Obituary: Walter Kent

Peter Cliffe
Sunday 18 September 2011 09:27

Walter Kent, composer, songwriter: born New York City 29 November 1911; died Los Angeles 1 March 1994.

THE WHITE cliffs of Dover have been saluted by an American poetess, a minor British song and a smash-hit American one, writes Peter Cliffe.

Alice Duerr Miller's 'The White Cliffs of Dover' was a book-length tribute in verse to British fortitude in wartime. Leo Towers and Harry Leon's song of the same title got nowhere in 1936: only one dance band recorded it. But in 1941 the inspired partnership of Nat Burton and Walter Kent caught the fancy of radio listeners, dancers and record-buyers on both sides of the Atlantic with 'There'll Be Bluebirds Over the White Cliffs of Dover'. An excellent lyric and a flowing melody undoubtedly helped to ensure success. But it was the shining optimism which made the song so right for 1941 in Britain when backs were to the wall. Sadly Burton died in 1945, aged only 43.

Kent had studied on a scholarship at the Juilliard School of Music, in New York, where his tuition included advanced study of the violin. For a time he led his own orchestra playing in theatres and on the radio. Among the songs he scored in a productive career were 'Love is Like a Cigarette' (1936) and 'Mama I wanna Make Rhythm' (1938), both in collaboration with Jerome Jerome and Richard Byron.

The man so appropriately surnamed did not come to Kent to see the white cliffs of Dover until 1989, when he donated an original manuscript of the song and participated in the planning of a tourist centre to commemorate the war years in the area.

(Photograph omitted)

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