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But Not for Me (1930)

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Origin and Chart Information
“In 1958 Ahmad Jamal took the jazz world by storm with his release of At the Pershing. In addition to ‘Poinciana,’ his unique version of ‘But Not for Me’ became a signature tune for him.”

- Sandra Burlingame

Rank 54
Music George Gershwin
Lyrics Ira Gershwin

Ginger Rogers introduced an Alvin Theatre audience to “But Not for Me” during the first performance of Girl Crazy on October 14, 1930. Although the role of postmistress marked Rogers’ Broadway debut as a leading lady, she lost the limelight to newcomer Ethel Merman who brought down the house with her introduction of “I Got Rhythm.”


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Girl Crazy was originally written as a vehicle for Bert Lahr, but when he turned down the part for legal reasons, Willie Howard, a master of accents, was brought in to take his place. The Red Nichols band was the orchestra for the performance, a talent-laden group that included Benny Goodman, Glenn Miller, Jack Teagarden, Jimmy Dorsey, and Gene Krupa. The star-studded orchestra thrilled audiences during the intermissions with impromptu jam sessions. George Gershwin, himself, conducted the music at the premier before handing over the baton to Earl Busby. Girl Crazy would run for 272 performances in part due to its wonderful score that included “Bidin’ My Time,” “Sam and Delilah,” “I Got Rhythm,” “Embraceable You,” “Treat Me Rough!” and “Boy! What Love Has Done to Me!”

A 1932 RKO film adaptation of Girl Crazy, starring Bert Wheeler and Robert Woolsey, relied on sophomoric comedy rather than the original Gershwin score and retained only “Bidin’ My Time,” “I Got Rhythm,” and “But Not for Me.” Variety called it “a weak sister” of the Broadway production.

A 1943 release of the film fared much better. MGM’s Girl Crazy was the eighth Mickey Rooney/Judy Garland film and was generally well reviewed. The original story and score were left almost intact and all of the songs were included along with “Fascinating Rhythm” from 1924’s Lady Be Good.

MGM again visited the well in 1966 with Girl Crazy as the basis for the film, When the Boys Meet the Girls, starring Connie Francis and Harve Presnell. Suffice it to say the highlight of the musical was the songs.

Over sixty years after making its debut, Girl Crazy was once again on Broadway, this time as the basis for the 1992 hit Crazy For You. The musical opened onFebruary 19th and ran for 1622 performances. Seven of the songs from Girl Crazy were included in the score along with 13 other Gershwin songs.

Despite the song’s popularity with jazz performers, “But Not for Me” was a pop chart hit only once, rising to number twelve in 1942 for Harry James and His Orchestra with vocalist Helen Forrest.


Chart information used by permission from
Joel Whitburn's Pop Memories 1890-1954

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“But Not for Me” has been performed by many instrumentalists and (female) vocalists alike. Philip Furia, in his book, Ira Gershwin: The Art of the Lyricist, comments,

“But Not for Me” and “The Man That Got Away” fall in the category Ira dubbed “Ladies in Lament.”

And, indeed, ladies that have lamented include Billie Holiday, Carmen McRae, Carol Sloane, Chris Connor, Diana Krall, Dinah Washington, Ella Fitzgerald, Etta Jones, and Sarah Vaughan.

More information on this tune...

Ira Gershwin
Lyrics on Several Occasions
Limelight Editions
Paperback: 424 pages

(The lyricist himself discusses the song’s history and its lyric.)
See the Reading and Research panel below for more references.

- Jeremy Wilson

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