D. Leeson - How did you become interested in the music business? Did you come from a musical family?
Tom Glazer - No, it's kind of a musical mystery. My Dad died during the flu epidemic in 1918 when I was four years old. He left a lot of classical recordings behind that I began listening to at an early age, so he must have been a music lover. Music was around in my family in two ways. My mother would occasionally sing to me, but not often because after my father died, it kind of ruined her life. Her grief never really ended, although she lived a number of years after his death. The songs she sang, were nice, her voice was pleasant, but I was mostly stimulated by the classical music my father had left behind. I had an ear for music, I suppose, so that's what began my interest in music. I might add that later in the public schools of Philadelphia where I was born, music was a very strong pervasive element, which also struck me with great force.
D. Leeson - So you were led in that direction from early childhood. Is that when you decided that you would become a musician?
Tom Glazer - Well, no - I didn't decide anything at that early age. It wasn't that I had a fix on music. As I grew up, I was interested, deeply interested, in other areas, too, especially literature. It became a major love of mine. Later on, it became a difficult choice for me as to whether to major in music or literature. That conflict kept going to and from one to the other for a long time. It wasn't until my thirties, early thirties, that I began a profession in music.
D. Leeson - So you had a great love for the language arts, in general.
Tom Glazer - That's right. Not only that, but I actually indulged myself about five years ago when I published, privately, a collection of my serious poetry I had written over the years. I only published 50 copies, which I gave to friends, in a special deluxe edition. It was ridiculously expensive but I'm glad that I did it. They say poets write mostly for themselves; if anyone else likes it, well and good, if not, it doesn't matter; certainly, not to me. When I became more involved in music, I had to give up some of my writing in the literary sense. However, on occasion, I would write something for my own pleasure or I would write notes and introductory remarks in the songbooks I put together. I have put together about seven or eight songbooks.
D. Leeson - I noticed that your musical efforts have gone far beyond just ballad singing.
Tom Glazer - That's always been true of many singers, in fact, that's true today. Most popular singers, or even classical singers, act in movies or the theater whenever they can if they are talented enough. Burl Ives did it, Frank Sinatra and Elvis Presley and others have. Just singing songs is sometimes not enough because there are only so many concerts that you can do. Besides, one medium helps to promote another.
D. Leeson - In the 1940's, you based one of your songs, "Because All Men Are Brothers", on the Passion Chorale by J. S. Bach. What inspired you to do that?
Tom Glazer - For hundreds of years people have talked about artists having "inspiration", but often, and this is true of the great composers as well, some persons would go to them and say, write us a symphony or write us a song, on commission. The artists would on schedule, come up with a masterpiece without waiting to have their muse "inspire" them. I'm not saying that "Because All Men Are Brothers" is a masterpiece, but I was asked by a group to write a song if I could on the theme of brotherhood. This was, of course, before women's liberation, you see, when brotherhood meant men and women both, so I wrote the song. Since I had always been very fond of the Passion Chorale, I wrote words to that great piece. When I listen to music today, it is about 99 percent classical. I rarely even listen to folk music, the music of my own specialty, because folk music is to me more limited than classical music, as great and important as folk music can be. So I wrote the Brotherhood song for no money out of my deep feelings about humanity, and because I was flattered that whatever talents I had, had been recognized.
Then, to my total surprise, some twenty years later, the folk group, "The Weavers", recorded the song and sang it at a Carnegie Hall, N.Y. concert. After that, the famous folk singing group, "Peter, Paul and Mary" recorded it. This time, the song became very well known. As the writer and publisher, I got requests from a large number of organizations to use the song in their publications. Most of these organizations were religious or Protestant denominations asking to use the song in their publications, hymnals, etc. To me, this was a great pleasure. I mean, I never expected this to happen. I had not counted on it. What pleased me was, since I am an ecumenical type, I loved the idea that Catholics, Presbyterians, Lutherans, Baptists, Methodists, you name it, all went for my song. You know, the funny thing about the melody of the Passion Chorale is that Bach didn't write it himself. It was written by a contemporary of Bach's, one Hans Leo Hassler, and in those days of loose copyrights or none at all, composers often used other composers' music gratis. Bach has three of four different arrangements of that great melody in his works.
D. Leeson - You've studied widely in many areas of music including the classics. What instruments did you learn to play in the course of your studies and how did your ability in playing effect your song writing? Did you follow a particular process in song writing?
Tom Glazer - No, I didn't. Without instruments, melodies come into one's head without any conscious reason. Many experts think it best not to use instruments to come up with melodies. They feel the melody ought to start in one's head. Others might get inspired, if that's the word, by noodling around on some instrument. I've noodled around on the guitar, the piano, but mostly in my own poor brain. With me, at least, the melody seems to come from within.
