Frank Loesser’s Centennial Roll
Frank Loesser, like Irving Berlin and Cole Porter, was one of the few creators of great American musicals who wrote both music and lyrics. He began his career as a lyricist, but it became clear that his melodies—sometimes “dummy” melodies he created just to help him complete his lyric ideas—were the perfect fit for his words. His songs include “Heart and Soul” (music by Hoagy Carmichael), “I Don’t Want to Walk Without You” (music by Jule Styne), “Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition,” “Baby It’s Cold Outside” (an Oscar winner), “On a Slow Boat to China,” and “What are You Doing New Year’s Eve,” as well as the hits from the shows below.
In his centennial birth-year, 2010, Loesser was the subject of a major documentary, Heart and Soul: the Music of Frank Loesser, and three of his shows were staged or went into production in New York: his greatest work, the perpetually revisited Guys and Dolls; his first hit Where’s Charlie, recently staged in concert by the esteemed Encores! series in New York; and the soon-to-open classic, How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, starring the ex-wizard of Hogwarts himself, Daniel Radcliffe.
As the documentary Heart and Soul makes clear, Loesser had a volatile personality and wanted his songs performed exactly as he envisioned them. He once became so angry at a rehearsal of Guys and Dolls that he punched the soprano Isabel Bigley. Yet he could be so generous, loyal, and remorseful that even Bigley forgave him. Here’s a very good interview with Michael Feinstein about Loesser from NPR’s Fresh Air. It features some rare audio clips from Feinstein’s collection.
Loesser died of lung cancer in 1969. The songs and shows he left behind rank with the best work ever created for the stage and records. Here are some treatments of Loesser tunes on YouTube.
|“I Don’t Want to Walk Without You,” music and lyrics by Jule Styne and Frank Loesser, sung (left) by Kay Lorraine, Merle Pitt’s Five Shades of Blue, and Frank Wilcox, and (right) by the actress Anne Bancroft.|
|“Baby, It’s Cold Outside,” music and lyrics by Frank Loesser, sung by Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Jordan (left) and by Chris Colfer and Darren Criss as presented in the TV series Glee.|
|“Fugue for Tinhorns” (left) from the film of Guys and Dolls and “Luck Be a Lady,” performed by Frank Sinatra with the Count Basie Orchestra, both songs music and lyrics by Frank Loesser|
|“Never Will I Marry,” from the musical Greenwillow, music and lyrics by Frank Loesser, performed by (left) Nancy Wilson and Cannonball Adderley, and (right) by Judy Garland.|