Harry Warren
Warren promoting songs on Tin Pan Alley, 1920
Warren promoting songs
on Tin Pan Alley, 1920
Background information
Birth nameSalvatore Antonio Guaragna
Born(1893-12-24)December 24, 1893
New York City, U.S.
DiedSeptember 22, 1981(1981-09-22) (aged 87)
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
GenresPopular music

Harry Warren (born Salvatore Antonio Guaragna; December 24, 1893 – September 22, 1981)[1] was an American composer and the first major American songwriter to write primarily for film. He was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Original Song eleven times and won three Oscars for composing "Lullaby of Broadway", "You'll Never Know" and "On the Atchison, Topeka and the Santa Fe". He wrote the music for the first blockbuster film musical, 42nd Street, choreographed by Busby Berkeley, with whom he would collaborate on many musical films.

Over a career spanning six decades, Warren wrote more than 800 songs. Other well known Warren hits included "I Only Have Eyes for You", "You Must Have Been a Beautiful Baby", "Jeepers Creepers", "The Gold Diggers' Song (We're in the Money)", "That's Amore", "There Will Never Be Another You", "The More I See You", "At Last" and "Chattanooga Choo Choo" (the last of which was the first gold record in history). Warren was one of America's most prolific film composers, and his songs have been featured in over 300 films.


Early life

Warren was born Salvatore Antonio Guaragna, one of eleven children of Italian immigrants Antonio (a bootmaker) and Rachel De Luca Guaragna, and grew up in Brooklyn, New York. His father changed the family name to Warren when Harry was a child. Although his parents could not afford music lessons, Warren had an early interest in music and taught himself to play his father's accordion. He also sang in the church choir and learned to play the drums. He began to play the drums professionally by age 14 and dropped out of high school at 16 to play with his godfather's band in a traveling carnival. Soon he taught himself to play the piano and by 1915, he was working at the Vitagraph Motion Picture Studios, where he did a variety of administrative jobs, such as props man, and also played mood music on the piano for the actors, acted in bit parts and eventually was an assistant director. He also played the piano in cafés and silent-movie houses. In 1918 he joined the U.S. Navy, where he began writing songs.[2][3]


Warren wrote over 800 songs between 1918 and 1981, publishing over 500 of them.[4][5] They were written mainly for 56 feature films or were used in other films that used Warren's newly written or existing songs.[2] His songs eventually appeared in over 300 films and 112 of Warner Bros. Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies cartoons.[6] 42 of his songs were on the top ten list of the radio program "Your Hit Parade", a measure of a song's popularity. 21 of these reached number 1 on Your Hit Parade.[5] "You'll Never Know" appeared 24 times.[7] His song "I Only Have Eyes for You" is listed in the list of the 25 most-performed songs of the 20th Century, as compiled by the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers (ASCAP).[8] Warren was the director of ASCAP from 1929 to 1932.[3]

He collaborated on some of his most famous songs with lyricists Al Dubin, Billy Rose, Mack Gordon, Leo Robin, Ira Gershwin and Johnny Mercer. In 1942 the Gordon-Warren song "Chattanooga Choo-Choo", as performed by the Glenn Miller Orchestra, became the first gold record in history. It was No.1 for nine weeks on the Billboard pop singles chart in 1941–1942, selling 1.2 million copies.[9] Among his biggest hits were "There Will Never Be Another You", "I Only Have Eyes for You", "Forty-Second Street", "The Gold Diggers' Song (We're in the Money)", "Lullaby of Broadway", "Serenade In Blue", "At Last", "Jeepers Creepers", "You're Getting to Be a Habit with Me", "That's Amore", and "Young and Healthy".[2]

Early hits and film years

Warren's first hit song was "Rose of the Rio Grande" (1922), with lyrics by Edgar Leslie.[10] He wrote a succession of hit songs in the 1920s, including "I Love My Baby (My Baby Loves Me)" and "Seminola" in 1925, "Where Do You Work-a John?" and "In My Gondola" in 1926 and "Nagasaki" in 1928. In 1930, he composed the music for the song "Cheerful Little Earful" for the Billy Rose Broadway revue, Sweet and Low, and composed the music, with lyrics by Mort Dixon and Joe Young, for the Ed Wynn Broadway revue The Laugh Parade in 1931.[2]

