You know “Chattanooga Choo-Choo”. The clip above, featuring Dorothy Dandridge, the Nicholas Brothers, and the Glenn Miller Orchestra, is from Sun Valley Serenade. You also probably know “Jeepers Creepers”, “Lullaby of Broadway”, “September in the Rain”, “Shuffle Off to Buffalo”, and “That’s Amore”. What you may not know is that these, and many other pop hits and show tunes of the past century, were written by a Brooklyn Heights native, Harry Warren. Described as “the greatest American songwriter nobody ever heard of”, from 1935 to 1950 he had 42 top ten hits, compared to 33 for Irving Berlin.
Harry Warren was born Salvatore Anthony Guaragna in 1893, and showed an early interest in music. At 16, he quit school to play drums in a circus. He began to succeed as a songwriter in the early 1920s, and, by the end of that decade, was a major figure in Tin Pan Alley and a director of ASCAP. In the 1930s, he joined with lyricist Al Dubin to write songs for many Hollywood musicals made by Warner Brothers, including almost all of Busby Berkeley’s productions. In the 1940s, he moved to Twentieth Century Fox, then to MGM, and, in the early 1950s, to Paramount. He wrote for movies starring, among others, Fred Astaire, Bing Crosby, and Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis. In addition to Dubin, over the course of his career he collaborated with lyricists Billy Rose, Mack Gordon, Leo Robin, Ira Gershwin and Johnny Mercer. He won three Oscars for best song, and was nominated eleven times. He died in 1981.
Warren’s granddaughter, Julia Riva, has written and produced a multi-media musical play about her grandfather, Introducing Harry Warren: the Tin Pan Alley Years, now playing at (appropriately) the Harry Warren Theater in Bath Beach, Brooklyn. The show runs through June 30. For more details, see 24/Seven. For a complete performance schedule, and to buy tickets, go here.