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Ann Ronell

Ann Ronell, songwriter, lyricist and musical director for films, was born Ann Rosenblatt in Omaha Nebraska on 25 December 1905, the child of a coal dealer, Morris Rosenblatt and Mollie Rosenblatt . After graduating from Central High School in 1923, she enrolled at Wheaton College in Norton, Massachusetts. She spent two years there and then transferred to Radcliffe College where her music teachers included Edward Burlingame Hill, Edward Ballantine, Archibald T. Davison and Walter Piston . Her first compositions date to this period, but her work for the college newspaper was to be the primary launching pad for her career as a commercial songwriter. Through writing reviews and interviews, Ronell was to make the acquaintance of many of that era’s prominent musical figures. An assigment involving George Gershwin had a decisive impact which lead to her decision to choose the path of music despite the prevailing odds against the likely success of would-be songwriters in general and women in particular. Gershwin offered to connect her with some of his contacts in the music business and she was soon working as a coach and rehearsal pianist for Broadway shows. In 1932 she was to show her gratitude for his efforts on her behalf by dedicating what turned out to be her most acclaimed and widely covered song “Willow, Weep for Me” to him.

The period between her graduation from Radcliffe in 1927 and her departure for Hollywood in 1933 was spent mostly in New York City where she was able to place a number of her songs in shows. Now recognized as her first popular success, the song “Let’s go out in the open air” appeared in Shoot the works in 1931. Despite a good deal of resistance to the very idea of a female songwriter, she was able to persevere and establish a growing catalog of works published by Irving Berlin and others.

The Walt Disney Studios provided Ronell’s first employment in the Hollywood film music industry. While there she had a hand in the creation of “Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?” derived from a “Three Little Pigs” animated short. Around this time, she met the producer Lester Cowan who became her husband in November 1935. The majority of Ronell’s work from this point on was centered on film music, though she was to collaborate with Nicolai Berezowsky on a ballet Ship South, compose her own “operetta/ballet” The Magic of spring(1935) and write lyrics and music for the show Count me in, produced on Broadway in 1942. Additionally, Ronell created Oh! Susanna in1947, a quasi-biographical folk operetta based on the life and music of Stephen Foster which was suited for performance by student and amateur groups. From the late 1940s onward, muchof her time was also spent translating and adapting opera and operetta libretti in an attempt to bring these genres to wider audiences. Her versions of Johann StraussGypsy Baron and Friedrich von Flotow’s Martha were performed by the Los Angeles Civic Opera, the St. Louis Municipal Opera, the Metropolitan Opera (N.Y.) and elsewhere.

Over a span of more than three decades, Ronell contributed to the soundtrack scores of numerous films, including Down to their Last Yacht (1935), The River so Blue (1938), Blockade(1938), Algiers (1938), The Story of G.I. Joe (1945), One Touch of Venus (1948), Love Happy(1949), Main Street to Boadway (1953), and Meeting at a Far Meridian (1964). She was also partially or solely responsible for aspects of the musical direction for a number of these films. Ronell was a pioneer in several areas of soundtrack recording and is sometimes given credit for introducing, in The Story of G.I. Joe, the concept of the theme song sung over the title credits of a film.

Following her return to New York in the 1960s, Ronell served on the boards of several musical and theatrical associations and she was inducted into the National Academy of Popular Music’s Song Writer’s Hall of Fame in 1991.

Ann Ronell died on her 88th birthday, 25 December 1993.

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