Flyer for Jimmy McHugh at the Sands in Las Vegas, July 1953

McHugh in Las Vegas, 1953

On February 16, 1960, Mayor John Collins proclaimed the day to be Jimmy McHugh Day in Boston. James Francis McHugh, born in Jamaica Plain, went from plumber’s helper to one of the nation’s top songwriters, composing some 500 songs between the mid-1920s and mid-1950s. Along the way he played piano on Revere Beach, plugged songs for Irving Berlin, hired Duke Ellington at New York’s Cotton Club, formed an indelible partnership with lyricist Dorothy Fields, and wrote for Broadway and Hollywood. His lyricists included Harold Adamson, Frank Loesser, and Johnny Mercer. His songs—among them “I Can’t Give You Anything but Love, Baby,” “Don’t Blame Me,” “Exactly Like You,” “A Lovely Way to Spend an Evening”—placed McHugh in the top tier of American songwriters.

His songwriting mojo seems to have left him in the early fifties, and he spent his remaining years concentrating on music publishing, reforming the copyright laws, and being a Hollywood celebrity. He knew everybody, and was famous for his pool parties.

On this trip home to Boston, the mayor made his declaration, and his friends threw a party for him at one of the private clubs—but he had to play piano for them after dinner. Jimmy McHugh died in 1969 and was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame the following year. In 2009, Alyn Shipton published a comprehensive biography, I Feel a Song Coming On: The Life of Jimmy McHugh.

Here is an incandescent Louis Armstrong performing “Blue Again,” written by McHugh and Fields in 1932, the only bright spot in a Broadway flop called the Vanderbilt Revue: