Ruth Lowe wrote this song shortly after the death of her first husband, Harold Cohen. Although, it is widely believed that Frank Sinatra was the first to record I’ll Never Smile Again, it was actually first broadcast to CBC listeners in 1939 on Percy Faith’s CBC radio program Music by Faith. The song became Sinatra’s first #1 record. In fact, Frank Sinatra and Tommy Dorsey’s version was so popular that it was selected in 1958 as one of the best pop songs of all time. Lowe also wrote Put Your Dreams Away (For Another Day), which was Frank Sinatra’s closing theme for many years. I’ll Never Smile Again received Grammy honours a year after Lowe’s death, when it was inducted into the American Recording Hall of Fame.
Popular Toronto conductor Percy Faith was the first to perform the song, on radio: Lowe explained: “I worked for CBC at the time. He came into the studio one day and he heard us rehearsing the song, and he rather liked it, and he asked if he could perform it for us.” Faith arranged the song for string orchestra, and broadcast it on his CBC radio show “Music by Faith.”
Next, when US band leader Tommy Dorsey performed at Toronto’s Canadian National Exhibition, Lowe took Faith’s unedited acetate recording, waiting at the musicians’ entrance for an opportunity to hand the record to him.
Dorsey immediately knew the timing was right for a song about separation and loss, with Canada at war, and America about to enter the conflict. He arranged for the sheet music to be published, and Glenn Miller introduced the song on U.S. radio and in 1940 made the first studio recording.
Meanwhile, in April 1940 Dorsey went into a studio with a rising young singer he had recently engaged. With Frank Sinatra, Dorsey recorded the 78-rpm single (Victor 26628-A) that by July became Sinatra’s first No. 1 record, and Billboard’s inaugural No. 1 on its new chart, where it reigned for 12 weeks, winning an ASCAP award.
1940 saw the many of the era’s best-known performers jump on the song, including Gene Autry, The Ink Spots, and Britain’s wartime songstress Vera Lynn. New sheet music boasted photos of dance band leaders Horace Lapp of Toronto’s Royal York Hotel, and Britain’s Jack White, while Lionel Parent recorded it in French as Je ne sourirai plus.
By 1941 I’ll Never Smile Again was heard on film sung by Sinatra, Jo Stafford and the Pied Pipers in “Las Vegas Nights,” followed by Jack Benny in 1942’s “George Washington Slept Here.”
The song remained highly popular in the 1950s with jazz, pop and R&B covers by Sarah Vaughan, Billie Holiday, Big Joe Williams, and Tab Hunter. In the 1960s The Platters had a Top 30 hit, followed by The Wanderers, Al Hirt, Doris Day, The Ray Charles Singers, and France’s BouLou Ferré. Sinatra re-recorded his career-launcher twice, first in 1959 for his “When No One Cares” album and in 1965 for the 1967 Grammy-winning “A Man and His Music.”
Through the decades I’ll Never Smile Again has seen covers by Ronnie Aldrich, Ames Brothers, Anita Kerr Singers, Count Basie, Dave Brubeck, Eddie Arnold, Fats Waller, the Four Aces, Al Martino, Carl Perkins, George Shearing, and Keely Smith. Later artists include Australia’s Daddy Cool (a 1972 hit), Cleo Laine, and Barry Manilow.
Canadians who have performed Lowe’s timeless ballad include Michael Bublé, the Susie Arioli Swing Band, Oscar Peterson, David Clayton-Thomas, and Kim Stockwood.
On film the song was heard in “Good Morning, Vietnam” and “The Color of Money” and on TV’s “The Fugitive,” “McHale’s Navy,” “Leave it to Beaver,” and the Ed Sullivan, Perry Como and Lawrence Welk shows.
A year after Lowe’s death, I’ll Never Smile Again was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.
Ruth Lowe (1914 - 1981) was born in Toronto. A pianist in nightclubs and on radio, Lowe also wrote Sinatra’s closing theme Put Your Dreams Away (For Another Day), another CSHF inductee.