How London Found Path to ‘River’


    BIRTH OF A BLUESY STANDARD: The death of jazz/pop vocalist Julie London Oct. 18 recalled her first hit single, 1955’s “Cry Me A River.” It was not only her claim to fame but also launched what is still today a classy bluesy lost-love opus.

    The song was written by Arthur Hamilton who, for many years, has been an ASCAP board member. Words & Music asked Hamilton for the story of how London got the song and created what is still the definitive version of this oft-recorded perennial.

    “Julie and I were in the same high school graduating class,” Hamilton says. “I took her to the senior prom. We lost contact for a few years; then she called to ask me if I was still writing songs. I was---but I was writing them on the backs of prescription blanks, working as a delivery boy for a prominent drug-store chain. Julie told me that her husband, actor/director/producer Jack Webb, was looking for new jazz and blues songs for a possible film or television series called ‘Pete Kelly’s Blues.’

    “I had never written a blues song, but I sat down and wrote three of them for Jack and Julie a few nights later,” he continues. “Jack was very enthusiastic and subsequently put me under contract for his production company. ‘Cry Me A River’ was one of the songs I wrote for Ella Fitzgerald to sing in the film version of ‘Pete Kelly’s Blues.’ It didn’t make it into the film.

    “By this time, Julie and Jack were divorced, but she and I remained close friends,” Hamilton says. “At the urging of her husband-to-be, Bobby Troup, Julie recorded an album of jazz standards---except for one new song, ‘Cry Me A River.’ Her voice---sultry, smoky, and intimate---drew immediate response from everyone who listened, and the record became a hit.

    “She was a wonderfully talented, warm, dear friend, and she was responsible for making a place for me in the world of music,” he concludes.

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Saturday- November 11, 2000

By Irv Lichtman