Popular Public domain music

George Gershwin (1898-1937)

One of the greatest pop composers of all time, Gershwin died at thirty-eight. His compositions include such public domain music numbers as "Swanee" , "Some Wonderful Sort of Someone", There's More to the Kiss Than the X-X-X", "The Best of Everything", "From Now On", "Nobody But You", "Something About Love". Other Gershwin compositions (not yet PD) include: "Rhapsody in Blue", "Someone to Watch Over Me", "They Can't Take That Away From Me", "Fascinating Rhythm", "I Got Rhythm" and many others.



Public Domain Music by George Gershwin

Lyrics by Irving Caesar

"Swanee" song m. George Gershwin;l. Irving Caesar. "Swanee" was George Gershwin's first and biggest pop hit, and one of the most memorable songs ever written. Late in the summer of 1919, Gershwin wrote the song with legendary lyricist Irving Caesar (who is now more than 100 years old!). The two sat atop a Manhattan bus and composed most of the song en route from T.B. Harms Publishing Company to Gershwin's apartment. When they arrived, Gershwin and Caesar worked out the kinks on the piano, and within a few hours, "Swanee" was born. A few weeks later, "Swanee" got its first test before a live audience.

Pop music historian David Ewen recounts the song's introduction in his book George Gershwin, a Journey to Greatness:

"...On October 24, 1919, a new motion-picture palace opened in New York City, the Capitol Theatre on Broadway and 51st Street. For the opening week, Ned Wayburn prepared a sumptuous stage show prefacing the picture, and he used 'Swanee' in it. How well he thought of it can be guessed by the impressive setting he provided. After the song was introduced, sixty chorus girls, with electric lights glowing on their slippers, danced to its rhythms on an otherwise darkened stage."

Even with such an elaborate production, and the ultra-popular Arthur Pryor Band performing it, "Swanee" received a lackluster reaction from Capitol Theatre audiences. The song may have fallen into obscurity at this point, but then "Swanee" was introduced to its best friend - Al Jolson.


As soon as Jolson heard the song, he fell in love with it. He immediately interpolated "Swanee" into Sinbad, his smash musical at the Wintergarden Theater. Sinbad, already nearly a year into its run, featured a rich assortmment of popular songs including the PD classics "Rock-a-Bye Your Baby With a Dixie Melody" and "Hello Central, Give Me No Man's Land." Nevertheless, night after glorious night, Gershwin's number stood apart from the rest, continually driving the crowd to frenzied applause. During this run, it became increasingly obvious that Jolson and "Swanee" were made for each other.


In late 1919, Al Jolson recorded "Swanee," which he would do on several other occasions later in his career. The original Decca release landed at #1 on the charts, sold over two million copies, and became the most talked about record of the year. Sheet music sales followed, topping the one million mark. "Swanee's" imortality was assured, and a twenty-two year old George Gershwin became a hot property!

The barrage of other artists who have recorded "Swanee" includes Eddie Condon, Ross Gorman, Georgie Stoll, Jane Froman and Judy Garland. Garland, who first performed "Swanee" in the 1953 blockbuster A Star is Born (Warner Bros.), also recorded it and performed it throughout her career. But this song was truly a Jolson specialty. No other artist, not even Judy Garland, could ever hope to match Jolson's success with "Swanee." In 1946, Jolson performed "Swanee" in the Columbia biopic The Jolson Story. He performed it again in Columbia's 1949 sequel Jolson Sings Again and in Rhapsody in Blue, Warner Brothers' 1946 film biography of George Gershwin.

Albums featuring "Swanee" include: Carlos Barbosa­Lima Plays the Music of Antonio Carlos Jobim and George Gershwin (Concord, 1982); Jolson Sings (MCA, 1983); Jim Nabors Sings (Reader's Digest/CBS 1984); Gershwin Live, George Gershwin and Sarah Vaughan (CBS, 1982); and Singing Down Memory Lane With Mitch Miller and the Gang (Reader's Digest/CBS, 1985).


Swanee Song Lyrics - Public Domain Music

I've been away from you a long time
I never thought I'd missed you so
Somehow I feel
You love is real
Near you I long to/wanna be

The birds are singin', it is song time
The banjos strummin' soft and low
I know that you
Yearn for me too
Swanee ! You're calling me !

Chorus :

Swanee !
How I love you, how I love !
My dear ol' Swanee
I'd give the world to be
Among the folks in
D-I-X-I-E-ven no[w]My mammy's
Waiting for me
Praying for me
Down by the Swanee
The folks up north will see me no more
When I go to the Swanee Shore !
(bis Chorus)

Swanee, Swanee, I am coming back to Swanee !
Mammy, Mammy, I love the old folks at home !