Home > Reviews > STORMY WEATHER – Cyril J. Mockridge and Alfred Newman

STORMY WEATHER – Cyril J. Mockridge and Alfred Newman

GREATEST SCORES OF THE TWENTIETH CENTURY

Original Review by Craig Lysy

In 1942 Wendell Wilkie, the 1940 Republican candidate for president visited 20th Century Fox Studio executives as an advocate for the Black Movement. He successfully obtained a commitment from the studio to “Regard the Negro as an integral part of American Life”. The studio affirmed that commitment in 1943 with the production of its first musical with an all-Black cast. It purchased the story’s film rights from authors Jerry Horwin and Seymour B Robinson, hired H.S. Kraft to write the screenplay, William LeBaron was assigned production, and Andrew L. Stone was tasked with directing. For the cast, Lena Horne would star as Salina Rogers and Bill ‘Bojangles’ Robinson as Bill Williamson, as well as Cab Calloway and his Cotton Club Orchestra, Fats Waller, The Nichols Brothers, Ada Brown, Dooley Wilson, and Katherine Dunham as themselves.

The story loosely follows the life of renowned minstrel show and Vaudeville tap dancer Bill “Bojangles” Williamson circa 1918. It focuses on his fateful meeting with fellow dancer/singer Selina Rogers and the two joining together in New Orleans for a film performance of the ages. The 77-minute film features twenty musical numbers and over 70 minutes of music, a theatrical extravaganza that to this day continues to wow audiences. The film was not a commercial success, however, as most of its theatrical runs in the southern states were shut down or refused due to angry white people protesting and threatening theater owners. Critical reception was positive with praise for Lena Horne and Katherine Dunham’s stellar vocals and performances. Sadly, but not unexpectedly, the film failed to earn a single Academy Award nomination.

Director of Music Alfred Newman assigned staff composer Cyril J. Mockridge to write the underscore for the film. There was less than five minutes of score for this 77-minute film as 20 musical dance numbers took up over 70 minutes of the film. With the assistance of Musical Director Benny Carter, he coordinated supporting the twenty musical numbers, which were the heart and soul of this pioneering musical. The songs – written by Harold Arlen, Fats Waller, Shelton Brooks, Cab Calloway, Jimmy McHugh, Dorothy Fields, Mac Johnson, and Bill Robinson, among others – were some of the finest in Hollywood cinematic history, and when joined with dance achieved an astounding and entertaining confluence. For the score, Mockridge understood that the song and dance numbers were to be showcased with his task being to weave them into a tapestry with a unifying musical narrative. He accomplished this using instrumental renderings of the various songs as bridges between the numbers, as well as for interlude scenes with dialogue. Cues coded (*) contain music not found on the album.

“Twentieth Century Fox Fanfare” offers the now legendary Newman fanfare, which supports the studio logo. “Overture” offers a wonderful score highlight, where Mockridge perfectly captures the soul of the film. We open with a dazzling prelude and an outpouring of orchestral refulgence as the film title displays against storm clouds. This usher in a statement of the “Stormy Weather” song theme that features a sultry saxophone, which supports the roll of the opening credits. At 1:00 we segue atop angelic women’s wordless choir into a more florid exposition of the Main Song Theme. At 2:02 a bridge by string energico ushers in the “Stormy Weather Ballet”, where the Main Song Theme is transformed into a sumptuous valzer gentile. The serial thematic transformations continue with lush and jazzy iterations following, closing with mixed contrapuntal choir singing refrains for the title song.

“Rang, Tang, Tang” (*) reveals Bill tap dancing on a porch with five kids empowered by a folksy harmonic while he repeatedly sings “Rang, Tang, Tang”. His niece brings a magazine from the mail box, which features him on the cover. As he tells the kids his story during the war, strings tenero create a comforting familial warmth. We flashback to a New York City WWI victory parade empowered by a patriotic rendering of George Cohan’s iconic anthems Over There”, followed by “Columbia, Gem of the Ocean” by David Shaw, replete with bugling hornfare. In (*) “Celebration” Bill joins friends in painting the town with a big band Swing ambiance. We segue into the song “Walkin’ The Dog” that unfolds in a festive, jazzy orchestral medley with “The Darktown Strutters’ Ball”. Bill is introduced to Selina, and we can see that he is smitten. She accepts his offer to dance. Afterwards they chit-chat before she is summoned to the floor to perform, singing the song “There’s No Two Ways About Love” with the introduction and reprise composed by Lionel Newman. The song offers a tender romantic ballad, which finds a beautiful confluence with Koehler’s lyrics and Horne’s vocals.

