Kay Swift

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Katharine "Kay" Faulkner Swift

Birthdate: (95)
Birthplace: New York, New York, NY, USA
Death: January 28, 1993 (95)
Southington, Hartford, CT, USA (Alzheimer's disease)
Immediate Family:

Daughter of Samuel Swift, III and Ellen Mary Swift
Ex-wife of James Paul Warburg; Faye Hubbard and Hunter Galloway
Mother of Andrea Kaufman; <private> Carlotta Gagliano (Warburg) and Kay Levin
Sister of Samuel Shippen Swift

Managed by: Randy Schoenberg
Last Updated:
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Immediate Family

About Kay Swift


Kay Swift (1897-1993) was the first woman to write the complete score to a Broadway musical -- the hit show Fine and Dandy (1930). Trained as a classical musician, she tried her hand at popular music at the suggestion of George Gershwin (left), whom she met in 1925. Her best known songs are "Can't We Be Friends?", from the 1929 Little Show on Broadway, and two songs from Fine and Dandy the following year: "Can This Be Love?" and "Fine and Dandy." Her lyricist was her first husband, banker James Paul Warburg, who used the pen name Paul James. Their marriage ended in 1934 as a consequence of her long involvement with George Gershwin.

Kay Swift wrote the music for the ballet Alma Mater, which was one of George Balanchine's premiere American ballets in 1934, and soon after became staff composer for the Rockettes at Radio City Music Hall, a job she left to become Director of Light Music for the 1939 World's Fair. Her marriage to a cowboy and subsequent move to Oregon prompted an autobiographical novel, Who Could Ask For Anything More? in 1943, which was made into the film Never a Dull Moment in 1950, which had a Kay Swift musical score. In 1952 she wrote the score for Cornelia Otis Skinner's one-woman Broadway show Paris '90.

Kay Swift's intense lifelong devotion to George Gershwin and his music led her to spend much time and creative energy on Gershwin projects from shortly after his death in 1937 until she was well into her 90's. Working with Ira Gershwin, she created the first posthumous Gershwin piece of music, "Dawn of a New Day," the theme for the 1939 World's Fair. A great deal more work with Ira on unfinished songs followed over several years, including the entire score for the movie The Shocking Miss Pilgrim. Owing to her intimate knowledge of the music and its creator, she was frequently consulted on various elements of numerous Gershwin shows and performances, especially Porgy & Bess, which for many years she was able to play in its entirety without a glance at the score. Many Gershwin pieces that would otherwise have been lost after his death were preserved in her memory, and she continued to transcribe his music, with careful notations about original keys and tempi, until just two years before her death in 1993, at age 95, in Southington, Connecticut.

Kay Swift was featured in the PBS American Masters Series, Yours for a Song: The Women of Tin Pan Alley, released on DVD in 1999.


Kay Swift (April 19, 1897 – January 28, 1993) was an American composer of popular and classical music, the first woman to score a complete musical. Written in 1930, Fine and Dandy includes some of her best known songs; the title song has become a jazz standard. "Can't We Be Friends?" (1929) was another important hit. Swift also arranged some of the music of George Gershwin posthumously, such as the prelude "Sleepless Night" (1946).


   * 1 Biography
   * 2 References
   * 3 Notes
   * 4 External links


Swift was educated as a classical musician and composer at the Institute of Musical Art (now known as the Juilliard School). Her teacher of composition was Charles Loeffler, while harmony and composition were taught to her by Percy Goetschius. Her father, a music critic, died when she was young. She had played professionally with the Edith Rubel Trio. While performing at a social event, she met the sister of her future husband, who arranged their meeting. James Paul "Jimmy" Warburg was a member of a distinguished Jewish family that had made a fortune in banking. Swift was not Jewish, and Jimmy's uncle Jacob Schiff objected to the marriage. But his parents accepted the marriage. Swift had three children by Warburg between 1919 and 1924. She was an amazing person. She was admired by kids of all ages. [1]

Before meeting George Gershwin in 1925, she was said to have been elitist about classical music. Gershwin encouraged her to write popular pieces. Kay and George were more and more frequently seen together. Frequently out of town on business, her husband Jimmy was tolerant, later saying that he liked Gershwin although he had some resentment toward the "self-centered genius" who had interfered with his life. Jimmy—under the pen name of Paul James— wrote Kay's lyrics, an attempt to compete with her interest in Gershwin. But Swift's marriage dissolved in 1934. Gershwin and Swift's affair, due to their similar personalities and musical interests, lasted perhaps ten years in all. Gershwin frequently consulted Swift about his musicals and other works. After Gershwin's death in 1937, his brother Ira Gershwin collaborated with Swift to complete and arrange some of his unpublished works.[2]

Before her 1930 hit show Fine and Dandy, Kay Swift contributed numbers to The First Little Show ("Can't We Be Friends?") and The Garrick Gaieties. In 1952, Paris '90, a one-woman performance by Cornelia Otis Skinner, featured a score by Kay Swift. In the intervening years Swift had composed a ballet for George Balanchine, been staff composer at Radio City Music Hall where she wrote musical numbers for The Rockettes, and been Director of Light Music for the 1939 World's Fair.

Swift met a cowboy at a rodeo in 1939, and eloped with him two weeks later. Her 1943 book about life on his Oregon ranch, "Who Could Ask For Anything More?" was made into the 1950 movie Never a Dull Moment, which featured Fred MacMurray as the cowboy and Irene Dunne as Kay.


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Kay Swift's Timeline

April 19, 1897
New York, New York, NY, USA
September 29, 1922
Age 25
New York, NY, USA
January 28, 1993
Age 95
Southington, Hartford, CT, USA