Pittsburghers Sing to Spring Pt. 3 — Maxine Sullivan spotlight

In my last post, I guided you through some springtime jazz made by Pittsburghers. Now I’m going to stop and park right in front of one of my favorite spring time songs: Maxine Sullivan’s version of “It Was a Lover and His Lass.”

Maxine Sullivan (1911-1987) was born in Homestead, PA and performed in the jazz clubs of Pittsburgh, but her career really took off when she left for New York. In 1937, she and bandleader Claude Thornhill (1909-1965) scored a hit with their version of the Scottish song “Loch Lomond.”

Then, in 1938, Thornhill and Sullivan created another wonderful jazz arrangement from Anglo-European sources, “It Was a Lover and His Lass.” The song appears in Shakespeare’s As You Like It, but was composed by Thomas Morley (and scholars debate whether the song was commissioned for the play or whether Shakespeare simply decided to use Morley’s song — see Ross W. Duffin’s Shakespeare’s Songbook for the story and the sheet music).

“Loch Lomond,” “Annie Laurie,” “It Was a Lover and His Lass,” and even Stephen Foster’s “I Dream of Jeanie with the Light Brown Hair” demonstrated that Sullivan’s graceful, sophisticated singing was a fine fit with old-fashioned songs. With its refrain of

in spring time, in spring time, the only pretty ring time, when birds do sing, hey ding a ding a ding, hey ding a ding a ding, sweet lovers love the spring

it’s a perfect ditty for the season. And a perfect introduction to an underrated Pittsburgh jazz musician.

— Tim

P.S. While reading the CD liner notes, you can use this website to see that another Pittsburgher, saxophonist Babe Russin (1911-1984), played in Sullivan and Thornhill’s group when they recorded “It Was a Lover and His Lass.”

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