Publishers dust off vintage songs for new audiences

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - There’s no telling when lightning will strike a song.

Consider the case of “At Last,” the Mack Gordon/Harry Warren composition immortalized by Etta James. Beyonce performed it in “Cadillac Records,” the recent movie about Chess Records, and then practically made it the theme song of President Barack Obama’s inauguration.

But more often than not, music publishers have to use a bit more elbow grease to make things happen for the evergreens in their catalog.

For example, Notable Music and Chrysalis Music Publishing recently collaborated on a Cy Coleman tribute album, featuring modern-day chanteuses interpreting the songwriter’s tunes in a project overseen by pianist/arranger Dave Palmer.

In a rare display of foresight, Coleman, who died in 2004, was one of the few songwriters of his time who didn’t sign away the rights to his songs and instead created his own publishing company, Notable Music.

The album, “Witchcraft,” features Patti Griffin covering “The Best Is Yet to Come,” Fiona Apple performing “Why Try to Change Me Now” and Sam Phillips on “You Fascinate Me So,” as well as Nikka Costa, Jill Sobule, Julianna Raye and other artists.

To drum up attention for “Witchcraft,” which hasn’t yet secured a distribution deal, Chrysalis and Notable staged a show January 15 at Largo at the Coronet Theater in Los Angeles featuring some of the singers on the album. It went so well that a club tour may follow. Also in the works is a Coleman review, “The Best Is Yet to Come,” with a three-week run scheduled to kick off in July at the Rubicon Theater in Ventura, California.

A London-based music publishing company took a somewhat different approach with the catalog of Carl Sigman, who started his career writing songs with Johnny Mercer. Among Sigman’s songs are “Arrivederci Roma,” “Ebb Tide” and “Shangri-La.” He died in 2000.

To mark the 100th anniversary of Sigman’s birth, Music Sales Group distributed to film and television music supervisors a collection of vintage performances of Sigman songs by Frank Sinatra, Nat “King” Cole, Dean Martin, Ray Charles and Brenda Lee. The Los Angeles office of the company also rerecorded many of Sigman’s works, in case productions can’t afford the masters or face other obstacles in securing the rights.

In addition to the new recordings, Music Sales Group also commissioned multiple versions of some songs in different styles, including hip-hop and reggaeton, and compiled a bossa nova collection featuring a number of Sigman songs, including some performed by the band BossaNova Hotel. It was released exclusively through the Pronto coffeehouse chain in Japan. That album has led to a possible album deal for BossaNova Hotel, which is expected to sign with a major in Japan for an album that will also include Sigman songs.