|"Begin the Beguine"|
|Single by Artie Shaw and His Orchestra (original issues as "Art" Shaw)|
|"Indian Love Call"|
|Recorded||July 24, 1938, New York City|
|Cole Porter; arranged by Artie Shaw and Jerry Gray|
"Begin the Beguine" is a popular song written by Cole Porter. Porter composed the song between Kalabahi, Indonesia, and Fiji during a 1935 Pacific cruise aboard Cunard's ocean liner Franconia. In October 1935, it was introduced by June Knight in the Broadway musical Jubilee, produced at the Imperial Theatre in New York City.
Musicologist and composer Alec Wilder described it in his book American Popular Song: The Great Innovators 1900-1950 as "a maverick, an unprecedented experiment and one which, to this day, after hearing it hundreds of times, I cannot sing or whistle or play from start to finish without the printed music ... about the sixtieth measure I find myself muttering another title, End the Beguine."
At first, the song gained little popularity, perhaps because of its length and unconventional form. Josephine Baker danced to it in her return to America in the Ziegfeld Follies of 1936, but neither she nor the song were successful. Two years later, however, bandleader Artie Shaw recorded an arrangement of the song, an extended swing orchestra version, in collaboration with his arranger and orchestrator, Jerry Gray.
After signing a new recording contract with RCA Victor Shaw chose "Begin the Beguine" to be the first of six tunes he would record with his new 14 piece band at this, his first recording session with RCA. The session was held at RCA's "Studio 2" on East 24th Street in New York on July 24, 1938. Until then, Shaw's band had been having a tough time finding an identity and maintaining its existence without having had any popular hits of significance; his previous recording contract with Brunswick had lapsed at the end of 1937 without being renewed.
RCA's pessimism with the whole idea of recording the long tune "that nobody could remember from beginning to end anyway" resulted in it being released on the "B" side of the record "Indian Love Call", issued by Bluebird Records as catalog number B-7746 B. Shaw's persistence paid off, though, when "Begin the Beguine" became a best-selling record in 1938, peaking at no. 3, skyrocketing Shaw and his band to fame and popularity. The recording became one of the most famous and popular of the entire Swing Era. Subsequent re-releases by RCA Victor (catalog number 20-1551) and other releases on LPs, tapes and CDs have kept the recording readily available continuously ever since its initial release.
After Shaw introduced the song to dance halls, MGM brought out the musical film Broadway Melody of 1940, in which Fred Astaire and Eleanor Powell danced to "Begin the Beguine". In short order, all the major big bands recorded it, including Harry James, Benny Goodman, Tommy Dorsey and Glenn Miller, often as an instrumental, as in the film. As a vocal song, it also became a pop standard, beginning with Porter and Tony Martin; new interpretations are often still measured against renditions by Frank Sinatra and Ella Fitzgerald, and Elvis Presley did an adaptation of his own. "Begin the Beguine" became such a classic during World War II that Max Beckmann adopted the title for a painting in 1946 (which the University of Michigan Museum of Art purchased in 1948).
|You may hear Xavier Cugat and his Waldorf-Astoria Orchestra performing Begin the Beguine in 1951 Here on archive.org|