Nathaniel Shilkret

Active - 1928 - 1946  |   Genres - Drama, Comedy, Comedy Drama, Romance

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Nathaniel Shilkret enjoyed four successful careers in music. Born in New York in 1895 (some sources say 1899) to an Austrian-Jewish immigrant family, he was trained in classical music from an early age and played in most of the best orchestras in the city in the teens. He gave that up to join the Victor Record Company (later RCA Victor), where (usually credited as Nat Shilkret) he became one of the most popular bandleaders of the second half of the '20s and the early '30s, rivalling even such vaunted figures as Paul Whiteman, with whom he maintained a bitterly competitive relationship for several years. He later made the jump to radio, which grew vastly during the great depression, even as the recording industry nearly ground to a halt, and finally joined the movie business full-time in the mid-'30s. Actually, Shilkret's film credits as a composer go back to the end of the '20s once synchronized music and sound became standard, and he contributed to the early talkies of Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy, as well as more distinguished film personalities, but he never seemed to get very far from the comic duo for too many years. In the mid-'30s, after moving to Hollywood, Shilkret took on such jobs as adapting Michael Balfe's 19th century opera The Bohemian Girl to the needs of Laurel and Hardy, wrote them a big chunk of an operetta in his score for the musical comedy Swiss Miss (including the delightful "Cricket Song"), and wrote the music for the duo's best full-length feature, Way Out West (1937) (which had some delightful song and dance sequences). Although LeRoy Shield, the most ubiquitous composer at Hal Roach Studios, would be the name most closely associated with the comic duo, Shilkret gave them a special gift of wit and lyricism in the movies he worked on with them. He later joined RKO and supervised the music on such films as Mary of Scotland, Swing Time, The Plough and the Stars, and Shall We Dance? Shilkret also received an Oscar nomination for his work scoring the drama Winterset (1936). He later reprised his work with Laurel and Hardy in the '40s on such movies as Air Raid Wardens and Nothing but Trouble. Shilkret left the movie business after 1946 to join the CBS radio network as its music director. He enjoyed a long retirement and died in his eighties, knowing that several of the films he scored or supervised the music on were among the most oft-revived and respected of their makers' outputs, including Swing Time and Way Out West.

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