Select Page

It’s been a while since I checked in on NY1’s “Today in NYC History” feature. Here’s what I found today:

On this date in…

1893…President Grover Cleveland
secretly undergoes surgery aboard a yacht sailing up the East River.
The successful operation removes a cancerous growth from his mouth.

1898…New
Yorker Teddy Roosevelt and his “Rough Riders” capture San Juan Hill in
Cuba in one of the most important battles of the Spanish-American War.

1946…“Oklahoma” becomes the longest-running Broadway musical of its day, with its 1,105th performance.

1948…Straphangers face the first fare hike, as the subway’s original five-cent price is jacked up to 10 cents.

1956…A young Elvis Presley appears on the “Steve Allen Show” at NBC Studios, singing “Hound Dog” to a hound.

1970…The nation’s most liberal abortion law goes into effect in New York.

2000…Actor Walter Matthau, a product of the Lower East Side, dies at age 79.

The detail about Oklahoma! reminded me that I’d wanted to write an appreciation for Richard Rodgers sometime this week. Sunday was the anniversary of his birth, in Queens, in 1902. Jonathan Schwartz played a special commemorative set during his Sunday Show on WNYC, during which I learned a couple interesting facts. “Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin’,” from Oklahoma! (1943), was the first song Rodgers and Hammerstein wrote together; “Edelweiss,” from Sound of Music (1959), was their last. Schwartz also claimed that Rodgers is the most performed composer of all time, beating out Mozart and Beethoven.

Sometime last year, looking for the track “Manhattan” on iTunes or Amazon, I ended up purchasing a hefty anthology of tunes Rodgers wrote with his prior lyricist, Lorenz Hart, which I’ve thoroughly enjoyed having on my iPod. My current favorite from that compilation — though everything’s great — is a version of “Where Or When,” from Babes In Arms (1951), performed by Lena Horne. It’s a little brisker than the version recorded here:

For good measure, here’s Ray Charles doing “Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin'” in 1982; I have another version on a fantastic CD called Standards that was released sometime in the late 90s, though the track had been recorded, I think, in the 70s. This is the song my mother woke us up with every morning. You’d think that would be grounds to hate it, but I absolutely love this song:

Like Jonathan Schwartz, I think it’s fair to say Rodgers tunes probably populate my unconscious more than just about anything else — even more than the Bizet or Grieg or Prokofiev tunes so omnipresent in Warner Bros. cartoons.

Anyway: Richard Rodgers. So there. Sometimes I wish I knew more about the history of Broadway.