D. Leeson - So would it be safe to say that you walk around with a melody in your head most of the time?
Tom Glazer - Well, no. What happens is that, when one is disposed in that direction, if one has the motivation and the talent, the brain, that fascinating organ, kicks in somehow. With some people, the unconscious mind, the part that one is not even aware of, causes a melody to well up. For example, just this morning, out of a large memory for songs, and having been obsessed by them since childhood, suddenly, at the age of 84, I thought of a song I hadn't thought of in over 50 years, called, "Ooh, That Kiss". It came into my head unbidden. I didn't sit down and say, I want to remember, "Ooh, That Kiss", it just occurred. Who knows how or why? Although, some psychoanalysts via their treatment methods believe that in some cases the source of such random thoughts can be traced. When I am seriously composing, sometimes a phrase will come into my head, a catch phrase. When I was writing pop songs for a few years, as a career, separate from my folksinging career, I used to write songs for pop singers. Did you know that I wrote songs, a few hits, for singers like Perry Como, Frank Sinatra, The Kingston Trio, Peter, Paul and Mary and some country singers in Nashville? These types of songs I did not sing myself, at least not professionally.
One song that I wrote back then, "The Musicians" was recorded as a quartet by Dinah Shore, Phil Harris, Tony Martin and Betty Hutton. It was not a hit; it came and went. However, something in the song appealed and it was later picked up and sung by four stars on the Dick Van Dyke TV series. Dick, Mary Tyler Moore, Morey Amsterdam and Rose Marie. Much later, the Barney show picked it up for two of their videos. I have never sung the song. I would need three more singers in order to do so. When that happens, it's great fun and rewarding in every way for a song writer.
Another example in this vein is when General Douglas MacArthur returned from Korea, he addressed both Houses of Congress. He concluded his address with an old quote from the army, "Old Soldiers Never Die, They just Fade Away." I was inspired to take that phrase and write a song around it. It was my first pop hit. It was sung by Vaughn Monroe. So, my musical career has been rather schizophrenic. It reminds me of the gifted composer, originally Russian, whose real name was Vladimir Dukelsky under which name he wrote serious classical music. He took to writing pop songs also and used the name Vernon Duke for that type of composition.
D. Leeson - What other hit songs did you write?
Tom Glazer - In the fifties, I wrote the lyrics to an old melody called, "Melody of Love", which was number one for a while. It was originally a piano piece by a composer who died in 1919. The tune was picked by a band leader who played only waltzes named Wayne King. He turned the tune into a waltz tempo and used it as a closing theme song. It later turned into a major hit.
D. Leeson - I read where your first public performance was in 1929. Is that correct?
Tom Glazer - I thought not, 1929, but on second thought, maybe it was, unless I count amateur school performances. In 1929, or thereabouts, I appeared on radio in Philadelphia a few times on a show sponsored by a local restaurant chain. My "pay" was a meal ticket to one of the sponsor's cafeterias, which amounted to a generous one dollar and twenty-five cents. A much more formal debut I had in 1943 at the famous New York City Town Hall concert hall as a folksinger. This experience was intensely traumatic because New York, just prior to the concert date, had the worst blizzard in its history. The date was January 8th, a day that for me will live in blizzard infamy. I admit I collapsed beforehand in tears but I recovered. I had to! I performed to a handful of attendees who had braved the sub-freezing weather with tons of ice and snow festooning the streets. To my amazement, a critic actually showed up from the New York Times and gave me a very favorable review. I was off and running, stumbling, rather, as a folksinger.
D. Leeson - What other kinds of jobs have you had?
Tom Glazer - I came from a poor family. After my father died, aged 37, we were very strained financially and there was no one to help us out. I worked at whatever I could. I had to quit high school at the age of 17. The Great Depression of that period was going on and having exhausted all the possibilities of finding work in Philadelphia, I hitch-hiked to New York. I had 50 cents in my raggedy pocket. I had one friend in New York, with whom I could stay and seek work. I found a part-time job at Macy's department store. I finished high school by attending night classes. It took me three years to finish. Later, I literally begged for and received a full time job at Macy's. I entered City College of New York, having graduated first in my class in high school. Even though, there was no tuition at City College, I was totally without funds or family. I had to find after school work. I like to point out that it was rather interesting for me to have to work my way through a college with no tuition where even most text books were supplied free of charge on a loan basis. I summoned my courage and auditioned for a choir job in a Catholic Church and landed a job there. It paid about thirty dollars a month.
