Pennies From Johnny Burke

Johnny BurkeOn 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.

Billie Holiday performing “Pennies From Heaven”

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!

2 thoughts on “Pennies From Johnny Burke

  1. Thank You for the wonderful write up about my Dad,Johnny Burke! My twin sister, Regan and I were born on 10-03-1941,what a treat for Dad.two years a son,Kevin Curtis Burke 09-21-1943. By the way Dad never stopped writing songs. He wrote the score to the Broadway play Donnybrook! It flopped but the album (cd) is still available. Every so often this play is performed in NYC. Dad wrote a score for a new play ” little lord Fauntleroy ” but it was never produced due to his death.there are some terrific, fun songs,in ” Donnybrook”. Thank you for being such a fan of well crafted lyrics. Your article means so much to me and Regan. Rory Lee Burke,Regan Reade Burke and our late brother Kevin.

  2. I’m so amazed to find this. I knew Regan when we both lived on the French Riviera in the 1980s. She was living there with her teenage son Curtis. She used to tell me so many stories about her childhood and youth in Hollywood, it all sounded very glamorous. She told me that her godfather was Bob Hope. I have often wondered how she is now. She left Monaco very suddenly, and I never heard from her any more. I hope she is well, and please say hello to her from me. She might remember me as the English woman teaching English to the croupiers in the Casino. I came to her apartment with my mum, and we all watched the Grand Prix from her balcony. She was always good company and a lot of fun! Best wishes, Jan Kelley

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