The next tertiary cue offers a score highlight of unbridled happiness. “Cakewalk” provides a tradition song played by the orchestra, which supports a dancing chorus line. It energetic, fun, and abounds with happiness and Can-Can flare as women dance atop a large cake prop on the upper tier while couples dance on the cake’s lower tier. Banjo’s animato join as the burlesque Can-Can dancing descends to the main dance floor. At 1:02 we segue happily into “Camptown Races” as Bill takes Selina to the dance floor and joins the dance troupe. At 1:44 we flow seamlessly into “At a Georgia Camp Meeting”, which sustains the festive and very energetic dancing happiness. “Linda Brown:” is performed by The Tramp Band on the deck of a Mississippi steam boat on which Bill is traveling. He hears the festive and lusty black folk song and a percussive interlude supports a kinetic dancing routine, joined at 2:19 by Bill’s tap and slide dancing after her pours sand on the deck and dazzles us with his footwork. The confluence of music and dancing is spot on!

“Moppin’ and Boppin’” features Cab Calloway and his band playing at a Memphis café as Bill arrives seeking employment. The café front displays “Fats Waller and the Beale Street Boys” as Bill enters. The percussion opening launches a sax and bass driven narrative full of party energy that perfectly sets the café’s ambiance. Inside we switch to a piano player playing a bluesy Dixieland joined by an ensemble of Strummed guitar, bass, drums, clarinet, trumpet and trombone. “That Ain’t Right” offers a classic blues song of a woman who feels slighted and taken advantage by her unrepentant man. The song offers an engaging tête-à-tête with Fats Waller answering each of Ada Brown’s plights. The music, rhythm, vocals and lyrics are spot on!

“Ain’t Misbehavin’” reveals Chick Bailey and his woman visiting from Chicago with the intention of hiring “Fats” for his new show at the Pickens Theatre. They arrive, are given a prominent front table and “Fat’s gives them a show, playing and singing “Ain’t Misbehavin’”. It offers a song melody supported by sparkling piano and brushed percussion. After a lengthy introduction, “Fats” vocal enters at 1:26, ushered in and then supported by a bluesy trombone, offering a story of a man longing for his woman he loves. Afterwards an impressed Chick not only hires “Fats”, but Ada, and thanks to Selina, Bill. “Diga Diga Doo” offers a wonderful cinematic confluence. It reveals an exotic tropical stage act with men and women dressed in nativist tropical feathered costumes with Selina in the forefront singing an alluring and upbeat song of love. This is a classic 1940s Hollywood musical act with music, which is vibrant, kinetic, and very entertaining. Horn’s vocals are pure, and what man could resist her?

“African Dance” reveals theater owner Chick singing a song full of lust for a night-veiled girl, with music by Clarence Muse and Connie Bernis, lyrics by Langston Hughes. Unbeknownst to Chick, he is upstaged by Bill who is dancing behind him on the large tom-tom drums. The music is exotic and drum driven and empowered by Chick’s sensual baritone vocals. “Memories 1” reveals a flashback to the present where Bill reads to the kids, a commendation in the magazine from Chick, which is supported by the soft, slow-dance song melody from “Memories” by Egbert Van Alstyne. We close with an unsung tap-dancing reprise of Rang, Tang, Tang. In “I Lost My Sugar In Salt Lake City” Bill announces that the theatre has a new manager Mr. Gabriel Tucker who is investing his money to reopen the show. He asks for a sample from the show and Mae Johnson steps out on the balcony to sing in her sultry contralto voice, the classic Blues ‘you did me wrong’ song, “I Lost My Sugar in Salt Lake City”. We flow seamlessly into “Nobody’s Sweetheart” a high-octane big band dance number as the unidentified male dancer dazzles us with an astounding dance routine.

