This is a guest post from one of our readers and VP scholars, Arne Christensen.
Dawes could be the most illustrious VP to never become president–or at least the most illustrious little known VP. He won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1925. And, before that, as an American Enterprise article relates, he…
composed “Melody in A Major” in a single piano sitting in 1911. “It’s just a tune that I got in my head, so I set it down,” he said modestly. Dawes played it for a friend, violinist Francis MacMillan, who showed it to a publisher, and before he knew it, Dawes was a composer.
“No one told me it had been published,” he recalled. “I was walking down State Street and came to a music shop. I saw a poster-size picture of myself, my name plastered all over the window in large letters and the window space entirely filled with the sheet music.”
A phonograph recording of “Melody in A Major” sold briskly, to Dawes’ amusement: “My business is that of a banker and few bankers have won renown as composers of music. I know that I will be the target of my punster friends. They will say that if all the notes in my bank are as bad as my musical ones, they are not worth the paper they were written on.”
Running with Coolidge in 1924, Dawes entertained reporters with his “picturesque vocabulary, the odd collars, the strange pipes, the superficial don’t-give-a-whoopness, the exaggeration of manner, the incoherence.” And “wherever he went,” as biographer Bascom Timmons wrote, “his ‘Melody in A Major’ was being manhandled by bands of every description.”
Dawes complained, “General Sherman, with justifiable profanity once expressed his detestation of the tune ‘Marching Through Georgia,’ to which he was compelled to listen whenever he appeared anywhere. I sympathize with his feeling when I listen to this piece of mine over and over. If it had not been fairly good music I should have been subjected to unlimited ridicule.”
In 1951, lyricist Carl Sigman supplied words to Dawes’ music. They began:
Many a tear has to fall but it’s all in the game…
First recorded by crooner Tommy Edwards, “It’s all in the Game” has been cooed, barked, purred, and growled by Dinah Shore, Sammy Kaye, the Four ops, Cliff Richard, and Van Morrison. Edwards’ soulful 1958 version made it to #1 on the Billboard charts. His recording remains the standard, though rock writer Dave Marsh regards Van Morrison’s 1979 rendering as “one of the most emotionally revealing travels through the history of pop music.”
Charles Dawes died in 1951, the year his wordless melody took lyrical flight.
Dawes also had a great-great-grandfather who rode with Paul Revere. Legend has it that Longfellow memorialized Revere, not Dawes’ ancestor, because “the name Revere rhymed better.” Dawes wrote a few books too, including The Banking System of the United States and Its Relation to the Money and Business of the United States.
The Nobel Prize commission has more good words for Dawes:
In 1920, appointed to the newly inaugurated position of Director of the Budget, Dawes applied his conceptions of efficiency and unity to the reform of budgetary procedures in the United States government. His most important reform resulted from his insistence that each department of the government prepare a true budget projecting future expenditures and stay within it. It is estimated that this reform and others, notably the unification of purchasing, saved the government about two billion dollars in the first year.
The League of Nations late in 1923 invited Dawes to chair a committee to deal with the question of German reparations. The Dawes Report, submitted in April, 1924, provided facts on Germany’s budget and resources, outlined measures needed to stabilize the currency, and suggested a schedule of payments on a sliding scale. For his masterly handling of this crucial international problem, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize; he donated the money to the endowment of the newly established Walter Hines Page School of International Relations at Johns Hopkins University. . . .
He led a full life in the commercial and political world until the age of sixty-seven; he wrote nine books; he discharged countless civic duties. Even in music he excelled. He performed on the flute and piano; composed a melody that Fritz Kreisler, the noted violinist, often played as an encore; combined his interest in music and his acumen in business to establish grand opera in Chicago.
(Thanks, Arne! Who knew Dawes was such an accomplished musician?)