Burton Lane

Whenever I think of the notion of six degrees of separation, I always think of George Gershwin! The great American composer passed away at the age of 38 back in 1937 (thirty years before I was born) and yet because of my interview with songwriter Burton Lane, I am only one degree away from Mr. Gershwin! What makes this fact extra special for me is that connecting with Burton (he asked me not to call him Mr. Lane) was a real pleasure in and of itself.

Burton was a teenager when, as a student of classical piano, he had the opportunity to meet Mr. Gershwin who was just 14 years older. The two spoke of writing music and even played piano together. At the time the two young men met, George had already written “Rhapsody In Blue” and would go on to pen other American classics such as “Fascinating Rhythm,” “Embraceable You” (with lyrics by his brother Ira) as well as the opera Porgy and Bess. Burton went on to write several hit Broadway musicals of his own including Finian’s Rainbow and On A Clear Day You Can See Forever.

In 1989 when I got to interview Burton, he had just turned 77 and was as excited as ever about a new production of Finian’s Rainbow, which was in the works. He spoke so eloquently about his passion for music and the joy his career brought him. Along with writing for Broadway, Burton had hits with songs such as “Old Devil Moon” and “How About You,” which was introduced by a young singer Burton was often credited for discovering, Judy Garland.

That great songwriter who I was lucky to have known passed away at the age of 84 back in 1997. In 2017 my early audio interview with him was digitized and included within the NAMM Oral History collection to sit among all the other interviews I have been blessed to capture in my career. Click here to experience this interview with Burton Lane. 

While Burton did write lyrics, it has always been his melodies that grabbed me. When I told him so he said, “That is a funny thing Dan, because that is exactly how I feel about George’s melodies!”


Dan Del Fiorentino
Music Historian