“I Can’t Give You Anything But Love” offers a wonderful score romantic highlight, where we are graced by Horn’s sterling vocals, supported by Bill “Bojangles” Robinson’s baritone and chorus. She descends down the stairs in a refulgent shimmering gown flanked by men in tuxedos, and sings a classic love song. The scene offers a beautiful cinematic confluence of staging, vocals, lyrics and dance. “Memories 2” reveals a flashback to the present where Bill tells the kids of his first trip to Hollywood in 1936, which is again supported by the soft, slow-dance song melody from “Memories”. We flow seamlessly atop the melody to the past as Selina rejects Bill’s offer to build a home for them and end her singing career to settle down. He is disappointed and there is tension as they have different visions of their future together. Mockridge supports with a sad rendering of the Stormy Weather melody. We return on the Memories melody to Bill and the kids in the present as Cab comes to visit. He invites Bill to perform for a show for soldiers deploying overseas. “Geechy Joe” reveals Cab performing in a Zoot suit to funky free form jazz supported by an ensemble of four trombones, four trumpets, four saxophones, a bass, drums and piano. After a lengthy introduction he sings a classic Blues song full of woe. Afterwards a more upbeat rendering of the melody supports Cab informing Bill to go out front and watch a special number.

“Stormy Weather” offers a supreme score highlight where we a graced by Horn’s sterling vocals for the iconic titular song. “Stormy Weather Reprise” (*) supports a fantasy dream by Selina as she dances in an exotic dress to an instrumental performance of the song’s melody supported by a beautifully choreographed performance by Katherine Dunham and her dancers. The rendering of the melody assumes many guises during the performance from florid romanticism to funky jazz as Selina weaves her way around the stage. We shift back to reality dramatically with a chorus singing; “Keeps raining all of the time”, closing with Selina reprising the same lyric.

“There’s No Two Ways About Love” offers an instrumental reprise of the song, which supports Bill’s happy go lucky tap-dancing act. He knocks on the door, and Selina comes out and sings the song’s romantic final two stanzas. We flow seamlessly into an upbeat swing dance performance of “My, My, Ain’t That Somethin’”, with Bill singing “My, my, ain’t that something, Hear me shout, Mm, mm, ain’t that something, ain’t that something to shout about”. The synergy of the dancers and music is spot on as we bear witness to yet another of the film’s classic Hollywood dance performances. It just does not get any better than this. “Jumpin’ Jive” features vocals by Cab Calloway and some truly amazing virtuoso dancing by the legendary Nichols Brothers, for one of the finest dance routines in cinematic history. The kinetic song offers classic big band energy, which propels the dancers for an extraordinary performance. We close the film energetically with the astounding “My, My, Ain’t That Somethin’”, which offers another grand Hollywood stage dance with the chorus singing. The synergy of the dancers and music is once again spot on are treated to yet another of the film’s classic Hollywood dance performances, ending the film with great fun and vigor! We flow into “End Title”, which is supported by a coda of the Stormy Weather melody.

I would like to commend the late Nick Redman for this long-sought recording of the iconic black cast musical “Stormy Weather”. The digital mastering of the archival monaural source tapes was largely successful with only some minor imperfections present. Although “Stormy Weather was the third all black cast Hollywood musical produced, following “Hallelujah (1929) and “Cabin In The Sky (1943), it was in the final analysis the most successful, and most remembered. The creative team decided to sacrifice a traditional unifying plot narrative, and instead embraced a series of spectacular song and dance numbers. Lena Horne and Ada Brown’s vocals were just exceptional, and perfectly enhanced those by Cap Calloway and Bill “Bojangles” Robinson. The titular song “Stormy Weather” has become legend, earning its placed in the hallowed halls of the Pantheon of great film songs. The aching song of a woman’s longing for her man is timeless and its performance in the film earned Horne, immortality. The song “That Ain’t Right” sung by Ada Brown and Fats Waller offered an engaging and very entertaining tête-à-tête with Fats Waller answering each of Ada Brown’s plights. The confluence of music, rhythm, vocals and lyrics are spot on.

