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Harry Carroll and Joseph McCarthy "I'm Always Chasing Rainbows"

Based on Chopin's Fantaisie-Impromptu, Op. 66
([New York]: Miller Music, [1945?])

American Musical Theatre Collection
Gilmore Music Library

Harry Carroll and Joseph McCarthy "I'm Always Chasing Rainbows"

   During the first half of the twentieth century, the songwriters of Tin Pan Alley frequently borrowed tunes from composers such as Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninoff. The resulting songs sometimes reached a far larger audience than the pieces from which they were drawn. Chopin’s most notable contribution to this genre was the lyrical melody from his Fantaisie-Impromptu, Op. 66, which was transformed into “I’m Always Chasing Rainbows,” with words by Joseph McCarthy and music by Harry Carroll. In addition to arranging Chopin’s tune for the song’s refrain, Carroll composed the verse, which is not based on Chopin, and is not as widely known.

   “I’m Always Chasing Rainbows” first appeared in the Broadway musical Oh, Look (1918); it was sung by Harry Fox. The show, which also featured identical twins known as Dolly Sisters, ran for two months. Fox and other singers soon released recordings of the song. According to Edward Foote Gardner, who retrospectively compiled Billboard-style pop charts for the first half of the twentieth century, it was the most popular song in the United States in January 1919.

   Two decades later “I’m Always Chasing Rainbows” gained a new lease on life when it was used in a series of movies: Rose of Washington Square (1939), Ziegfield Girl (1941), and a biographical film, The Dolly Sisters (1945), in which Betty Grable and June Haver portrayed the twins. The sheet music displayed here was marketed in connection with The Dolly Sisters. It bears a standard copyright notice, shamelessly warning that “Any arrangement or adaptation of this composition without the consent of the owner is an infringement of copyright,” while failing to mention that Carroll took his melody from Chopin.

   “I’m Always Chasing Rainbows” has become a standard: it has been performed in a wide variety of styles by innumerable singers and instrumentalists, ranging from Bing Crosby to Alice Cooper. (Eddie Sauter’s arrangement for Benny Goodman’s band is on display as well.) It is probably Chopin’s second most famous melody, after the Funeral March from the Piano Sonata No. 2, a version of which is also included in our exhibit.