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Someone to Watch Over Me (1926)

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Origin and Chart Information
“An interesting comparison is the contrasting styles of pianists Art Tatum and Erroll Garner in their versions from 1949.”

- Chris Tyle

Rank 77
Music George Gershwin
Lyrics Ira Gershwin

On November 8, 1926, the musical Oh Kay! opened at the Imperial Theater, and during that memorable performance Gertrude Lawrence introduced the audience to a song entitled “Someone to Watch over Me.” Oh Kay! would enjoy great success on Broadway, running for 256 performances before crossing the Atlantic for a London version in 1927. The musical would again court success in a 1960 Off-Broadway revival and again on Broadway in 1990.


More on Gertrude Lawrence at JazzBiographies.com

It is little wonder the musical was such an enduring hit. With a libretto written by Guy Bolton and P.G. Wodehouse and music and lyrics by George and Ira Gershwin the score included songs such as “The Woman’s Touch,” “Don’t Ask!” “Dear Little Girl,” “Maybe,” “Clap Yo’ Hands!” “Do, Do, Do,” “Bride and Groom,” “Fidgety Feet,” “Heaven on Earth,” “Oh, Kay!” and, of course, “Someone to Watch over Me.” Joining Gertrude Lawrence in the original cast were Oscar Shaw, Victor Moore, Harland Dixon, The Fairbanks Twins, Gerald Oliver Smith, Betty Compton, and Constance Carpenter.

While the musical did have many things going for it, competition was fierce on Broadway. Ira Gershwin was quick to point out that “Oh, Kay!” was one of eleven shows opening that night and one of over 240 shows opening that year.

The working title for the production was Mayfair and then Cheerio, before it became “Oh, Kay!” It is widely believed that “Kay” refers to George’s romantic and musical colleague, Kay Swift (1897-1993), an accomplished pianist and composer and the first woman to write a complete Broadway musical, Fine and Dandy (1930).

Publicist and lyricist Howard Dietz is credited with helping write the lyrics to the songs “Oh, Kay!” and “Heaven on Earth” during Ira’s six-week hospitalization for an appendectomy. In his autobiography, Dancing in the Dark, Dietz comments that George gave him credit for an undistinguished song, “Oh, Kay!” written by Ira and no credit for “Someone to Watch over Me,” for which Dietz claims credit for naming the tune and assisting with the lyrics. Dietz said, “George paid me next to nothing. It was decided I was to get one cent for every copy of sheet music sold. When Ira sent me my first paycheck it was for 96 cents.”

“Someone to Watch over Me” was a hit three times over in 1927. In February, Gertrude Lawrence’s recording with Tom Waring at the piano was on the charts for 11 weeks, peaking at number two. In March, George Olsen and His Orchestra, with vocalists Fran Frey, Bob Borger, and Bob Rice, took an upbeat version to number three. Also in March George Gershwin’s own version rose to number seventeen.


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

“Someone to Watch over Me” was originally written as an up-tempo rhythm song. While experimenting one day, George played it at a slower pace, and the brothers immediately recognized it as the wistful, warm song that we know today. The song became a highlight of “Oh Kay!” as a forlorn Gertrude Lawrence, alone on stage and dressed in a maid’s uniform, sang “Someone to Watch over Me” to a rag doll. Broadway critic Percy Hammond wrote that Lawrence’s performance had “wrung the withers of even the most hard-hearted of those present.”


More on George Gershwin at JazzBiographies.com

More on Ira Gershwin at JazzBiographies.com

More information on this tune...

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

(The lyricist himself devotes four pages to “Someone to Watch Over Me,” telling anecdotes, recalling its history, and discussing his lyric.)
See the Reading and Research links on this page for additional references.

- Jeremy Wilson

Recommendations for This Tune
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Ella Fitzgerald
Pure Ella
Original Recording 1954
Fitzgerald made a name for herself singing with large ensembles and swinging combos, but this duo recording was significant in proving that she did not depend on having that accompaniment. Here she is backed only by the sensitive piano of Ellis Larkins, and that is all she needs as she gives a lovely, assured performance of “Someone to Watch Over Me.”

- Noah Baerman

Blossom Dearie
My Gentleman Friend
2003, Verve
Original recording, 1959
This rendition may just be the definitive vocal version. Dearie's wistful delivery leaves listeners feeling as if they are eavesdropping on her deepest desires.
Donald Byrd
2002, Savoy
Original recording, 1955
Trumpeter Byrd is at the top of his game on this rendition with warm rich tone and flawless technique.
Rahsaan Roland Kirk
2000 Verve 833
Original recording 1962
Multi-reed player Kirk was widely known for his brash and often experimental music, but he could lay back and play a ballad with the best of them. Here, backed by such stellar accompanists as Wynton Kelly and Roy Hayes, he does just that.
Stephane Grappelli
2001, Universal
Original recording, 1956, Verve
Violinist Grappelli departs from his trademark gypsy swing and explores the realm of the intimate jazz trio. The song allows him to step to the forefront and exercise musical chops that had previously been overshadowed by Django Reinhardt.
Dave Brubeck
One Alone
2000, Telarc

Late in a long and illustrious career pianist Brubeck continues to astound. His solo take on the song is distinguished by its wit, elegance and taste.

- Ben Maycock

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