brown and Henderson:

These three are usually mentioned together. They wrote among other things, "Button Up Your Overcoat" one of the greatest songs for ukulele. Later they broke up and had separate successful careers which you can find detailed on the internet.


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