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Harry Akst began his music career as an accompanist and spent four years with vaudevillian Nora Bayes. He became a staff pianist for the publishing company of Irving Berlin in 1919 and helped Berlin, who could not read music, notate his songs. Together they wrote the popular “Home Again Blues” which would become the number two recording in 1921. In 1925 he worked with lyricists Sam Lewis and Joe Young to produce one of the most popular songs of the decade, “Dinah.” Singer Dinah (Fanny Rose) Shore took it as her stage name and used it as her theme song. The following year he composed another classic with lyricist Benny Davis, “Baby Face,” and in 1927 he collaborated on the Broadway show Artists and Models. In 1929 Ethel Waters had a big hit with “Am I Blue?” written with lyricist Grant Clarke.
In 1929 Akst went to Hollywood where he played a small role in a handful of films and contributed songs to dozens of films such as 1933’s Baby Face (which drove the censors crazy) and Lady of Burlesque, also starring Barbara Stanwyck (1943). In 1934 he returned to Broadway as a collaborator on the revue Calling All Stars and as an accompanist for one of its leads, Ella Logan. “Travelin’ Light,” written with Sidney Clare in 1937 entered the jazz repertoire and has remained popular through the years, especially with singers.
During WWII Akst, who had previously worked for Al Jolson and composed some songs with him, traveled as Jolson’s accompanist and bandleader to entertain troops inEurope. He also collaborated in 1954 with Manny Curtis on the English lyrics for Salvatore d’Esposito’s “Anema e Core,” named after a nightspot in Capri and introduced in an Italian film. The song enjoyed great popularity in the U.S.
- Sandra Burlingame
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Barbara Stanwyck, George Brent, Donald Cook, Alphonse Ethier, Henry Kolker
Barbara Stanwyck, George Brent
Baby Face (1933)
Barbara Stanwyck, Michael O'Shea
Lady of Burlesque (B&W)
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