Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music



(b Jack Lawrence Schwartz, 7 April 1912, Brooklyn NY; d 15 March 2009, Danbury CT) Lyricist. The family name had been Cherniafsky when they emigrated from Ukraine in 1902; officials on Ellis Island changed it for them. Jack Lawrence became a podiatrist to please his family, but finally did what he wanted to do: write words for songs. In the end he had 256 songs registered with ASCAP, some of them big hits.

His first published song 'Play, Fiddle, Play', came out in 1932, the year he graduated from podiatry school; the next year it was included in a film, Dinner At Eight. A few years later, sitting on a park bench in New York, he overheard a lovers’ quarrel: 'You don’t love me,' the girl said. 'If I didn’t care,' the boy began, giving a list of proofs of his love. Lawrence wrote both words and music for 'If I Didn't Care', the first hit by the Ink Spots in 1939, so familiar in 1942 that it was included in Glenn Miller's hit 'Jukebox Saturday Night'. 'All or Nothing at All', with music by Arthur Altman, was recorded by Frank Sinatra with the Harry James band in 1939 and did nothing then, but reissued in 1943 the record reached number one in the new Billboard chart. Lawrence wrote both words and music for 'Yes, My Darling Daughter', which made 1942 hits for both Miller and Dinah Shore.

A few years later he hadn't had a big hit for a while; he owed his lawyer some money and couldn't afford to pay him (so the story goes), and wrote a song for the lawyer's baby girl instead. He wrote both words and music for 'Linda', a number one in 1947 by Buddy Clark, its lyrics typically romantic: 'When I go to sleep/ I never count sheep/ I count all the charms about Linda...' The baby girl, Linda Eastman, grew up to marry Paul McCartney. 'Tenderly', with music by Walter Gross, was also a hit in 1947, by Sarah Vaughan, and again in 1952 by Rosemary Clooney; by now there are countless recordings of it. 'Hold My Hand', written with Richard Myers for a Debbie Reynolds movie called Susan Slept Here, was nominated for a best song Oscar in 1954.

Like many reliable wordsmiths in that era, Lawrence wrote words for songs that didn't need words, because publishers found that sheet music sold better with words on it: Eric Coates' 'Sleepy Lagoon', Waldyr Azevedo's 'Delicado', and 'Ciribiribin' (an Italian song in ¾ time from 1898) fell into this category. ('Ciribiribin' originally had words, but Harry James was using it as a trumpet showpiece, and as his theme; then they recorded a vocal version, Sinatra singing Lawrence's lyrics, something about a gondolier.) Lawrence wrote new words for a French song called 'La Mer', by Albert Lasry and Charles Trenet; it did well in 1948 as 'Beyond the Sea'. Benny Goodman and Percy Faith made instrumental recordings of it, but Bobby Darin revived Lawrence's lyrics for a top ten hit in early 1960.

And there are forgotten gems buried in Lawrence's oeuvre: at the very first recording session of Fats Waller and his Rhythm in 1934, one of the songs was 'Do Me A Favor', written with Peter Tinturin, the ebullient sweetness of which could stand for much of Lawrence's work: 'Do me a favor/ Marry me/ Do me a favor/ Can't you see/ That I'm in a quaver/ To be middle-aisling you...'