In 1944, Stan Kenton and Charles Lawrence wrote a song called And Her Tears Flowed Like Wine." Little is known about Lawrence, how he came to write the song with Kenton, or what influenced Joe Greene's lyric—a noir tale about a sad tomato" wronged by her thuggish husband, whom she shoves into the river only to discover after he drowns that he lacked a life insurance policy.
In May of '44, Kenton recorded the song for Capitol with Anita O'Day singing. It was arranged by Buddy Baker, Kenton's ghost orchestrator of the period. Kenton was given sole credit on the 78's label. According to Johnny Mercer: Southern Songwriter for the World by Glenn T. Eskew:
By 1944, the white jazz singer Anita O'Day left Gene Krupa's band and through her manager, [Carlos] Gastel, associated with Kenton for a year. During that time, the legendary jazz singer made a number of important recordings with the group, including a song favored by [Johnny] Mercer, And Her Tears Flowed Like Wine." O'Day brought one of [Capitol's] musicians, the black drummer Jesse Price (above), to the studio for the May 1944 recordings. She convinced Kenton to allow Price to play on the cut. Later she said, 'I thought it might save the session' and 'that was the first time the band ever swang.'"
Greene, a songwriter, was best known for composing Across the Alley From the Alamo" and Don't Let the Sun Catch You Cryin'" (both 1946). The O'Day-Kenton record reached #4 on the pop charts and sold more than a million copies. Ultimately, O'Day was unable to adjust to the Kenton band's jagged modernist style and quit in January 1945 after recruiting June Christy as her replacement.
But that wasn't the last of the quirky novelty song about gambling, drinking, spousal abuse, adultery and murder. Over the weekend, I was re-watching director Howard Hawks's The Big Sleep (1946) with Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, and was reminded that Bacall sings the song in the film. The scene is at character Eddie Mars's Cypress Club casino in Las Olindas on the beach near Los Angeles (though the town doesn't really exist, it appears in the film to be about two hours up the coast north of Hollywood).
Bogart's Philip Marlowe arrives at the casino to question Mars and stops to listen as a woman in a crowded room with her back to him starts to sing And Her Tears Flowed Like Wine." Then Bacall's Vivian Sternwood Rutledge turns around and receives a two-fingered wave from Bogart. They're barely surprised to see each other there.
All of this is to point out two interesting things about the scene. Howard Rumsey, Kenton's bassist, is in the scene. And from my research, the singing group backing Bacall were the Williams Brothers—as in Andy Williams and his brothers. In fact, if you look carefully, you'll see Andy Williams in the shot.
In a 2000 letter to The New York Times about Andy Williams's involvement in The Big Sleep, Ray Hagen notes that Bacall did her own singing after a first attempt to have Williams dub her voice. Hagen, I assume, is the Library of Congress narrator for audio books, recording over 500 books in a 30-plus year career.
Here's the singing scene from The Big Sleep...
Now that you know the song and its history, here are a few renditions:
Here's Ella Fitzgerald with the Johnny Long Orchestra and the Song Spinners in November 1944...
Here's Dinah Washington with Lionel Hampton in November 1944...
And here's O'Day live at Carnegie Hall in 1985 (at 32:15)...
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