On this day in 1908, the great lyricist Johnny Burke was born. He was actually a fine musician who played piano professionally in many capacities. But when he went to work for Irving Berlin’s publishing company at the age of 18, he was paired with composer Harold Spina. The two of them worked very successfully writing songs for dance bands for ten years.
At that point, Burke moved to Hollywood, where he worked with a number of composers. His most productive collaboration, however, was with Jimmy Van Heusen. The two of them were nominated for three “best song” Academy Awards, winning for “Swinging on a Star.” Another notable song was “What’s New?” which he wrote with Bob Haggart. But my favorite of his songs is “Pennies from Heaven,” which he wrote with Arthur Johnston the first year he came to Hollywood.
Burke died of a heart attack just a few days after I was born. He was only 55 years old. But he had stopped doing songwriting. It was well into the rock era and there just wasn’t much call for the finely crafted songs that Burke wrote. I think we are all worse off, as much as I love many songs that came out of the new music.
Happy birthday Johnny Burke!