D. Leeson - Is New York where you met your wife?
Tom Glazer - Actually, I met my wife in Washington, D.C. I was a senior in college. The war, WW II, was about to descend upon us. Jobs were starting to open up after a prolonged depression. I obtained a job at the Library of Congress. I loved books, so I felt at home. I was going to finish college at night. I was not even close to becoming a professional musician because I was going to end up, I thought, majoring in English and teach at the college level. I met my wife in Washington, D. C. but we didn't start going together until by coincidence, we both left D.C. to go to New York, where I wanted to drop English studies and study music at the famous college of music, Julliard. In New York, I began to get odd jobs as a folksinger. Much to my surprise, I ended up performing on a full time basis and I never got to Julliard at all. My wife and I fell in love and decided to get married.
D. Leeson - You lived in a period when Woody Guthrie was still living. Did you ever have a chance to meet him?
Tom Glazer - I not only met him; I knew him very well. He was not an easy person to know. He had a very sensitive, poetic personality, often withdrawn, very talented. He once spent a weekend at my little apartment in Washington and one morning he was shaving, the bathroom door being open. He shaved using a razor and cold water, no shaving cream, no hot water, because from his years on the road, his skin had become leathery and that is what he was used to.
Here is a story that you might find interesting. While at the Library of Congress, I bought a cheap guitar and picked up a few basic strums from Alan Lomax, the famous folklorist. I started to sing as an amateur here and there. Some other government workers and myself formed a folk singing group and were asked to sing at various functions. At one of these functions, Eleanor Roosevelt heard us and asked us to perform at two tea parties she was giving for two shifts of soldiers who were guarding the White House. She paid for the parties with her own money. Needless to say, even though we were not paid, it was a great thrill and honor. We found ourselves on the back lawn of the White House one warm afternoon on a platform. The war was going on. To our intense delight, at one point, on a balcony overlooking the lawn, the president came out, helped by Secret Service personnel, on account of his crippled legs. He thanked the soldiers for what must have been a very boring job in the midst of a war. Ever since then, I have been telling people that I started my career at the top and have been working my way downwards ever since.
D. Leeson - Do you have a perception of what your greatest legacy will be in the history of American music?
Tom Glazer - You know, with sincere modesty, if there is such a thing, I have never thought of legacy at all. There is a phrase in Latin that the lawyers use which means, "Let the thing speak for itself." I am always grateful if people like what I have done. A legacy is something no one can forsee. Things are forgotten and then perhaps picked up again, if we're lucky, it lasts . . . if not, then it's in the lap of the gods. The important thing for me was to do some work that I liked and hopefully that some other might also like, whether for a minute, a week, a month, a year, whatever. I never think about legacy and I just hope for the best. Just being interviewed by you is a pleasure, in that you are interested in what I have done in this ephemeral life of ours. I have lived a rather long life so far and I have a lot to share. I'm afraid I talk a lot, too much, perhaps. I should have been a lawyer or a college professor or a windy politician, though I'm glad I am not any of these.
D. Leeson - No, I think your venue has served you well. On the road, there are always interesting things that happen. Do you have any stories to share about being on the road?
Tom Glazer - Most performers don't admit this, because it sounds negative and performers are not supposed to be negative, but when I was on the road, I was lonely. Though it was interesting, I never stayed away for very long because I wanted to get back to my family as soon as I could. Performing is like a war. 99% of the time is preparation, while you sit around, rehearsing or waiting for the battle (the performance) to take place. Awful things can occur, such as, an audience not showing up in sufficient numbers, even tours being cancelled, which happened some years ago to Judy Collins in Japan. This has happened to other famous performers for one reason or another. One amusing anecdote; In 1954, I was touring the entire state of Wisconsin and I got to a very small town in mid-state wth just one restaurant and when I looked at the menu it was in German with no English translation; the entire town consisted mainly of German speaking people.
D. Leeson - One of the things that I admire most about your work are your lyrics. I'm not much of a lyricist myself. You have done such diverse work and one of the songs in particular that I am speaking of is a song that you wrote in the 40's called, "A Dollar Ain't a Dollar Anymore". You spoke for the common man so eloquently.
Tom Glazer - Maybe because I came from such a common background. The irony of that song is that prices were going up in the 40's when I wrote that song and we'd be so lucky in 1999 as the century ends if a dollar could buy now what it bought then.
D. Leeson - Who are some of the people that you have written for and worked with that might be recognizable names and also, what pop songs would be among those titles that you wrote?
