Irene Higginbotham

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While her closest connection in the popular music of the '30s and '40s was the great jazz singer Billie Holiday, prolific songwriter Irene Higginbotham was also related by blood and marriage to several…
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While her closest connection in the popular music of the '30s and '40s was the great jazz singer Billie Holiday, prolific songwriter Irene Higginbotham was also related by blood and marriage to several famous musicians from this genre. The songwriter was the niece of classic jazz trombonist J.C. Higginbotham. She was also the ex-wife of Teddy Wilson by the time he provided piano accompaniment for some of Holiday's most deeply romantic performances. In a not particularly rare example of jazz combining with soap opera, some of these were Higginbotham's ballad masterworks, haunting tales of hearts that albeit broken can still be syncopated.

Chances are these songs would be on the list of any Holiday fan's favorite records, including "Some Other Spring" from 1939 and "Good Morning Heartache" from three years later. Higginbotham, in a period of several decades, certainly wrote enough songs to fill the pages of her own biographical volume. Despite the association with songs of lost love, her range was really quite broad. To keep up with her busy schedule,Higginbotham would have had to have gotten started "In the Quiet of the Dawn," a title worth mentioning as it established her as a seminal presence in the creation of early doo wop material. She also had a humorous side, concocting material combining on-stage antics and music for the vaudeville team of Stump and Stumpy. Her collaborations with co-writer Syd Shaw were in demand as jumping jive reached up to the R&B shelf; witty songs such as "No Pad to Be Had" toyed with pessimism, as did the leaky "It's Got a Hole in It" and its inevitable result, "The Bottle's Empty."

Higginbotham was also able to quickly deliver pieces which existed mainly to fill the dancefloor, some of which became instrumental hits. In the early '50s some of the latter material such as a toll-free "Jersey Turnpike" was published under the pseudonym of Glenn Gibson due to shenanigans involving a BMI contract. Not every song attributed to Glenn Gibson is Higginbotham vintage, however. Joe Davis -- A&R man, record label manager, and one of Higginbotham's publishers -- also used the name Glenn Gibson to copyright songs, some of which were actually in the public domain. In general, high quality is the proof of an Irene Higginbotham composition. Her songs routinely stood out, sparkling with something special, at recording sessions where several sets of writers participated.