Saturday, January 19, 2013

"Don't Sit Under the Apple Tree"

By Chet Williamson 
Charles Tobias once tagged himself as “the boy who writes the songs you sing,” and his output of more than 400 songs  certainly reflects such a proclamation.

Tobias was one of the most prolific songwriters of the 1920s and ‘30s and although born in New York City, he was educated and grew up in Worcester. He was a student of Ledge Street School and Classical High School

“I used to sell the Worcester Telegram and The Evening Gazette as a kid,” Tobias recalled.

While still a youngster, Tobias began his career as a vaudeville singer before moving on to becoming a staff writer at a New York music publishing firm. In 1923, he founded his own company, Tobey Music Corp., which would later employ his brothers, Harry and Henry.

Ruth Etting

Primarily known as a lyricist and singer, he collaborated with numerous songwriters producing hits sung by such legendary artists as Ruth Etting, Gene Austin, Bing Crosby, Louis Armstrong, Billie Holiday, Frank Sinatra and Nat Cole.  

He contributed songs to such Broadway shows as Earl Carroll’s Vanities of 1932, Sketch Book, Yokel Boy, Banjo Eyes, and Hellzapoppin'

One of the shows songs, “I’m Painting the Town Red,” was described by music writer Warren W. Vache as the most memorable when “recorded by a Teddy Wilson all-star group for Brunswick and a vocal by Billie Holiday. Other sides were made by Richard Himber for Victor, Bob Howard for Decca, and the Little Ramblers on Bluebird. The song was a collaboration between Charles Tobias, Charles Newman on words, with music by Sam H. Stept.” 

And, for more than 30 years, Tobias also wrote songs for Hollywood musicals such as So Long Letty, Manhattan Melodrama, Poor Cinderella, Gift of Gab, Dancing on the Moon, You’re a Sweetheart, Start Cheering, Having Wonderful Time, Forty Little Mothers, the film version of Yokel Boy, Sweetheart of the Fleet, Chip Off the Old Block, Shine On Harvest Moon, Hi, Beautiful, Saratoga Trunk, Patrick the Great, Tomorrow is Forever, Twilight on the Rio Grande, Love and Learn, The Daughter of Rosie O’Grady, On Moonlight Bay, About Face, and Kathy O. 

Quotes: “Songwriting is a matter of having faith in one’s own ideas. If a theme sticks in your head and you keep humming it, that theme may prove to be a hit…. Sometimes a hit flows right off the end of your pen. I’ve known a hit to be written in 15 minutes. That’s an exception.”  


“Comes Love”  (1939)


Writers: Charles Tobias, Lew Brown, Sam Stept

Sung by Helen Forrest with Artie Shaw 

Written with Sam Stept and Lew Brown, “Comes Love” is a favorite of many singers, including Worcester’s own Georgia Gibbs and Linda Dagnello, as well as Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, Helen Merrill, Louis Armstrong, and more recently Dianne Reeves, Joni Mitchell, Dave Van Ronk, Jamie Cullum, Ann Hampton Callaway, Norah Jones, and Stacey Kent. 

Worcester singer  Georgia Gibbs

Wynton Marsalis

Given its cool and open chord changes in a minor key, it is also a favorite of instrumentalists like Wynton Marsalis, Warren Vache, Harry Allen, Ray Anderson, Grace Kelly, Conte Condoli, among many others.  It was first introduced in the 1939 Broadway musical called Yokel Boy, starring Buddy Ebsen and Judy Canova at the Majestic Theater in New York. In the production the song was danced to by Dixie Dunbar.

“Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree” (1942)

Writers: Charles Tobias, Lew Brown, Sam Stept
Sung by Andrew Sisters with Harry James --

“Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree” was also featured in the musical, Yokel Boy. It was a major hit in 1942 for Glenn Miller with the Tex Beneke and Marion Hutton. That same year, it was also recorded with Harry James, who featured the Andrews Sisters singing with great verve and infectious enthusiasm, a needed ingredient in the middle of WWII. 

With its sentiment of love and patriotism it resonated with young romantics promising to be true from San Francisco to Manilla, from Boston to Normandy. A third recording of the tune by Kay Kyser also fared well. And, according to M. Paul Holsinger, author of War and American Popular Culture: A Historical Encyclopedia, author M. Paul Holsinger, “This was one of only a few times in history that three different recordings of the same song reached the radio’s Hit Parade simultaneously.” As writer George T. Simon pointed out in his Big Band Songbook, “Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree” proved to be custom made for its times, when boys were away from their girls, wondering what they were doing, with each group avidly hoping that the other would heed the original words of Charlie Tobias not to ‘sit under the apple tree,’ and especially Lew Brown’s follow-up line of ‘with anyone else but me.”

