Who was Frank Loesser, and what did he contribute to the arts in America?

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Tamara K. H. eNotes educator| Certified Educator

While lyricist and composer Frank Loesser's name may not come up in a list of the great American songwriters like George Gershwin, Irving Berlin, and Richard Rodgers, Loesser is considered by far "their artistic equal" (Holden, "Overlooked Songwriter Finally Gets His Due"). He is most noted for his ability to rhyme "everyday speech," even the "most arcane slang" ("Overlooked Songwriter"). He was born in 1910 to very intellectual, cultured, and even musical parents and lived until 1969. He grew up in Manhattan where his father Henry Loesser was a full-time piano teacher who, oddly enough, actually never taught his son Frank to play the piano. Nevertheless, by the age of 14, it was acknowledged that Frank Loesser could play by ear, "any tune he's heard," as is father phrased it ("Frank Loesser"). Though Frank Loesser learned a great deal from his father about European composers, Frank objected to the posh European composers and started rebelling at a young age by writing his own music and playing the harmonica. He was expelled from both high school and city college and had to take up work at a young age to provide for his family after his father's sudden death. After working various jobs, including some editing jobs, he made the decision that he ultimately wanted to write in Tin Pan Alley, New York City's collection of music publishers and songwriters.

Though he signed contracts with many music publishers, his career started out very slowly, not making any lasting and influential hits until he signed on with Paramount Pictures in Hollywood. Through Paramount Pictures, he worked with many famous composers and wrote the lyrics to a couple of songs still widely known today, like "Heart and Soul" and "I Hear Music." Irving Berlin even became a huge proclaimed fan of his song "I Don't Want to Walk Without You" written for the film Sweater Girl, saying it was "the greatest song that he wish he wrote" ("Frank Loesser"). He also had a few successes while in the military during World War II that eventually led him to start writing both his music and lyrics. In 1949, his song "Baby, It's Cold Outside," written for the film Neptune's Daughter, landed him the Academy Award for Best Original Song, a song still played every year at Christmas time. Also in the 1940s, he started a successful Broadway career and wrote music and lyrics for Where's Charley? that ran for 792 performances. In 1950, he won two Tony Awards for his music and lyrics composed for the famous play Guys and Dolls, a play still widely performed. Hence, while not frequently mentioned, Loesser significantly influenced American arts through his popular music and lyrics. 

rachellopez | Student

Frank Loesser was born on June 29th, 1910, in New York City. His father was a teacher of Classical piano and his brother was a concert pianist, musicologist, and music critic. He was highly influenced by music during his childhood and wrote his first song at the age of six. He didn't want to study classical music, however. Loesser was interested in pop music, which didn't please his father, so he taught himself.

He began singing and playing piano in nightclubs by the 1930's and composed music for Paramount Pictures. He continued writing lyrics and composing music, earning him two Tony Awards for his music and lyrics in the famous play Guys and Dolls (1950).