Signature Song

By Bill Berkson b. 1939 Bill Berkson
Bunny Berigan first recorded “I Can’t Get Started”
with a small group that included Joe Bushkin, Cozy Cole
and Artie Shaw in 1936.
Earlier that same year, the song,
written by Ira Gershwin and Vernon Duke,
and rendered as a duet patter number by Bob Hope and Eve
Arden, made its debut on Broadway in The Ziegfeld Follies
By 1937, when Berigan re-recorded it in a big-band setting,
“I Can’t” had become his signature song, 
even though, within a few months, Billie Holiday would record
her astonishing version backed
by Lester Young and the rest of the Basie Orchestra.
 
Lovers for a time, Lee Wiley and Berigan began appearing
together on Wiley’s fifteen-minute CBS radio spot,
Saturday Night Swing Club, in 1936.
Berigan died from alcoholism-related causes on June 2, 1942.
Although “I Can’t Get Started” is perfectly suited to Wiley’s
deep phrasing and succinct vibrato, she recorded the ballad only
once, informally, in 1945, during a Town Hall performance date.
The Spanish Civil War started in 1936 and ended in 1939
with Generalissimo Francisco Franco’s forces entering Madrid.
“I’ve settled revolutions in Spain” goes Gershwin’s lyric, just as odd.

Bill Berkson, “Signature Song” from Portrait and Dream: New and Selected Poems. Copyright © 2009 by Bill Berkson. Reprinted by permission of Coffee House Press.

Source: Portrait and Dream: New and Selected Poems (Coffee House Press, 2009)

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Poet Bill Berkson b. 1939

POET’S REGION U.S., Western

SCHOOL / PERIOD New York School (2nd Generation)

Subjects Arts & Sciences, Music, Social Commentaries, History & Politics, Popular Culture

Poetic Terms Free Verse

 Bill  Berkson

Biography

Born in New York in 1939, Bill Berkson is a poet, critic, teacher and sometime curator, who has been active in the art and literary worlds since his early twenties. He is professor emeritus at the San Francisco Art Institute, where, between 1984 and 2008, he taught art history, art writing and poetry; Berkson also served as interim dean in 1992 and directed the Letters and Science and public lectures programs. He studied at . . .

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SUBJECT Arts & Sciences, Music, Social Commentaries, History & Politics, Popular Culture

POET’S REGION U.S., Western

SCHOOL / PERIOD New York School (2nd Generation)

Poetic Terms Free Verse

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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