Songwriter's Corner|

By Denise Oliver Velez, Community Contributors Team, Daily Kos | It’s autumn. I love watching the glorious display of colors that deck the hills that surround my home in the Hudson Valley of New York. While not everyone lives in regions where autumn is marked by an explosion of vivid new colors on the leaves of trees around us, the colorful season has been the subject of musicians for years. For today’s Black Music Sunday, let’s take a listen to a palette of fall colors painted with sound.

For those who have fall chores like raking and leaf blowing to do, here’s some great music about those autumn leaves to keep you company. For those who don’t, well, just listen and enjoy.

It seems appropriate to open with the song “Autumn Leaves.” When I started listening to the wealth of different versions of it, I wound up deciding to try an experiment: My first Black Music Sunday with variations of just one song.

My first choice is the late, great Nat King Cole, seen here performing live in an October 1957 episode of The Nat King Cole Show. The King introduces his performance as a tribute to songwriter Johnny Mercer, who wrote the English lyrics.

I mention Mercer’s English lyrics because the song was originally a hit in France, taken from the poem Les Feuilles Mortes (Dead Leaves), by Jacques Prevert. Roger Crane details that history for The International Review of Music.

Prevert’s poem was set to music by composer Joseph Kosma and introduced in a 1946 French film titled Les Portes de la Nuit by actor Yves Montand, who briefly sings (and hums) it in a nightclub scene. Thereafter, the beautiful and haunting song became popular in France.

Four years later a batch of records were sent from Paris to Johnny Mercer’s Capitol Records to see if the staff thought any of the songs or recordings were worthy of release to the US audience. Fortunately the Capitol folks realized that this song was exceptional. Mercer was given the record and a copy of the French lyrics and reportedly, while on a short train trip, wrote the poetic English lyric. Although retaining the original concept, his lyric is not a translation from the French but a new story of its own. Kosma’s melody has 68 notes and Mercer used just 58 words to match the melody […]

In 1956 Hollywood released a movie titled Autumn Leaves starring Joan Crawford and the theme is used throughout the film. This movie also has Nat Cole singing the song over the film’s credits. (By the way, the movie’s title was changed to Autumn Leaves due to the popularity of the song. It’s original title was The Way We Are.)

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Go here to read the full article, to listen to the song, and to watch the accompanying videos:

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