George Gershwin at the Piano “Oh, lady be good” – performed by George Shearing

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    George Gershwin at the Piano “Oh, lady be good” performed by George Shearing

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    “Oh, Lady Be Good!” is a 1924 song by George and Ira Gershwin. It was introduced by Walter Catlett in the Broadway musical Lady, Be Good! written by Guy Bolton, Fred Thompson, and the Gershwin brothers and starring Fred and Adele Astaire. The song was also performed by the chorus in the film Lady Be Good (1941), although the film is unrelated to the musical.

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    Recordings in 1925 were by Paul Whiteman, Carl Fenton, and Cliff Edwards. A 1947 recording of the song became a hit for Ella Fitzgerald, notable for her scat solo. For her album Ella Fitzgerald Sings the George and Ira Gershwin Songbook (1959), it was sung as a ballad arranged by Nelson Riddle.

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    “When Lester Young played on the second chorus, the jazz world was introduced to another way of playing the tenor saxophone … Jazz would never be the same.”
    – Chris Tyle

    As improvisational vehicles, many songs could not endure the transition from the loose Dixieland style of the “Roaring Twenties” to the smooth, swing sound of the 1930’s. They were dropped from jazz musicians’ catalogs, performances, and recordings and relegated to period collections and specialty bands.

    There are, however, a handful of songs written in the mid-twenties or earlier that have persisted as the topmost jazz standards: WC Handy’s “St. Louis Blues” (1914); the Ken Casey, Maceo Pinkard, Ben Bernie composition “Sweet Georgia Brown” (1925); and George and Ira Gershwin’s “The Man I Love” (1924) and “Oh, Lady Be Good” (1924).

    Walter Catlett introduced “Oh, Lady Be Good!” on the stage of the Liberty Theater December 1st 1924. The song was included in the Broadway Musical Lady, Be Good! a popular show that would run for 330 performances. The show starred Fred and Adele Astaire, Walter Catlett, Alan Edwards, Jayne Auburn, Kathlene Martyn, and Cliff Edwards. It opened to generally favorable reviews, with the critics raving about the Astaires’ footwork and the “jazzy” Gershwin score.

    In 1925 “Oh, Lady Be Good!” went on to become a pop chart hit three times with Paul Whiteman and His Orchestra (1925, instrumental, #2) Carl Fenton and his Orchestra (1925, instrumental, #9) Cliff Edwards (1925, #13)

    Lady Be Good was one of several shows in 1924 that represented a significant departure from the romantic operetta style. According to Edward Jablonski’s book Gershwin: A Biography, these pioneering productions were “… brittle in tone, ‘smart,’ characterized by athletic dances, tongue-in-cheek love songs”; in other words, forerunners of the modern musical comedy.

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    “Oh, Lady Be Good!” was one of a dozen songs in the all-Gershwin Broadway score. Also becoming hits were “So Am I,” “Little Jazz Bird,” “The Half of It, Dearie, Blues,” and “Fascinating Rhythm.” Lady Be Good was also a turning point in the career of Cliff Edwards. Edwards’ ukulele rendition of “Fascinating Rhythm” stole the show and would prove to be the beginning of a string of Broadway appearances for him.

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