BG De Sylva
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B. G. DeSylva performed in a song-and-dance act at age four in California, and in high school and college he wrote and produced shows. Al Jolson interpolated his songs into Sinbad (1918), and in 1919 DeSylva began work for a New York music publisher. He collaborated on George Gershwin’s first Broadway show and had his first hit song in 1920 with Jerome Kern, “Look for the Silver Lining.”
De Sylva continued his relationship with Jolson, who introduced “April Showers” (music by Louis Silvers) in 1921. They also collaborated on the lyrics for Joseph Meyers’ “California Here I Come” in 1924. DeSylva and Meyers also wrote “If You Knew Susie,” introduced by Jolson in 1924 but popularized by Eddie Cantor. Beginning in 1922 De Sylva worked with George Gershwin on several George White’s Scandals, producing “I’ll Build a Stairway to Paradise” and “Somebody Loves Me” (with co-lyricist Ballard MacDonald). For other shows they wrote “Why Do I Love You” (with Ira Gershwin) and “Do It Again.” De Sylva also wrote “Just a Cottage Small by a Waterfall” with James F. Hanley (1925), “Alabamy Bound” with Bud Green and Ray Henderson (1924), and “A Kiss in the Dark” with Victor Herbert (1922).
When Gershwin left the Scandals in 1925, composer Ray Henderson and lyricist Lew Brown joined De Sylva. Over the next six years the threesome became one of the most successful Broadway and Hollywood songwriting teams. Among their hits are “The Birth of the Blues,” “Black Bottom,” “Life Is Just a Bowl of Cherries,” “The Best Things in Life Are Free,” “Varsity Drag,” “Broadway,” “You’re the Cream in My Coffee,” “Button Up Your Overcoat,” and “Sonny Boy.” They formed a publishing company in 1927 and also wrote independent songs, most notably “Together.”
When Henderson and Brown returned to New York in 1931 De Sylva turned to producing films, among them two for Shirley Temple and Love Affair for which he wrote “Wishing.” He moved to New York in 1939, formed his own production company, and at one time had three hits running simultaneously on Broadway. In 1941 he returned to Hollywood where he produced a string of successes for Paramount with films as diverse as the comedy Caught in the Draft and the drama For Whom the Bell Tolls. He was also one of the founders of Capitol Records in 1942 and the subject, along with Henderson and Brown, of the film The Best Things in Life Are Free (1956).
- Sandra Burlingame
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