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MC Weekly

July 17, 2013

RAY MOSCOWITZ: Music of '20s, '30s and '40s etched in our soul

Peru's Porter contributed much of 'Great American Songbook.'

The 2-inch by 2-inch head-and-shoulders photo of a suave-looking Cole Porter grabbed my attention immediately.

The photo is inside a round frame at the top of the “Attractions” page in the June 30 edition of The Herald-Times of Bloomington. A large headline reads, “Singing our Songs,” and below that — covering three-quarters of the page — is a graphic of an American flag and photos of nine other great American songwriters.

The story delves into the music of the ’30s, ’40s and ’50s that continues to permeate popular culture, even among people in their 20s.

The music is etched in America’s soul and is known as The Great American Songbook — a distinctive description of the songs that help define us as a nation.

Steve Zegree, a close friend of Peru’s internationally acclaimed opera star Tim Noble, is among those quoted in the Herald-Times article.

Zegree, like Noble, a professor at the IU Jacobs School of Music, says, “They [the Songbook tunes] will be around forever. From a harmonic, melodic, lyrical and structural standpoint, these songs are as beautiful, valid, original, creative and artistic as any song by composers such as Schubert, Schumann or Brahms.”

The other composers featured in the article are Richard Rodgers, Oscar Hammerstein, Harold Arlen, Johnny Mercer, George and Ira Gershwin, Irving Berlin, Bloomington’s Hoagy Carmichael, and Duke Ellington.

The article got me thinking about these musical geniuses, starting with the fact that Porter and Berlin wrote both the melody and the lyrics. To me, that puts them in a separate class.

At a Porter concert he gave in Peru several years ago, Noble recalled meeting Berlin during a musical celebration of Berlin’s 80th birthday. When Noble told Berlin he was from Peru, Berlin’s eyes widened. “Cole was the best of us, the very best,” Berlin said.

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