Leading British popular songwriter from 1930s through '50s, wrote "Teddy Bear's Picnic" and "The Hokey Pokey."
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Jimmy Kennedy Biography

by Jason Ankeny

One of the pre-eminent British lyricists of the mid-20th century, Jimmy Kennedy was born July 20, 1902, in Omagh, Northern Ireland. Upon graduating from Dublin's Trinity College, he embarked upon careers in teaching and civil service before publishing his first composition, "The Barmaid's Song," in 1930. Collaborator Harry Castling soon introduced him to music publisher Bert Feldman and later that year, Kennedy scored his first hit with "Oh, Donna Clara." "My Song Goes 'Round the World," "The Teddy Bears' Picnic" (which added new lyrics to John Bratton's 1907 melody), and "Play to Me, Gypsy" followed, but when Feldman rejected Kennedy's "Isle of Capri" (written with Will Grosz), the songwriter jumped ship to join publisher Peter Maurice, who made it a major hit in 1934. Around that same time, Kennedy began writing with Michael Carr, inaugurating the most fertile creative partnership of his career. The duo's five-year collaboration yielded a series of hits, including "South of the Border," "Hometown," and "We're Gonna Hang Out the Washing on the Siegfried Line," in addition to theatrical productions like 1936's O-Kay for Sound, 1937's London Rhapsody, and 1939's The Little Dog Laughed. Apart from Carr, Kennedy also notched the popular favorites "Red Sails in the Sunset," "Serenade in the Night," and "Harbor Lights," and upon revamping the lyrics to the traditional "The Cokey Cokey," launched a hugely popular party dance. After serving in the British Army during World War II, he resumed his prolific musical production with the likes of "An Apple Blossom Wedding," "April in Portugal," and "Instanbul (Not Constantinople)," although by the late '50s the advent of rock & roll effectively brought his hitmaking days to an end. In 1960, Kennedy relocated to Switzerland, returning to Ireland over a decade later; there he collaborated with Stewart Parker on the musical Spokesong, his last major work. In 1984, the British Academy of Songwriters, Composers, and Authors introduced its annual Jimmy Kennedy Award; the lyricist died on April 6 of that year.

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