Songwriters of the Classic Era, 1910-1960

This includes the pioneers, classic Broadway and Hollywood composers and lyricists, and others identified as part of the Great American Songbook.  This generally includes songwriters active 1910 -1960. has been continuously publishing essays (originally as magazine articles) on key artists and their contributions to the craft since 2007.   These are not biographies as such, although some contain brief biographical info where it is necessary to develop further understanding.  Rather these essays seek to explain the significance of a given artist, and further define their place in the Great American Songbook.

Although many of these artists transcended eras, their most significant contributions — or the focus of a particular essay — is generally based on their activity prior to 1960.

Please click the links below….

Harold Arlen  If the 1930s-1940s era of the Great American Songbook had a Mt. Rushmore, Arlen would be on it. Examples include “Paper Moon,” “Blues In the Night,” and “Over the Rainbow.” Probably best known for his work with lyricists Yip Harburg and Johnny Mercer.

Irving Berlin The father of American Popular Song. Examples include “Aexander’s Ragtime Band,” “White Christmas,” “God Bless America,” “”There’s No Business Like Show Business,” “Puttin’ On the Ritz.”

Ralph Blane Singer-turned-songwriter best known for collaborating with Hugh Martin on “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” and “The Trolley Song.”

Sammy Cahn Winner of multiple Academy Awards for best song, also one of Frank Sinatra’s go-to songwriters. Examples include “Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow,” “It’s Been a Long, Long Time,” “Three Coins in a Fountain,” and “Come Fly With Me.”

Duke Ellington Bandleader and composer, notable as foremost African-American frontman during the big band era, the fact that he was an incredible composer is often overlooked. Examples include “It Don’t Mean a Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing),” “My Dreams Are Getting Better All The Time,” and “I Got It Bad (and That Ain’t Good).”

George Gershwin Classically-influenced composer whose work includes the opera Porgy and Bess. Song examples include “I Got Rhythm,” “Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off,” and “Rhapsody in Blue.”

Oscar Hammerstein II Lyricist who first worked with Jerome Kern, then later with Richard Rodgers. Known for musicals Show Boat, Sound of Music, and others. Song lyric examples include “Ol’ Man River,” “You’ll Never Walk Alone,” and “Edelweiss.”

Jerome Kern Another patriarch from the formative years of American pop along with Irving Berlin. Composer whose best known work is probably the musical Show Boat. Song examples include “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes,” “The Way You Look Tonight,” and the timeless “They Didn’t Believe Me.”

Peggy Lee Star vocalist who also was a gifted lyricist. Her prose includes “It’s A Good Day,” “Manana,” and of course, “Fever.”

Bob Merrill Lyricist and scriptwriter whose songs range from the sublime to the ridiculous. Examples include “How Much Is That Doggy In The Window,” “Honeycomb,” and “People.”

Bob Nolan Leader of the Sons of the Pioneers vocal group who penned “Tumbling Tumbleweeds” and the classic “Cool Water.”

Cole Porter Another composer whose likeness is found on the Great American Songbook’s Mt. Rushmore. Song examples include “Begin the Beguine,” “I Get A Kick Out Of You,” and “I’ve Got You Under My Skin.”

Richard Rodgers Composer of the American soundtrack of the 20th Century, everything from Victory at Sea to The Sound of Music. Song examples include “Oh What a Beautiful Mornin’,” “Some Enchanted Evening,” and “Getting to Know You.”

Sam Stept Composer most active during the 1920s and 1930s whose influence has outlasted most of the recordings of his songs. Some that have survived the test of time include “That’s My Weakness Now” and “don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree.”

Jimmy Van Heusen Raconteur, test pilot, and prolific songwriter whose hits spanned from the 1930s through the 1960s. Collaborated mostly with Johnny Burke and later with Sammy Cahn. Song examples include “Call Me Irresponsible,” “Pocketful of Miracles,” and “Love and Marriage.”

Richard Whiting 1920s era composer who had a knack for writing simple, “catchy” tunes that sold incredibly well. Examples include “Hooray for Hollywood,” “Ain’t We Got Fun,” and “The Good Ship Lollipop.”

Photo left to right: Harold Arlen, Peggy Lee, Vic Damone. We hate to admit, this photo was taken after 1960.