Unsung Heroes of Popular Music Get Their Day

The Register Guard (Eugene, OR), April 25, 2003 | Go to article overview
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Unsung Heroes of Popular Music Get Their Day

Byline: Fred Crafts The Register-Guard

Do you know these songs: "Sweet Georgia Brown," "Some of These Days," "Ballin' the Jack" and "After You've Gone"?

Probably. But do you know who wrote them?

Probably not.

Which is the point of the program that Steve Stone has put together for the Emerald City Jazz Kings' next concert.

The songs - many of them one-hit wonders for their creators - were written by black composers earlier in the 20th century. The tunes are still familiar, but the writers are pretty much unknown: "Sweet Georgia Brown" (Ben Bernie, Maceo Pinkard and Kenneth Casey), "Some of These Days" (Shelton Brooks), "Ballin' the Jack" (Chris Smith and Jim Burris) and "After You've Gone" (Henry Creamer and Turner Layton).

Stone has pulled together nearly 30 songs; with few exceptions, it would take a musicologist to say who actually wrote them. Among them: "Baby, Won't You Please Come Home," "Trav'lin Light," "I've Found a New Baby," "Them There Eyes" and "Nobody."

"These songs are durable, particularly within the jazz community," Stone says. "You can play around with these songs and it doesn't destroy the concept of the songs. It's a vehicle that everybody has access to."

Even so, Stone points out that when the Smithsonian Collection in 1984 issued a set of 110 recordings titled "American Popular Song: Six Decades of Songwriters and Singers (1900-1960)," only "seven were by African-American composers, and only four had lyrics by African-Americans."

What happened?

"The whole aspect of this is racist," Stone says.

History reveals that, with few exceptions, black com- posers were kept from writing songs for the growing motion picture industry.

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