When he got his start in vaudeville as a ‘ragged urchin’, he was already an accomplished player; eventually he’s one of the world’s most skilled. In 1940 he teams up with dancer Paul Draper. His popularity rises in the UK where a fanclub gathers 300,000 fans; persecuted in the US, he breaks up with Draper and emigrates to the UK in 1949.
Many well-known modern composers (among them Ralph Vaughan Williams, Darius Milhaud, Malcolm Arnold) will write major works for his ‘mouth organ’. His work on the soundtrack for 1953 British comedy Genevieve (BAFTA’s 1954 Best Film) wins him a 1955 Oscar nomination for Best Music. 1994 80th-birthday tribute album The Glory of Gershwin rises to UK#2.
The name Carmina Burana refers to a collection of 254 ‘irreverant’ poems and texts, written by clergy and students in the 11th or 12th century. Orff chose 24 of them for this work, which is staged along with sets and costumes at the Alte Oper in Frankfurt. Parts (usually of ominous O Fortuna) have been heard in many films.
The song — which Rolling Stone ranks #114 in its top-500 songs — is way better than the name. In 1977 a cover by teen idol Shaun Cassidy tops the charts (US#1,CA#1). Live After a decade or so of acting, Cassidy becomes a TV executive producer.