The earliest recordings of Body and Soul

by David Tenner

Seventeen recordings from 1930 (along with some fascinating history) are available at

"...In the summer of 1929, Green and his lyricists, Edward Heyman and Robert Sour, wrote four songs for singer Gertrude Lawrence. “Body and Soul” was the torch song, and the only one remembered today. (According to Sour, the fourth credited songwriter on “Body and Soul”, Frank Eyton, “didn’t change a comma” of the lyrics; Will Friedwald states that Eyton influenced British bands to play the song). While Lawrence included the song in her act and even invested a small amount towards its publication, she never recorded “Body & Soul”—even after it became a hit. The song caught the attention of British bandleader Bert Ambrose when he heard Lawrence perform it on the radio. Ambrose was so taken by the song that he commissioned an arrangement so that his band could play it the following night! However, it was Ambrose’s chief rival, Jack Hylton, whose band made the first recording of “Body & Soul” on February 7, 1930. Ambrose followed with his own recording on February 22. Not to be outdone, Hylton went back into the studio on February 25 to record an entirely new 4 ½ minute “concert” arrangement! (If the reader wonders just how these two bandleaders kept such close tabs on each other, the answer may have been with saxophonist Joe Crossman, who discographies say might have appeared on all three recordings—a classic double agent!)...

"Historically, female vocalists have had better luck with “Body & Soul” (with the obvious exceptions of Louis Armstrong, Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennett). Three of the era’s top female singers recorded “Body & Soul” between September 12 and October 7, 1930. Helen Morgan was the first and she seems to drown in self-pity, despite a fine backing arrangement by Leonard Joy. Ruth Etting holds her composure through most of her September 29 recording, but then pours on the bathos in the final eight bars. Annette Hanshaw (left) was a favorite vocalist amidst the white jazz New York musicians, and on her version, she sings the song simply, letting the lyrics tell the story. Hanshaw’s delivery was not as dramatic as Morgan’s or Etting’s, but her heartfelt reading of—as she sings it— *My life revolves about him/Lord knows I’m just no good without him* speaks volumes to the art of understatement...

"And to return to where we started, it is a discography—this time, Tom Lord’s online “The Jazz Discography”—that has verified something that jazz fans have suspected all along: “Body & Soul” is the most recorded song in the jazz repertory with over 2200 existing recordings. That’s quite a song, Mr. Green."

Posted on Nov 17, 2017, 7:42 PM

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