Johnny Burke

Biography of Johnny Burke

Johnny Burke (October 3, 1908 — February 25, 1964) was a lyricist, widely regarded as one of the finest writers of popular songs in America between the 1920s and 1950s.

Burke was born in Antioch, California. When still young, the family moved to Chicago, where Johnny's father founded a construction business. As a youth, he studied the piano and some drama also. He attended the University of Wisconsin–Madison, where he played piano in the orchestra. After graduating, he joined the Chicago office of the Irving Berlin Publishing Company in 1926, as a pianist and song salesman.

Irving Berlin, Inc. transferred Burke to its New York City office, where he began to write lyrics in collaboration with composer Harold Spina. 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. In 1934, they 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". They wrote many songs that were played by leading bands of the day, including those led by Ben Pollack, Paul Whiteman and Ozzie Nelson.

1936 saw the end of the Burke - Spina partnership, as Burke left for Hollywood. His first partner there was Arthur Johnston. He then worked with Jimmy Monaco, but he was to make his mark in collaboration with Jimmy van Heusen.

The team of Burke and Van Heusen turned out some of the great hit tunes of the late 1930s and throughout the 1940s. Burke was the only major composer to spend his entire career with just one studio, Paramount Pictures. His primary function as a lyricist was working on Bing Crosby films. 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 and Always". "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.

He wrote the words and music to the Nat King Cole song "If Love Ain't There."

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