“A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square.” Words by Eric Maschwitz, music by Manning Sherwin (1940). Recorded by Elsie Carlisle under the musical direction of Jay Wilbur on April 11, 1940. Rex 9816.
Video by Brian’s 78’s (YouTube)
“A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square” is a simple, sentimental love song that recounts the circumstances of the first meeting of two lovers in Berkeley Square, Mayfair, London, which happens to be only five blocks from where Elsie Carlisle lived for decades. On April 11, 1940 she recorded this atmospheric composition for the Rex label to the accompaniment of an electric organ. Hers remains one of the memorable early versions of the piece, which continues to see treatments by popular artists to this day.
First performed in the musical revue New Faces by Judy Campbell, the song was popular with British dance bands in June and July of 1940: there were versions by Carrol Gibbons and the Savoy Hotel Orpheans (with Anne Lenner singing), Ambrose and His Orchestra (with Anne Shelton as vocalist), Geraldo and His Orchestra (with Dorothy Carless), Billy Cotton and His Band (Alan Breeze, vocalist), and Joe Loss and His Band (with Paula Greene singing). It was included in medleys by Jay Wilbur and His Band (Sam Browne, vocalist) and by Joe Loss. Other than Elsie Carlisle’s, the most notable solo recording that year was by Vera Lynn, who is unusual in having sung the first stanza, which is traditionally omitted.
“A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square” was popular in America that fall and was recorded by Gene Krupa and His Orchestra (with vocalist Howard Dulaney), Ray Noble and His Orchestra (Larry Stewart, vocalist), and Glenn Miller and His Orchestra (with singer Ray Eberle). Kate Smith would make a notable solo recording of the song (like Vera Lynn, she sings the first stanza).