What sets the film apart was how well the songs and dance numbers clicked. They just do not make these grand, multi-dancer musical numbers anymore, and it is a shame because the film offers a cinematic confluence of choreography and music that is simply, astounding including “Cake Walk”, “Diga Diga Doo”, and “Jumpin’ Jive”. Folks, although the album provides a wonderful listening experience, this film offers a song and score intrinsically bound to dance and to fully appreciate the synergy achieved, you have to watch the film. If you enjoy musicals, you cannot go wrong with this film, and I highly recommend you purchase this historic album as an essential work for your collection. It is fun, and you will not regret it!

Buy the Stormy Weather soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • Twentieth Century Fox Fanfare (written by Alfred Newman) (0:12)
  • Overture/Stormy Weather Ballet (3:54)
  • Walkin’ the Dog (written by Shelton Brooks) (1:27)
  • There’s No Two Ways About Love (written by James P. Johnson, Irving Mills, and Ted Koehler, performed by Lena Horne) (2:42)
  • Cakewalk/Camptown Races/At a Georgia Camp Meeting (written by Stephen Foster/Kerry Mills) (2:44)
  • Linda Brown (written by Alvis Cowens, performed by The Tramp Band) (3:38)
  • Moppin’ and Boppin’ (written by Thomas Wright Waller and Benny Carter, performed by Cab Calloway) (4:21)
  • That Ain’t Right (written by Nat King Cole and Irving Mills, performed by Fats Waller and Ada Brown) (2:59)
  • Ain’t Misbehavin’ (written by Thomas Wright Waller, Harry Brooks, and Andy Razaf, performed by Fats Waller) (3:57)
  • Diga Diga Doo (written by Dorothy Fields and Jimmy McHugh, performed by Lena Horne) (3:58)
  • I Lost My Sugar In Salt Lake City (written by Leon T. Rene and Johnny Lange, performed by Mae Johnson) (1:50)
  • Nobody’s Sweetheart (written by Billy Meyers and Elmer Schoebel) (0:59)
  • I Can’t Give You Anything But Love (written by Dorothy Fields and Jimmy McHugh, performed by Lena Horne and Bojangles Robinson) (2:57)
  • Geechy Joe (written by Cab Calloway, Jack Palmer, and Andy Gibson, performed by Cab Calloway) (3:17)
  • Stormy Weather (written by Harold Arlen and Ted Koehler, performed by Lena Horne) (3:57)
  • There’s No Two Ways About Love – Reprise (written by James P. Johnson, Irving Mills, and Ted Koehler, performed by Cab Calloway, Bojangles Robinson, and Lena Horne) (3:01)
  • My, My, Ain’t That Somethin’ (written by Pinky Tomlin and Harry Tobias, performed by Bojangles Robinson) (2:31)
  • Jumpin’ Jive (written by Cab Calloway, Jack Palmer, and Frank Froeba, performed by Cab Calloway) (4:33)
  • My, My, Ain’t That Somethin’ – Reprise (written by Pinky Tomlin and Harry Tobias, performed by Bojangles Robinson, Cab Calloway, and Lena Horne) (1:12)
  • Good For Nothin’ Joe (written by Rube Bloom and Ted Koehler, performed by Lena Horne) (3:07)
  • Ain’t Misbehavin’ – Alternate Ending (written by Thomas Wright Waller, Harry Brooks, and Andy Razaf, performed by Fats Waller) (1:01)
  • I Lost My Sugar In Salt Lake City – Alternate (written by Leon T. Rene and Johnny Lange, performed by Mae Johnson) (1:00)
  • Body and Soul (written by Johnny Green, Edward Heyman, Robert Sour, and Frank Eyton, performed by Cab Calloway) (6:47)
  • Alfred the Moocher (written by Cab Calloway, Irving Mills, and Clarence Gaskill, performed by Cab Calloway) (2:50) – A version of “Minnie the Moocher” dedicated to Twentieth Century Fox musical director Alfred Newman, not used in film

Running Time: 68 minutes 54 seconds

TCF Film Scores 07822-11007-2 (1943/1993)

Music composed by Cyril J. Mockridge. Conducted by Alfred Newman and Emil Newman. Orchestrations by Arthur Morton and Gene Rose. Score produced by Alfred Newman and Benny Carter. Album produced by Nick Redman.

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