Tom Glazer - I co-wrote "Melody of Love". The melody was written back in 1909. I never met the composer who died long ago. Though, I wrote several songs with songwriters successful in the field of pop music, none was famous, except Budd Schulberg with whom I wrote the lyrics of the songs in his film, "A Face In The Crowd", for which I also wrote the music. In years past, I have on occasion recorded with Burl Ives, Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger and worked with a number of famous actors like, Helen Hayes, Robert Ryan, Hume Cronyn, Melvin Douglas, Clause Rains, Robert Stack, Tony Randall and others.
D. Leeson - Where could one buy your music now?
Tom Glazer - In print form, I put out about 8 or 9 songbooks of various kinds, all in libraries, and those in print, are available in many music stores. Click here for more information on where to purchase Tom Glazer material.
D. Leeson - Do you know who wrote "Polly Wolly Doodle"?
Tom Glazer - Afraid not. You see? A characteristic of older folksongs, in most cases, is that we don't know their composers or authors. Older folksongs were written often with no commercial purpose in mind. They were passed down, in what is known as the "oral tradition", that is, by word of mouth, from generation to generation.
D. Leeson - About the things that are in print; you said that you had written for Perry Como and Frank Sinatra, but am I correct in assuming that you don't have a Tom Glazer's Greatest Hits or something like that available?
Tom Glazer - Not in the pop field, but in the children's field I've mentioned my two tapes of Children's Greatest Hits. Most of the songs, except for one or two, were written by other artists. The hit popular songs I've written are in the collections on recordings of other singers of those songs. The one exception is my own recording contained in a couple of my tapes of my hit song, "On Top of Spaghetti". Other hits of mine include, "Old Soldiers Never Die" (Vaughn Monroe); "More" (Perry Como); "Till We Two Are One" (Georgie Shaw); "Melody of Love" (many artists); "Skokiaan" (various artists); "A Worried Man" (Kingston Trio) and I might mention again my song, "The Musicians", which wasn't a hit when it first appeared but was recently done by the Barney show on two of their videos. You know I have a fantasy that I'm standing in line before the Pearly Gates in the musicians' line, in which I stand last. When I'm asked what have I done in music and I say I wrote "On Top Of Spaghetti", I'm told, "Sorry, buster, you can't enter."
D. Leeson - I read somewhere that you were an M.C. Would that be referring to the time that you hosted a radio show for a couple of years and what kind of show was that?
Tom Glazer - I had three radio shows. The first was a live folksinging show for NBC back in the 40's. The second was a children's radio show also for NBC called, "Tom, Timmie and Mae". I was Tom, Timmie was an imaginary character, and Mae was Mae Questell, a wonderful lady who years back was the voice of the famous Betty Boop cartoon character. My third radio show was on the classical music station in New York, WQXR, another live program with an audience.
D. Leeson - Were any archives kept of the shows?
Tom Glazer - About the first two, I don't know. Remember those were the days before tape copies, so many shows disappeared literally into thin air. The third one, the series on WQXR, I do have tape copies in my files. My one deep regret in this area is a TV show I did with Grace Kelly on the old series, the Lux Television Show. I was too "dumb" to have thought of getting a copy of the show even though this was somewhat before Grace Kelly's greater fame in Hollywood. When years later I tried to locate the show, it couldn't be found.
D. Leeson - I have to ask you about "Space Songs". I have gotten a lot of mail about those songs that you sang on the albums by Hy Zaret and Lou Singer.
Tom Glazer - Hy Zaret and Lou Singer were two Tin Pan Alley songwriters who from time to time would write special material. They put together six LP recordings under the general title of "Ballads For The Age of Science". I was on three of these. Space Songs, (this was just after Sputnik had electrified the world by the Russian's pioneer venture into Space); and the other two were called "Nature Songs" and "Weather Songs". They are all out of print, I'm afraid. Hy Zaret is aged at or near 90 now, but the records can be found in a number of libraries or in second hand record shops. Hy Zaret, incidentally wrote the lyrics for one of the top popular songs ever, "The Unchained Melody". It has been a hit more than once, most recently with the Righteous Brothers. It enriched Hy Zaret which I'm sure helps him to enjoy his old age.
D. Leeson - Yes, I am familiar with that song and the movie, "Ghost", with Patrick Swayze, Demi Moore and Whoopi Goldberg. That song is used as the movie's theme song. What areas of music are you still involved in? Do you still compose?
Tom Glazer - Technically, I've been retired for some time now. All I ever do is occasionally write songs for friends, such as one, for a friend who had just turned 80. I wrote a song for him called, "The First 80 Years are The Hardest" (After That It's Really Just a Breeze). It's fun, especially since I don't have to show the song to a publisher or recording artist and have it turned down.
D. Leeson - When I spoke with your son, Peter, he said you were still involved with children in regard to presenting your music to them from time to time, at local functions and in libraries.
