The following is a guest post by retired cataloger Sharon McKinley.
Perhaps you saw SNOW showers earlier this month, but there’s no doubt that April can be a rainy time of year. Trust a songwriter to take advantage of the old saw, “April showers bring May flowers.”
In 1921, Tin Pan Alley greats Louis Silvers and Buddy De Sylva penned the music and lyrics to the enduring hit “April Showers,” introduced by Al Jolson in the Broadway show Bombo. They probably didn’t realize (or care!) that the saying goes back at least as far a 16th-century poem by Thomas Tusser: “Sweet April showers/Do spring May flowers.”
No, they were much more interested in creating a catchy rhyme and a singable tune. The April showers theme was popular in the 1870s and 1880s, as heard in an 1875 song by Jules Lafort. In a simple refrain, the song incorporates arpeggios in the accompaniment, with but four repeated words: “April showers bring May flowers.” Things were a bit more sophisticated by 1921!
Composer Aubrey DeVere had delightful cover art for this little piano piece, “An April shower.” The music is a flurry of 32nd notes that evoke the pitter-patter of raindrops.
Mrs. R.W. Mayrant offered an idyllic pastoral scene on the cover of her “April showers schottische.” Once again, the music itself requires fast runs and lots of tinkly high notes to create the desired special effects.
Fast forward a few decades, and those sentimental songs and bravura piano pieces had given way to jazzy tunes and clever accompaniments. And yet, Silvers and De Sylva reverted to a simple tune to convey a simple sentiment. The harmonies are a little more modern, but in the end, it’s just a lovely little song with a hummable refrain, which we’re still singing 95 years later!
Here is tenor Charles Harrison, performing the song in 1922. Feel free to sing along!