Songwriters and Songwriting (English Canada) 1921-1954

Songwriters and Songwriting (English Canada) 1921-1954. Several Canadian songwriters who had enjoyed national and international success in the era prior to 1920 continued to produce hits after the introduction of commercial radio.

Songwriters and Songwriting (English Canada) 1921-1954

Songwriters and Songwriting (English Canada) 1921-1954. Several Canadian songwriters who had enjoyed national and international success in the era prior to 1920 continued to produce hits after the introduction of commercial radio. William Eckstein ("Music (Makes the World Go Round)," 1923) and Raymond Egan ("Sleepy Time Gal," 1926) are two examples. Probably the biggest change in the post-World War I, radio-era songwriting landscape was that many songwriters were now associated with dance bands. The new breed of songwriters were polished musicians who boasted extensive formal musical training. Canadian bandleaders who doubled as songwriters included Percy Faith ("My Heart Cries for You," a number one hit in 1951); Johnny Burt ("Theme for Susan"); Art Hallman ("Just a Moment More With You"); and Mart Kenney ("We're Proud of Canada"). Perhaps the best-known Canadian songwriter associated with a dance band was the massively successful Carmen Lombardo, of Guy Lombardo and His Royal Canadians. Carmen Lombardo's first songwriting hit was "Coquette" (1927), followed by at least seven other hit recordings.

The widespread availability of phonographs, and the spread of radio broadcast stations and then radio receivers in homes especially after 1921, ensured that Canadian songwriters could reach ever wider audiences. The launching of CBC radio in 1932, and later the CBC television network, offered burgeoning opportunities to songwriters. However, a truly Canadian recording industry was still not in evidence. Consequently, the braindrain of songwriters to the US continued apace.

Canadian Songwriters Behind the Hits

Many Canadians became the unheralded writers behind international hits by prominent recording stars of the 1920s-40s. For "pop" songs, success was usually defined as a hit in the US. Canadian songwriters who enjoyed this distinction included Elizabeth Clarke ("Bluebird on Your Windowsill," a hit for Doris Day in 1949); Ralph Freed ("How About You," 1942, and "Hawaiian War Chant"); Alex Kramer ("Far Away Places," a number two hit for Bing Crosby in 1949, and "Candy," a number one hit in 1945); Ruth Lowe ("I'll Never Smile Again," a number one hit in 1940 for the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra with Frank Sinatra); Oscar Brand ("A Guy Is a Guy," a hit for Doris Day in 1952); and Will Osborne ("Pompton Turnpike," a number three hit in 1940, and "Between 18th and 19th on Chestnut Street," a hit in 1940 for Bing Crosby).

One gets a sense of the commercial power and popularity of these hit songs from the lengthy lists of singers and bands who covered them. It was not unheard of for songs to be recorded in several hit versions over the years, guaranteeing their writers decades-long recognition in the recording industry.

Like lyricist Alfred Bryan, the prolific songwriter Charles F. Harrison ("How Do You Do," a hit for Billy Jones in 1925) moved to the US and collaborated on over 100 songs. Ruth Freed Akst ("Rendezvous," 1953) and her brother Ralph Freed both enjoyed success in the US. Ralph Freed was among the many Canadians, including Alex Kramer, who flourished as Hollywood film songwriters. Several others were successful in writing songs for Broadway shows in this period, eg Oscar Brand (A Joyful Noise). Brand also wrote for films (eg, Sybil).

Many Canadian songwriters also worked in the United Kingdom, eg, Percy Faith, Robert Farnon, Denny Vaughan, and Freddy Grant, who wrote for Gracie Fields.

Numerous Canadian-written songs, while not huge hits, enjoyed a lesser degree of popularity. These include Percy Faith's "Cheerio" and "Swedish Rhapsody"; Freddy Grant's "How Can You Buy Killarney," recorded in 1949 by Bing Crosby; and Ernest Seitz 's 1935 "When Moonbeams Softly Fall." Denny Vaughan's "Moonlight Rendez-Vous" was a hit in the UK.

