Great Performances (1971– )
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The Great American Songbook 

Documentary assembling film clips of musical numbers from songwriters considered significant contributors to pop culture before the advent of rock and roll.


Andrew J. Kuehn


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Episode credited cast:
Michael Feinstein ... Himself - Host
Rest of cast listed alphabetically:
Robert Alda ... Himself (archive footage)
June Allyson ... Herself (archive footage)
Eddie 'Rochester' Anderson ... Himself (archive footage)
The Andrews Sisters ... Themselves (archive footage)
Harold Arlen Harold Arlen ... Himself (archive footage)
Fred Astaire ... Himself (archive footage)
Irving Berlin ... Himself (archive footage)
Fanny Brice ... Herself (archive footage)
Anne Brown Anne Brown ... Herself (archive footage)
Virginia Bruce ... Herself (archive footage)
James Cagney ... Himself (archive footage)
Eddie Cantor ... Himself (archive footage)
Ben Carter ... Himself (archive footage)
Maurice Chevalier ... Himself (archive footage)


Documentary assembling film clips of musical numbers from songwriters considered significant contributors to pop culture before the advent of rock and roll.

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis









Release Date:

11 March 2003 (USA) See more »

Company Credits

Production Co:

KQED See more »
Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs

Sound Mix:

Dolby Digital



Aspect Ratio:

1.33 : 1
See full technical specs »

Did You Know?


Vernon Duke, the Russian-born songwriter mentioned in the film, studied music at the St. Petersburg Conservatory under his original name, Vladimir Dukelsky. One of his classmates was Sergei Prokofieff, who became a major classical composer: the two were lifelong friends and regularly wrote letters to each other until Prokofieff's death in 1953. (The letters were an important source for Harlow Robinson's biography of Prokofieff.) See more »


This film repeats the mistake from the 1999 documentary "Yours for a Song: The Women of Tin Pan Alley" that claimed Dorothy Fields was the first woman to break through male-dominated Broadway and write the lyrics for a hit musical. Before Fields, Rida Johnson Young had written "The Naughty Marietta" with Victor Herbert and Dorothy Donnelly had written "The Student Prince" with Sigmund Romberg. (Both Herbert and Romberg are mentioned in this show, but their female collaborators aren't.) See more »


Features Alexander's Ragtime Band (1938) See more »

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User Reviews

One of the best on the subject.
26 December 2004 | by standardmetalSee all my reviews

While I might argue with some of the choices made in representing the musical numbers such as not giving the names of all the films the clips were from, as a whole I found this a fascinating documentary which gave an excellent idea of musical influences over the years.

It also helps to have a fine performer and expert on this vast subject in Michael Feinstein. While I wouldn't put him up there with the greatest entertainers, he certainly is impressive in what he can do with his fine musical gifts. And as an archivist for Ira Gershwin, he is in a unique position to talk about it. And, yes, I do understand that he and his associate Andrew J. Kuehn were not able to get all the permissions they would have liked, (The song "Singin' in the Rain" was represented but the film was conspicuous by its absence.) they have done well with what they had to work with.

I was struck by how often Judy Garland appeared in this documentary and I was glad that Betty Hutton finally got some long overdue appreciation for "Annie Get Your Gun". Despite the comments on this DVD, that film is now actually available on DVD but that probably happened after this one was released.

I was also amused that Michael spoke of the inaccuracies of musical biopics. He said they were all more or less fictionalized but the ones on Rodgers and Hart and Cole Porter were singled out. The first, "Words and Music" ignored Larry's homosexuality and alcoholism and the second, "Night and Day", Cole's homosexuality, later only partly rectified by Kevin Kline's film, "De-Lovely" (which I have now seen and reviewed.). But these topics could not have been broached at the time these films were made.

8 out of 10.

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