In 1943 Bob Russell created “Do Nothin’ Till You Hear From Me”, fitting lyrics to the theme of the 1940 “Concerto for Cootie” by Duke Ellington. The 1943 recording by Duke Ellington and His Orchestra, featuring Al Hibbler as vocalist, went to #1 on the charts and stayed there for eight weeks. The alteration was the result of an August 1942 recording ban by the president of the American Federation of Musicians, who wanted studios to pay royalties instead of flat fees. While many big bands were members of the AFM fewer vocalists belonged and, during the year that the ban continued, studios re-released old recordings and used salaried studio musicians instead of big name bands. In addition to this song, Russell also wrote lyrics for Ellington’s 1940 “Never No Lament”, transforming it into “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore”.
As related in the PBS program “Duke Ellington’s Washington”, Duke Ellington (1899-1974) grew up in a solidly middle-class household in Washington, D.C. His father was a butler, sometimes working at the White House, who ran his own catering business. His mother was a beautiful woman who sometimes worked as a domestic; her father was a policeman. While Ellington took classical piano lessons as a child his own hopes were with baseball and his first job was as a peanut vendor at Washington Senators’ games. He started focusing on music while a teenager hanging out at Frank’s Billiards next door to the Howard Theater. Ellington’s legacy of musical excellence, innovation, grace and brilliance led to many awards and honors, all richly deserved.
Bob Russell (1914-1970) was a composer, lyricist and advertising copywriter who started with vaudeville. After attending Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, he worked as an advertising copywriter. He started writing songs first for vaudeville, then for film studios. His first published song was introduced in 1939 by Helen Forrest with Benny Goodman’s band, while his last hit song was the 1969-1970 “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother”, co-written with Bobby Scott. In 1970 he was inducted into the Songwriter’s Hall of Fame and was posthumously awarded the 2004 ASCAP lifetime achievement award.
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