World War II

With the war, a new wave of Canadian patriotic songs ensued, including those by Freddy Grant ("They All Call It Canada (But I Call It Home)" and "You'll Get Used To It"); Albert E. MacNutt ("We'll Win the War With Wings"); and Felix Lewis ("We're the Canucks"). Ernest Dainty and Gordon V. Thompson collaborated on "Carry On," which was picked up by Guy Lombardo. Roles in Armed Forces shows such as Meet the Navy and The Army Show led in several cases to songwriting careers. The Army Show's "That's an Order From the Army" (written by Johnny Wayne and Frank Shuster in 1943) became popular. Some earlier patriotic songs by Canadians were revived during World War II, such as "'Til We Meet Again."

Topical and Regional Songs
Many songwriters, although they did not produce hits in the music industry sense, did create popular songs that recorded historical events or expressed regional character: Otto Kelland ("Let Me Fish Off Cape St Mary's"); Robert Gard ("Ballad of the Frank Slide," 1949); Arthur Scammell ("Squid-Jiggin' Ground," 1928), and many others. These songs have taken on the status of folk music and survive through oral tradition. Billy O'Connor's "Saskatchewan" is also sung in the US as "Washington."

Country Music
The 1930s saw the blossoming of Canadian country music and the entry of such songwriters as Hank Snow and Wilf Carter into the North American market. Carter's "My Swiss Moonlight Lullabye" (1932) is said to be the first domestically recorded Canadian hit song. Snow's 1937 "Blue Velvet Band," recorded for RCA Victor in Montreal, was a hit, as was "My Filipino Rose" (for US country singer Ernest Tubb, 1949). Snow hit the big time in the US in 1950, with "I'm Movin' On" (a number one country hit for 21 weeks); the song has since been covered by innumerable other acts. Bob Nolan, a prolific country songwriter and actor, composed the country and western standards "Tumblin' Tumbleweeds" and "Cool Water." The lesser-known Stu Davis wrote the Eddy Arnold hit 1948 song "What a Fool I Was."

Songwriters Associations
In 1925, the Canadian Performing Rights Society was formed to administer public performance royalties for composers and lyricists; it became known as the Composers, Authors and Publishers Association of Canada (CAPAC) in 1945. In 1940, BMI Canada was established as a competitor organization. Geoffrey O'Hara and Alex Kramer served Canadian songwriters as board members of ASCAP in the 1940s and 1950s.

The Coming of Rock
The entry of Canada into the rock and roll era was heralded in 1954 with The Crew-Cuts' recording of "Crazy 'Bout You Baby," written by Crew-Cuts members Rudy Maugeri and Pat Barrett.

See also Songwriters and Songwriting (English Canada) Before 1921; Songwriters and Songwriting (English Canada) 1954-2000s; Folk Music, Anglo-Canadian; Patriotic Songs; Jazz; Country Music; Rock Music; Pop Music, Anglo-Canadian; Art Song; Chanson in Quebec; Disaster Songs.


Further Reading

  • Moogk, Edward. Roll Back the Years: History of Canadian Recorded Sound and Its Legacy (Ottawa 1975)

    Litchfield, Jack. Canadian Jazz Discography: 1916-1980 (Toronto 1982)

    Melhuish, Martin. Heart of Gold: 30 Years of Canadian Pop Music (Toronto 1983)

    McGee, Timothy J. The Music of Canada (Markham, Ont, 1985)

    Canadian Musical Heritage Society. Songs I to English Texts, vol 3 (Ottawa 1985)

    Canadian Musical Heritage Society. Songs IV to English Texts, vol 14 (Ottawa 1993)

    Stephens, W. Ray. The Canadian Entertainers of World War II (Oakville 1993)

    Melhuish, Martin. Oh What a Feeling: A Vital History of Canadian Music (Kingston, Ont, 1996)

    Jennings, Nicholas. Before the Gold Rush: Flashbacks to the Dawn of the Canadian Sound (Toronto 1998)

    Potter, Greg. Hand Me Down World: The Canadian Pop-Rock Paradox (Toronto 1999)

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