Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music



(b 31 December 1905, Bethnal Green, London; d 20 September 1994, NYC) Composer, author of perhaps more tunes that everybody knows than anybody else. His parents ran a butter-and-egg store, then emigrated to America; he was a child prodigy at the piano, playing with the Chicago SO at age nine, but his hands were too small. He played in the Ben Pollack band at 15, wrote 'Sunday' at 17, which became a hit when Al Jolson sang it; but he lacked patience and never wrote another song until he was 34, working as a vocal coach in NYC, then Hollywood, where he worked with Alice Faye and Shirley Temple.

He was put in charge of the studio's music by Darryl F. Zanuck, and wrote 'Purple Sage In The Twilight' for singing cowboys, teamed with Frank Loesser for songs for films including 'I Don't Want To Walk Without You' '42 (Sweater Girl), a big wartime hit with recordings by Bing Crosby and Dinah Shore. Loesser got drafted; Styne played Sammy Cahn a tune, and Cahn said, 'I've heard that song before.' Styne said, 'What are you? A tune detective?' When Cahn finished the lyric, 'I've Heard That Song Before' was a hit for Harry James with Helen Forrest '43. They wrote 'I'll Walk Alone' (from Follow The Boys, a no. 1 hit by Shore '44, revived '52 for another hit by Don Cornell), 'There Goes That Song Again' (film Carolina Blues, five hit recordings '45), 'It's Been A Long, Long Time' (hit for James with Kitty Kallen '45), 'Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!' (hit for Vaughn Monroe '46), 'It's Magic' (Doris Day '48), and for Frank Sinatra, 'Saturday Night Is The Loneliest Night Of The Week', 'Five Minutes More', 'The Things We Did Last Summer', 'I Fall In Love Too Easily', 'Guess I'll Hang My Tears Out To Dry', 'It's The Same Old Dream', 'Time After Time', 'I Believe' and 'The Brooklyn Bridge', the last four all for the film It Happened In Brooklyn '47. They wrote the musical show High Button Shoes '47, a Broadway hit ('I Still Get Jealous', 'Papa, Won't You Dance With Me?'); then Cahn went to Hollywood.

With Leo Robin, Styne wrote the show Gentlemen Prefer Blondes '49 ('Diamonds Are A Girl's Best Friend'); he teamed with Betty Comden and Adolph Green for several shows including Bells Are Ringing '56 ('Just In Time', 'Long Before I Knew You', 'The Party's Over'), filmed '60 with its Broadway star Judy Holliday. Meanwhile he had one more big hit with Cahn, who never tired of telling the story. They had written songs for a film to star Sinatra and Marilyn Monroe which was never made because Monroe never turned up, and had to write a title song in a hurry for another film, just finished: Three Coins In The Fountain. Sinatra was cooling his heels in the studio and agreed to record a demo for his old friends; he arrived at the soundstage to find sixty musicians and conductor Lionel Newman waiting to record a demo. The song won an Oscar; two big hit recordings were by the Four Aces and a Sinatra studio recording with Nelson Riddle. (Styne also shared a flat with Sinatra for three years during the loneliest period of his life, after the failure of his marriage to Ava Gardner.) Another Hollywood song was the lovely 'Money Burns A Hole In My Pocket' (with Bob Hilliard '54, for a Dean Martin/Jerry Lewis film). In '59 came the Broadway hit Gypsy, songs written with Stephen Sondheim including 'Everything's Coming Up Roses' and 'Let Me Entertain You'; in '64 Funny Girl with Bob Merrill ('People', 'Don't Rain On My Parade'). Styne finally won a Tony '68 for Hallelujah Baby! (with Comden and Green); further shows were Look To The Lillies '70 (Cahn), Sugar '72 (Merrill), and Lorelei '76 (Comden and Green).