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Blue Skies (1927)

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Origin and Chart Information
“Henderson’s superb work with “Blue Skies” was featured during Goodman’s appearance at Carnegie Hall in 1938 and is an electrifying performance.”

- Chris Tyle

Rank 129
Words and Music Irving Berlin

This perennial favorite was introduced by Belle Baker in the 1926 musical Betsy. The following year the tune went big with the public, especially the version by Ben Selvin and His Orchestra recording under the pseudonym, The Knickerbockers.

  • Ben Selvin and His Orchestra (1927, Charles Kaley, vocal, #1)
  • George Olsen and His Music (1927, #2)
  • Vincent Lopez and His Orchestra (1927, Frank Munn, vocal, #9)
  • Johnny Marvin and Ed Smalle (1927, #9)
  • Harry Richman (1927, #13)
  • Vaughn Deleath (1927, vocal, #15)
  • Johnny Long and His Orchestra (1941, Bob Houston, vocal, #22)
  • Count Basie and His Orchestra (1946, #8)
  • Benny Goodman and His Orchestra (1946, #9)

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

More on Belle Baker at JazzBiographies.com

The songwriting team of Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart had written the music for the Ziegfield show Betsy. Actress/vocalist Belle Baker, unhappy with the piece the two had written for her solo (“This Funny World”), contacted old friend Irving Berlin in hopes he might have something that would suit her needs. Berlin had, in fact, just put the finishing touches on a number dedicated as a Christmas gift to his newborn daughter, Mary Ellin. Baker liked the song, and it was inserted into the musical, much to the chagrin of Rodgers and Hart, who were not consulted and wouldn’t have allowed the change. The tune was the hit of the show, and Baker received 24 encores on opening night, December 28, 1926. Despite this, the show itself was a disaster and closed a month later.


More on Irving Berlin at JazzBiographies.com

The introduction of “Blue Skies” in Betsy brought the number a great deal of attention and resulted in its first recordings. But a technological landmark across the continent brought it to the attention of millions. The first feature-length motion picture with sound, The Jazz Singer starring vocalist Al Jolson, premiered on October 6, 1927, and “Blue Skies” was one of the nine tunes performed by Jolson. Not only was the film a huge success, but it spelled the end of silent films. Soon Broadway musicals would be filmed for the silver screen, and songwriters Berlin, Cole Porter, the Gershwins and others would relocate to Hollywood or have bi-coastal careers.

“Blue Skies” continued to be a hit in films. After The Jazz Singer it returned in Alexander’s Ragtime Band, a 1938 biopic loosely based on composer Berlin’s life; a 1946 film named after the tune and sung by Bing Crosby; and a 1954 reprise by Crosby (along with Danny Kaye) in the film White Christmas.

More information on this tune...

Allen Forte
The American Popular Ballad of the Golden Era, 1924-1950: A Study in Musical Design
Princeton University Press
Hardcover: 336 pages

(Educator Allen Forte devotes five pages to the history and a musical analysis of “Blue Skies.”)
See the Reading and Research links on this page for additional references.

Chris Tyle - Jazz Musician and Historian

Recommendations for This Tune
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Maxine Sullivan
Moments Like This
Proper Introduction

Sullivan’s light, airy vocal performance is supported by the subtly swinging piano playing and arranging of Claude Thornhill.

Ben Webster
Original recording 1944

Saxophonist Webster swings assertively on this performance, which also features the soloing talents of pianist Johnny Guarnieri and influential bassist Oscar Pettiford.

Art Tatum
The Complete Capitol Recordings
Blue Note Records

It is difficult to go wrong with an Art Tatum solo performance, and this one is no exception, providing a great mix of adherence to the tune and remarkable inventiveness.

Ella Fitzgerald
The Very Best Of The Irving Berlin Song Book
Original recording 1958

After a subtle rubato introduction, Fitzgerald offers up a hard-swinging interpretation of the melody followed by a truly stunning scat solo. Pianist Paul Smith and trumpet master Harry “Sweets” Edison are standouts among the terrific band.

Hampton Hawes
Green Leaves of Summer

Hawes gives us a long, creative rubato intro before eventually launching into a creative, swinging trio romp. This recording is also significant for representing his comeback after over 5 years away from music.

Earl Hines
Earl Hines in New Orleans
Chiaroscuro Records
Original recording 1977

This swinging solo piano excursion displays Hines at his late-career best, as he shows remarkable technical command and seemingly endless creativity.


- Noah Baerman

Cassandra Wilson
Blue Skies
2002 Winter & Winter 919018
Original recording 1988
Though the upbeat band swings in support of her, vocalist Wilson is able to create a sense of tentative optimism in the lyrics with her deadpan delivery and melancholy scat.
Bill Charlap
Written in the Stars
2000 Blue Note 27291
Original recording 2000
As the tight rhythm section sets down a toe-tapping swing Charlap eloquently mines the song with a mainstream approach enriched with historical musical asides.
Teri Thornton
Devil May Care
1999 Original Jazz Recordings 1017
Original recording 1961
Thornton is cooking on this slow-burning, bluesy swinger that features some engaging call and response between the singer and trumpeter Clark Terry.
Junko Onishi
Live at the Village Vanguard
1995 Blue Note Records 31886

Berlin could never have imagined that his tune would have such interest for modernists such as pianist Onishi, bassist Reginald Veal, and drummer Herlin Riley. No matter how far out these explorers go, they carry a life line to the early 20th century composers. Their interpretation is affirmation of the endless improvisational significance of standards such as “Blue Skies.”

- Ben Maycock

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