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The Man I Love (1924)

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Origin and Chart Information
“A highlight of this recording is the playing of her musical soulmate, Lester Young, and sometime Bing Crosby accompanist Joe Sullivan on piano.”

- Chris Tyle

Rank 18
Music George Gershwin
Lyrics Ira Gershwin

Sometimes a song manages to succeed against all odds. As the sheet music for “The Man I Love” was on its way to production, it was unceremoniously dropped from the 1924 Broadway musical Lady, Be Good! The song was then included in Strike Up the Band (1927), which closed during its out-of-town tryouts. It was then slated for the Ziegfeld hit Rosalie (1928), a team effort by Sigmund Romberg, the Gershwins, and P.G. Wodehouse. Yet again the song was dropped before the show opened. Even a modestly successful 1930 revival of Strike Up the Band could not end the song’s streak of bad luck as the Gershwins agreed to drop it before the show opened.

Despite such endless setbacks, the homeless composition had become popular in London and Paris as Lady Mountbatten, a Gershwin friend, had returned to Europe with a copy of the sheet music. Slower to catch on in the United States, the popularity of “The Man I Love” crested in 1928 with five recordings on the pop charts in the same year. A 1927 recording by Marion Harris led the way, entering the charts in March and rising to number four.

  • Marion Harris (1928, #4)
  • Sophie Tucker (1928 #11)
  • Paul Whiteman and His Orchestra (1928, Vaughan DeLeath, vocal, #15)
  • Fred Rich and His Orchestra (1928, Vaughan DeLeath, vocal, #19)
  • Benny Goodman and His Orchestra (1937, #20)

More on Marion Harris at JazzBiographies.com

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

“The Man I Love” was also the signature song for George Gershwin’s weekly CBS radio show, Music by Gershwin, which ran from 1934 to 1935.


More on George Gershwin at JazzBiographies.com

More on Ira Gershwin at JazzBiographies.com

The ballad’s checkered past was not due to lack of appeal and it became one of Gershwin’s biggest hits despite the lack of a successful production association. The song’s problem stemmed more from the fact that it just didn’t fit in a lively musical. Standing alone “The Man I Love” was wonderful, but in a show it brought the action to a near standstill.

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: W.C. Handy’s “St. Louis Blues” (1914); George and Ira Gershwin’s “The Man I Love” (1924) and “Oh, Lady Be Good” (1924); and the Ken Casey, Maceo Pinkard, Ben Bernie composition “Sweet Georgia Brown” (1925).

More information on this tune...

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

(The lyricist himself, over five pages, discusses the song’s history and lyric and tells anecdotes.)
See the Reading and Research links on this page for additional references.

- Jeremy Wilson

Recommendations for This Tune
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Lester Young
The Lester Young Trio
Polygram Records 21650
Original recording 1946
The ideas flow endlessly on this relaxed, swinging performance. Young is accompanied by drummer Buddy Rich and, in a rare sideman appearance, pianist Nat “King” Cole.
Art Tatum
Piano Starts Here
Sony 64690
Original recording, 1933
On this solo piano performance, Tatum takes “The Man I Love” at a medium tempo, and the underlying pulse is relaxed and swinging. Nonetheless, he manages to insert breathtaking runs that sound as if there are at least two pianists there.
Mary Lou Williams
Live at the Cookery
1994 Chiaroscuro 146
Original recording 1975
This track should be enlightening for those unaware of how modern Williams’ playing was. Her take on “The Man I Love” is striking in its harmonic richness.
Ray Charles
Genius After Hours
2001 Rhino 2735232
Original recording 1956
On this slow-tempo performance we can hear Charles’ influential, soulful sound as well as his underrated straight-ahead jazz skills. His trio here includes the great bassist Oscar Pettiford.
Miles Davis
Miles Davis and the Modern Jazz Giants
1991 Original Jazz Classics 347
Original recording 1954
Miles gives us a lyrical ballad performance with a group that also includes Milt Jackson and Thelonious Monk.

- Noah Baerman

Don Shirley
...Plays Love Songs/Don Shirley Trio
1999 Collectables 2758
Original recording
Pianist Shirley is impossible to categorize because he incorporates classical, jazz, spiritual, and folk styles into his playing. At last his work is being reissued on CD. Here he takes “The Man I Love” around the block with a solo opening and a duo with cello. Then he picks up the tempo with bass and finally gives it a full concert reading at breakneck speed with cello and bass.

- Sandra Burlingame

Ella Fitzgerald
Oh, Lady, Be Good! Best of the Gershwin Songbook
1996 Polygram 529581
Original Recording 1959
With Nelson Riddle’s arrangement, this rendition of the song is as close to perfection as one can get. Fitzgerald’s elegance does “The Man I Love”’ justice.
Betty Carter
Look What I Got
1990, Polygram 835661
Original recording, 1988
Carter was a vocalist in a realm of her own when interpreting standards. She makes a narrative of “The Man I Love,”’ disregarding the melody at times and dragging out phrases to emphasize their story qualities. Several young musicians went through “The Carter School of Music,”’ and some of the graduates appear here: Benny Green (p), Winard Harper (d), Michael Bowie (b), with tenor saxophonist Don Braden.
Zoot Sims
Zoot Sims and the Gershwin Brothers
1991, Original Jazz Classics 444
Original recording, 1975
On an album which the Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD calls a “glorious sparring match with (Oscar) Peterson,”’ Sims proves again his limitless understanding of the Gershwin’s music. He revisits “The Man I Love”’ twenty years after making a recording of it that stood the jazz world on its ear.

- Ben Maycock

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