Obituary: Gerald Marks

In 1994, the night before his 94th birthday, Gerald Marks sang a selection of his songs in the Lincoln Center, New York, ending with his biggest hit, "All of Me". He told his audience that, in 1931, he had left his native Michigan with enough money to stay in New York for one week while he tried to sell the song. He played "All of Me" for the vaudeville star Belle Baker. When he sang "Your goodbye / Left me with eyes that cry. / How can I / Go on, dear, without you?", she began to sob uncontrollably; it happened to be the anniversary of her husband's death. "From then on," said Marks, "she plugged my song and made it a hit all by herself."

Before turning composer, he had worked as a pianist in local dance bands, eventually forming his own orchestra in the late 1920s. "All of Me", which he wrote with the lyricist Seymour Simons, was his first song, and he never topped it; the year of its publication it was heard in Careless Lady (1932), a film starring Joan Bennett and John Boles. Frank Sinatra sang it in Meet Danny Wilson (1952), and recorded it. The following year Gloria DeHaven sang it in Down Among the Sheltering Palms (1953), as did Diana Ross in Lady Sings the Blues (1972), the film biography of Billie Holiday. It was recorded by Holiday, as well as by Louis Armstrong, Kate Smith, Russ Columbo, Johnnie Ray, Willie Nelson, and the bands of Benny Carter, Louis Jordan, Illinois Jacquet, Count Basie, Jimmy Dorsey (vocal by Helen O'Connell), and Paul Whiteman (vocal by Mildred Bailey). "All of Me" was also heard in the 1984 Steve Martin / Lily Tomlin film of the same name.

Turning to Broadway, Marks composed songs for George White's Music Hall Varieties (1932), Earl Carroll's Sketch Book (1935) and White Horse Inn (1936). With Irving Caesar, he wrote "That's What I Want for Christmas" for Shirley Temple in her film Stowaway (1936). Also in 1936, he joined Sammy Lerner and Caesar to write a ballad that they took to Al Jolson, hoping he'd sing it on his new radio series, The Lifebuoy Show. Jolson, however, wanted a song in the tradition of "Swanee", which Caesar had written 18 years earlier with George Gershwin. The three promised to write such a number if Jolson would sing their ballad. The night he did so (to no appreciable effect), they wrote "Is It True What They Say About Dixie?". After they sang it to him over the telephone, Jolson featured the song on radio, and it became one of the hits of 1936.

Perhaps to atone for the politically naive picture painted by their "Dixie" song, Caesar, Lerner and Marks wrote "There Ain't No Colour Line Around the Rainbow" seven years later. "Dig down deep / To buy the bonds that buy the tanks / The bombers for our fighting Yanks, / Dig down deep!", sang Frank Sinatra and the Pied Pipers on a 1942 recording by Tommy Dorsey's Orchestra. Marks wrote "Dig Down Deep" (with Walter Hirsch and Sano Marco) shortly before forming his own armed forces dance band.

After writing two unsuccessful musicals, My Dear Public (1943) and Hold It! (1948), Marks turned his back on Broadway. With Irving Caesar he wrote the instructional collection Sing a Song of Safety, widely used by American schools. Marks spent his last years lecturing at universities and working on a book about his colourful days in Tin Pan Alley.

Gerald Marks, composer, pianist, bandleader: born Saginaw, Michigan 13 October 1900; died New York 27 January 1997.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Ashdown Group: HR Manager Shared Services - Uxbridge, - 1 Year contract

£50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: HR Manager Shared Services - Uxbridge, Stock...

Recruitment Genius: Graduate Human Resource Officer and Executive Assistant

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join one of...

Ashdown Group: HR Assistant (Events business) - Central Manchester - £20K

£18000 - £20000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Assistant (Events busi...

Recruitment Genius: Project Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This privately-owned company designs and manuf...

Day In a Page

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence