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A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square

Written: c. 1939
Published: 1940

Words and Music by: Eric Maschwitz (aka Holt Marvell),
Manning Sherwin
and Jack Strachey (See below.)

Formally introduced in the
New Faces Revue
(London, 1940)

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On the Main Stage at Cafe Songbook

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Mel Tormé


"A Nightingale Sang
in Berkeley Square"

at The Ambassador Auditorium, Pasadena, CA
John Colianni, piano; John Leitham, bass;
Donny Osbourne, drums -- 1994.

Tormé recorded "A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square"
live on the 1996 album A&E Presents An Evening With Mel Tormé - Live From The Disney Institute

More Performances of "A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square"
in the Cafe Songbook Record/Video Cabinet
(Video credit)


Cafe Songbook Reading Room

"A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square"

Critics Corner || Lyrics Lounge

About the Revue New Faces / Origins of the Song

Although every copy of the sheet music we have seen gives credit only to Manning Sherwin (music) and Eric Maschwitz--aka Holt Marvell--(lyrics), there is no shortage of unsourced citations for the music credit being shared by Sherwin and Jack Strachey.

Other songs written for New Faces (1940) currently included in the Cafe Songbook Catalog of The Great American Songbook: none.


That a song written by Brits about London has become a standard in America, recorded by so many American singers of The Songbook, such as Kate Smith, Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole, Carmen McRae and many others accounts for its inclusion in the Cafe Songbook Catalog of The Great American Songbook.

sheet music cover
"A Nightingale
Sang in Berkeley Square"

Sheet Music
words and music by Eric Maschwitz,
Manning Sherwin and Jack Strachey

For a photo of Strachey at piano working with Maschwitz, see the blog site Songbook.

"A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley* Square" was formally introduced by Judy Campbell in Eric Maschwitz's New Faces Revue in London in April, 1940 -- although according to Wikipedia, it was written in 1939 in the French fishing village of Le Lavando and premiered in a bar there by lyricist Maschwitz. Whether this account is true or not the song quickly became a wartime favorite in Britain and, after Pearl Harbor, in The States owing to its powerful evocation of feelings of separation and longing for a happier time. More precisely the song conjures a romantic nostalgia recalling a London setting in which "true lovers [could] meet in Mayfair" and "hear the songbirds sing" as an alternative to the sounds of the Battle of Dunkirk and then The Blitz, both of which followed Campbell's introduction in short order.

Judy Campbell performs "A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square" in 2002, 62 years after she introduced it in April, 1940,
just before the London Blitz.

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Critics Corner

book cover: "The Tin Pan Alley Song Encyclopedia" by Thomas Hischak
Thomas Hischak, The Tin Pan Alley Song Encyclopedia, Westport CT: Greenwood Press, 2002


book cover: "Sinatra the Song Is You" by Will Friedwald
Will Friedwald, Sinatra! The Song Is You A Singer's Art, New York: Scribners, 1995.
Da Capo Press paperback edition
(shown above) 1997



"Berkeley" is pronounced "Barkley."


**Other examples of songs in The Cafe Songbook catalog by songwriters who are not American are "These Foolish Things" (also by Maschwitz, Sherwin and Strachey); "Mack the Knife" and "September Song" (music by Kurt Weill, German, who came to the U.S. in 1935, seven years after he wrote "Mack the Knife" and three years before "September Song").


**Of course Fred Astaire and Adele Astaire, his sister and longtime co-star, spent much time in the UK and were widely known there both as performers and figures in society. Adele gave up show business when she married into the British aristocracy. Also, Fred's movies with Ginger Rodgers had all been seen in Great Britain by the time "A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square" had been written.

A song written by British songwriters and introduced in a British revue by a British singer may need an explanation as to why it should be included in The Great American Songbook.** As Thomas Hischak points out, the song became popular in America because it evoked the same kinds of feelings of sadness brought about by wartime separation as it had in Britain, even though most Americans had no idea about the London square where the song is set (Hischak, p. 264).

"A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square" was written in the same style as American popular songs from what later became known as The Great American Songbook, and it was sung and played by the most well-known American singers and bands. Such prototypically American recording artists as Glenn Miller, Guy Lombardo and Sammy Kaye made it popular and as a result it was brought to "Your Hit Parade, a radio show listened to by millions of Americans every week. The song fit so well the feelings and tastes of Americans that very quickly it was transformed into something American even though its imagery is so solidly English. It helped, of course, that the verse, which opens with a reference to Mayfair, the London district where Berkeley Square is located, was dropped by almost all American singers:

When true lovers meet in Mayfair, so the legends tell,
Songbirds sing.

The very English first lines of the refrain, which were sung by American artists from the big band singers of the forties to the likes Anita O'Day, Nat King Cole, Sinatra, etc. in the fifties and after was not a deterrent to Americans making it their own:

That certain night,
The Night we met,
There was magic abroad in the air.
There were angels dining at the Ritz,
And a Nightingale sang in Berkeley Square.

Even lyricist Maschwitz tipped his hat to the American Songbook, first when he compares the lightness of the lovers' homeward step after their romance in the Square to the "dancing feet of Astaire,*** and again when he alludes to the 1935 Irving Berlin song, "Cheek to Cheek," introduced by Fred in the movie Top Hat:

This heart of mine
Beat loud and fast
Like a merry-go-round in a fair,
For we were dancing cheek to cheek
And a nightingale sang in Berkeley Square.

More than twenty years later in 1962, when Maschwitz heard that Frank Sinatra was planning on recording his "Nightingale," for the album Sinatra Sings Great Songs from Great Britain, he was so thrilled he called Sinatra's Reprise UK producer Alan Freeman and said, "For God's sake make sure this song ("Nightingale") gets in. It would be the crowning of my career to have Sinatra record one of my songs!" (Will Friedwald reports in his book, Sinatra: The Song is You that "Maschwitz neglected to tell Freeman about Sinatra's Columbia and Capitol recordings of "[These] Foolish Things" -- another Maschwitz/Strachey collaboration -- apparently to make a stronger impression and improve his later song's chances (Friedwald, p. 394, hardcover Ed.).

Apparently Thomas Hischak also feels the pull of the American side of "Nightingale" because he includes it in his Tin Pan Alley Song Encyclopedia, the Alley having been the quintessentially American epicenter of popular song for several decades of the early twentieth century.

Listen to and watch British singer Kathryn Jenkins, like Vera Lynn before her a "Forces Sweetheart," sing "A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square" and "We'll Meet Again" before a very down home audience."
(View at YouTube)
None of the above is to say that the British, especially those of the WWII generation, think of "A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square" as less than their own and don't sing it and listen to it with nostalgia and a patriotic spirit not to mention its capacity to make a stiff upper lip tremble just a bit.

book cover: Charles Granata, Sessions with Sinatra
Charles L. Granata
Sessions with Sinatra:
Frank Sinatra
and the Art of Recording

Chicago: Chicago Review Press
A Capella Books, 1999.

Sinatra's Recording Session for
"A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square" recorded for the album
Great Songs from Great Britain (1962)
(based on the account given by Charles L. Granata
in his book Sessions with Sinatra.)

Songs from Great Britain is Sinatra's only album to be recorded outside the U.S., and it came about at the singer's request. As he tells a Paris audience during the tour that preceded the recording sessions of June, 1962, London is his favorite town, and before he left The States for the tour he knew he wanted to record an album there an had arranged to do one that included only British songs. The arrangements would also be British in that the arranger Robert Farnum was a local boy.

The album's producer was Alan Freeman, head of the Reprise London office, and lyricist Eric Maschwitz was only one of many songwriters who called him to plead for their songs to be included on the album, knowing what a Sinatra recording could do for them. Freeman told Maschwitz that "A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square" "would stand a great chance [of being included]," and sent the request on to Sinatra. (Charles Granata, The Sinatra Sessions, p. 163).

The recording sessions for Great Songs from Great Britain were stressful not only because the surroundings were completely new to Sinatra and the studio was over capacity with "special" guests, but because the singer had just finished an extraordinarily demanding world tour and was nearing the end of his vocal rope. His voice was far from its peak, he was exhausted and he knew it. Everybody from the musicians to the studio crew was tense. On the very first song, "If I Had You," of all things the piano, the only one available, broke down. Instead of blowing up as he sometimes did, Sinatra, as he was more often inclined, used his ability to calm things down and just told his piano player Bill Miller to use the celeste. It worked and the tension was broken.

"A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square" came up during the second session, June 13, 1962, and although it only required two takes, it was the one song on which Sinatra wanted an intercut made. He rarely did this preferring that his tracks be integral live performances instead of the composites made possible after the beginning of the taping era. As Granata explains it, "If there were minor problems with a small section of a recording, the short passage would be rerecorded and intercut (spliced) into the master take in the appropriate place." Freeman remembered that "Frank loved Harry Roche's trombone solo." On the tapes you can hear Sinatra's instructions, revealing his expertise in both the musical and technical aspects of the process: "'Intercut, using bar fifty-two on out for me . . . the trombone solo is excellent, so let's save that'." Freeman noted that this was "'the first time in two night's work that Frank actually came into the control room during the session. He came in to tell the engineer to make the splice right there, on the spot . . . very frightening!'" The young and very nervous engineer fulfilled Sinatra's request successfully and everybody "breathed a sigh of relief."

Years later, producer Freeman noted, "Personally, I think that's the song ["A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square"] that came out best on the album."

(all quotations and sourcing from Granata, pp. 163-167).

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Lyrics Lounge

Click here to read the lyrics for "A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square"
as sung by Tony Bennett on the album Perfectly Frank.

Amazon iTunes

Neither Bennett on the above album nor Sinatra on Great Songs from Great Britain include the verseto the song, which uses Berkeley Square and its London neighborhood, Mayfair, to introduce a magical setting that can cast a spell on true lovers who meet there:

Winter turns to spring,
Every winding street in Mayfair falls beneath the spell.
I know such enchantment can be,
Cause it happened one evening to me.

The refrainthen carries on by elaborating on "That certain night, / The Night we Met" when the most magical thing of all was that "A nightingale sang in Berkeley Square."

To hear the full verse listen to Mel Tormé on the Cafe Songbook Main Stage, the Vera Lynn version in the Cafe Songbook Record/Video cabinet, or the Karen Akers version.


The complete, authoritative lyrics for"A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square"
can be found in:

book cover: "Reading Lyrics" Ed. by Robert Gottlieb and Robert Kimball

Reading Lyrics,
Edited and with an Introduction by Robert Gottlieb and Robert Kimball, New York: Pantheon Books, 2000.

Click here to read Cafe Songbook lyrics policy.

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Posted Comments on "A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square":


Polish Fish, 09/17/2016: "The page for 'A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square' contains a reference to a flute being played at the opening of Glenn Miller's 1940 recording of the song. Per John Flowers' discography which references logs from Glenn Miller Productions, the instrument is a clarinet."

Polish Fish adds, 09/18/2016: "Many later artists echoed the Miller lead-in with a flute so the mixup is understandable. As somewhat of a Miller scholar I was able to look at primary or near-primary sources which definitely identify the instrument as a clarinet. To the best of my information, it's unlikely his orchestrations ever used a flute on any performances :)"

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The Cafe Songbook
Record/Video Cabinet:
Selected Recordings of

"A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square"

(All Record/Video Cabinet entries below
include a music-video
of this page's featured song.
The year given is for when the studio
track was originally laid down
or when the live performance was given.)

Performer/Recording Index
(*indicates accompanying music-video)
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Vera Lynn
album: Something to Remember - Wartime Memories

Amazon iTunes

Notes: Dame Vera Lynn is a British singer, songwriter and actress whose initial and greatest success came singing the songs of WWII. She remains a symbol of the British spirit during the war. She includes the verse on this 1940 recording of "A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square."
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Glenn Miller and His Orchestra
album: Essential Glenn Miller

same track as on album referenced above

Amazon iTunes

Notes: Glenn Miller and His Orchestra recorded "A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square" (Bluebird 10931) with a Ray Eberle vocal in New York City on Oct. 11, 1940. The fluttering flute ["clarinet"] (see correction at comments, this page) that opens the track and no doubt is meant to suggest the sound of the nightingale began, it seems, with the Miller recording and has been picked up by others including, on this page, the Sinatra recording. The record was first charted on Dec. 21, peaking at #2.

