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Brooks Bowman

Composer, Lyricist

(1913 - 1937)

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Brooks Bowman died just before his 24th birthday in a car accident on his way to a house party in the Catskills with friends. It was a great loss to the future of popular music, for he was the composer and lyricist for “East of the Sun (and West of the Moon),” one of our most enduring standards.

Bowman was born in Ohio to a mother who was an accomplished pianist and a father who was a successful businessman until the Depression ruined him. Still, Bowman entered Stanford University in 1932 but transferred with a friend, R. R. Pettit, to Princeton where he threw himself wholeheartedly into the Triangle Club which presented sophisticated musical comedies. Although Bowman had no formal musical training, he could sing and was a naturally talented composer and lyricist who acted in and contributed songs to several productions.

In 1935, in an attempt to bolster the quality of musical productions, Princeton hired alum Joshua Logan (who had just directed his first Broadway production) to direct the Triangle production of Stags at Bay. Bowman had written three songs for the show--“East of the Sun,” “Love and a Dime” and “Will Love Find a Way?” (the latter in collaboration with Kirkland B. Alexander, Jr.). The show met with great acclaim, and orchestra leader Hal Kemp recorded both of Bowman’s tunes which were eventually picked up by other nationally known artists and climbed the charts. “East of the Sun” was a hit for Frank Sinatra and Tommy Dorsey in 1940, and vocalist Sarah Vaughan kept interest in the song alive with her 1956 recording. It has also been a feature for several generations of saxophonists: Charlie Parker, Stan Getz, and Scott Hamilton.

After graduation Bowman headed to Hollywood to work in the film industry. While he made some important connections and his music caught the ear of Cole Porter, he was persuaded by Princeton friend William Borden to return east in 1937 and begin a songwriting collaboration. Bowman died before their first song was published.

We thank the Princeton Alumni Weekly for supplying information on Bowman from an article by Robert D.B. Carlisle ’44, “Princeton’s Cole Porter,” contained in the book The Best of PAW: 100 Years of Princeton Alumni Weekly, edited by J. I. Merritt ’66.

- Sandra Burlingame

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