Brown, Nacio Herb
BROWN, Nacio Herb
Composer. Nationality: American. Born: Deming, New Mexico, 22 February 1896. Education: Attended Manual Arts High School, Los Angeles. Family: Married the actress Anita Page. Career: Vaudeville accompanist, then worked in clothing store and real estate; song writer from 1920; 1929—songs for first film, The Broadway Melody; worked for MGM for 10 years, then for both MGM and 20th Century-Fox. Died: San Francisco, California, 28 September 1964.
Films as Composer:
The Broadway Melody (Beaumont); Untamed (Conway); The Hollywood Revue of 1929 (Reisner); Marianne (Leonard)
Whoopee! (Freeland); Good News (Grinde); Montana Moon (St. Clair); Lord Byron of Broadway (Nigh and Beaumont); One Heavenly Night (Fitzmaurice)
A Woman Commands (Stein)
The Barbarian (Wood); Stage Mother (Brabin); Going Hollywood (Walsh); Hold Your Man (Wood); Peg o' My Heart (Leonard)
Hollywood Party (Dwan); Hide-Out (Van Dyke); Student Tour (Riesner); Riptide (Goulding); Sadie McKee (Brown)
Broadway Melody of 1936 (Del Ruth); China Seas (Garnett); A Night at the Opera (Wood)
The Devil Is a Sissy (Van Dyke); San Francisco (Van Dyke); After the Thin Man (Van Dyke)
Broadway Melody of 1938 (Del Ruth); Thoroughbreds Don't Cry (Green)
Babes in Arms (Berkeley); The Ice Follies of 1939 (Schünzel)
Two Girls on Broadway (Simon)
Ziegfeld Girl (Leonard)
Wintertime (Brahm); Swing Fever (Whelan)
Greenwich Village (W. Lang)
Holiday in Mexico (Sidney)
The Kissing Bandit (Benedek); On an Island with You (Thorpe)
The Bribe (Leonard)
Pagan Love Song (Alton)
Singin' in the Rain (Kelly and Donen)
On BROWN: articles—
Craig, Warren, in The Great Songwriters of Hollywood, San Diego, California, 1980.
Hemming, Roy, in The Melody Lingers On: The Great Songwriters and Their Movie Musicals, New York, 1986.
* * *
After bidding goodnight to Kathy Selden, the woman with whom he has fallen in love, Don Lockwood waves his limousine on and begins strolling down a rain-drenched street. Even the most casual movie musical fan knows what happens next. Gene Kelly, cast as Lockwood, begins "doodle-doo-dooing." He closes his umbrella, unconcerned with the rain storming down over him, and starts singing the lyrics to and dancing to the melody of the song for which the movie is named, Singin' in the Rain.
The man who wrote the melody, Nacio Herb Brown, was one of the most successful of all Hollywood studio composers working during the first quarter-century of the film musical. And "Singin' in the Rain," with lyrics by Arthur Freed, is perhaps the one song which remains most closely identified with not only the MGM musical but the era itself. In the first sequence of That's Entertainment!, a compilation featuring the very best MGM musical numbers, "Singin' in the Rain" is performed initially by Cliff ("Ukelele Ike") Edwards (in a rainstorm and accompanied by a dancing chorus) in The Hollywood Revue of 1929. Then in the 1930s, Jimmy Durante sits at his piano and scat-sings to its rhythm. Next, during the 1940s, Judy Garland sings it in her own inimitable style. Finally, in the 1950s, Kelly, Donald O'Connor, and Debbie Reynolds harmonize before the opening credits of Singin' in the Rain. (The song is performed in the latter two more times, in Kelly's solo and by Reynolds at the finale.)
Brown began composing for the screen in the late 1920s, just as the movies were learning to sing and dance as well as talk. He retired in 1950, the year before his career was paid homage to in Singin' in the Rain (which is credited as being "suggested by the song," and is set in the era when Brown's career was beginning).
For the next two decades, Brown composed scores and songs for MGM musicals (often, but not always, in collaboration with Freed). His melodies feature no Gershwinesque phrasing. Unlike the sophisticated world described in Cole Porter's lyrics, or the playful quadruple rhymes of Betty Comden and Adolph Green, Brown's music is more at home with lyrics that are simple, lilting, and irrepressibly romantic. It elicits a naive, happy-go-lucky lightheartedness. This carefree, cheerful aura is the hallmark of the MGM musical.
In addition to the little song, all but two of the tunes performed in Singin' in the Rain originally were included in other studio releases: The Broadway Melody ("You Were Meant for Me," "The Wedding of the Painted Doll," and "The Broadway Melody"); San Francisco ("Would You?"); Sadie McKee ("All I Do Is Dream of You"); The Broadway Melody of 1936 ("You Are My Lucky Star," "I've Got a Feeling You're Fooling," and "Broadway Rhythm"); Lord Byron of Broadway ("Should I?"); and Babes in Arms ("Good Morning"). In each, Brown's music nicely complements the eternal optimism of Freed's lyrics: "All I do is dream of you the whole night through"; "life was a song, you came along . . . you were meant for me, and I was meant for you"; "good mornin', good mornin' . . . rainbows are shinin' through"; "no skies of gray on that Great White Way, that's the Broadway melody"; and, finally, "I'm singin' in the rain. . . . What a glorious feeling. I'm happy again."
The word again in the latter places the song within a time frame. Most of Brown and Freed's compositions were for films made during the American Depression and the Second World War, and their optimism reflects a need to focus on life's bright side. The songs are colorful; they do not dwell on the problems of the present, but offer the message that the viewer also will one day "be happy again." (Interestingly, Brown's MGM connection allowed him to continue enjoying this same pleasure during the Depression. He first began composing as a hobby; he successfully ran a menswear shop in Los Angeles, and was one of the first to invest in land in Beverly Hills. Brown had spurned Irving Thalberg's invitation to write for the talkies, until the Wall Street crash supposedly severely altered his economic status.)
A Depression-era Warners musical might feature characters visibly stifled by the economic constraints of the era, or social commentary (in such song lyrics imploring the listener to "remember my forgotten man"). Not so an MGM musical, and certainly not so an MGM musical with a Nacio Herb Brown score. Whatever problems the characters endure will not be all that permanent or serious because you know that, at any moment, someone is bound to burst into tune, to be singin' in a rainstorm to a Nacio Herb Brown melody.