The Two Jewish Women Who Helped Write the Songs of Broadway’s Golden Age

Aug. 18 2021

As has been frequently observed, Jews played an outsized role in creating what came to be known as the great American songbook. Among the most prominent Jewish composers and librettists were Irving Berlin, George and Ira Gershwin, Jerome Kern, Lorenz Hart, and Richard Rodgers. (Oscar Hammerstein II stands out as a practicing Christian born to a Gentile mother and a Jewish father.) Terry Teachout calls attention to two other Jews who, in his view, ought to be listed alongside the others:

Golden-age American songwriting was a man’s game. Without exception, all of the major composers of popular songs who were active in the pre-rock era were men. That was pretty much true of lyricists as well—except for Dorothy Fields (1904–1974) and Carolyn Leigh (1926–1983), both of whom had trifurcated success writing musical-comedy scores, songs for movies, and free-standing pop hits.

Fields also wrote the books for several Broadway shows in collaboration with her brother Herbert, sometimes supplying lyrics as well but often working only on their books, most famously with Irving Berlin on Annie Get Your Gun (1946). Leigh, by contrast, only wrote lyrics and was best known for her pop songs, almost always written with the jazz pianist-composer Cy Coleman, many of which were introduced by such noted singers as Frank Sinatra (“Witchcraft,” 1957), Tony Bennett (“The Best Is Yet to Come,” 1959), and Peggy Lee (“When in Rome,” 1964).

[B]eneath the polished surfaces of their contrasting writing styles, Fields and Leigh (both Jewish girls from New York) were cut from the same distinctive cloth of character.

Unlike Leigh, Fields was born into a show-business family. Lew, her father, started out as a vaudeville comedian, half of Weber and Fields, a “dialect act” portraying two immigrants struggling to master English. The act had its heyday at the turn of the 20th century, after which Fields became a theatrical producer.

Subscribe to Mosaic

Welcome to Mosaic

Subscribe now to get unlimited access to the best of Jewish thought and culture

Subscribe

Subscribe to Mosaic

Welcome to Mosaic

Subscribe now to get unlimited access to the best of Jewish thought and culture

Subscribe

Read more at Commentary

More about: American Jewish History, Broadway, Popular music, Theater

The End of the Arab-Israeli Conflict, and the Rise of the Arab-Israeli Coalition

Nov. 30 2022

After analyzing the struggle between the Jewish state and its Arab neighbors since 1949, Dan Schueftan explains the current geopolitical alignment and what it means for Jerusalem:

Using an outdated vocabulary of Middle Eastern affairs, recent relations between Israel and most Arab states are often discussed in terms of peace and normalization. What is happening recently is far more significant than the willingness to live together and overshadow old grievances and animosities. It is about strategic interdependence with a senior Israeli partner. The historic all-Arab coalition against Israel has been replaced by a de-facto Arab-Israeli coalition against the radical forces that threaten them both. Iran is the immediate and outstanding among those radicals, but Erdogan’s Turkey in the eastern Mediterranean, Syria—and, in a different way, its allies in the Muslim Brotherhood—are not very far behind.

For Israel, the result of these new alignments is a transformational change in its regional standing, as well as a major upgrade of its position on the global stage. In the Middle East, Israel can, for the first time, act as a full-fledged regional power. . . . On the international scene, global powers and other states no longer have to weigh the advantages of cooperation with Israel against its prohibitive costs in “the Arab World. . . . By far the most significant effect of this transformation is on the American strategic calculus of its relations with Israel.

In some important ways, then, the “New Middle East” has arrived. Not, of course, in the surreal Shimon Peres vision of regional democracy, peace, and prosperity, but in terms of a balance of power and hard strategic realities that can guardrail a somewhat less unstable and dangerous region, where the radicals are isolated and the others cooperate to keep them at bay.

Subscribe to Mosaic

Welcome to Mosaic

Subscribe now to get unlimited access to the best of Jewish thought and culture

Subscribe

Subscribe to Mosaic

Welcome to Mosaic

Subscribe now to get unlimited access to the best of Jewish thought and culture

Subscribe

Read more at Tablet

More about: Abraham Accords, Israel-Arab relations, Middle East, Shimon Peres, U.S.-Israel relationship