The legacy of award-winning songwriter/alumnus Ray Evans W’36

A few weeks ago, the University of Pennsylvania Libraries announced that it had acquired the papers and memorabilia of songwriter/alumnus Ray Evans W’36. Does that name ring a bell? If not, maybe this ‘bell’ will:

Or perhaps you’ve heard this classic?

Or, for the television-inclined:

Those famous tunes—and plenty of others you’ve hummed along with over the years—were created by Evans and his songwriting partner Jay Livingston C’37. Together, lyricist Evans and music composer Livingston formed one of the world’s most successful songwriting teams, penning jukebox hits and songs for popular movies in the 1940s, 50 and 60s. The duo won three Academy Awards for best original song and have been described as “the last of the great songwriters in Hollywood.” They collaborated well into their 80s, often performing their classic songs together at benefits.

Evans grew up in the small town of Salamanca, N.Y., and considered the radio his link to the world at large. He idolized New York show writers, particularly Cole Porter, and never missed a movie musical at his hometown theater. Undergraduate banking student Evans met journalism major Livingston at Penn in 1934 when the latter formed a dance band known as The Continentals. Evans played the clarinet and saxophone, and the group performed at fraternity dances and spent breaks playing on steamship cruises. “Life on the ships was so exciting and glamorous; we were living like millionaires,” Evans once told a Gazette writer. “One day on our last cruise we were coming up the Hudson River and I said to Jay, ‘Let’s stay in New York and write songs.’ Eight years later, it paid off.”

Evans and Livingston had their first hit, G’Bye Now, in 1941, and landed a contract with Paramount’s music department four years later. In the following decades, they wrote hit song after hit song, including Silver Bells, Que Sera, Sera, Buttons and Bows and Evans’ personal favorite, Mona Lisa:

The Gazette ran an article about the songwriters in 1997, in which Evans shared his take on contemporary music:

We write special things every once in awhile, but in the rock and roll and rap world, we ain’t it. We haven’t done anything significant for twenty years…If George Gershwin were alive today, he’d be on the corner with a tin cup, because an art form [of songwriting] has disappeared… It’s a sad commentary on our society. We were the last of a golden age when songs made sense.

The Evans collection will be housed in Penn’s Rare Books & Manuscript Library, and includes his clarinet, gold records, ASCAP awards, recordings, photographs, letters and telegrams, sheet music and press clippings.

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