Nat King Cole had perhaps the sweetest and smoothest voice of all the 20th century American male singers. His voice easily evokes feelings of warm, genuine love. I’d vote him to the top of that class of crooner. After all, I’ve admitted before that I am a hopeless, sentimental romantic.
Some people attribute his tone and resonance to a rugged life that spared neither alcohol nor heavy smoking (he died of lung cancer, in 1965, shortly before reaching age 46). That is simply not true. Cole was truly gifted and worked hard at his craft. For evidence I submit the sweet and professional voice of his daughter, Natalie Cole.
I have a Pandora station that I like to play at low key get-togethers and quiet evenings that include, among other genres, some harmonica-based blues, ‘70s soft rock, ballads, bossa nova, and love songs. Cole’s voice comes up frequently. I’m never disappointed.
The year 1911 stood at the twilight of the Edwardian Era, ‘twixt the death of King Edward and the outbreak of The Great War. That year an amateur musician named Charles Dawes composed a little instrumental tune for violin and piano that he called, simply, “Melody in A Major.” Dawes was a self-taught pianist and flautist who composed merely as a hobby. The tune become somewhat popular in his lifetime.
That Dawes should have success in far-flung fields would not come as a surprise to anyone who knew him. Born in Ohio in 1865 just after the close of the Civil War, he was the son of a hero and general of that nationally tragic and transforming war. After college and then law school Dawes went off to Nebraska – a frontier land of opportunity. There, in Lincoln, he established himself as a successful lawyer and made friendships with both John “Black Jack” Pershing (who would go on to command all US forces in WW1) and Williams Jennings Bryan (who would go on to promote Free Silver – i.e. liberal monetary policy— and thrice secure the Democratic Party nomination for president of the United States, eventually serving as both Secretary of State under Woodrow Wilson, and, later, as prosecuting attorney in the famous “Scopes Monkey Trial”).
Dawes also got interested in business. An opportunist, he moved to Evanston, Illinois (just north of Chicago) during the 1893 Panic, and began acquiring interest in various companies at bargain prices, beginning with a slew of gas companies. Success gained him attention, and in 1896 he managed the Illinois presidential campaign of William McKinley (against his Nebraska friend, Bryan). From McKinley’s win, he was rewarded by being named Treasury Department’s Officer of the Currency. In this roll he was able to recover many millions of dollars that banks had lost during the ’93 Panic.
Dawes resigned from the administration in 1901 to set up a run for Senator. He believed the timing was right, since he had McKinley’s support (who had been recently re-elected and was hugely popular). But McKinley was assassinated at the World’s Fair in Buffalo in September of that year. The new president, Theodore Roosevelt, would not be supporting Dawes (this was before direct election of Senators). Dawes fell in his attempt to become Illinois’ 16th Senator to fellow Republican Albert Hopkins.
He returned to business, expanding into banking and investment management, forming the Central Trust Company of Illinois.
When Dawes wrote “Melody in A Major” in 1911, he was already a successful lawyer, businessman, banker and government official.
June 1, 2019 – It’s late evening and my wife and I are relaxing in the Colorado mountains. She’s doing a little work on her computer. I’m reading Le Ly Hayslip’s autobiographical book, When Heaven and Earth Changed Places (subtitled: A Viet Nam Woman’s Journey from War to Peace).
We’re listening to the aforementioned Pandora station, when a beautiful and well-arranged father-daughter duet comes on: When I Fall in Love (it will be forever), sung by Nat and Natalie Cole. That duet, which won a Grammy in 1997, was made possible by the magic of technology, since Nat had passed away some 30 years earlier.
I wondered if it’s true. Does “falling in love” last forever? It makes a nice tune, but ….
I put the book down. Le Ly had mostly terrible luck with men. And more than just a few. Can someone be simultaneously in love with more than one person? Like Ilsa Lund (Ingrid Berman) in Casablanca? Or Dr Zhivago (Omar Shariff) in the eponymous movie? What about falling in love multiple times? Does that count? What does falling in love even mean? It’s June 1, the birthday of the young lady I fell for in 1978. I still remember so many details, even her birthday, and I still have many fond memories and a small place for her in my heart. Does that count? Probably not. No matter how far, or hard, you fall, it’s not love if it can’t be returned.
My one forever love is Audrey.
Why do I even ponder these things? Is it because I’m a hopelessly sentimental romantic?
A half dozen songs later and Nat comes on again, this time with “It’s All in the Game” – with the great lyrics “Many a tear has to fall, but it’s all in the game”— as in the “game” of falling in love. No one said it would be easy.
Cole’s smooth voice and recording is one of many covers – and perhaps the best – of a 1958 hit song by Tommy Edwards; others had recorded it as well, but the Edwards version made it to #1 on the charts in both the United States and England.
The song (often simply called “Game”) had actually been lying around since 1951. That’s the year that songwriter Carl Sigman put lyrics to a decades old melody with no words. It was a tune that had been lying around since 1911; a tune called “Melody in A Major.”
Established as a successful banker and businessman with a can-do attitude, Dawes was made chief of Procurement and Supply Management for “Black Jack” Pershing’s American Expeditionary Force during the Great War. He achieved the rank of Brigadier General by war’s end.
After the war, he returned his attention temporarily to private business, only to be appointed to be the first ever Director of the Budget, in 1921 by President Harding. This is now called the Office of Budget Management. Dawes helped grow the bureau into one of the most important serving under the president: producing the president’s budget, tracking expenses against the budget, and monitoring and tracking the efficiency of the many agencies that serve every president’s administration.
By 1923 Germany was in great economic distress: hyperinflation, vastly diminished industrial capability, unable to pay reparations. Dawes was assigned to a commission to figure out what to do for Germany. Excessive war reparations and allied occupation of industrial districts had ruined the economy. The situation led to social and political – as well as economic – instability; it inspired Hitler to attempt the Beer Hall Putsch.
The commission’s plan, which came to be known as the Dawes Plan, called for complete re-organization of the German national bank (Reichsbank) and a reset on their currency, to be anchored by a loan from the United States. Re-industrialization was begun as was acceleration of France’s de-occupation of the Ruhr district. Concessions from the French also allowed for slower, more gradual, and less painful reparations.
As a result of the Plan’s success, Charles Dawes was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1925.
Dawes’ star was shining. At the Republican convention in June, 1924 he was chosen to be the running mate to Calvin Coolidge in that fall’s election. He then served as Vice President of the United States (and president of the Senate) for the next four years.
Dawes also served in the Hoover administration that followed, first as ambassador to England and, later, as head of the newly formed Reconstruction Finance Corporation to help fight the depression.
After leaving the Hoover administration he served on many industrial and bank boards and continued running his own banking businesses from his home in Evanston, until his death, in 1951.
Not coincidentally, Sigman was inspired by Dawes’ lifetime of accomplishment and wrote the lyrics to complete Dawes’ “Melody in A Major” shortly after he learned of Dawes’ passing.
Charles Dawes had a remarkable life. And if you remember him for one thing, well, here’s something that might help you in a trivia contest: Dawes is the only person in history to have co-written a song that made it to #1 on the charts, served as Vice-President of the United States, and been awarded a Nobel Peace Prize.
This sentimental romantic wishes you all a lifetime of fulfillment and fully requited love.
Joe Girard © 2019
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