Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music



(b 20 July 1902, Omagh, Northern Ireland; d 6 April 1984, Cheltenham) One of the most successful British songwriters of all time, with more hits in the USA than anyone until Lennon and McCartney. He became a teacher and a civil servant but turned to songwriting in 1930, collaborating on music-hall comedy songs. 'Teddy Bears' Picnic' (with J. W. Bratton) was recorded by Henry Hall and the BBC Dance Orchestra '32 and must have been one of the biggest-selling kiddie records of all time (Kennedy received no royalties until after WWII, by which time 4m copies of the Hall record alone had been sold; it was also recorded by Bing Crosby and several others). He wrote words to music by Hugh Williams; publisher Bert Feldman turned down their 'Isle Of Capri' '34 because of the line about the ring on her finger: 'You can't have this sailor making love to a married woman, the BBC will never stand for it!' So they took it to Peter Maurice, and when the public finally heard it they requested the song about the lady with the ring on her finger. (The song also changed the name of the island from Capri to Capree.) Maurice also published 'Red Sails In The Sunset' and 'Harbour Lights' among others.

(Hugh Williams's real name was Wilhelm Grosz; he emigrated from Berlin to London '34, went to the USA and died '39: a selection of his Afrika-Songs from the '20s and other work was issued by Decca UK '97 in their Entartete Musik series of composers banned in Nazi Germany.)

Ray Noble's and Lew Stone's hits on 'Isle Of Capri' were also hits '35 in the USA, where Freddy Martin had another version; it was revived '54 for more U.S. hits. 'Red Sails In The Sunset' had six hit recordings in the USA including Bing Crosby and Guy Lombardo; even Mantovani's record was a U.S. hit in '35, long before he became world-famous for albums of 'cascading strings'; it was recorded by everybody from the Mound City Blue Blowers to Fats Domino. 'Harbour Lights' was a no. 1 song in the UK, had two hit versions in the USA '37, no fewer than seven when it was revived '50 (including both Crosby and Lombardo again), and another '56 by the Platters.

With Michael Carr, Kennedy wrote shows for the Palladium, and songs such as 'South Of The Border' '39: this was again a no. 1 in Britain and had five hit recordings in the USA, including Lombardo, Gene Autry and Ambrose's British record; arranged by Nelson Riddle in Billy May's style, it unforgettably announced Frank Sinatra's comeback '53 for another top 20 US hit. Sinatra also recorded 'Isle Of Capri' '57; he changed the ring on her finger to a meatball, and sang 'T'was goodbye to the Villa Capri', his favourite L.A. Italian restaurant.

The versatile Kennedy also wrote words for foreign songs and instrumentals, such as 'Play To Me, Gypsy' (song by Karel Vacek), 'My Prayer' (from 'Avant de Mourir' '26 by Georges Boulanger: US hits by Glenn Miller and the Ink Spots '39, the Platters '56 and soul group Ray, Goodman and Brown '80); 'April In Portugal' '53 (song 'Coimbra', by Raul Ferrão, original words by José Galhardo). But he refused to write English words for 'Lili Marlene' while he was serving in the British Army, rising to the rank of captain; instead, one of his wartime hits was 'We're Gonna Hang Out Our Washing On The Siegfried Line'. The dance craze 'Hokey Cokey' appeared during WWII; the Happy Gang promoted it on Canadian radio and by '52 it had become 'The Hokey Pokey' on the other side of Ray Anthony's US hit 'The Bunny Hop'. (It was originally 'Cokey Cokey'; Kennedy thought it had started among 19th-century Canadian miners and had to do with cocaine, but 'cokey cokey' was how Italian ice cream vendors in England hawked their product.) 'Istanbul' ('Not Constantinople') '54 was a novelty hit by the Four Lads in the USA, co-written with Nat Simon. Other songs included 'Did Your Mother Come From Ireland', 'Serenade In The Night', 'Hometown', 'Love Is Like A Violin' etc. His show Spokesong '77 (with Michael Stewart) won a drama award; he was awarded an OBE (Order of the British Empire) '83; he had chaired the Songwriters' Guild (now the BASCA) for twelve years and after his death they added a Kennedy award to the Novello award they bestow annually.