Johnny Burke (lyricist)

John Francis Burke (October 3, 1908 – February 25, 1964) was an American lyricist, successful and prolific between the 1920s and 1950s.[1] His work is considered part of the Great American Songbook.

Johnny Burke
Burke, c. 1960
Burke, c. 1960
Background information
Birth nameJohn Francis Burke
Born(1908-10-03)October 3, 1908
Antioch, California, U.S.
OriginAntioch, California, U.S.
DiedFebruary 25, 1964(1964-02-25) (aged 55)
New York City, New York
GenresPopular music
Years active1926–1964
LabelsParamount Pictures

His song "Swinging on a Star", from the Bing Crosby film Going My Way, won an Academy Award for Best Song in 1944.

Early life


Burke was born in Antioch, California, United States, the son of Mary Agnes (Mungovan), a schoolteacher, and William Earl Burke, a structural engineer.[2] When he was still young, his family moved to Chicago, Illinois, where Burke's father founded a construction business. As a youth, Burke studied piano and drama.[3] He attended Crane College and then the University of Wisconsin–Madison, where he played piano in the orchestra.[4]

After graduating from the University of Wisconsin–Madison in 1927, Burke joined the Chicago office of the Irving Berlin Publishing Company in 1926 as a pianist and song salesman. He also played piano in dance bands and vaudeville.[5]



Burke and Spina


Irving Berlin Publishing transferred Burke to its New York City office, where he began to write lyrics in collaboration with composer Harold Spina.[6] In 1932, they wrote "Shadows on the Swanee", followed in 1933 by "Annie Doesn't Live Here Anymore", their first big hit for the Guy Lombardo Orchestra.[1] In 1934, Burke and Spina wrote "You're Not the Only Oyster in the Stew", which was a novelty hit for Fats Waller, as was "My Very Good Friend, the Milkman".[1] Burke and Spina wrote many songs that were played by leading bands of the day, including those led by Ben Pollack, Paul Whiteman and Ozzie Nelson.[5] The Burke - Spina partnership ended in 1936 when Burke left for Hollywood.[1]

Burke in Hollywood


Burke's first partner in Hollywood was Arthur Johnston.[7] He then worked with Jimmy Monaco,[8] but he was to make his mark in collaboration with Jimmy Van Heusen.[9] The team of Burke and Van Heusen turned out some of the great hit tunes of the 1940s. Burke signed a contract with Paramount in 1939, and spent his entire career with the same studio. Burke's primary function as a lyricist was working on the films of Bing Crosby.[1] Of the 41 films on which he worked, 25 starred Bing Crosby. Seventeen songs were substantial hits, including "Pennies from Heaven", "I've Got a Pocketful of Dreams", "Only Forever", "Moonlight Becomes You" and "Sunday, Monday, or Always".[10]

Another Burke-Van Heusen song that Crosby recorded was "Sunshine Cake",[11] which Crosby also sang with Clarence Muse and Coleen Gray in Frank Capra's 1950 Paramount film Riding High.[12][13] The song was also recorded by Peggy Lee,[11] Jo Stafford and Dick Haymes,[14] and later Tiny Tim.[15] Other Burke-Van Heusen songs Crosby performed in Riding High included "A Sure Thing", "Someplace on Anywhere Road", and "The Horse Told Me".

Other works


In 1939, Burke wrote the lyrics for "Scatterbrain", with music by Frankie Masters and "What's New?" with Bob Haggart.[1] In 1955, Burke added lyrics to a standard by jazz pianist Erroll Garner entitled "Misty".[1] Burke also wrote the words and music to the Nat King Cole song "If Love Ain't There".

The film The Vagabond King (1956) was Burke's last Hollywood work. In 1961, Burke both composed the music and wrote the lyrics for the Broadway musical Donnybrook!, which was based on the 1952 film The Quiet Man. The show opened May 18, ran for 68 performances (plus two previews), and closed on July 15.



In February 1964, Burke died in New York City from a heart attack at the age of 55.[16]

Awards and honors


Burke and Van Heusen's song "Swinging on a Star", from the Bing Crosby film Going My Way, won an Academy Award for Best Song in 1944, one of seven Academy Awards won by the film.[16] Burke was posthumously inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1970.[4]

In 1995, Burke's life was depicted in the Broadway musical revue, "Swinging on a Star".[17]

Personal life


Burke was married four times. He was married to Mary Mason in the 1960s, who played Liesl in The Sound of Music on Broadway. He was married to Bess Patterson from 1939 to 1955; the marriage produced three children.



Among the landmarks of Burke's songwriting career were:


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h Colin Larkin, ed. (1997). The Virgin Encyclopedia of Popular Music (Concise ed.). Virgin Books. pp. 202/3. ISBN 1-85227-745-9.
  2. ^ Furia, Philip (October 16, 2002). American Song Lyricists, 1920-1960. Gale Group. ISBN 9780787660086 – via Google Books.
  3. ^ "Artist Biography by Steve Huey". AllMusic. Retrieved November 18, 2013.
  4. ^ a b "Johnny Burke". Songwriters Hall ofFame. Archived from the original on 2013-12-28. Retrieved November 18, 2013.
  5. ^ a b "Johnny Burke". Retrieved November 18, 2013.
  6. ^ "Pennies From Heaven: The Lyrics of Johnny Burke". Stanford University. Retrieved November 18, 2013.
  7. ^ "Arthur Johnston". Songwriters Hall of Fame. Archived from the original on 2016-02-23. Retrieved November 18, 2013.
  8. ^ "Jimmy Monaco". Songwriters Hall of Fame. Archived from the original on December 28, 2013. Retrieved November 18, 2013.
  9. ^ "Jimmy Van Heusen". The Michael Feinstein Great American Songbook Initiative. Retrieved November 18, 2013.
  10. ^ Holden, Stephen (22 October 1995). "THEATER; Johnny Burke Wrote His Songs With Moonbeams". The New York Times. Retrieved November 18, 2013.
  11. ^ a b "Sunshine Cake". YouTube. Archived from the original on 2021-12-22. Retrieved August 18, 2021.
  12. ^ "Bing Sings "Sunshine Cake"". YouTube. Archived from the original on 2021-12-22. Retrieved August 18, 2021.
  13. ^ Van Heusen, Jimmy; Van Heusen, Jimmy; Burke, Johnny; Crosby, Bing; Richards, Carol; Young, Victor (18 August 1950). "Sunshine cake (from the Paramount picture "Ridin' high")". Retrieved August 18, 2021 – via Library Catalog (Blacklight).
  14. ^ "Jo Stafford & Dick Haymes - Sunshine Cake". YouTube. Archived from the original on 2021-12-22. Retrieved August 18, 2021.
  15. ^ "Sunshine Cake (Remastered Version)". YouTube. Archived from the original on 2021-12-22. Retrieved August 18, 2021.
  16. ^ a b "Johnny Burke, 55, Songwriter, Dies". Reading Eagle. Retrieved November 18, 2013.
  17. ^ "Review: 'Swinging on a Star a Musical Celebration of Johnny Burke'". 9 May 1994. Retrieved November 18, 2013.