How much history can one man touch?
Meet songwriter Jack Lawrence. Born to modest beginnings in 1912, at the age of 20, he graduated from the First Institute of Podiatry. However, it turns out this would-be doctor was also a budding songwriter—and in the same year, his first song, “Play, Fiddle, Play,” was published.
Songwriting won out.
Lawrence was openly gay at a time when this was a dangerous admission. His surviving partner, Richard Lawrence, said Jack frequented so many clubs in Harlem, so often, that he was known by a pet name that he refused to let me print.
I had the opportunity to sit down and talk to Richard Lawrence, Jack’s longtime partner and—because they were together at a time before marriage equality—adopted son. (This made Richard his legal heir.) I also talked with Burt Peachy, with 100 Hundred Miles From Hollywood Productions. They’re the team behind They All Sang My Songs—A Musical Tribute to the Composer/Lyricist Jack Lawrence, coming to downtown Palm Springs Friday and Saturday, April 14 and 15.
Richard moved to Rancho Mirage after Jack’s death in 2009. He told me how they meet at a Fourth of July party in Hollywood back in the 1970s.
“I didn’t want to go. A friend of mine dragged me there,” Richard said. “On the way out, I saw this guy. I went to the hostess and asked, ‘What was this man’s name?’”
Turns out Jack had asked her the same question about Richard.
“One Saturday, he called me and asked what I was doing for lunch. I didn’t have anything to do, but I wasn’t going to commit, so I said, ‘I will call you back,’” Richard remembered. “I thought about it and said, ‘What the hell?’ and I called him back.”
They were together for 34 years, right up until Jack’s death.
Richard and Peachy based They All Sang My Songs on Jack’s book, which has the same title. The show is a musical revue with a storyline, they told me, with a feel like “you’re sitting in a supper club like Chi-Chi’s.”
Peachy said that after he wrapped up work on his short film Faces of 8, about opposition to California’s anti-gay-marriage Proposition 8, made in 2012, he was hoping to take a break. “And this guy comes into my life,” he said, pointing at Richard. “Jack was one of the cornerstones of America’s songbook.”
That’s no hyperbole. During World War II, Jack served as a lieutenant in the Maritime Service and wrote the official song of the Maritime Service and Merchant Marine, “Heave Ho! My Lads! Heave Ho!” The successes kept coming. Dinah Shore sang his song “Yes, My Darling Daughter” on Eddie Cantor’s radio program, and later put it on her first record.
He wrote the lyrics for “Tenderly,” which became Rosemary Clooney’s trademark song. “This song helped revive Rosemary’s career,” Richard said. “It was on the rocks, and this song bought her back to the top. She was really a nice lady.”
Jack Lawrence also helped introduce The Ink Spots to the world with the song “If I Didn’t Care.” Even Old Blue Eyes sang a song of his, “All or Nothing at All,” which became one of Frank Sinatra’s first solo hits.
Oh, and then there’s his song “Linda,” which he wrote for his attorney’s infant daughter, Linda Eastman. Years later, she became Paul McCartney’s wife.
They All Sang My Songs will feature many of his hits, as well as three unreleased songs—including one sung by Jack himself, from a recording done in London. Performers include Darci Daniels, Keisha D, Charles Herrera, Phillip Moore and Bill Lohnes, who will play Jack Lawrence.
They All Sang My Songs—A Musical Tribute to the Composer/Lyricist Jack Lawrence will be performed at 7:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday, April 14 and 15, at the Pearl McManus Theater at the Palm Springs Woman’s Club, 314 S. Cahuilla Road, in Palm Springs. Tickets are $20. For tickets or more information, visit www.brownpapertickets.com/event/2837455.