Best-known for the perennial "Fly Me to the Moon," composer Bart Howard was born Howard Joseph Gustafson in Burlington, Iowa in 1916. After leaving home at 16 to serve as the pianist in a dance band that toured in support of Siamese twins Daisy and Violet Hilton, in 1934 he settled in Los Angeles in the hopes of mounting a career as a Hollywood tunesmith. Instead, Howard ended up as the accompanist behind female impersonator Rae Bourbon -- from there he backed comedienne Elizabeth Talbot-Martin, following her to New York City when she was booked at the Rainbow Room in 1937. The following year, Howard notched his first minor hit when singer Mabel Mercer popularized his composition "If You Leave Paris." After a four-year Army stint, he returned to New York in 1945 and hired on as the pianist at the popular cabaret Spivy's Roof before transitioning to "Tony's West Side" to support Mercer full-time. From 1951 to 1959, Howard served as the emcee and intermission pianist at New York's Blue Angel; by day, he continued honing his own material, and in 1954, he completed "In Other Words." One publisher suggested he retitle the song "Take Me to the Moon," but he finally settled on "Fly Me to the Moon"; first performed by cabaret singer Felicia Sanders. In 1960, the song was made a huge hit by Peggy Lee, and was later recorded by Judy Garland, Doris Day, and -- perhaps most notably -- Frank Sinatra. Its success made Howard so wealthy that he curtailed his songwriting efforts and entered semi-retirement, although his "Let Me Love You" and "Don't Dream of Anybody but Me" also earned some measure of significant success. In the decades to follow, he also agreed to the occasional concert and cabaret stint, and was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1999. Howard died Feb. 21, 2004 after suffering complications from a stroke; he was 88 years old.
Bart Howard Biography
by Jason Ankeny