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September 2017 Issue
August 2017
JAZZIZ July Issue

Lu Olutosin

A short history of … “Blue Skies” (Irving Berlin, 1926)

“Blue Skies” was composed by Irving Berlin in 1926. It made its debut in the Rodgers and Hart musical Betsy. According to Philip Furia and Michael Lasser, the song was added at the last minute, and it was thanks to a panicky phone call from vaudevillian Belle Baker to Berlin, who complained that the score lacked a ‘Belle Baker song.’ They also write: “Berlin resented the interpolation of songs by other composers into the score of his shows, but he must have been delighted at the chance to work one of his songs into a score by the young songwriting team who were already being compared to Gilbert and Sullivan.”

Betsy ran for 39 performances only. However, “Blue Skies” became an immediate success. Audiences on opening night allegedly demanded 24 encored of the piece from Baker. That same year, “Blue Skies” made its film debut as one of the first songs of The Jazz Singer, the landmark talkie starring Al Jolson. Indeed, “Blue Skies” would be included in many films, as well as provide the title for a 1946 musical, starring Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire.

Benny Goodman and His Orchestra recorded a highlight Swing Era version of this song in 1935. Berlin’s composition was also popular among the modern jazz players and beboppers. Pianist Thelonious Monk based “In Walked Bud” on its chord progressions. “Blue Skies” has been re-interpreted by numerous artists, including Artie Shaw, Frank Sinatra, Caetano Veloso, and Robert Glasper. It has also crossed genres: Willie Nelson scored a country hit with it in 1978, and British electronic duo Groove Armada recorded it in 1999 under the title “Inside My Mind (Blue Skies).”

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