The Perfect, Imperfect, Lyrics of "My Funny Valentine"
Born in New York City to German-Jewish immigrants, Lorenz Hart penned some of Broadway’s most haunting, sophisticated lyrics. At age 24, he began collaborating with composer Richard Rodgers who was 17 at the time.
Their 24-year partnership produced over 500 songs, many of which are an indispensable part of the Great American Songbook, including “The Lady is a Tramp,” “Johnny One Note,” “This Can’t Be Love,” “Isn’t it Romantic,” “With a Song in My Heart,” “I Didn’t Know What Time it Was," and "Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered."
Rodgers and Hart’s creative output is even more astonishing when we consider that Hart, with his emotional fragility and problems with addiction, would sometimes disappear for weeks at a time.
Despite these difficulties, Rodgers stuck with Hart until his untimely death. Rodgers and Hart both knew that those we cherish most can sometimes be far from perfect. One of their most beloved songs, “My Funny Valentine,” says it best.
WRTI’s Debra Lew Harder and Bob Craig explore how the unlikely lyrics of "My Funny Valentine" captured audiences, and touched the world of jazz and beyond...
[MUSIC: Mary Martin, “My Funny Valentine,” Babes in Arms 1951 Studio Cast Recording]
Debra Lew Harder: In his 1937 break-out musical Babes in Arms with composer Richard Rodgers, lyricist Lorenz Hart wrote a profusion of hit songs, including "My Funny Valentine," about a character in the show called...
Bob Craig: Valentine, Val La Mar.
DLH: The poignant sophistication of Hart's lyrics inspired trumpeter Chet Baker to lay down his horn one day in 1954 and sing...
[MUSIC: Chet Baker, vocals, “My Funny Valentine”]
BC: Nobody ever sang that way before, it was very gentle, very seductive, and it became a standard...and had so much influence on a lot of jazz singers to follow...
DLH: Including Frank Sinatra.
BC: Shortly after that, Miles Davis recorded a version of"My Funny Valentine," and all of a sudden it again exploded.
[MUSIC: Miles Davis, trumpet, “My Funny Valentine”]
DLH: Why did Hart’s lyrics capture people? It seems an unlikely love song.
[MUSIC: Frank Sinatra, “My Funny Valentine”}
“Is your figure less than Greek,
“Is your mouth a little weak…”
BC: But, maybe that's part of the charm of it all.
DLH: Hart led a troubled life, and understood that most valentines are far from perfect. But who is perfect? In his perceptive words…”
[MUSIC: Frank Sinatra, "My Funny Valentine"]
“Don't change a hair for me,
Not if you care for me…”
DLH: “Stay, little Valentine, stay. Each day is Valentine's Day..."