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JOHNNY BURKE  

(1908 - 1964)

John Francis Burke
Lyricist
(1908-1964)

Johnny Burke had his first big success with “Pennies from Heaven” (1936), written with Arthur Johnston and performed by Bing Crosby. In 1939 he wrote lyrics for “What’s New,” an instrumental crafted by bassist Bob Haggart in 1938 as “I’m Free.” In Chicago he had written novelty tunes for Fats Waller and plugged songs for the Irving Berlin Publishing Company, but his career took off when he moved to Hollywood to work with composer Jimmy Van Heusen.

Together they wrote the music for six of the seven “Road” pictures, starring Bob Hope and Bing Crosby, and the title tune for the Crosby film, Going My Way (1944), which included the Oscar-winning “Swinging on a Star.” Many of the pair’s songs are solidly in the jazz standards repertoire: “Imagination” (1940); “Polka Dots and Moonbeams” (1940) which was recorded vocally by pianist Oscar Peterson in 1956; “But Beautiful” (1947); and “Here’s That Rainy Day” (1953) which was popularized by nightclub singers and recorded by vocalists from Sinatra and Garland to Julie London and June Christy and by instrumentalists from Art Pepper and Dizzy Gillespie to Kenny Barron and Andre Previn.

Burke, known for his imaginative metaphors, collaborated on some 400 songs and 42 movies and at one time had five songs on the Hit Parade at the same time. His forays into Broadway musicals were less successful. When Van Heusen agreed to collaborate with Sammy Cahn on material for Frank Sinatra, Burke continued to write for other composers, most notably pianist Erroll Garner whose “Misty” (1954) became a favorite of nightclub and cabaret singers.

-- Sandra Burlingame

Courtesy of JazzStandards.com

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