Jack Lawrence, Songwriter

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Words and Music by Jack Lawrence & Walter Gross
E.H. Morris, 1946

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For sheet music contact: www.halleonard.com

The Story Behind The SongThe Story Behind The Song

One day in 1946 I ran into an old friend, Margaret Whiting, at a publisher's office. Maggie and I had known each other for some time; when I lived on the west coast I visited her home often. She would have musical Sunday afternoons where all the young Hollywood talents would gather: Johnny Mercer, Judy Garland, Mel Torme and many others. One Sunday I brought a new arrival to tinsel town along to Maggie's — Rosemary Clooney who had just been signed by Paramount.

I hadn't seen Maggie in a while so we reminisced about friends. Then Maggie asked me if I knew Walter Gross. I didn't know him personally but was aware of his fame as a pianist. At that time he was working for a small record label, Musicraft. Maggie told me that Walter had written a fantastic tune that just cried out for a lyric and that I was the one who should write it. Whereupon she picked up the phone, called Walter and said she would like to bring me to his office and introduce us.

It was a short walk to Musicraft, we were introduced and Maggie asked Walter to play his melody. I fell in love with it at once and asked Walter for a lead sheet. He scratched one out and gave it to me — I thought, reluctantly. It was almost as though he was parting with a precious part of himself.

I could not get that melody out of my head and, as has happened on rare occasions, a lyric began to form itself inside me. In a couple of days I had not only come up with the title "Tenderly" but had finished the lyric. Although I was very excited, I restrained myself. I felt that if I phoned Walter in such a short time to say I had completed the lyric, he might think I had done an "off-the-cuff" job and dismiss it.

So I controlled myself for about ten days before I phoned him. Then, mustering great excitement in my voice, I said: "Walter, I've got it!" There was a short pause, then he asked: "What's the title?" "Tenderly!" I sang. "TEN-DER-LY!" This time there was a protracted silence and then Walter said, scathingly: "That's no title! That's what you put at the top of the sheet music. Play tenderly!" Certainly I was let down but I asked if I could mail him the lyric for his consideration.

For a few months I heard nothing from Walter Gross. Then I learned that many other writers had written lyrics to his melody and all had been turned down. I concluded that this melody was like a favorite child to Walter that he didn't want to share with any other writer. Nevertheless, whenever I had the opportunity I would play and sing the song for various publishers. My song "Linda" was at that time a huge hit riding at E.H. Morris Music, the professional manager, Sid Kornheiser, also fell in love with my "Tenderly." When his boss, Buddy Morris, came to town, Sidney asked me to play the song. Buddy's reaction was: "It's great — but it's a back-breaker. Anyway, Sid, let's publish it." Sidney said: "I've been trying to get it from Walter Gross but he's holding out for a big advance."

"Ridiculous!" said Buddy, "Take it if you can get it for nothing". I got a phone call from Walter Gross about a week later. "Jack, what do you think of E.H. Morris as a publisher?" he asked. I told him I was well satisfied with the job they'd done on "Linda." He then said, "Well, they want "Tenderly" but they refuse to give me an advance." I replied, "I know, Walter. But who else wants the song?" And thus Walter finally agreed to let E.H. Morris publish it.

The first vocal recording was by Sarah Vaughan and the first instrumental was by Randy Brooks. Those were in 1946. Bit by bit the song began to accumulate recordings and it was establishing itself as a musician's jazz piece. I recall that Walter was playing piano at a popular club on the east side, the Little Club, and I decided to drop in with a friend. The place was packed and we had to stand at the bar for Walter's performance. The moment he appeared, the crowd called out: "Tenderly! Play Tenderly!" Walter obliged and when he took his bow I waved to him from the bar. I know he saw me but he refused to acknowledge my presence. You see, he was still unwilling to share his song with anyone!

"Tenderly" was unstoppable. But it wasn't until the early '50s that it truly reached great stature when Rosie Clooney recorded it with true simplicity — no vocal tricks — just the pure melody and words. Today there are about 150 records of this song with new ones coming all the time. Ironically, the mother of this creation, Maggie Whiting, never did record it.

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