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Life Arts

An All Time Musical Standard's Incredible Origin

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Margaret Whiting was the older daughter of the famed songwriter, Richard Whiting.   She became famous in her own right and was the featured vocalist on Capitol Records' smash hit, Moonlight in Vermont.   As a celebrity, she led an extremely active social life, which included four marriages.   One of her four husbands was the pianist Lou Busch, who was known professionally as Joe "Fingers" Carr. (Margaret was always quick to acknowledge her fondness for piano players!) It was on a date with a famous Cafe Society pianist, Walter Gross,* that   a series of unusual happenings occurred which ultimately produced an incredibly beautiful song!

Margaret and Walter had been double dating with another couple and after a night of dining and drinking were calling it a day.   As they traversed the George Washington Bridge (with Walter at the wheel) Margaret remarked how she had always loved piano players, and mentioned another pianist, Skitch Henderson (who was to become the bandleader on Steve Allen's TV show.)

The mere mention of the name, "Skitch Henderson" had an immediate and startling effect on Walter Gross's behavior!   He flew into a rage and began to drive in a way which thoroughly frightened the car's other three occupants. At last, they managed to calm him down and things returned to nearly normal.                              

Later, having dropped off the other couple, Gross and Margaret arrived at her place. Congeniality seemed to have returned, so he asked her if he might come in for a drink" and she acquiesced.

As Margaret was pouring a drink for him, Walter apologized for the way he had acted. She felt relieved and replied that she just couldn't understand how he could have gotten so upset when he merely heard the name" "Skitch Henderson""  

She had no sooner gotten the name out of her mouth, when Gross leapt to his feet and began another tirade, and appeared to be on the verge of becoming violent! Margaret was finally able to pacify the enraged man enough to ease him out through the front door.

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Getting to sleep was not easy for her, and after she had slept for a few hours she was startled to hear her doorbell ringing.   She opened the door, and there stood a tearful Walter Gross, who murmured that   ""he didn't want to come in" he simply had something he wanted her to have."    He thereupon thrust a sheet of paper into her hands and left.

It was a sheet of music paper, and written upon it was an original melody that he apparently had just finished composing!

Later, when Margaret was able to hear the melody played by her personal pianist, she was astonished by its beauty!   She decided that she had to get this marvelous melody into the hands of   "the right lyricist."   (That person turned out to be Jack Lawrence, a friend, and highly successful writer of hit songs.)

When Lawrence returned the melody with its completed lyrics some weeks later, it turned out to be a song destined to be an all-time great standard!

The song?   TENDERLY   !!

* When I found about this tale, I was doubly amazed!   Walter Gross had always been one of my favorite pianists and as a kid, I listened on Sunday afternoons to the radio program, Piano Playhouse - presided over by Milton Cross.   Gross shared the ticket with other great pianists such as Cy Walter and Stan Freeman.   

And then, in 1998, I had the thrill of visiting the great Margaret at her NYC residence and actually playing on her dad's Steinway, while gazing at the sheet music of his hit songs on her living room wall!   She was a gracious, very funny and genuinely beautiful person!


I have spent a long and interesting life involved in music, as a performer (piano,) educator (at every level from elementary to graduate school,) solo pianist, bandleader, composer/songwriter; entertainer, storyteller and humorist. In my final (more...)

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In the case of this great musical standard, that i... by Phil Klein on Saturday, Feb 26, 2011 at 2:49:40 PM
When confronted with all the violent news of late,... by Betsy Russ on Sunday, Feb 27, 2011 at 7:28:03 AM