A short history of … “Good Morning Heartache” (I. Higgenbotham, D. Fisher, E. Drake, 1946)

“Good Morning Heartache” was written by Irene Higgenbotham, Dan Fisher, and Ervin Drake for vocalist Billie Holiday, who first recorded it on January 22, 1946. It soon became one of her signature tunes. Its lyrics were written by Drake, whose rose to fame by writing English lyrics for such Spanish melodies as “Tico-Tico” and “The Rickety Rickshaw Man.” The music was composed by Higgenbotham and Fisher. It is worth mentioning that although almost 50 songs were registered with the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) under her name, little is known about Higgenbotham, and she is often confused with Irene Wilson, who also wrote songs for Holiday and was the former wife of Swing Era pianist Teddy Wilson.

The original recording of “Good Morning Heartache” uses a 32-bar AABA form. However, because of its slow tempo, the second chorus was truncated, since the old 78 rpm recordings had a time limit of around three minutes. Other Holiday versions have been praised by critics and writers alike. For instance, Elizabeth Wurzel wrote in Prozac Nation: ‘the sorrow of certain works of art – of Picasso’s Guernica, of Billie Holiday’s “Good Morning Heartache” at the 1957 Monterey Jazz Festival, Sylvia Plath’s “Tulips,” Fellini’s La Strada – never seem mitigated by exposure. Their power is amplified with every new viewing or hearing or reading, and I just find new elements of tragedy to focus on, new reasons to be empathetic.”

“Good Morning Heartache” was included in the soundtrack of the 1972 biopic Lady Sings the Blues. Here, Diana Ross played the role of Holiday and sang the songs on the soundtrack. Her version of “Good Morning Heartache” was especially successful and certainly responsible for the many cover versions of the songs that were recorded and performed throughout 1937. These include versions by guitarist Kenny Burrell, saxophonist Sonny Rollins, and vocalist Ella Fitzgerald, who featured it in her performance at the Newport Jazz Festival that year.

Despite this, Ross’ rendition of the track had its share of detractors. Among them, Carmen McRae, who recorded her own noteworthy version of “Good Morning Heartache” in 1955. In fact, criticizing Ross’ version of “Good Morning Heartache,” she told Down Beat: “I’m sorry. I sing it better than she does.”

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