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Composer of 'Fly Me To The Moon', 'Let Me Love You'by Todd S. Jenkins
Copyright © 2004 Todd S. Jenkins
Composer and pianist Bart Howard, whose "Fly Me To the Moon (In Other Words)" was sent rocketing onto the charts by Peggy Lee and Frank Sinatra, died of complications of a stroke on February 23, 2004. He was 88 years old.
Born Howard Joseph Gustafson, his career had a most unusual beginning. Howard became the pianist for a touring dance band at the age of 16, backing Siamese twins Daisy and Violet Hilton. In 1934 he went to Los Angeles, aspiring to become a film composer, but ended up as the accompanist for female impersonator Rae Bourbon. Three years later Howard ended up in New York City, working with comedian/impersonator Elizabeth Talbot-Martin. He was encouraged by none other than Cole Porter, who counseled Howard to learn to sing his songs himself so he could get a better feel for them.
In the Big Apple Howard made the acquaintance of cabaret singer Mabel Mercer, who began performing his song "If You Leave Paris" in her shows. In 1941 he put his career on hold to enter the Army, returning to New York cabaret life in 1945. Mercer hired Howard as her accompanist once more for her regular gig at Tony's West Side club, and in 1951 he became the M.C. and accompanist at the Blue Angel in Manhattan. The artists whom he backed there included young Johnny Mathis, Eartha Kitt, Dorothy Loudon, and Felicia Sanders, who was the first to perform the song Howard had entitled "In Other Words". Singer Portia Nelson became another devotee of Howard's music, recording Ralph Burns' arrangements on Let Me Love You: The Songs of Bart Howard in 1956.
"In Other Words" took off quickly. Nancy Wilson recorded Billy May's arrangement in 1959 on her Capitol Records debut, and the following year Howard's fate in the business was sealed by Peggy Lee, who performed the tune on the Ed Sullivan Show for millions of viewers. From then on the tune was billed as "Fly Me to the Moon (In Other Words)", and eventually the original title was all but forgotten. Frank Sinatra guaranteed the song's endurance when he waxed it in 1961 and kept it in his repertoire for the rest of his life. Peggy Lee's conductor, Joe Harnell, also recorded a very popular bossa nova version of the tune in 1962. Since then the song has been recorded well over 500 times.
Though several of Bart Howard's other songs achieved popularity ("Let Me Love You", "Don't Dream of Anybody But Me", "Man in the Looking Glass", "Would You Believe It?") he remained chiefly known for "Fly Me to the Moon". Howard had little problem with that, as the tune made him wealthy enough to cut back on his songwriting and playing. In the 1970s and 80s he performed on occasion at clubs like Jan Wallman's in the Village, and singer K.T. Sullivan followed Portia Nelson's lead in 1997 by recording the live album, In Other Words: The Songs of Bart Howard. In 1999 Bart Howard was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame.
Howard is survived by Thomas Fowler, his companion of 58 years, and by his sister, Dorothy Lind of Burlington, Iowa.
Todd S. Jenkins
Todd S. Jenkins is a member of the JJA, author of Free Jazz and Free Improvisation: An Encyclopedia (Greenwood Press, 2004) and I Know What I Know: The Music of Charles Mingus (Praeger, 2006), and a contributor to Down Beat, All About Jazz, American Songwriter and Route 66 Magazine.