While the much-performed winner of our Towering Song’ award this year, “How High the Moon,” is perhaps best-remembered for the historic recording by guitar wizard Les Paul and his wife, the late Mary Ford, in the mid ‘50s, the tune is also part of an imposing output of popular songs which came from the songwriting team of Nancy Hamilton and Morgan Lewis.
Ms. Hamilton, born in 1908 in Sewickley, PA, and Lewis born two years later in Rockville, CT, came from diverse environments. Yet both found their way into the entertainment business and fortunately for the music and show business consuming public, they met and began an extremely successful series of
With Lewis creating music and Hamilton contributing lyrics, the pair participated in the writing of such classic Broadway revues as “One for the Money,” “Two for the Show,” “Three to Get Ready” and “New Faces.” They also collaborated on the Oscar-winning documentary film, “Helen Keller - Her Life.” Their efforts also produced a bevy of memorable tunes including “The Old Soft Shoe,” “The House with a Little Red Barn” and “Lovely Lazy, Kind of Day.” However, without question, their biggest joint hit was “How High the Moon.”
Ms. Hamilton, a graduate of Smith college and the Sorbonne in Paris, was also an actress and producer. As a writer, she prepared special material for Mary Martin, Cyril Ritchard, Beatrice Lillie, Billie Burke, Kaye Ballard and Kitty Carlisle Hart, among others.
Lewis, who graduated from the University of Michigan, wrote song material for such revues as “Second Little Show” and “Third Little Show,” and in addition to Hamilton, numbers Edward Eliscu, Ted Fetter and E.Y. (Yip) Harburg among his collaborators. He is also the writer of such earlier song hits as “You Might As Well Pretend,” “‘Cause You Won’t Play House,” “At Last It’s Love,” “With All
My Heart” and “Once Upon a Time.”
One of the most interesting aspects of the longevity of “How High the Moon,” is the fact that although now it is almost universally performed as an up-tempo song, it was originally sung as a slow, dreamy ballad by Alfred Drake in “Two for the Show,” in 1940.