Wednesday, May 21, 2014


What wonderful music they used to write, those old lyricists and melody makers. 

People who knit have skeins of yarn in boxes, bags, closets and even whole rooms full. People who collect stamps carefully wear gloves and keep them in little plastic covers lest any dust or human contaminants find them.  People who collect coins do the same, with tweezers, in fact. There are collectors who collect all different things; and there are collectors who collect all things.  Those poor people find them selves buried in oddments that eventually become trash.   I am not quite that afflicted, but I admit to being a collector.  I have collected butter knives; small china animals, coins and currency.  My focus is on music now, of course, and I have just been blessed (or cursed) with a whole new stash.   And this is how it came about:  A man went to a flea market and saw a big lot of music which he bought for his wife, a piano teacher.  She went through it and took out what she could use. put an ad in a wonderful little booklet published every month with stuff people want to get rid of.  I happened on that booklet, and I then drove to Woolwich, Maine, about an hour away,  and took it off their hands.   It had been stored in a shed all winter and some of it was damp and moldy and beyond rescue.  Most was at least slightly tainted with the mold, but I am working to abate that.  So for the next few weeks and maybe months I will be doing some "blogs" about some of music of another age, vocalists, composers, instrumentalists and lyricists.   I'm having such fun I just have to share.

TITLE:   FARE-THEE - WELL TO HARLEM,  music by Bernie Hanighen, lyrics by Johnny Mercer, "featured" by Leon Belasco.   

BERNIE HANIGHEN  was born in 1908 and died in 1976.  His first hit was "When A Man Loves A Woman" which he wrote with Gordon Jenkins, the lyrics are by Johnny Mercer.  He continued to write, sometimes with Mercer, sometimes with "Cootie" Williams or Thelonious Monk.  His music written with Monk was reasonably successful.  Hanighen wrote for Broadway shows.   Being a supporter of Billie Holiday, he put together some material for her (most of the best material was being given to the white vocalists at that time) and eventually wrote a song with Paul Coates titled "If the Moon Turns Green" in 1952 which was a success.  

JOHNNY MERCER was truly a wordsmith in the  music world.  His name appears on the covers of more songs than I would have ever imagined.   I am of the opinion that to get him to write lyrics for your composition would have been a "big deal."   Mercer was born in 1909, in Georgia and died in Los Angeles in 1976, of a brain cancer.   He started out as a singer for Paul Whiteman and began writing songs for movies around 1935.   He had a few parts in musicals but his fame is really his ability to write the words to fit the music.  His biography is lengthy and interesting but I will only use the bare facts for economy of space.   He co-founded Capitol Records, sold it, paid off his father's debts from a Florida real estate bust, and founded Cowboy Records in 1942.  Some of his familiar tunes are  Skylark, One For My Baby, "Days of Wine and Roses" and "Charade".  You will note 
Fare-Thee-Well to Harlem is not among his "best known" songs.    (Which is precisely why I chose it.   Anyone can talk about the best known music of the ages, I want to talk about the ones of which we might never have heard.)  

LEON BELASCO  was born in Odessa, Ukraine in 1902 and died in 1988.  His birth name was Leonid Simeonovich Berladsky.   He attended St. Joseph College inYokohama, Japan; trained as a musician in Japan and Manchuria and for several years was first violinist with the Tokyo Symphony.  His family moved to Hollywood and he found work occasionally in films including the silent film "The Best People".  He continued to play violin, and formed a band which performed in hotels around New York City.   The Andrews Sisters were introduced through his band.  Returning to Hollywood on an engagement break, he got a part in "Broadway Serenade" and "Topper Takes a Trip" and subsequently appeared in 13 other films including the Marx Brothers last film together, "Love Happy" in 1949.   His Russian language got him a job as dialect director in the 1966 comedy "The Russians Are Coming, the Russians Are Coming."  He got comic roles as a befuddled character, was in a cold war espionage film, and a thief in Man Called X.  (I loved that program with Herbert Marshall).  In "My Sister Eileen" he was Appopopious the landlord.  He appeared in Man from U.N.C.LE., Beverly Hillbillies, Trapper John, My Three Sons, I Love Love Lucy and many other sitcoms.   If you watched any of them and you can recall the foreign-appearing  dark man playing a small role, you maybe saying, "Oh, I remember him!  He was so funny."
He died in Orange, CA and according to his wishes was cremated and his ashes were scattered.

Mister Jackson you sho'look cute, - You must have on your trav'lin' suit.  
It looks as if you're really gonna go somewhere.
Mister Budly, yo' spoke a book.  Yo' just got time for one more look,
'Cause Mister Jackson is leaving you for fair - for fair - for --

Fare-thee-well to Harlem!  Fare-thee-well to night life!
Goin' back where I can lead the right life.
Fare-thee-well to Harlem.
Things is tight in Harlem.
I know how to fix it,
 Step aside, I'm gonna Mason Dix it.
Fare-thee-well to Harlem!

Lately here my soul is reaching' for the Bible's kinldy teaching.
Wants To hear the Rev'ren' preachin'
"Love each other!"  Wants to hear the organ playin'
Wants to hear the folks a-prayin' "
There's a voice within me saying'
"Ease off, brother!"
So, Fare-thee-well to Harlem
All this sin is "fright-eous!"
Goin' back where every body's right-eous.  
Fare-thee well to Harlem!

It has been said that music, specifically lyrics, reflect the times.   I leave it to you to draw your conclusions about Harlem, circa 1934.

Submitted for your enjoyment
Jan Major
Comments appreciated.