Walter Donaldson Articles

“He’s the Last Word” (1927)

“He’s the Last Word.” Lyrics by Gus Kahn, music by Walter Donaldson (1926). Recorded by Elsie Carlisle with piano and violin accompaniment at Studio B, Hayes, Middlesex, on May 6, 1927. HMV B. 2579 mx. Bb10689-2.

Elsie Carlisle – "He's the Last Word" (1927)

Elsie Carlisle – “He’s the Last Word” (1927)

“He’s the Last Word” follows an argument familiar to aficionados of popular music: its singer goes through a catalogue of her “sweet somebody’s” various deficits (insufficient talent at dancing, for example), only to conclude that when it comes to romance, “he’s the last word” — he is the very best. In her recording of the song, Elsie Carlisle is pure enthusiasm, and her frequent nonsensical ejaculations remind us of the fun, popular genre that she is working in. She is accompanied by excellent instrumentalists on the piano and violin, the former of whom discographer Richard J. Johnson identifies as Carroll Gibbons (who had indeed been Elsie’s accompanist for most of the previous year). Johnson does not identify the violinist.1

A contemporary record reviewer was under a very different impression as to the identities of the accompanists, writing that

Elsie Carlisle has a thoroughly good vocal record of “He’s the Last Word” [54 at 78] (B2579). She sings tunefully, and is one of the most stylish and rhythmical of all our English comediennes. She has been excellently accompanied by Hugo Rignold (violin) and Arthur Young (piano)—Young does one of the best piano solo choruses I have heard. I wish I could say as much for his effort in “What’s the Use of Crying?” by the same artists on the reverse side.2

Richard Johnson recognizes Arthur Young as the pianist on the other side of the record (“What’s the Use of Crying”), but that side was recorded over three months later. It is possible that Melody Maker‘s reviewer was unaware that the two sides had been recorded so far apart and simply assumed that the piano accompaniments were played by the same man at a single session. The suggestion that the violinist is Rignold is interesting. Hugo Rignold was already famous for his exceedingly “jazzy” playing, and certainly the violinist in “He’s the Last Word” gives the impression of being lively and unconventional — he almost saws at his instrument on occasion.

Other noteworthy early versions of “He’s the Last Word” include ones by Art Kahn and His Orchestra, Jack Pettis and His Band (with vocalist Billy Hillpot), Ben Pollack and His Californians (with the Williams Sisters), Ben Bernie and His Roosevelt Orchestra (with vocals by Scrappy Lambert), the Broadway Bellhops (with singer Irving Kaufman), Jane Gray, Vaughn de Leath (recording as “Gertrude Dwyer”), The Troubadors, Annette Hanshaw (with Irving Brodsky on the piano), and Jack Linx and His Birmingham Society Serenaders. American Josephine Baker recorded “He’s the Last Word” in Paris accompanied by Jacob’s Jazz, and in August 1927 the Merl Twins (“Syncopating Songsters”) sang it in an early Hollywood Vitaphone short film.

In Britain in 1927, in addition to Elsie Carlisle’s, there were versions of “He’s the Last Word” by The Savoy Orpheans (directed by Carroll Gibbons), Syd Roy’s Lyricals, and Bert Firman’s Dance Orchestra (as Eugene Brockman’s Dance Orchestra).

Notes:

  1. Elsie Carlisle: A Discography. Aylesbury, UK, 1994, p. 6.
  2. The names are emphasized in the original. “The Gramophone Review.” The Melody Maker and British Metronome 2.24 (Dec. 1, 1927): 1273.

“Little White Lies” (1930)

“Little White Lies.”  Music and words by Walter Donaldson (1930).  Recorded in London c. September 10, 1930 by Elsie Carlisle under the musical direction of Jay Wilbur (Imperial 2346).

Personnel probably Jack Miranda-cl-ts / Eric Siday-vn / vn / Harry Jacobson-p-cel / Len Fillis-g

Little white lies – Elsie Carlisle

Little White Lies – Elsie Carlisle

Video by hawkmoon03111951 (YouTube)

Prolific composer Walter Donaldson, also known for such jazz standards as “Makin’ Whoopee,” “My Baby Just Cares for Me,” and “My Blue Heaven,” published “Little White Lies” in 1930, and it became an instant hit.  Initially recorded by Fred Waring’s Pennsylvanians, the song saw countless American recordings within months, including by such noted female vocalists as Marion Harris, Lee Morse, and Annette Hanshaw (“That’s all!”).

“Little White Lies” saw equal attention that year in Britain.  Notable recordings were made by the Rhythmic Eight and the Rhythm Maniacs (both with Maurice Elwin as vocalist), Harry Hudson’s Radio Melody Boys (Sam Browne, vocalist), Jack Hylton and His Orchestra (Pat O’Malley, vocalist), Bert Madison’s Dance Orchestra (directed by Nat Star, with Cavan O’Connor as vocalist), and Jay Wilbur and His Band (vocals by Jack Plant).  Jay Wilbur was, of course, the musical director at Imperial at the time, so he would have overseen Elsie Carlisle’s recording the previous month.

Sir Paul McCartney has reported that “Little White Lies” was John Lennon’s favorite childhood song, and that this was a fondness that they shared, but it is assumed that it was the 1947 Dick Haymes version that they were familiar with.

Al Bowlly Remembered

Today we remember Al Bowlly, that unique interwar singer who was perhaps unrivaled in his ability to project vocally a persona of romance and sophistication. On April 16, 1941, Bowlly returned from giving a performance in High Wycombe and stayed up late reading, in spite of an intense Luftwaffe air raid. On the morning of April 17, a German parachute mine that had fallen outside his building exploded, killing him, amongst others. Bowlly was given a funeral at a Greek Orthodox Cathedral in London and buried in Hanwell Cemetery in a mass grave for bombing victims.

Al Bowlly and Elsie Carlisle sang a duet of “My Baby Just Cares For Me” in a medley in 1932:

Al Bowlly and Elsie Carlisle – “My Baby Just Cares for Me”

From John Watt’s “Songs from the Shows” (recorded March 7, 1932. Decca K. 645. “My Baby Just Cares for Me” was composed by Walter Donaldson, with lyrics by Gus Kahn. Eddie Cantor made it famous in the film “Whoopee!”

Al Bowlly
Al Bowlly

"The Idol of the Radio." British dance band singer of the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s.

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