IRVING CAESAR (1895 - 1996)
Irving Caesar lived through the era of the great American song, when our music was exported and loved around the world, and through its demise, when great composers and lyricists became pass. He is quoted as saying, “…we have a form of musical juvenile delinquency abetted by adult delinquency.” He should know. He lived to 101.
Caesar was a Tin Pan Alley man and a friend of George Gershwin with whom he wrote his first hit, “Swanee” (1919). It didn’t catch on until Al Jolson took it over. Caesar’s next success was with Vincent Youmans. In an attempt to salvage No, No Nanette, they added “Tea for Two” and “I Want to Be Happy” to the 1925 show and it received rave reviews. They also wrote “Sometimes I’m Happy” for 1927’s Hit the Deck.
In 1928 Caesar wrote “Crazy Rhythm” with Joseph Meyer and Roger Wolfe Kahn, and in 1930 he gave English lyrics to a German tune, calling it “Just a Gigolo.” With Ted Koehler he also wrote “Animal Crackers in My Soup” for Shirley Temple’s film, Curly Top (1935). With Sammy Lerner’s music he created another Jolson hit in 1936, “Is It True What They Say About Dixie?”
During the ‘30s Caesar created a series of “songbooks” for children, intended as teaching aids—“Sing a Song of Safety,” “Songs of Health,” and “Sing a Song of Friendship”-- inspired by the efforts of the League of Nations and an urge to promote tolerance and unity. He tirelessly toured schools around the country with his message. His offer of the materials to the federal government was turned down, but they were later published by the Anti-Defamation League of the B’nai B’rith.
He served a cumulative 33 years on the Board of ASCAP, retiring in 1966, and was a founder of the Songwriters Guild of America.
-- Sandra Burlingame
Courtesy of JazzStandards.com