“Deep Purple” was written by composer Peter De Rose as a piano solo in 1934. In 1935 it was arranged by Domenico Savino and introduced by the Paul Whiteman Orchestra on radio. Sheet music sales were brisk, but the song didn’t achieve universal popularity until 1939 when Mitchell Parish added the lyric. It was Parish’s first song to reach the top position on Your Hit Parade. The song charted several times after the lyric was added:
- Larry Clinton and His Orchestra (1939, Bea Wain, vocal, 13 weeks, 9 weeks at #1)
- Jimmy Dorsey and His Orchestra (1939, seven weeks, two weeks at #2)
- Guy Lombardo and His Royal Canadians (1939, one week, peaking at #9)
- Bing Crosby (1939, with Matty Malneck and His Orchestra, two weeks, peaking at #14)
- Artie Shaw and His Orchestra (1939, one week, peaking at #17)
- Paul Weston and His Orchestra (1949, five weeks, peaking at #20)
In the late ‘50s Billy Ward and the Dominoes added a doo wop flavor to the song. Nino Tempo and his sister April Stevens won a Best Rock and Roll Recording Grammy for their 1963 rendition, and Donny and Marie Osmond recorded a similar version in 1975. The lyric was also translated into the French “Sombre Demijour” by Yvette Baruch. The song was a favorite of Babe Ruth, who invited De Rose to sing and play it at his birthday celebrations, and it was the inspiration for the name of an English rock group.
A 1939 Vitaphone short film features Artie Shaw’s band performing “Deep Purple” with vocalist Helen Forrest. Crosby’s version was interpolated into the 1943 film Hi Buddy. In 1987 a Broadway revue, Stardust featuring Parish’s lyrics, ran for 101 performances and was revived in 1999. The Lithuanian-born Parish wrote lyrics for several other songs that have become jazz standards: “Stardust,” “Sophisticated Lady,” “Sweet Lorraine,” “Stars Fell on Alabama,” “Moonlight Serenade,” and “One Morning in May,” as well as the theme song for the film Ruby Gentry and many pop hits.
De Rose, too, enjoyed several hits, among them “The Lamp Is Low” with Parish and Bert Shefter, “Wagon Wheels,” “Rain,” and “Have You Ever Been Lonely?”
Parish’s deeply romantic and imagistic lyric of lost love suits De Rose’s classically tinged melody perfectly.
When the deep purple falls
over sleepy garden walls
and the stars begin to flicker in the sky
thru the mist of a memory
you wander back to me
breathing my name with a sigh.
In his book The Poets of Tin Pan Alley: A History of America’s Great Lyricists Philip Furia points out Parish’s use of astral fallout in his lyrics that followed “Stardust.” “In ‘Take Me in Your Arms’ (1932) he pleaded, ‘Blind me with your charms--with all the star dust in the sky.’ In ‘Stars Fell on Alabama’ (1934) Parish upped the astral ante from a fall-out of mere dust to the stars themselves. ...Ten years later...he made ‘Deep Purple’ a dust that ‘falls over sleepy garden walls.’”
Duke Ellington, organist Jimmy Smith, pianist Art Tatum, the Sun Ra Arkestra, clarinetist Jimmy Giuffre, vibraphonist Lionel Hampton, harmonica player Toots Thielemans, and vocalist Sarah Vaughan have recorded “Deep Purple.” Spike Jones and His City Slickers even gave it their irreverent treatment, but it survived. Since 2000 it has been recorded by vocalists Eden Atwood, Diane Schuur, and Carol Sloane. In 2006 Chris Whalen recorded De Rose’s original piano arrangement.