Jimmy McHugh

Content on this page requires a newer version of Adobe Flash Player.

Get Adobe Flash player

  • Biography
  • Back Stories
  • The Great Songs

Jimmy McHugh was born in Boston on July 10, 1895. After graduating from Staley College with a degree in music, McHugh tried several careers. As he recalled, “My father wanted me to be a plumber’s helper and follow in his footsteps. When I was eighteen I put the tools on my shoulder and went to it. On a job where I carried four-inch pipes from one part of a house to another, one of the pipes fell bang on my feet. I said, ‘That’s the end of plumbing!’”

The Broadway success of Fields and McHugh led to a contract in Hollywood.

His next plan was to become a pilot. “In Squantum, Massachusetts, the Wright Brothers and other noted aviators were having a big meeting. I went there. About that time, an important aviator was killed. I said, ‘No aviation for me.’ Returning home, I applied for the position of office boy at the Boston Opera House. For three years, that was my place. Next, [in 1917] I worked for the Irving Berlin Company in Boston. I plugged songs and rehearsed acts for eight dollars a week. There were no regular hours, but I received seventeen raises in salary.”

At Watson, Berlin, and Snyder, McHugh joined his fellow pluggers in biking around town. McHugh finally made it to New York in 1921 and took a job with Jack Mills at Mills Music. He had been writing songs since 1917 but the first one to be published was “Emaline” with lyrics by George A. Little. In 1924, McHugh had his first hit, “When My Sugar Walks Down the Street,” written with Gene Austen and Irving Mills. McHugh composed with a number of lyricists including Jack Mills’s brother Irving. In 1925, they wrote “Everything Is Hotsy Totsy Now” and began calling themselves the “Hotsy Totsy Boys.” Mills would go on to be Duke Ellington’s manager and to cut himself in on hundreds of songs, so it’s strange to think that he might have actually written some lyrics. (McHugh himself very likely took credit for work he didn’t do, but that was later.)

McHugh’s “I Can’t Believe That You’re in Love with Me,” with music by Clarence Gaskill, was interpolated into the show Gay Paree in 1925. In 1926, McHugh was introduced to Dorothy Fields and they joined forces, first on Lew Leslie’s very successful Blackbirds of 1928. The score contained such great songs as “I Can’t Give You Anything but Love,” “I Must Have That Man,” and “Diga Diga Do.” And that’s the problem. Years later, both Fats Waller and Andy Razaf claimed they had written “I Can’t Give You Anything but Love” and had sold it to McHugh.

The song had been introduced in Harry Delmar’s Revels the year before but hadn’t received any notice. “I Can’t Give You Anytyhing but Love” was put into the Blackbirds score where it became a smash. Fats Waller did make several recordings of the song and Andy Razaf, on the occasion of being inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame, told Don Redman’s wife that it was the song of which he was the most proud. Short of any real proof, we’ll never know who wrote the song, but many believe Waller and Razaf.

Fields and McHugh also began writing for the Cotton Club in 1927. In 1930, Lew Leslie produced The International Revue and the team supplied the show with another standard, “On the Sunny Side of the Street.” Some have accused McHugh of buying that one from Waller and Razaf as well. The great hit “Exactly Like You” is also from the score, and both songs were introduced by Harry Richman.

The Broadway success of Fields and McHugh led to a contract in Hollywood. They arrived in 1930, along with many songwriting brethren from the East Coast. The first complete score by the team came in 1935 with Every Night at Eight. The hits were “I’m in the Mood for Love” and “I Feel a Song Comin’ On,” the latter with a lyric by Fields and George Oppenheimer. McHugh’s name showed up, along with Dorothy Fields, as lyricist of additional songs for the film version of Roberta. Although he had nothing to do with it, McHugh’s name was added to the music too. That year, Fields and McHugh decided to split up.

McHugh then teamed up with Harold Adamson though he occasionally worked with other lyricists. He returned to New York in 1939 for the Carmen Miranda vehicle, Streets of Paris. Al Dubin wrote the songs, including “South American Way,” and they went on to collaborate again the following year, on Keep Off the Grass.

McHugh wrote for Hollywood with a number of other lyricists including Frank Loesser, Al Dubin, and Johnny Mercer. In 1942, he and Adamson wrote the wartime hit, “Comin’ in on a Wing and a Prayer.” They also wrote “I Couldn’t Sleep a Wink Last Night” for the film Higher and Higher in 1943.

McHugh and Adamson continued to write regularly for the movies until 1948, the year of their last big success, “It’s a Most Unusual Day,” written for A Date with Judy. They continued writing pop tunes and the occasional Hollywood title song until 1958. McHugh continued writing until his death on May 23, 1969. (KB)

Who wrote the tune?

Jimmy McHugh and Dorothy Fields were reportedly outside Tiffany’s jewelry store when they heard a swain tell his girlfriend, “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love.” They took the phrase, added “Lindy” (referring to Charles Lindburgh) and wrote a song. Perhaps realizing that the addition would date the song, they replaced the name with “baby.” Or maybe not. Fats Waller claimed he wrote the tune and sold it to Jimmy McHugh, along with “On the Sunny Side of the Street.” We do know that later, when Fields wrote additional lyrics for the film remake of Roberta, titled Lovely to Look At, she kept McHugh’s name as co-author on the songs although he had nothing to do with writing them.I Can't Give You Anything But Love

First multiple recording

Jimmy McHugh claimed a first for this song, “For the recording, I had Lawrence Tibbett make a harmony record of himself (overdubbed), and on the screen it showed the real Tibbett as a soldier and his image as a ghost standing beside him. This was the first multiple recording in record history.”Cuban Love Song

Bookmark and Share

Content on this page requires a newer version of Adobe Flash Player.

Get Adobe Flash player

The 3 part PBS Series
Own the DVD