b. 26 December 1906, Rockville, Connecticut, USA, d. USA. After studying at the University of Michigan Lewis was determined upon a career in the theatre. He composed music for several shows, collaborating with lyricists Edward Eliscu, Ted Fetter and E.P. ‘Yip’ Harburg. On New Faces Of 1934 he worked with lyricist Nancy Hamilton and later they wrote three revues, One For The Money (1939), Two For The Show (1940), and Three To Make Ready (1946). Among the numerous songs they wrote together, many of which were for these shows are ‘The Old Soft Shoe’, ‘In My Kenosha Canoe’, ‘The House With A Little Red Barn’, ‘With All My Heart’, ‘Lovely Lazy, Kind Of Day’, ‘Barnaby Beach’, ‘The Shoe On The Other Foot’, ‘At Last It’s Love’, ‘There’s Something On My Program’, ‘The Sad Sack’, ‘My Day’, ‘If It’s Love’, ‘I Only Know’ and ‘I Hate Spring’. Among performers in these revues were Eve Arden, Ray Bolger, Alfred Drake, Betty Hutton, Gene Kelly, Gordon MacRae and Bibi Osterwald.
In the second show was ‘How High The Moon’ sung by Drake as a slow moody ballad. It was picked up by late swing era bands such as those led by Benny Goodman and Harry James, both in 1940, and especially by bebop musicians. Indeed, the song, usually without Hamilton’s words, became a bop anthem and was recorded by Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker and almost everyone on down. In the late 40s it was noted as a basis for improvisations at Jazz At The Philharmonic concerts and is best remembered through Ella Fitzgerald’s many versions. Some 700 recordings of the song appear in jazz discographies alone. Outside the jazz fold, a multi-tracked version was a great success in the 50s for Les Paul and Mary Ford.
Lewis also worked as a director and choreographer in the theatre. He directed the dances for the comedy Idiot’s Delight (1936), directed Naughty Naught ’00 (1937), music by Richard Lewine, lyrics by Fetter, and featuring Eleanor Phelps and Bartlett Robinson, and he staged the musical numbers for The Fireman’s Flame (1937), a musical melodrama with Grace Coppin and Ben Cutler, which also had songs by Lewine and Fetter. In films, he wrote the score for The Unconquered (1954), Hamilton’s Oscar-winning documentary about Helen Keller, and for The Madwoman Of Chaillot (1969).