Case in Point


This blog site will feature essays, columns and musings that deal with the intersection of Christianity and journalism and the American Songbook.

Singing in the Shower: Jashur, Wars & Mercer

The Books of Jashur & the Wars of Yahweh and “Autumn Leaves”

 As we look at the Great Biblical Songbook we have numerous examples of pre-existing tunes being commandeered for Hebrew poetry in at least two song collections: the Book of Jashur in 2nd Samuel, and The Book of the Wars of Yahweh from Numbers 21.

 And, of course, quite a few of the Psalms were set to pre-existing tunes, such as “The Eighth,” “Winepress,” “Help in the Morning,” and “A Round Dance,” among others. Unfortunately, we do not have any of these ancient tunes.

 Adding lyrics to pre-exiting tunes is not only a Great Biblical Songbook tradition, it is also a Great American Songbook tradition.

 Songwriter Johnny Mercer added his clever lyrics to several borrowed tunes, such as the Russian song “Song of India” (a tune by Rimsky-Korsakov, no less), a German song “Glow Worm,” and a French song “When the World Was Young.”

 Mercer also took the 1945 French song “The Dead Leaves” and wrote the English lyrics to it. He called his version, “Autumn Leaves.” In l955 the Christian pianist, Roger Williams recorded the tune and it shot to number one on the Billboard chart, the only instrumental ever to do so. However, in l950 the wonderful Jo Stafford recorded the Mercer lyrics. And here is Miss Stafford:

(“Autumn Leaves” performed by Jo Stafford)

 Next time, songs of warning and judgment.

 This is Bob Case for “Singing in the Shower: The American Songbook and the Church.”


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