"This double-CD set should not be confused with the similarly named mid-'90s, 47-song compilation from BMG, which was good in its time but is outclassed by this entry in Sony Music's (now Sony BMG's) Essential series" (from iTunes review).
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Anita O'Day
album: This Is Anita
(title sometimes given as Anita)

same track as on album referenced above

Amazon iTunes

Notes: The album was recorded at Capitol studios, Los Angeles in December 1955 under the direction of and with arrangements by Buddy Bregman" and was O'Day's first album with Verve and Norman Granz.

"This CD is a straight reissue of the original LP with singer Anita O'Day heard in prime form. Accompanied by an orchestra conducted and arranged by Buddy Bregman, O'Day is heard near the peak of her powers on such songs as 'You're the Top,' 'Honeysuckle Rose,' an emotional rendition of 'A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square,' and 'As Long As I Live.' One of her better recordings, this CD is recommended" (from album description (at CD Universe) by Scott Yanow.

Personnel includes "Anita O'Day (vocals, guitar, piano, drums); Barney Kessel (guitar); Corky Hale (harp, strings); Milt Bernhart, Lloyd Elliott, Joe Howard, Si Zentner (trombone); Paul Smith (piano); Alvin Stoller (drums)" -- source: CD Universe. The Anita O'Day version appears on various compilations of O'Day songs and she often sang "A Nightingale Sings in Berkeley Square live.
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Video 2: Anita O'Day live in Sweden, 1963

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Nat King Cole
album: Tell Me All About Yourself/The Touch Of Your Lips

same track as on albums referenced above and below

Amazon iTunes icon

Notes: The CD shown above is a "twofer" containing two earlier Cole albums. Tell Me about Yourself came out in 1960 and The Touch of Your Lips, which contained "A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square," was recorded on Dec. 22-23, 1961 -- with arrangements and orchestra conducted by Ralph Carmichael. The same track is also available on the very popular 2003 Cole compilation, Love Songs.

Amazon iTunes

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Frank Sinatra
album: Sinatra Sings Great Songs
from Great Britain

same track as on album referenced above

Amazon iTunes

Notes: Although Sinatra Sings Great Songs from Great Britain was recorded in June, 1962, it was not released in the U.S. until the early 1990s on CD. For more detail on the album and the recording session for "Nightingale", see Cafe Songbook Critics' Corner Granata entry. This track of "Nightingale" is also available on Frank Sinatra: The Reprise Collection and The Complete Reprise Studio Recordings Box Set.
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Bobby Darin
album: The Legendary Bobby Darin

same track as on album referenced above

Amazon iTunesicon

Notes: Bobby Darin recorded "A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square" on September 4, 1962 with a Billy May arrangement for Capitol records.
(Ed.'s note: It's not hard to guess that a May arrangement would lead to a swinging performance and Darin does it justice; however, one might wonder if this ballad with its magic spell atmosphere doesn't come off better in a gentler rendition such as Sinatra's from several months earlier of the same year.)

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Manhattan Transfer
album: Mecca for Moderns

same track as on album referenced above

Amazon iTunes

Notes: "After the deserved artistic, critical and popular success of Extensions, the Manhattan Transfer went back to ace producer Jay Graydon for Mecca for Moderns, which almost matches its predecessor in its contemporary energy while drawing selectively from the past . . . . No longer a mere nostalgia act, the Manhattan Transfer had not only caught up with the times, they were now slightly ahead of them as well" (iTunes review by Richard S. Ginell, Rovi).
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Rosemary Clooney
album: Rosemary Clooney Sings Ballads

Amazon iTunes

Notes: "Rosemary Clooney continued her string of jazz sets for Concord in 1985 with this lyrical program. Clooney interprets ten ballads with the assistance of tenor saxophonist Scott Hamilton, cornetist Warren Vaché, guitarist Ed Bickert, pianist John Oddo (her musical director), bassist Chuck Israels and drummer Jake Hanna. Clooney's versions of such songs as "The Shadow of Your Smile," "A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square," "Easy Living" and "It Never Entered My Mind" are filled with sincere feeling and rank with the best versions ever. However, a general sameness of tempo keeps this album from being quite as highly recommended as most of Clooney's other Concord records, although it is well worth picking up." (Scott Yanow at CD Universe)
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Karen Akers
album: Just Imagine

