One evening recently , I had the pleasure of hearing a lovely, talented young woman sing a wistful version of the ballad, “Someone To Watch Over Me.” Touched anew by its freshness and beauty, I went in search of some background on the song. The melody is by George Gershwin and the lyrics by his brother, Ira. The song was written for a musical called Oh, Kay! that premiered in 1926 — which makes it 85 years old. Ira penned the lyrics early in his musical theater career — he was just 30 at the time.
This one song is probably the only survivor from Oh, Kay! It remains a favorite of singers from Lena Horne and Linda Ronstadt (check out her fabulous rendition on YouTube) to Lady Gaga (missed that one!). Frank Sinatra has a version and so do Sting, Roberta Flack, Ella Fitzgerald and Dusty Springfield; even Amy Winehouse has weighed in with her tattoed take on this tune.
What makes it so memorable? It starts slowly, but when you get to the heart of the song, its words are so simple and true — so filled with hope and longing:
There’s a somebody I’m longin’ to see
I hope that he turns out to be
Someone to watch over me
I’m a little lamb who’s lost in the wood
I know I could always be good
To one who’ll watch over me…
Whenever I hear this song, I feel such sadness, because I heard it played when my beloved sister was in the hospital; soon after, she passed away. I can’t help but think if she had just found someone to watch over her, to protect her from life’s storms, she might have fared better. She was a little lamb lost in the wood. Aren’t we all? Isn’t this song everyone’s story? Isn’t that why it survives?