Tom Glazer - I do, but more and more I perform less and less and no longer at all, in libraries. For years, I had a popular concert or two for kids which I decided to preserve as a video, but it didn't work out because my concert was almost totally adlib. The scary cameras, cables and personnel rushing about, destroyed the spontaneity of the show. I tried to make those shows fun for and with the kids. They participated under my direction a lot, so that any educational values that were instilled was gained with a great deal of pleasure, the best way, I think, or one of the best methods of educating.
D. Leeson - One of the reasons that I was most interested in your music is that it is based upon American Folk Music. Are you aware that the Kodaly Approach to teaching music encourages that the student learn his or her own country's folksong heritage first before learning the folksongs of other countries? The Treasury of Children's Songs that you wrote works very nicely for teachers using the Kodaly Philosophy.
Tom Glazer - Yes, I have been aware of two famous music teaching methods, one of which is Kodaly and the other is the Orff Method. Needless to say, I couldn't be happier to hear that my songbook has helped in your teaching of Kodaly.
D. Leeson - Have you ever taught?
Tom Glazer - From time to time. I did teach recently, an adult class at Barnard College in New York as a visiting professor in a history of American Folk Music class.
D. Leeson - Do you have any hobbies?
Tom Glazer - I have a great interest in a number of things, perhaps too many. I admire people who seem to concentrate on only one fixed discipline to the exclusion of almost everything else. I just can't help but be fascinated by foreign languages, especially French; by science, by cosmology especially; by philosophy, especially when it tries to be scientific; by analytic psychology, especially when it works, which contrary to current criticism often does work and does solve distressing and very painful emotional problems. I read omniverously, every day. I listen to serious music every day. I try and play tennis when I can. Sometimes I actually hit the ball within the court and it comes back to me. When people ask me what I do, strangers on a plane, perhaps, I tell them that I think. Thinking is excellent exercise, as much as swimming or jogging.
D. Leeson - That's good; learning is a lifelong process. This is one of the ways that helps people stay young. Any words of wisdom to end the interview?
Tom Glazer - Well, not so much words of wisdom as a story that I would like to leave you with: When I was in Philadelphia during the Depression in 1930 or 31, I got a job, a very sad job, at the age of 16, as a night watchman in a garage. What was sad about it was that the cars in the garage had been abandoned by their owners, since they had lost their jobs and couldn't keep up the payments or buy gas and oil in which to operate them. I think that even the garage owner had abandoned the entire garage unable to pay the rent, and I suspect that even the owner of the building had absconded because he could no longer pay the taxes on the property. I suspect that the bank had taken the building over as banks did in too many similar situations. I had the whole place to myself, totally alone from six p.m. to six a.m., so I taught myself to drive. When friends would ask me about the job, all of 16 and very wet behind the ears, I would say, "The job was fine except I had to get up very "oily" every morning.
D. Leeson - And in those Tin Pan Alley days I can imagine this is where you'd hear the roll of the drums followed by the crashing of the high hat!
Tom Glazer - After a joke like getting up "oily", what I hear, rather, is one loud groan of protest. It's a childish joke, I know, but I hope that the child in me never dies.
Thank you, Tom Glazer for allowing us this time to look into your life a bit more. Thank you most of all the richness that you have given us through your music. It has truly given us enjoyment and personally blessed me with inspiration, that I am at a loss to put into words. We are deeply grateful for your life.
Folk History in Music At this site, you'll find a nice assortment of some Woody Guthrie and Tom Glazer music. This production was conceived and adapted by Peter Glazer, Tom's son, and produced in association with Tom Glazer. These sound files will require the Real Audio Plugin which is free at this site, Real.com.
For Information on how to obtain Tom Glazer's Music:
Plymouth Music Co., Inc.
170 N.E. 33rd St.
Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, 33334.
Titles: "Tom Glazer's Treasury of Songs for Children", "Tom Glazer's Christmas Songbook", "America the Beautiful", a collection of our most popular patriotic songs.
And on CDs and cassettes,
distributed by Publisher's Marketing Services,
216 Roberts Avenue,
Bellmawr, New Jersey, 68031.
Titles: "Music For Ones and Twos", songs for the youngest child.
"More Music for Ones and Twos (and threes and fours)";
"Activity and Game Songs", Version 2, a second concert with kids and parents interacting with their kids,
"Children's Greatest Hits", Version 1 and Version 2,
"Latin-American Children's Songs", Sung in spanish and English;
"A Treasury of Civil War Songs", for adults and older children.
The most famous songs from the North and South in the Civil War, also obtainable at many Civil War National Park Battlefield sites.