Amazon iTunes

Notes: Karen Akers relates the song choices on her fourth album, Just Imagine . . . , to her marriage to Kevin Power, which occurred only three months before the recording sessions. Thus, the material is, if anything, even more tilted toward the romantic than usual. But that is not to say that the emotional range and subject matter are limited. Rather, different aspects of a loving relationship are examined. . . . . Michael Abene, Akers' usual pianist/arranger, is spelled on six tracks by Mike Renzi, but the accompaniments are her usual tasteful, unobtrusive ones, with Andy Drelles adding his individual reed parts, John Loehrke a restrained bass, and Jim Saporito discreet percussion. The focus remains on Akers' voice and precise, considered phrasing, making for another excellent album from this top nightclub entertainer" (from iTunesreview).

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1990 and 1996
Mel Tormé
albums: Two Darn Hot (1990) and An Evening With Mel Tormé - Live From The Disney Institute (1996)

live performance track from concert in Japan, 1990 on the album Two Darn Hot: Night at the Concord Pavilion/Fujitsu-Concord Jazz Festival in Japan --both 1990

Amazon iTunes

Notes: Two Darn Hot is a reissue of two live 1990 concerts by Tormé combined into one album: Night at the Concord Pavilion (Concord, California) and the Fujitsu Concord Jazz Festival in Japan. Tormé's backing is off and on a small band and a full orchestra. Personnel includes Ted Dunbar (guitar); Bill Ramsay (alto saxophone, baritone saxophone); Curtis Peagler (alto saxophone); Frank Wess, Marshall Royal (tenor saxophone); Arthur "Babe" Clarke (baritone saxophone); Harry "Sweets" Edison , Joe Newman , Pete Minger, Ray Brown , Snooky Young, Ron Tooley (trumpet); Grover Mitchell , Dennis Wilson , Al Grey, Art Baron, Benny Powell, Douglas Purviance (trombone); John Campbell (piano); Donny Osborne (drums) (Nightingale" on video just above).

The 1996 concert from The Disney Institute was Tormé's last recording before he suffered a serious stroke. "Remarkably, Tormé had gradually improved both as a singer and as a jazz improviser all throughout his sixties (his voice was in phenomenal shape), and he is heard on this live set, filmed for a television special, in peak form despite being 70. Joined by his regular trio (pianist Mike Renzi, bassist John Leitham, and drummer Donny Osborne), Tormé performs a typical swing-oriented program that includes a Benny Goodman medley, a memorable rendition of "A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square" (he could hold notes on ballads endlessly without wavering), a heated "Pick Yourself Up," and a tribute to Ella Fitzgerald on "Oh, Lady Be Good," among other numbers. Ironically, Tormé concluded what may be his final recording with a touching rendition of "Ev'ry Time We Say Goodbye" (from iTunes review).
View performance on Cafe Songbook Main Stage, above.
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Karen Oberlin
album: My Standards

Amazon iTunes

Notes: On the video Karen Oberlin is live at at Feinstein's at the Regency, New York City, Jan. 9, 2010. The album My Standards is a 2001 release.
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Harry Allen
album: Hits by Brits

Amazon iTunes

Notes: The version on the album above features Harry Allen, tenor sax; Joel Forbes, bass guitar; Joe Cohn, guitar; John Allred, trombone; Chuck Riggs, drums; and was recorded at Twinz Recording Studio, River Edge, NJ, Nov. 2006.
"A superior swing-based tenor saxophonist influenced by Stan Getz and Scott Hamilton, Harry Allen has made an increasingly strong reputation during numerous recordings and countless live appearances. But even with his growing discography, Hits by Brits may very well be Allen's finest all-round recording, at least to date" (from iTunes review).
The video version is from 2005, preceding the album above by a year and a half. It features "The Swing Brothers, Harry Allen New York Sextet" featuring Allen and Scott Hamilton, tenor sax; Bucky Pizzarelli, guitar; John Bunch, piano; Jay Leonhart, bass; Chuck Riggs, drums; and was recorded at Nola Recording studios in New York for Swing Bros. Records CMSB-28005.
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Eric Comstock and Randy Napoleon
album: Bitter / Sweet

Amazon iTunes

Notes: Eric Comstock, vocal; Randy Napoleon, guitar. Arrangements by these two. An intimate and affecting rendition. (music-video currently unavailable)

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