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“Mean to Me” (1929) by Fred Ahlert and Roy Turk was introduced by Ruth Ettig on a single that had “Button Up Your Overcoat” on the flip side. The song was a hit for several singers, including Helen Morgan and Billie Holiday, and is regarded by some as symbolic of Lady Day’s off-stage life. The lyrics employ some interesting word play, with “mean to me” indicating first unkindness, then concern, as in “what you mean to me”. The song has enjoyed several waves of popularity, with Billie Holiday’s 1937 recording associated with one such peak and the 1946 recordings by Nat “King” Cole and Buddy Rich assocated with another.
Fred Ahlert (1892-1953) graduated from City College of New York, then Fordham Law School, before becoming an arranger for Fred Waring. He then moved to composition; his first hit “I’ll Get By (As Long As I Have You)” was written with Roy Turk in 1928 and sold over a million copies of sheet music. He established the Fred Ahlert Music Corporation in 1928 which published “Mean to Me” in 1929. Ahlert joined ASCAP in 1920 and was director for twenty years, with a two-year hiatus while he was President. Other songs include “Walking My Baby Back Home” (1930), “I Don’t Know Why (I Just Do)” (1931), and “I’m Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter” (1935). He was inducted into the Songwriter’s Hall of Fame in 1970.
Roy Turk (1892-1934) attended City College of New York before joining the Navy in World War I. After his return he wrote material for vaudeville performers including Sophie Tucker and Nora Bayes. He met Fred Ahlert in 1928 and they proceeded to create a series of enduringly popular songs which produced hits for singers including Nat “King” Cole, Johnnie Ray, Bing Crosby, and Elvis Presley (“Are You Lonesome Tonight?” (1927).