A Year
for Music!

Blue Skies

Blue Skies

Selected Composition


Irving Berlin, "Blue Skies"



Program Notes


Irving Berlin (1888 - 1989) wrote many beautiful songs: but "Blue Skies" is one of the most beautiful. Berlin wrote both the lyrics and the music for it. He composed "Blue Skies" in 1926 for the Rodgers and Hart Broadway musical Betsy. On the musical's opening night, audiences loved "Blue Skies," and they clapped and clapped for 29 encores. In the 29th repetition, Belle Baker, the singer, forgot the lyrics—so from his seat in the front row, Irving Berlin sang them.


To perform "Blue Skies" for us, I have chosen Willie Nelson. He is one of the great living singers, and his career has changed music. He recorded "Blue Skies" as part of his 1978 album Stardust. It brought elements of pop, jazz, gospel—and the art song—to country music. His project was initially met with disapproval by record company executives who thought no one would be interested in what he was doing: but the enormous enthusiasm for it that followed its release, both with critics and through sales (over five million copies to date), proved his critics wrong. Nelson is credited, along with Dolly Parton and Wynona Judd, with broadening the sound of Country music, and, by doing so, of brining it to a worldwide audience.


Here is a link to Willie Nelson singing "Blue Skies":


Willie Nelson sings Irving Berlin's "Blue Skies"





The bluebird as a symbol of happiness is featured in "Blue Skies":


Blue skies, smilin' at me,
Nothin' but blues skies do I see.
Bluebirds singing a song,
Nothin' but bluebirds all day long.


The bluebird has been a symbol of happiness across culture and time. In Shang Dynasty China (1600 B.C. to 1046 B.C.), for example, pottery and inscriptions speak of the bluebird as a goddess and protector of nuns, priestesses, singing girls, and women who work and live outside expected norms. Amongst the Navajo, the bluebird is seen as the spirit of the rising Sun; their "Bluebird Song" reminds them to rise at dawn and greet the sun:

Bluebird said to me,
"Get up, my grandchild.
It is dawn," it said to me.


The Wikipedia article about this states that the "Bluebird Song" is sung in "the nine-day Ye'iibicheii winter Nightway ceremony, where it is the final song, performed just before sunrise of the ceremony's last day." How beautiful it must be to be part of a culture that has such ceremonies.


The mountain bluebird is the state bird of my state of Idaho. I have seen it only once in my life. It is rare—but you never forget seeing it. Mother and I saw a bluebird once at breakfast time, outside the kitchen window, in the light of early morning. The blue of it was vibrant, arresting: its song sweet and clear. We watched it a long time, hardly daring to move for fear of frightening it away.





I created "Bluebirds Wake the Earth," the image above, in 2006. It is based on Mandelbrot Fractals. The title is from Katharine Lee Bates (1859 - 1929), and her poem "The First Bluebirds":

Sweet, sweet, O sweet,
And tender, tender,
The bluebirds woke the happy earth
With song.








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