Entertainment Magazine

Jewish Women Songwriters

Posted on the 05 April 2012 by Starofdavida
Jewish Women SongwritersWomen have always been importantin music. In biblical times, women like Deborah and Hannah composed songs ofthanks for God. In more recent times, women have consistently been a hugelyimportant presence in the music industry (for the goodand bad).There have been dozens of Jewish women performers who went out on stage and entertainedthe masses, but there were also many Jewish women who preferred to stay behindthe scenes and write the songs.
Dorothy Fields was born in 1904 tovaudeville comedian Lew Fields (born Moses Schoenfeld), half of the comedy duoFields and Weber. Ms. Fields’ songwriting career began in 1928, when she wrotelyrics for Blackbirds of 1928, a wildly successful Broadway revue. Shewrote over 400 songs throughout several decades, from “On the Sunny Side of theStreet” (1930) and “The Way You Look Tonight” (Academy Award 1936) to “I Feel aSong Coming On” (Judy Garland, 1956) and “Big Spender” (1966). Her lyrics were alsofeatured in several Broadway shows, including Annie Get Your Gun (whichran for 1,147 performances), Up in Central Park, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Swing Time (Fred Astaire and GingerRogers), Sweet Charity, and Seesaw. Her most successful play was Redhead,which won five Tony Awards. In 1971, she was the only woman of the first teninductees into the Songwriters Hall of Fame.
Betty Comden was both a performerand a songwriter. She was born Basya Cohen in Brooklyn, New Yorkin 1917 to observant Russian immigrants. Sadly, she was never fully comfortablebeing a Jew: when she was five, she changed her name to Betty, and at agenineteen got a new nose and last name. As Betty Comden, she partnered up with performerand writer Adolph Green in 1938, a duo that would last for decades. At thebeginning, the two wrote and performed their own material as a nightclub act. Thefirst play Comden and Green wrote, On the Town, became a smash Broadwayhit. They also penned several screenplays, including Good News and TheBarkleys of Broadway. Their most successful show was cult classic Singin’in the Rain, which won the Best Written American Musical award from theWriters’ Guild of America. Another hit of theirs, The Band Wagon,features a husband and wife musical writing team based on themselves. Inaddition to writing, Comden also acted. Between 1953 and 1990, Comden and Greenwere nominated for or won 13 Tony Awards. She was inducted into the SongwritersHall of Fame and American Theatre Hall of Fame in the 1980s.
Sylvia Fine was also half of aduo, as she was Danny Kaye’s wife, partner, and producer. She was born to awell-off Jewish family in Brooklyn in 1913. Alreadywriting parodies and humor in high school, she taught piano after graduatingfrom college. While playing piano at a rehearsal, she met Danny Kaye, aCatskills tummler, and history was made. She wrote dozens of humorous songs forKaye to perform, including “Anatole of Paris” from The Secret Life of WalterMitty, “The Inspector General” and “Happy Times” from The InspectorGeneral, and “(You’ll Never) Outfox the Fox” from The Court Jester. Shewas also nominated for an Academy Award in Best Original Song for “The FivePennies” from the play of the same name and “The Moon is Blue,” also from theplay of the same name. Fine gave birth in 1946 to a daughter, Dena, who Kayeand Fine named their own production company after. The two separated shortlyafterward, but still worked together on a professional level. In 1979, Finereceived a Peabody Award for Musical Comedy. In her final years, she donatedmillions of dollars to the CUNY system for the musical arts and refurbishedauditorium.
Carole King, today a householdname, began as a middle class Jewish girl born in Brooklynin 1942. While attending Queens College, she met herfirst husband and songwriting partner Gerry Goffin. Goffin and King’s firstsong, “Will You Love Me Tomorrow,” became a success by the Shirelles (who weremanaged by Florence Greenberg [link here]). After that, the two wrote dozens ofchart-topping songs throughout the 1960s, including “The Loco-Motion,” “Pleasant Valley Sunday,” and “(You Make Me FeelLike) A Natural Woman.” In the 1970s, King began a solo career in music, makingseveral diamond, platinum, and gold records and number one hits. Goffin andKing were inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1987 and were given theNational Academy of Songwriters Lifetime Achievement Award in 1988. The two also became members of the Rockand Roll Hall of Fame for songwriting.
Are there any major modern Jewishwomen songwriters? Only time will tell if their contributions to the musicindustry will become part of history.
Passover begins Friday night. May everyone celebrate a happy, kosher holiday. Next year in Jerusalem!

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