Sample Chapter from Italian Pride: 101 Reasons to be Proud You’re Italian
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76. Harry Warren
You might not realize it, but the tunes you sing in the shower may be that of a great Italian-American composer! In fact, you wouldn’t realize that even if you knew the composer’s name, because Harry Warren couldn’t sound less Italian. In fact, Harry Warren wrote the music to some of the most popular American standards ever.
He was born in Brooklyn Salvatore Guaragna in 1893, but the Guaragna family, like many Italian immigrants during this period, opted to change their name to an “American” one because of the rampant prejudice they experienced.
“I remember as a child I had no interest in being Italian, only in being an American,” he said. “Strangely, many years later, as an adult, I got to appreciate my Italian background and thought about sometimes going to Italy to live.”
From 1932 to 1957, Harry Warren, paired with a variety of lyricists, including Johnny Mercer, Mack Gordon, and Al Dubin, produced over 250 songs for motion-picture musicals, which were then in their golden age. From this output, an astonishing fifty titles are considered standards and are sung and played almost daily somewhere in the world. One of his earliest successes was his music for the film 42nd Street (1932), with two big hits in “Shuffle off to Buffalo” and “You’re Getting to Be a Habit With Me.” From there, it was only up, up, up.
With Gold Diggers of 1933 (1933), the melodic mind of Warren gave us “We’re in the Money,” a song whose hopeful lyric and catchy tune helped ease the pain of the Great Depression. With its sequel, Gold Diggers of 1935 (1935), Warren earned an Oscar and gave us “The Lullaby of Broadway,” another unforgettable song in the growing catalogue of hits.
And they just kept coming. “Jeepers Creepers,” “You Must Have Been a Beautiful Baby,” and “I Only Have Eyes for You” are further examples of songs that are so successful that they are remembered apart from the films for which they were originally written. While some people only know a line or two of the lyrics, Warren’s melodies are ingrained in their minds. Warren and his partners wrote for all of the major Hollywood studios and worked with some of their brightest stars. Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers sang and danced to his music as did Judy Garland, Betty Grable, and Doris Day. Even Carmen Miranda shook her fruit basket to the beat of Warren’s meter.
His pairing with “Big Band” leader Glenn Miller produced landmarks in both of their careers, with “Chattanooga Choo Choo” and “Serenade in Blue” becoming bona fide classics.
And we, as proud Italians, can especially enjoy “That’s Amore,” a song from the Jerry Lewis-Dean Martin film The Caddy (1953). Martin’s playful vocal rendition made it the love song of the fifties; it introduced Americans to a whole range of Italianized expressions like “signore,” “pasta fazool,” “vita bella,” and “scusa mi.” The song was reintroduced and repopularized when it was used as part of the soundtrack to the hit film Moonstruck (1987).
Buy the sheet music here!
So why doesn’t anybody know who Harry Warren is? Because he preferred to stay out of the limelight, letting his music speak for itself. Always the wit, Warren quipped “Even my best friends don’t know who I am.” Warren died in 1981. Only a few remember his name, but he gave the world songs that will be sung and remembered for a long time.