“The Old Lamplighter” (1946)

Writers: Charles Tobias, Nat Simon

Recorded by the Sammy Kaye Orchestra -- 

“The Old Lamplighter" was written about an actual street lamplighter who tended gas lanterns on the neighborhood of Harrison, Providence, and Water Streets near the Tobias brothers’ Worcester home. It was published in 1946 and made popular that year by Billy Williams, singer with Sammy Kaye’s Orchestra. According to Billboard, it stayed on the charts for 14 weeks and peaked at number one. It was also recorded by such stars as Kay Kyser, Hal Derwin, Teresa Brewer, Russ Morgan, and the Browns, a popular country acts from the 1960s.  


““Shadowland” sung by K.D. Lang

“Trade Winds” -- sung by Frank Sinatra

Helen Forrest

“Time Waits for No One” – sung by Helen Forrest

“Tears Don’t Care Who Cries Them” – sung by Jackie Wilson


“Those Lazy-Hazy-Crazy Days of Summer,” – sung by Nat Cole (a Top Ten Hit)

“That’s All Folks!” (Theme music for Looney Tunes cartoons, Merrie Melodies, adapted from the song “Merrily We Roll Along,” written by Charles Tobias, Eddie Cantor, and Murray Mencher)

“My First Impression of You” – sung by Billie Holiday with Lester Young --

“I’m Painting the Town Red” – sung by Billie Holiday with Teddy Wilson -- 

“Get Out and Get Under the Moon” – Nat Cole  

“I Can’t Pretend” – sung by Billie Holiday

And, “After My Laughter Came Tears” (Annette Hanshaw), “Don’t Sweetheart Me” (Joan Brooks),  “I Can’t Afford to Dream” (Artie Shaw), “I Must Have That Man” (Billie Holiday), “I Still Remember” (Rudy Vallee), “Just A Prayer Away” (Mel Cooper), “Lila” (Fred Waring’s Pennsylvannians), “Me Too” (Paul Whiteman), “My First Impression of You” (Lester Young), “Sail Along Silv’ry Moon” (Billy Vaughn) and “What Do We Do On A Dew-Dew-Dewy Day,” (Jim Miller).

Lester Young
 Among many other songs by Charles Tobias include: (Charles Tobias wrote more than 400 songs.) Here is a sample: “After My Laughter Came to Tears,” “As Long As I Live,” “Back Home,” “Boy Meets Girl,” “Comes Love,” “Dancing on the Moon,” “Don’t Be Like That,”  “Down To This,” “Every Day Away With You,” “Faithfully Yours,” “Fall in Love with Me,” “Gee, But You’re Swell,” “Haunting Me,”  “I Can’t Afford to Dream,” “Just A Prayer Away,” “Kathy-O,” “Leave Me 
Your Troubles,” “Little Curly Hair in a High Chair,” “Little Lady Make Believe,” “Little Sing-A-Lee,” “Merrily We Roll Along,” “Me Too (Ho-Ho Ha-Ha),” “Mighty Nice To Have Met You,” “My First Impression of You,” “My Heaven on Earth,” “My Wife is On a Diet,” “My Young and Foolish Heart,” “No Regrets,” “The Old Lamplighter,”  “Poor Cinderella,” “Rose O’Day,” “Start the Day Right, “Tomorrow Who Cares?” “Up in the Sky with You,” “When the Circus Comes to Town,” “Young Ideas,” and “Zing Zing Zoom Zoom.”


Gus Arnheim, Able Baer, Lew Brown, Eddie Cantor, Hans Carste, Peter DeRose, Sammy Fain, Cliff Friend, Dave Kapp, Jules Lemare, Al Lewis, Carmen Lombardo, Neil Moret, Murray Mencher, Charles Newman, Don Reid, Sigmund Romberg, Jack Scholl, Al Sherman, Nat Simon, Maurice Spitalny, Sam H. Stept, Edna Tobias, Frederick Tobias, Jerome Tobias, Henry Tobias, Harry Tobias, Pinky Tomlin, Roy Turk, Anson Weeks, and Harry Woods.

Charles Tobias 

DOB: August 15, 1898 (born in New York City, educated in Worcester Public Schools)
DOD: July 7, 1970 (Manhasset, Long IslandNew York)

This is a work in progress. Comments, corrections, and suggestions are always welcome. Also see:



  1. Harry's brother's grandson is alive and rocking in Florida, Gary D Tobias.

  2. Gary D Tobias inherited his grandfather's talent.

  3. Gary D Tobias inherited his grandfather's talent.

  4. Gary D Tobias inherited his grandfather's talent.