Ruth Etting’s “Ten Cents a Dance,” a 2011 inductee to National Recording Registry

Ruth Etting rarely makes the news these days. In fact, it’s safe to say she hasn’t made the news on a regular basis since about 1955, when the movie of her life, Love Me or Leave Me, starring Doris Day came out. That’s a long time!

So I’ve never – before tonight – randomly read an article, and came upon her name. I’ve always had to search out references to her – and there have been a few in recent years. In 2000 Variety reported veteran New York producer Martin Bregman had a new movie in the works, provisionally titled The Ruth Etting Project. Then in 2001 it was reported that Jennifer Lopez and Robert De Niro would star in a remake of Love Me or Leave Me. Later that same year Angelina Jolie mentioned in an interview that she was interested in the role. Then in 2002 it was reported in the Washington Post that Kate Winslet was shooting The Ruth Etting Story in Toronto. In 2003 Jennifer Lopez was back talking about the movie and Army Archerd wrote that Al Pacino was interested in playing the male lead. In 2004 Variety reported that Al Pacino was working with director Harold Becker and producer Martin Bregman – but no female lead was named – and that version was tentatively titled Torch.

But the most interesting mentions were when two of her songs were inducted into the GRAMMY Hall of Fame. In 1999 her song “Ten Cents A Dance”, recorded in 1930 was feted – and in 2005, “Love Me Or Leave Me”, recorded in 1928 was inducted.

So over the last decade or so, Ruth Etting has made the news, in some very nice ways. And I was happy to document each and every one of those occurrences on this site – as I found them! But tonight, I found something unexpected – without even looking. I was reading the latest news and an article titled “List of 25 sounds saved by Library of Congress” had been published by The Associated Press just twelve minute before, and guess what? Ruth Etting made the list! The sounds are listed chronologically, so she’s in the third slot.

It’s an eclectic list! The oldest is the first known commercial sound recording, the Edison Talking Doll cylinder, recorded in 1888 – and the newest is “Purple Rain” by Prince and the Revolution, recorded in 1984. Other artists who made the list are Lillian Russell in 1912, Bo Diddley in 1955, Dolly Parton in 1971, and the Grateful Dead and Donna Summer, both in 1977. Also included is Leonard Bernstein’s debut performance with the New York Philharmonic, in 1943.

According to the LA Times, “The latest batch of inductees expands the registry’s total to 350 recordings that are “culturally, historically or aesthetically significant” and which span the history of recorded sound.”

The Library of Congress hasn’t updated their own site with the news yet – which is a little odd, considering the list is for the 2011 inductees, and we’re almost half-way through 2012 already? But even if the Library of Congress doesn’t have it on their site yet, it’s on the LA Times, Washington Post, Hollywood Reporter, and Salon – and I suspect by morning, it will be on countless other news sites as well.

Such fun to see Ruth Etting in the news again – and for such a great reason! One of her recordings has been deemed “culturally, historically or aesthetically significant” by the Library of Congress!

An interesting bit of trivia? The song she was inducted with, “Ten Cents a Dance,” almost never happened. It was originally written for another singer, but at the very last minute, Ruth was called in to replace her – and here’s part of the story…

To quote Ruth Etting, “the girl they’d originally hired had a full three-octave range. On my best day I never had much more than an octave and a half. There was no way I could sing that song. So Richard Rodgers, Larry Hart and I stayed up all night cutting down the range to fit my voice. Maybe that’s how the story started that the song was written for me. It wasn’t written for me. It was rewritten for me.”

So the song was essentially written the night before it debuted on Broadway in Simple Simon, and sung by a singer who stepped in less than 24-hours before the opening? Very cool!

For more on the history of the song, click here!

Edited to add, more from the press…

“Ten Cents a Dance,” Ruth Etting (1930)
Etting was one of the first great singers of the electrical era of recording, the period after the mid-1920s when the microphone replaced the acoustic recording horn. As with the best of the male crooners of the period, Etting’s vocal delivery was artfully understated and personal. In the words of popular music writers Phil Hardy and Dave Laing, Etting, “by turns peppy, fragile, and gallant … evinced the contradictory spirits of America in the Depression: sometimes beaten down, sometimes bearing up, whenever possible blithe.” All these characteristics are evident in her recording of Rodgers and Hart’s “Ten Cents a Dance,” recorded only two weeks after Etting introduced the song on stage in the musical Simple Simon. — Hollywood Reporter, 12:00 AM PDT 5/23/2012

Ruth Etting: “Ten Cents a Dance” (1930)
Ruth Etting introduced the Rodgers and Hart standard “Ten Cents a Dance” in the 1930 stage revue “Simple Simon,” and her later recording of it captures the singer’s presentation of a soul by turns struggling and beaten down – but never broken – by the Depression. — CBS News, May 23, 2012

“Ten Cents a Dance” from Simple Simon, recorded by Ruth Etting who originated the role of Sal in the musical; — TheaterMania, May 23, 2012

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2 Responses to Ruth Etting’s “Ten Cents a Dance,” a 2011 inductee to National Recording Registry

  1. Cary O'Dell says:

    The Library of Congress announcement was made at midnight on the morning of May 23, 2012. I updated the LOC’s website the first chance I got which was around 9AM the morning of the 23rd. In any event, all websites pertaining to the Registry–and Ms. Etting–have been updated now.

  2. Thank you for update Cary! I saw the article within minutes of it being published, and after reading it, I went looking for more info right away. I was definitely eager!

    Here’s the link for anyone who is interested…

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