It’s Tony Award season again on Broadway, not something typical boomers paid much attention to in their early days. If Mister Boomer’s experience is any indication of the relationship of boomers to the Broadway stage, then boomers had virtually no connection to what was happening on the Great White Way. Or did they? There is a long tradition of popular music coming from the stage. Vaudeville songs became hits as sheet music was sold at the turn of the century, then music from the stage was heard on the radio and records in the 1920s, helping to propel songs such as such as Ol’ Man River from Show Boat (1927) into the realm of popular hits. By the time the parents of boomers had entered the 1940s, songs from Broadway musicals became regular fixtures on the radio.
Summertime from Porgy and Bess (1933), was not only a hit in the 1930s, it was recorded by numerous boomer-era musicians, most notably by Janis Joplin (1968). The George and Ira Gershwin tune, I Got Rhythm, from Girl Crazy (1930) became a hit for The Happenings in 1967. Some Enchanted Evening from South Pacific (1949) was recorded by numerous artists, among them Frank Sinatra, who released the song three times (1949, 1963, 1967)! A version by Jay & the Americans reached No. 13 on the Billboard charts in 1965.
Here are some other Broadway songs that boomers heard on their radios:
Stranger in Paradise from Kismet (1953, became a film in 1955) was a hit for Tony Bennet that same year. Other stars who recorded it that are known to boomers include Johnny Mathis, Englebert Humperdinck, Percy Faith, Isaac Hayes, the Ink Spots, Jack Jones, Sun Ra and the Supremes, among many others.
Boomers recall Robert Preston’s version of Ya Got Trouble from The Music Man (1957) and subsequent film (1962), but how many recall that Spanky and Our Gang released a version in 1967?
Broadway’s West Side Story (1957) and film (1961) spawned multiple hits for multiple artists, including Tonight and Maria. Aretha Franklin gave us her own version of Somewhere in 1973. Little Richard, of all people, recorded I Feel Pretty in 1966 (granted, it was not a hit for him). The Supremes sang the same song on Ed Sullivan and Hollywood Palace, and even though they had recorded it in 1965, it wasn’t released until 2004.
Everything’s Coming Up Roses bolstered the popularity of Ethel Merman in Gypsy (1959). Many others recorded the tune, including Johnny Mathis (1960), Bobby Rydell (1961) and Shirley Bassey (1965).
The Sound of Music (1959) gave us several hits, and of course, a movie (1965) that most boomers saw at an early age. Climb E’vry Mountain was recorded by Andy Williams in 1960; My Favorite Things became a jazz standard after John Coltrane’s version was released (1961). Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass recorded it in 1969. Numerous artists have sung the song on TV Christmas specials throughout the boomer years.
Fiddler on the Roof (1964) brought us If I were a Rich Man, which was subsequently recorded by Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass (1966), Roger Whitaker (1967) and Sergio Franchi (1968).
Cabaret from Cabaret (1966) brought us several versions on the radio, including the Liza Minnelli soundtrack from the film (1972), and some unlikely song stylists like Brenda Lee (1968), Ella Fitzgerald (1970) and Bing Crosby (1976).
Hair (1968) brought us several hits, including Aquarius for The 5th Dimension (1969). Mister B has mentioned the influence of this musical in an earlier post. See: Boomers Dug Songs from “Hair”
Send in the Clowns from A Little Night Music (1973) was not a hit when it became known to audiences on Broadway. Bobby Short became the first to record it (1973) but it took Frank Sinatra and Judy Collins to make it a hit. Sinatra’s version came first in 1973, and Collins released her version two years later.
The Wiz brought us Ease on Down the Road (1975) on the original cast album that featured Stephanie Mills, but most boomers will recall the later version, a duet by Diana Ross and Michael Jackson (1978) that was released as a single release in conjunction with the opening of the movie.
Of course, there were many more. What Broadway songs found their way into your home and record collection, boomers?