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15 Great Oscar-Winning Songs!: “Lullaby of Broadway”

Well, that was weird, wasn’t it? That was how audiences were introduced to this very famous jazz era ode to the bustle of modern New York City and its working/leisure class. It’s certainly visually arresting, but the image of singer Wini Shaw’s illuminated face slowly getting bigger and bigger in the surrounding darkness seems more suited to a murder ballad or ghost story than to this toe-tapper about the most romantic notions of urban life.

I’m also guessing that if you stopped 100 people on the street and asked them where the song originated, those who were familiar with it would mostly assume it had appeared first on an actual Broadway stage. Having been introduced to the song as a part of a medley during my junior high school days of song and dance, that had definitely been my own assumption. The confusion is partly due to “Lullaby of Broadway”‘s rather immediate spread through the popular culture at the time of its initial success. In addition to its appearance in Gold Diggers of 1935, it showed up as background music in the Bette Davis movie Special Agent the very same year. Did this double whammy help it win the Oscar for Best Original Song? It couldn’t have hurt.

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Following its win for songwriters Harry Warren and Al Dubin, the song quickly garnered multiple covers by a series of artists, including the Andrews Sisters. Its status as standard of the genre was further strengthened by high-profile recordings from Doris Day in 1951, Ella Fitzgerald in 1959, and Connie Francis in the early 1960s. It wasn’t until 1980 when the song was included, along with some other Dubin-Warren tunes, in the stage musical “42nd Street” that “Lullaby of Broadway” finally made its actual debut in a Broadway musical. This appears to be the primary source of the general confusion around the song’s origin.

Yes, that’s Jerry Orbach of “Law & Order” fame who later expanded his legacy in song and dance when he voiced Lumiere in Disney’s animated musical Beauty and the Beast. “42nd Street” was playing strongly on its nostalgic appeal and audiences of the post Vietnam era ate it up. The next year it took home Tony Awards for both Best Choreography and Best Musical.

Meanwhile, even more cover versions of the song persisted from talents such as Bette Midler, Linda Lavin, Gilda Radner (on an episode of The Muppet Show), Tony Bennet, Dianne Reeves, Cherry Poppin’ Daddies, and Idina Menzel.

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a poster for the 1951 Doris Day led musical film named for the song

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Posted on February 12, 2017, in Awards, Movies, Music, Nostalgia, Oscars and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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