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RIP, Bart Howard

Bart Howard, who wrote the song “Fly Me To The Moon”, died earlier this week at the age of 88. FMTTM was the first-dance song at our wedding (we did a foxtrot, for those who care about such things), and it was the first-dance song at my parents’ wedding (yes, that’s the main reason why we chose it). As such, it’s always had a special place in my heart.

Mr. Howard’s signature song, originally titled “In Other Words,” was introduced in 1954 by the cabaret singer Felicia Sanders. Its popularity spread after Peggy Lee sang it on “The Ed Sullivan Show” in 1960, and it became a bona fide hit in a 1962 bossa nova instrumental version by Lee’s conductor, Joe Harnell.

“I’ve always said it took me 20 years to find out how to write a song in 20 minutes,” Mr. Howard recalled in an interview with The New York Times in 1988. “The song just fell out of me. One publisher wanted me to change the lyric to `take me to the moon.’ Had I done that I don’t know where I’d be today.”

Born Howard Joseph Gustafson in Burlington, Iowa, Mr. Howard left home at 16 to be a pianist in a dance band that toured with the Siamese twins Daisy and Violet Hilton. Hoping to write songs for the movies, he traveled to Los Angeles in 1934 and ended up accompanying a female impersonator, Rae Bourbon. He moved to New York after teaming with Elizabeth Talbot-Martin, a comedian and impersonator who was booked at the Rainbow Room in 1937.

Mabel Mercer, whom he met in 1938, was the first to sing one of his songs in New York (“If You Leave Paris”). After spending four years (1941-45) as a musician in the Army, he got a job playing piano at Spivy’s Roof, a New York cabaret, until Mercer hired him away to accompany her at Tony’s West Side.

From 1951 to 1959 he was the M.C. and intermission pianist at the stylish Manhattan nightclub the Blue Angel, where he introduced Eartha Kitt, Johnny Mathis, Dorothy Loudon and others. The success of “Fly Me to the Moon” made him so materially comfortable that he slowed down as a songwriter. In the late 80’s and 90’s he played a few cabaret stints and concerts, including at Jan Wallman’s. His latter-day muse and favorite cabaret singer was KT Sullivan, who recorded a live album of his songs in 1997. He was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1999.

His other widely recorded songs included “Let Me Love You” and “Don’t Dream of Anybody but Me” (to a tune by Neal Hefti). Portia Nelson, his 1950’s muse, recorded a whole album of his songs in 1956.

Neal Hefti, who was a composer/arranger for the Count Basie Orchestra, was the guy who wrote the “Batman” TV show theme song. Just so you know.

Rest in peace, Bart Howard. Thanks to Kevin for spotting this.

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8 Comments

  1. Here’s to you, Bart

    Charles posts on the passing of Bart Howard, the man who wrote “Fly Me to the Moon (In Other Words)”. Howard was 88 and his song was and still is a classic. While it wasn’t in my wedding (the first…

  2. Anita Darian says:

    Thank you for that “off the kuff” on BarT Howard.
    I have always loved his music and am singing his “In other words” and “Walk up” in my concert this Thursday in Long Beach, NY. Now I can really
    tell the audience about BART! I would love to get a hold of that album by Portia Nelson. If you have any ideas I would be very grateful.
    A grateful sopano,
    Anita Darian

  3. Russ Smith says:

    Bobby Short died today, March 21, 2005 at 80. He was the first to introduce me to the music of Bart Howard in 1952. There were supper clubs everwhere in those days, even in L. A. We’ll not see their likes again.

  4. Don Pippin says:

    Bart I remember so well. He died in the nursing home around the corner from me in Brewster. I was told he could have no visitors, tho’ I tried to see him many times. Portia Nelson introduced me to Bart. Another loving talent that will be missed. I have many of Barts’ unpublished songs that Porta left me in her estate.
    Wonderful songs that should be sung. who is out there? Don

  5. ann cruickshank says:

    what a wonderful way to be remembered through this wonderful song!

  6. Anita Darian says:

    I would love to get in touch with Don Pippin to possibly go over some of Bart Howards’ songs!

  7. Garrett says:

    Vote for your favorite deserving but overlooked songwriters into the Songwriters Hall of Fame.

  8. Don Pippin says:

    Anita Darian, I want to reach you. What is your e/mail? Don Pippin