He started working for Warner Brothers in 1932, paired with Dubin to write the score for the first blockbuster film musical, 42nd Street, and continued to work there for six years, writing the scores for 32 more musicals.[6] He worked for 20th Century Fox starting in 1940, writing with Mack Gordon.[11] He moved to MGM starting in 1944, writing for musical films such as The Harvey Girls and The Barkleys of Broadway, many starring Fred Astaire. He later worked for Paramount, starting in the early 1950s, writing for the Bing Crosby and Jane Wyman movie Just for You and the Martin and Lewis movie The Caddy, the latter containing the hit song "That's Amore". He continued to write songs for several more Jerry Lewis comedies.[2]

Warren is particularly remembered for writing scores for the films of Busby Berkeley; they worked together on 18 films. His "uptempo songs are as memorable as Berkeley's choreography, as [sic] for the same reason: they capture, in a few snazzy notes, the vigorous frivolity of the Jazz Age."[12]

Warren won the Academy Award for Best Song three times, collaborating with three different lyricists: "Lullaby of Broadway" with Al Dubin in 1935, "You'll Never Know" with Mack Gordon in 1943, and "On the Atchison, Topeka and the Santa Fe" with Johnny Mercer in 1946. He was nominated for eleven Oscars.[2]

Last years

In 1955, Warren wrote "The Legend of Wyatt Earp", which was used in the ABC/Desilu Studios television series, The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp. He also wrote the opening theme, "Hey, Marty" (lyrics by Paddy Chayefsky), for the film Marty, which won the Academy Award for Best Picture in 1955.[13] The last musical score that Warren composed specifically for Broadway was Shangri-La, a disastrous 1956 adaptation of James Hilton's Lost Horizon, which ran for only 21 performances. In 1957, he received his last Academy Award nomination for the song "An Affair to Remember". He continued to write songs for movies throughout the 1960s and 1970s but never again achieved the fame that he had enjoyed earlier. His last movie score was for Manhattan Melody, in 1980, but the film was never produced.[3]

Warren composed a Mass, with Latin text, in 1962. This was performed a decade later at Loyola Marymount University, but it has yet to be recorded commercially.[14] He also wrote nearly three dozen short piano vignettes. The sheet music was first published by Warren's Four Jays Music Co.[15] A dozen of these were released on a 1975 album titled Harry Warren's Piano Vignettes, played by Hugh Delain.[16] Several pianists have recorded the vignettes, including Warren himself.[17]

Personal life

Warren married Josephine Wensler in 1917. They had a son, Harry Jr. (1919–1938), and a daughter, Joan (b. 1925). His wife died in 1993.

Warren died on September 22, 1981, in Los Angeles.[1] He is interred in the Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery in Los Angeles. The plaque bearing Warren's epitaph displays the first few notes of "You'll Never Know".[18]

Reputation and legacy

According to Wilfrid Sheed, quoted in Time magazine: "By silent consensus, the king of this army of unknown soldiers, the Hollywood incognitos, was Harry Warren, who had more songs on the Hit Parade than Berlin himself and who would win the contest hands down if enough people have heard of him."[12] William Zinsser noted: "The familiarity of Harry Warren's songs is matched by the anonymity of the man ... he is the invisible man, his career a prime example of the oblivion that cloaked so many writers who cranked out good songs for bad movies."[11] At least three episodes of the Lawrence Welk Show were devoted entirely to Warren's music: Season 18, Episode 5, October 7, 1972;[19] Season 25, Episode 10, November 24, 1979;[20] and Season 27, Episode 17, January 2, 1982[21] Susannah McCorkle's debut album was The Music of Harry Warren (1976).

In 1980, producer David Merrick and director Gower Champion adapted the 1933 film 42nd Street into a Broadway musical that won the Tony Award for Best Musical in 1981, ran for 3,486 performances and has had several major revivals.[22] The score incorporated songs by Warren and Dubin from various movie musicals, including 42nd Street, Dames, Go Into Your Dance, Gold Diggers of 1933, and Gold Diggers of 1935.[23]

A theatre in Gravesend, Brooklyn, New York, the Harry Warren Theatre, was named for Warren in 1982.[24][25]


Music by Warren, unless noted:

Academy Award nominations and winners


No. 1 hits

78 recording of "Chattanooga Choo Choo" by the Glenn Miller Orchestra with vocal solo by Tex Beneke

Other selected songs from films

"Dance of the Dollars" production number launched the song "We're in the Money" in Gold Diggers of 1933

