Bill (Show Boat)

Bill (Show Boat)

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"Bill" is a song heard in Act II of Kern
Jerome Kern
Jerome David Kern was an American composer of musical theatre and popular music. One of the most important American theatre composers of the early 20th century, he wrote more than 700 songs, used in over 100 stage works, including such classics as "Ol' Man River", "Can't Help Lovin' Dat Man", "A...

 and Hammerstein
Oscar Hammerstein II
Oscar Greeley Clendenning Hammerstein II was an American librettist, theatrical producer, and theatre director of musicals for almost forty years. Hammerstein won eight Tony Awards and was twice awarded an Academy Award for "Best Original Song". Many of his songs are standard repertoire for...

's classic 1927 musical Show Boat
Show Boat
Show Boat is a musical in two acts with music by Jerome Kern and book and lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II. It was originally produced in New York in 1927 and in London in 1928, and was based on the 1926 novel of the same name by Edna Ferber. The plot chronicles the lives of those living and working...

. The song was written for Kern and P.G. Wodehouse's 1917 musical Oh, Lady! Lady!!
Oh, Lady! Lady!!
Oh, Lady! Lady!! is a musical with music by Jerome Kern, a book by Guy Bolton and P. G. Wodehouse and lyrics by Wodehouse. It was written for the Princess Theatre on Broadway, where it played in 1918 and ran for 219 performances. The story concerns an engaged young man, Bill, whose ex-fiancée...

for Vivienne Segal
Vivienne Segal
Vivienne Sonia Segal was an American actress and singer.Segal was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She is best remembered for creating the role of Vera Simpson in Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart's Pal Joey and introduced the song "Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered"...

 to perform, but withdrawn because it was considered too melancholy for that show. However, when Kern and Hammerstein were at work on the serious and somewhat tragic Show Boat, they decided that the song would be perfect for a nightclub scene in the show. Hammerstein revised Wodehouse's original lyrics somewhat (though he would always give full credit to Wodehouse for the song and take none for himself), and the song was given to real-life nightclub singer Helen Morgan
Helen Morgan
Helen Morgan was an American singer and actress who worked in films and on the stage. A quintessential torch singer, she made a big splash in the Chicago club scene in the 1920s...

, who portrayed the mulatto Julie in Show Boat, to sing.

The song is sung only once in the show and is highly emotional, with the singer supposedly on the verge of tears. It is sung in an audition scene in Act II. At the Trocadero, a local Chicago night club, Julie LaVerne
Julie Dozier
Julie Dozier is a character in Edna Ferber's 1926 novel Show Boat. In Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II's classic musical version of it, which opened on Broadway on December 27, 1927, her stage name is Julie La Verne. She is exposed as Julie Dozier in Act I...

, the former leading lady of the show boat, is the featured singer. Julie, who is of mixed blood, has been permanently abandoned by her white husband, Steve Baker, years after the two were forced to leave the show boat because of their interracial, and illegal, marriage. Despondent, Julie has taken to drink and is quickly becoming an alcoholic. At the urging of Jim Green, the nightclub manager, Julie rehearses the song "Bill", which is a woman's confession of deep love for a less-than-perfect man named Bill, and it is clear that the emotion that Julie puts into the song comes from the fact that she is really thinking about her husband as she sings.

"Bill" became one of Helen Morgan's signature songs, and onstage she sang it in her trademark style sitting atop a piano. Although the song is sung only once in Show Boat and never reprised, it has become one of the musical's most famous.

On film, Helen Morgan sang "Bill" both in the prologue to the 1929 part-talkie film version of Show Boat
Show Boat (1929 film)
Show Boat is a film based on the novel by Edna Ferber. This version was released by Universal in two editions, one a silent film for movie theatres still not equipped for sound, and one a part-talkie with a sound prologue...

  and in the classic 1936 film version
Show Boat (1936 film)
Show Boat is a 1936 film based on the musical play by Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II , which the team adapted from the novel by Edna Ferber....

. Lena Horne
Lena Horne
Lena Mary Calhoun Horne was an American singer, actress, civil rights activist and dancer.Horne joined the chorus of the Cotton Club at the age of sixteen and became a nightclub performer before moving to Hollywood, where she had small parts in numerous movies, and more substantial parts in the...

 was filmed singing it for the Jerome Kern biopic Till the Clouds Roll By
Till the Clouds Roll By
Till The Clouds Roll By is a 1946 American musical film made by MGM. The film is a fictionalized biography of composer Jerome Kern, who was originally involved with the production of the film, but died before it was completed...

, but the scene was eventually cut, and Ava Gardner
Ava Gardner
Ava Lavinia Gardner was an American actress.She was signed to a contract by MGM Studios in 1941 and appeared mainly in small roles until she drew attention with her performance in The Killers . She became one of Hollywood's leading actresses, considered one of the most beautiful women of her day...

, using the dubbed-in voice of Annette Warren, sang it in the 1951 Technicolor remake of Show Boat
Show Boat (1951 film)
Show Boat is a 1951 Technicolor film based on the musical by Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II and the novel by Edna Ferber....

. Gardner's own voice can be heard on the soundtrack record.

Shirley Bassey
Shirley Bassey
Dame Shirley Bassey, DBE , is a Welsh singer. She found fame in the late 1950s and was "one of the most popular female vocalists in Britain during the last half of the 20th century"...

 recorded the song for the 1959 Studio Cast Album of "Show Boat".

The song was a regular part of Dorothy Lamour
Dorothy Lamour
Dorothy Lamour was an American film actress. She is best remembered for appearing in the Road to... movies, a series of successful comedies starring Bing Crosby and Bob Hope .-Early life:Lamour was born Mary Leta Dorothy Slaton in New Orleans, Louisiana, the daughter of Carmen Louise Dorothy...

's repertoire. Lamour frequently sang it on radio and in concert and recorded it in 1958.