Obituary: Alex Kramer

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IN 1941, the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (Ascap), the powerful performing rights organisation whose members included most of America's top songwriters, went on strike for higher royalties.

The strike, which kept all Ascap music off American radio for nearly a year, led to the formation of Broadcast Music, Inc (BMI), a rival licensing agency using many unknown songwriters. One of those unknowns was a 38- year old Canadian named Alex Kramer. And so began a career that produced "Far Away Places", "Ain't Nobody Here But Us Chickens", "Comme Ci, Comme Ca", "It's Love, Love, Love", "Candy", and more than 125 other songs.

Kramer was born in Montreal, and studied at the city's McGill Conservatory of Music. At 17, he began providing piano accompaniment for silent films, later forming his own dance band, which made many broadcasts and played at restaurants and hotels all over Canada. He took a postgraduate course in Paris before coming to New York in 1938 to act as vocal coach for a music school. Taking advanced vocal training at the school was Kramer's future wife, an attractive band singer named Joan Whitney. She showed such a talent for composition that they began writing songs together, but publishers proved indifferent to their work. When the 1941 strike swept all Ascap songs from the airwaves, Kramer and Whitney were signed by BMI.

In collaboration with the lyricist Hy Zaret, they came up with "High on a Windy Hill" (1941), which became a best-selling single for Jimmy Dorsey, and for the bands of Sammy Kaye, Vaughan Monroe and Gene Krupa. Krupa also recorded the threesome's "It All Comes Back to Me Now" (1941), as did the bands of Eddy Duchin, Ted Weems and Hal Kemp.

The film Stars on Parade should have been called "Misnomers of 1944" because of the conspicuous absence of a single star in its cast. It did, however introduce Kramer, Whitney and Mack David's "It's Love, Love, Love", which went on to become a best-selling record for the Guy Lombardo orchestra.

Despite a sub-standard Mack David lyric ("understands me" is hardly an ideal rhyme for "candy"), Kramer and Whitney had one of their biggest hits with "Candy" (1945). Johnny Mercer, Jo Stafford and the Pied Pipers made it a No 1 record, and the Four King Sisters and Dinah Shore also had successful versions.

Without Mack David, the Kramers gave the Andrews Sisters a hit in 1946 with the calypso number "Money is the Root of All Evil (take it away, take it away, take it away!)"

Nineteen forty-seven saw the founding of the music publishing firm of Kramer-Whitney, Inc. Among their hits as publisher/composers were "Love Somebody" (1947), which Doris Day recorded with Buddy Clark, and "That's the Beginning of the End" (1947), which both Benny Goodman and Perry Como recorded. The Kramers also wrote and published "Far Away Places" (1948), which gave Top Ten hits to Como, Bing Crosby, Dinah Shore, Margaret Whiting, Vic Damone and Kate Smith. The song appeared for 19 weeks on America's Your Hit Parade radio show, remaining in the No 1 position for three of those weeks. Unlike most of their contemporaries, Kramer and Whitney survived the coming of the rock era; their "No Other Arms, No Other Lips" (1959) was a hit for the Chordettes.

Everything was grist to the Kramers' musical mill; their ballad "No Man is an Island" (1950) was derived from John Donne, "Comme Ci, Comme Ca" (1949) was based on a French melody by Bruno Coquatrix, and the poignant "My Sister and I" (1941) took its title from a book by Dirk van der Heide, who had fled to America with his sister after the German occupation of Holland. "Ain't Nobody Here But Us Chickens" (1950), a hit for Louis Jordan, was based on an old joke.

In 1991 "Chickens" was included when songs associated with Jordan became the basis for Clarke Peters's award- winning show Five Guys Named Moe. Then 88 years old, Kramer, whose wife Joan had died the previous year, took great pleasure in the fact that a song of theirs was one of the highlights of that joyous musical.

Alex Charles Kramer, lyricist, composer, pianist, conductor, publisher: born Montreal, Canada 30 May 1903; married Joan Whitney (died 1990; one son); died Fairfield, Connecticut 10 February 1998.

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