“Without a Song”

November 29, 2015 • 8:15 am

A while back I put up a video of Perry Como singing one of my favorite underappreciated songs from the classic American songbook, “Without a Song,” At that time I bemoaned the fact that my favorite version, by the great (and also underappreciated) Billy Eckstine (1914-1993), wasn’t available. But I found it the other day, and submit it for your approval.

Like Nat King Cole and Johnny Hartman, Eckstine was one of the first black men to cross over into mainstream popularity as a vocalist. As Lionel Hampton said of him, “He was one of the greatest singers of all time…. We were proud of him because he was the first Black popular singer singing popular songs in our race. We, the whole music profession, were so happy to see him achieve what he was doing. He was one of the greatest singers of that era … He was our singer.” Agreed! Eckstein’s voice, richly mellifluous, is immediately recognizable.

“Without a Song” was written in 1929 by Vincent Youmans, with lyrics by Billy Rose and Edward Eliscu. As I noted in my previous post, the original lyrics said, “A darkey’s born, but he ain’t no good no how–without a song.” That racist version was changed by all later singers, including Eckstine, to “A man is born. . . “.

I think that this version, put up so recently that it has only three views on YouTube, was made with Eckstine’s own band. It’s performed at a tempo faster than every other version I’ve heard, but I like it this way:

18 thoughts on ““Without a Song”

  1. Bily Eckstine had a great voice no doubt, but another Singers Singer for me also underated was the great Brook Benton. This shows his range off wonderfully.

        1. The first time I heard Lanza’s version, I was bloody absolutely slain. I had never heard the song before. (Serendipity is wonderful.) Most worthy of your trouble to call it up online. (From the Broadway show, “Great Day,” IIRC, in 1927.)

          Elvis was once asked to whom he liked to listen. Whatever else he said, he said, “Anything by Mario Lanza.” When Elvis was chosen by the Jaycees (whatever one may think of such organizations) as one of the “Outstanding Young Men” of 1971, at the awards banquet he quoted the lyrics to this song as part of his acceptance remarks. He seemed to be genuinely, sincerely moved. (Sorry if I got too maudlin on you. 😉 )

    1. Thanks! That’s a beautiful version of one of my all-time favourite songs. I remember being blown away by the Shirelles’ version as a teenager, and later by Carole King’s own interprtation on Tapestry. I think the lyrics are brilliant (it should really be sung by a woman, about angst over sleeping with her boyfriend for the first time), and was surprised to learn that they were written by Gerry Goffin, not Carole King as I had assumed.

  2. Great phrasing, and nearly a lost art. As a writer approvingly said about Sinatra (more or less according to my memory) “his vocals and the beat only occasionally met” while sounding completely unforced and natural, and appropriate to the lyrics.

  3. I see Francis Albert Blue-eyes’ picture in the video screen with Billy E. He’s got a centenary coming up in a couple weeks. You planning to post something to commemorate it, Perfesser?

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *