Although he penned a number of hits throughout his long career, lyricist John Blackburn remains best known for the immortal "Moonlight in Vermont," the romantic ballad he wrote with Karl Suessdorf in 1943. Born October 19, 1913, in Massilon, OH, Blackburn was raised in the suburbs of Cleveland. His mother was herself a composer, and two sisters later pursued writing careers as well. He first pursued a career on the stage, joining a traveling puppet theater that led him to Vermont. Blackburn spent two years in the Green Mountain State in all, devoting much of his stay to teaching in the drama department at Bennington College. In the early '40s, Blackburn relocated to Southern California, working at Lockheed while moonlighting with the Pasadena Playhouse as an actor and director. In time he began writing lyrics and collaborating with composer Suessdorf, drawing upon his time at Bennington to write "Moonlight in Vermont." A metrically nuanced song in which each verse is a haiku, the song was first recorded in 1944 by Margaret Whiting, and while her hit single is generally considered the definitive recording, it was later covered by everyone from Frank Sinatra to Willie Nelson. While "Moonlight in Vermont" remained the biggest hit of Blackburn's music career, he also co-wrote with Teepee Mitchell and Lou Porter the 1949 smash "Need You," recorded by Jo Stafford and Gordon MacRae. That same year he founded the Los Angeles-based independent Selective Records, which was the first label to record the famed R&B group the Hollywood Flames. Singles by Madonna Martin and Eddie Williams & His Brown Buddies followed, but without a hit to its credit, the company closed shop in under a year. Blackburn continued writing, and in 1957 Oscar Peterson recorded his "Susquehanna." Music always remained a sideline, however, and by day he worked at Rockwell International, contributing to the Gemini and Apollo space exploration programs. Upon retiring in 1976, Blackburn established the Downey, CA, Marionette Theatre and acted in and directed several regional stage productions. During the mid-'90s he settled in Newport, OR, and after a successful triple-bypass surgery in 1999 went on to write hundreds of additional songs and verses. Blackburn died November 15, 2006, at the age of 93.
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