Cover image for Fine and dandy : the life and work of Kay Swift
Fine and dandy : the life and work of Kay Swift
Ohl, Vicki, 1950-
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New Haven : Yale University Press, [2004]

Physical Description:
xiv, 294 pages : illustrations ; 24 cm
Prelude -- Professional and personal choices -- Highbrow/lowbrow in New York City -- Fine and dandy -- Stagestruck : the ballet to Radio City -- Gershwin obsession -- New frontiers -- She'll have Manhattan -- Challenges -- The show won't fold in Philadelphia -- Keep on keepin' on -- Finale.
Personal Subject:
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
ML410.S972 O45 2004 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

On Order



Kay Swift (1897-1993) was one of the few women composers active on Broadway in the first half of the twentieth century. Best known as George Gershwin's assistant, musical adviser, and intimate friend, Swift was in fact an accomplished musician herself, a pianist and composer whose Fine and Dandy (1930) was the first complete Broadway musical written by a woman. This fascinating book--the first biography of Swift--discusses her music and her extraordinary life.
Vicki Ohl describes Swift's work for musical theater, the ballet, Radio City Music Hall's Rockettes, and commercial shows. She also tells how Swift served as director of light music for the 1939 World's Fair, eloped with a cowboy from the rodeo at the fair, and abandoned her native New York for Oregon, later fashioning her experiences into an autobiographical novel, Who Could Ask for Anything More? Informed by rich material, including Swift's unpublished memoirs and extensive interviews with her family members and friends, this book captures the essence and spirit of a remarkable woman.

Author Notes

Vicki Ohl is professor of piano and theory at Heidelberg College.

Reviews 2

Publisher's Weekly Review

Kay Swift (1897-1993) lived a glorious life as a pianist and composer, companion to George Gershwin and the first woman to write a Broadway musical, Fine and Dandy. Ohl, who teaches piano at Heidelberg College in Ohio, provides an exhaustive, sometimes dense first biography of the composer. Using Swift's unpublished memoirs and interviews with her grandchildren, Ohl chronicles the pianist's breathless and charmed life, from her precocious childhood as a musical prodigy who was memorizing lyrics from operas at five years old, to her marriage to banker James Warburg and her later years of composing for Balanchine ballets and shows for Radio City Music Hall. Swift flitted through the show business world of the 1920s, '30s and '40s, and Ohl recreates this heady time in musical theater. Ohl engages in a close reading of Swift's Fine and Dandy, helping to bring the Broadway show first produced in 1930 back to our attention. As Ohl demonstrates, Swift found herself as a part of a society in which women's worth was perceived through their husband's success. Yet Swift's publications secured her membership in the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers, joining the company of Irving Berlin, Jerome Kern, Richard Rodgers and George Gershwin. While Ohl's academic tone slows her narrative at times, she deserves credit for bringing Swift back to our attention and for producing what surely will be the definitive biography of this fascinating woman. (June) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Katharine ("Kay") Swift is well known to those familiar with American popular music during the first half of the 20th century, but she is usually refracted through the lens of George Gershwin, her lover and collaborator. In this first full-length biography, Ohl (theory & piano, Heidelberg Coll.) presents Swift as an accomplished composer in her own right, the first woman to pen a complete Broadway musical (Fine and Dandy, 1930). Swift enjoyed a nearly idyllic childhood that included an extensive music background, including attendance at the precursor of New York's Juilliard School. Throughout her life, she composed in a variety of styles and for various media. Married to banker James Warburg, she led a wild existence during the Roaring Twenties, was intimately involved with Gershwin and frequently mentioned as his possible wife after her divorce from Warburg, married a rancher in the West (which led to her autobiographical novel, Who Could Ask for Anything More?, later made into the movie Never a Dull Moment), and composed music for corporate America in the 1960s. Drawing on Swift's personal papers and original interviews with friends, family, and colleagues, Ohl has written a thorough and readable account of an important and pioneering American composer. For all libraries.-Bruce R. Schueneman, Texas A&M Univ. Lib., Kingsville (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Table of Contents

Allen Forte
Forewordp. ix
Prefacep. xi
1 Preludep. 1
2 Professional and Personal Choicesp. 21
3 Highbrow/Lowbrow in New York Cityp. 39
4 Fine and Dandyp. 64
5 Stagestruck: The Ballet to Radio Cityp. 87
6 Gershwin Obsessionp. 108
7 New Frontiersp. 124
8 She'll Have Manhattanp. 155
9 Challengesp. 170
10 The Show Won't Fold in Philadelphiap. 184
11 Keep on Keepin' Onp. 207
12 Finalep. 224
Chronologyp. 239
Musical Works by Kay Swiftp. 243
Notesp. 251
Selected Bibliographyp. 279
Indexp. 285
Creditsp. 293