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Oh, Lady Be Good! (1924)

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Origin and Chart Information
“When Lester Young played on the second chorus, the jazz world was introduced to another way of playing the tenor saxophone ... Jazz would never be the same.”

- Chris Tyle

AKALady Be Good
Rank 22
Music George Gershwin
Lyrics Ira Gershwin

As improvisational vehicles, many songs could not endure the transition from the loose Dixieland style of the “Roaring Twenties” to the smooth, swing sound of the 1930’s. They were dropped from jazz musicians’ catalogs, performances, and recordings and relegated to period collections and specialty bands. There are, however, a handful of songs written in the mid-twenties or earlier that have persisted as the topmost jazz standards: WC Handy’s “St. Louis Blues” (1914); the Ken Casey, Maceo Pinkard, Ben Bernie composition “Sweet Georgia Brown” (1925); and George and Ira Gershwin’s “The Man I Love” (1924) and “Oh, Lady Be Good” (1924).

Walter Catlett introduced “Oh, Lady Be Good!” on the stage of the Liberty Theater December 1st 1924. The song was included in the Broadway Musical Lady, Be Good! a popular show that would run for 330 performances. The show starred Fred and Adele Astaire, Walter Catlett, Alan Edwards, Jayne Auburn, Kathlene Martyn, and Cliff Edwards. It opened to generally favorable reviews, with the critics raving about the Astaires’ footwork and the “jazzy” Gershwin score.


More on Walter Catlett at JazzBiographies.com

In 1925 “Oh, Lady Be Good!” went on to become a pop chart hit three times with

  • Paul Whiteman and His Orchestra (1925, instrumental, #2)
  • Carl Fenton and his Orchestra (1925, instrumental, #9)
  • Cliff Edwards (1925, #13)

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

Lady Be Good was one of several shows in 1924 that represented a significant departure from the romantic operetta style. According to Edward Jablonski’s book Gershwin: A Biography, these pioneering productions were “... brittle in tone, ‘smart,’ characterized by athletic dances, tongue-in-cheek love songs”; in other words, forerunners of the modern musical comedy.


More on George Gershwin at JazzBiographies.com

More on Ira Gershwin at JazzBiographies.com

“Oh, Lady Be Good!” was one of a dozen songs in the all-Gershwin Broadway score. Also becoming hits were “So Am I,” “Little Jazz Bird,” “The Half of It, Dearie, Blues,” and “Fascinating Rhythm.”

Lady Be Good was also a turning point in the career of Cliff Edwards. Edwards’ ukulele rendition of “Fascinating Rhythm” stole the show and would prove to be the beginning of a string of Broadway appearances for him.


More on Cliff Edwards at JazzBiographies.com

Weak dialogue and poor direction spoiled MGM’s 1941 musical, Lady, Be Good! The producers gambled on a number of changes and lost with a different cast (such greats as Eleanor Powell, Ann Sothern, Robert Young, and Lionel Barrymore), a different plot, and a different score (except for “Oh, Lady Be Good!” and “Fascinating Rhythm.”)

More information on this tune...

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

(The lyricist himself discusses the anecdotal history of the song and its lyric over three pages.)
See the Reading and Research links on this page for additional references.

- Jeremy Wilson

Recommendations for This Tune
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Django Reinhardt
First Recordings (Django Reinhardt)
Original recording 1935
On this early performance with the Quintette du Hot Club de France, Reinhardt shows off his already-stunning technique and creativity.
Benny Goodman
Original Benny Goodman Trio and Quartet Sessions, Vol. 1: After You've Gone
Original recording 1936
Goodman’s groundbreaking trio with pianist Teddy Wilson and drummer Gene Krupa is featured on this relaxed and swinging performance.
Tadd Dameron
Fats Navarro Featured with the Tadd Dameron Band
Milestone 47041
Original recording 1948
This is a wonderful early example of trumpet giant Navarro’s small-group collaborations with pianist, arranger and bandleader Tadd Dameron. Navarro’s creativity and virtuosity are stunning. The performance opens with a bebop line (which often carries the titles “Rifftide” or “Hackensack”) that was popular to use over this chord progression.
Ella Fitzgerald
Pure Ella:The Very Best of Ella Fitzgerald
1998, Polygram #539206
(not to be confused with Pure Ella, 1950 Verve 636)
Tracks like Fitzgerald’s take on “Oh, Lady Be Good”’ make it hard to dispute that she is among the elite jazz singers in history, if not the best. Her vocal pyrotechnics here include some over-the-top scatting.
Charlie Parker
Confirmation: The Best of the Verve Years
1995 Verve 27815
Original recording 1946
This live recording features a truly classic solo statement from Parker, whose soulful ideas seem here to flow without limits. Howard McGhee and Lester Young are among those also featured on this long track.
Kenny Burrell
On View at the Five Spot Cafe
1989 Blue Note 46538
Original recording 1959
Burrell romps through a high-energy live version of the tune with a group that includes Tina Brooks on tenor saxophone and Art Blakey on drums.
Oscar Peterson
Oscar Peterson Plays The George Gershwin Songbook
1996 Verve 29698
Original recording 1959
Peterson has recorded this tune many times with different groups. This subtly swinging performance features his wonderful trio with Ray Brown and Ed Thigpen.

- Noah Baerman

Tommy Flanagan
Lady Be Good...For Ella
1994 Polygram 521617

Flanagan, although he enjoyed a solo career, was Ella Fitzgerald’s pianist for 12 years. In two readings that probably express his relationship with Ella, he treats “Lady Be Good”’ reverentially and then takes it as an uptempo romp with Peter Washington (b) and Lewis Nash (d).

- Sandra Burlingame

Red Norvo
2000, Melodie Jazz Classic #1123

This album features superb sound quality on a great recording of “Oh, Lady Be Good.”’ Xylophonist/vibraphonist/bandleader Red Norvo stands aside to let a tight and brassy horn section steal the show.
Slim Gaillard
Rides Again
2002, Universal
Original recording, 1958, Verve
Multi-instrumentalist and bandleader Gaillard gives the song a classic Gaillard reading. His playfulness belies a musicianship and innovation that are hard to discredit. Here Gaillard tickles the ivories while tirelessly improvising the lyrics to make the song his own.

- Ben Maycock

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