National Poetry Month: Female Songwriters

We’re now in April, which is National Poetry Month. In its honor, here are a few cool women songwriters.

Dorothy Fields was born in 1904 to vaudeville comedian Lew Fields, half of the comedy duo Fields and Weber. Ms. Fields’ songwriting career began in 1928, when she wrote lyrics for Blackbirds of 1928, a wildly successful Broadway revue. She wrote over 400 songs throughout several decades, from “On the Sunny Side of the Street” (1930) and “The Way You Look Tonight” (Academy Award 1936) to “I Feel a Song Coming On” (Judy Garland, 1956) and “Big Spender” (1966). Her lyrics were also featured in several Broadway shows, including Annie Get Your Gun (which ran for 1,147 performances), Up in Central Park, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Swing Time (Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers), 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 ten inductees into the Songwriters Hall of Fame.Betty Comden was both a performer and a songwriter. She partnered up with performer and writer Adolph Green in 1938, a duo that would last for decades. At the beginning, the two wrote and performed their own material as a nightclub act. The first play Comden and Green wrote, On the Town, became a smash Broadway hit. They also penned several screenplays, including Good News and The Barkleys of Broadway. Their most successful show was cult classic Singin’ in the Rain, which won the Best Written American Musical award from the Writers’ Guild of America. Another hit of theirs, The Band Wagon, features a husband and wife musical writing team based on themselves. In addition to writing, Comden also acted. Between 1953 and 1990, Comden and Green were nominated for or won 13 Tony Awards. She was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame and American Theatre Hall of Fame in the 1980s.

Sylvia Fine was also half of a duo, as she was Danny Kaye’s wife, partner, and producer. She was born in Brooklyn in 1913. Already writing parodies and humor in high school, she taught piano after graduating from college. While playing piano at a rehearsal, she met Danny Kaye, a Catskills tummler, and history was made. She wrote dozens of humorous songs for Kaye to perform, including “Anatole of Paris” from The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, “The Inspector General” and “Happy Times” from The Inspector General, and “(You’ll Never) Outfox the Fox” from The Court Jester. She was also nominated for an Academy Award in Best Original Song for “The Five Pennies” from the play of the same name and “The Moon is Blue,” also from the play of the same name. Fine gave birth in 1946 to a daughter, Dena, who Kaye and Fine named their own production company after. The two separated shortly afterward, but still worked together on a professional level. In 1979, Fine received a Peabody Award for Musical Comedy. In her final years, she donated millions of dollars to the CUNY system for the musical arts and refurbished auditorium.

Carole King, today a household name, began as a middle class girl born in Brooklyn in 1942. While attending Queens College, she met her first husband and songwriting partner Gerry Goffin. Goffin and King’s first song, “Will You Love Me Tomorrow,” became a success by the Shirelles. After that, the two wrote dozens of chart-topping songs throughout the 1960s, including “The Loco-Motion,” “Pleasant Valley Sunday,” and “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman.” In the 1970s, King began a solo career in music, making several diamond, platinum, and gold records and number one hits. Goffin and King were inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1987 and were given the National Academy of Songwriters Lifetime Achievement Award in 1988. The two also became members of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame for songwriting.

These women paved the way for modern-day women songwriters, like P!nk, Jewel, Fiona Apple, Alanis Morisette, and others. I wonder which of today’s songwriters will become household names like the women above in a generation from now.

Written by Amandine Dupin

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