Musicals have been a staple of American cinema since the advent of sound in 1927. The ability to synchronize movement with audio brought a new breed of performers to the silver screen. When we look back, it is these performers—and perhaps the directors—we focus on as the reason for the films’ enduring quality. The composers and lyricists, while not entirely forgotten, are less often credited with the success of a film. But it is the songs we hum on the way out of the theater, and this summer, we are focusing on their creators.
“The Great American Songbook” is a term for American popular music and jazz standards from the first half of the twentieth century. Starting with the music popularized by the composers from Tin Pan Alley to the new musical plays being produced in the 1920s and 1930s to music composed directly for films, this series highlights composers and lyricists in the first few decades of cinematic musicals. From the well-known names of Cole Porter, Irving Berlin, and George and Ira Gershwin, to the lesser-known Nacio Herb Brown, Arthur Freed, Al Dubin, Harry Warren, and Gus Kahn, this series offers an overview of musical talent that will keep you humming through the fall.
Many of the films in this series will be introduced by Michael Lasser, author, critic, and host of the nationally syndicated public radio show Fascinatin’ Rhythm for the past forty years.
Events in this Series
Great American Songbook Judy Garland is in top form in this western musical, with songs by Harry Warren and Johnny Mercer. Traveling on a westbound train to Sand Rock, New Mexico, Susan Bradley (Garland) is intending to marry the man she has been corresponding with but has never met.
Great American Songbook Vincente Minnelli brings Gene Kelly and Cyd Charisse together to dance for the last time. Kelly’s performance of the songs “Almost Like Being in Love” and “The Heather on the Hill” is surpassed only by his dance with Charisse among the Highlands in a reprise of the latter song.