Words and Music by Jack Lawrence & Sir Eric Coates
Some Of The Best Recordings
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For sheet music contact: www.halleonard.com
The Story Behind The Song
I have always believed in diligent research for ideas that could spark a song. Good lyric ideas can be hidden in some old poem and the suggestion of an unusual melody can be found in an old score. One day I came across a lovely piano solo by the well-known English composer Eric Coates. I was so intrigued with this waltz that kept running through my head that my brain started to form a lyric.
I noted that the original piece had been published by Chappell Music in England and since I had an amicable relationship with the head of Chappell in New York, Max Dreyfus, I took my completed song, now called "Sleepy Lagoon," to him. The original piano solo had not had any great success but Mr. Dreyfus was concerned that I had added a lyric without consulting the composer.
"After all", he said, "SIR Eric Coates is a famous British composer and may resent your tampering with his melody. Besides, I don't think this is a popular song. It should go into our light classical department... IF Sir Coates approves!" All this was happening in 1940 when England was under attack by the Germans so it took quite a while for my lyric to reach London and Sir Coates.
It was not until the middle of that year that Sir Coates replied with a most charming letter addressed to me: "You have set the words to my music so cleverly that one would never suspect that the music had been written first!" Naturally I was greatly flattered by such extravagant praise, but I was more pleased that this collaboration of two people who had never met had been so successful, despite the fact that Mr. Dreyfus was dubious about the popular potential of the song.
I showed a copy of the song to Harry James with whom I had collaborated successfully on "Ciribiribin" and he made a stunning recording of "Sleepy Lagoon" featuring his inimitable trumpet solo. A barrage of records followed: Dinah Shore, David Rose, Fred Waring, Glenn Miller and many more. That was in America. But oddly enough during the height of the blitz in London "Sleepy Lagoon" was a tremendous hit. Perhaps it was "wish fulfillment" that had all those besieged English people singing this pastoral song.
After the war in 1946 on my first trip to London I finally got to meet Sir Eric Coates and his Lady. We had an enjoyable meeting and he asked if I would consider looking at some of his other published melodies with the idea of adding lyrics. He gave me half a dozen of his compositions but alas — none of them had the appeal of "Sleepy Lagoon."
Copyright © 2005 Jack Lawrence. All Rights Reserved.