American songbook songs

Main article: Great American Songbook

In his book American Popular Song, Alec Wilder notes that Warren "wasn't in the category as the best theater writers, but he certainly was among the foremost pop song writers." He discusses songs he likes: "Would You Like to Take a Walk?" (1930, with Mort Dixon and Billy Rose for Sweet & Low), "I Found a Million Dollar Baby (in a Five and Ten Cent Store)" (1931, with Dixon and Rose for Crazy Quilt), "You're Getting to Be a Habit with Me" (1932), "Summer Night" (1936), "There Will Never Be Another You" (1942), "Serenade in Blue" (1942), "At Last" (1942), "Jeepers Creepers" (1938), and "The More I See You" (1945).[34]

Other popular songs


  1. ^ a b Holden, Stephen (September 23, 1981). "Harry Warren, Songwriter, Is Dead". The New York Times. p. A1.
  2. ^ a b c d e f PBS biography entry for Harry Warren. Archived 2013-01-03 at the Wayback Machine Accessed February 2009
  3. ^ a b c Jenkins, David. Biography Archived 2012-04-24 at the Wayback Machine at HarryWarrenMusic.com, accessed April 3, 2009
  4. ^ List of Warren songs at HarryWarren.org Archived 2009-03-05 at the Wayback Machine
  5. ^ a b Jenkins, David. "Harry Warren – Hollywood's Unknown Composer" Archived 2006-04-26 at the Wayback Machine, HarryWarren.org
  6. ^ a b Walls, Robert. "Who is Harry Warren????" GuideToMusicals, accessed April 3, 2009
  7. ^ Forte, p. 265
  8. ^ Zinsser, pp. 137 and 251
  9. ^ "Chattanooga Choo Choo: The #1 Hits", allmusic.com, accessed March 31, 2009
  10. ^ Harry Warren Archived 2012-02-24 at the Wayback Machine at Composers and Lyricists Database (1988)
  11. ^ a b Zinsser, p. 137
  12. ^ a b Corliss, Richard."That Old Feeling: We Need Harry Warren", Time, October 5, 2001
  13. ^ Holloway, Ronald. "Marty", Variety, March 22, 1955
  14. ^ Feinstein, p. 243
  15. ^ Thomas, Tony (1975). The Hollywood Musical: The Saga of Songwriter Harry Warren. Citadel Press. p. 341. ISBN 0-8065-1066-8.
  16. ^ "Harry Warren's Piano Vignettes", Discogs.com, 1975, accessed December 6, 2014
  17. ^ "Harry Warren: Piano Vignettes", AllMusic, accessed December 6, 2014
  18. ^ Warren, Westwood Village Seeing-stars, accessed March 30, 2009
  19. ^ "Season 18: 1972–73", Welk Musical Family, accessed June 24, 2013
  20. ^ "Season 25: 1979–80", Welk Musical Family, accessed June 24, 2013
  21. ^ "Season 27: 1981–82", Welk Musical Family, accessed June 24, 2013
  22. ^ "Westchester Broadway Theater Presents 42nd Street with Galantich, Stanley and More", BroadwayWorld.com, September 8, 2009, accessed October 7, 2014
  23. ^ "42nd Street", Tonyawards.com, accessed May 27, 2014
  24. ^ "Harry Warren Biography", NJ Theater. Retrieved December 24, 2023
  25. ^ "Harry Warren Theatre", Time Out, July 12, 2010
  26. ^ a b c d e f g "Songs J to M" Archived January 21, 2013, at the Wayback Machine, HarryWarren.org, accessed February 25, 2012
  27. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l "Songs UtoZ" Archived January 21, 2013, at the Wayback Machine, HarryWarren.org, accessed February 26, 2012
  28. ^ a b c d e f g "Songs N to R" Archived March 7, 2015, at the Wayback Machine, HarryWarren.org, accessed February 26, 2012
  29. ^ a b c "Songs D to H" Archived February 24, 2013, at the Wayback Machine, HarryWarren.org, accessed February 25, 2012
  30. ^ a b c d e f g h i j "Songs A to C" Archived January 21, 2013, at the Wayback Machine, HarryWarren.org, accessed February 25, 2012
  31. ^ a b c d e f g h i "Songs I" Archived January 21, 2013, at the Wayback Machine, HarryWarren.org, accessed February 25, 2012
  32. ^ a b c d e f g h "Songs T" Archived January 21, 2013, at the Wayback Machine, HarryWarren.org, accessed February 26, 2012
  33. ^ a b c d e f "Songs S" Archived January 21, 2013, at the Wayback Machine, HarryWarren.org, accessed February 26, 2012
  34. ^ Wilder, pp. 395–404


Further reading