Frank Loesser


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Thomas L. Riis

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Perhaps best remembered as the writer and composer of the ever-popular Guys and Dolls and the Pulitzer Prize–winning How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, Frank Loesser was one of the great songwriters of the twentieth century. Lyricist of over 700 songs—among them such cherished favorites as “Baby, It’s Cold Outside,” “Once in Love with Amy,” and “I Believe in You”—his work has received both Tony and Academy Awards. Here Thomas L. Riis, in a deeply informed and lively discussion of Loesser’s life and musical career, presents a critical look at one of the most important—though often overshadowed—Broadway composers.


Immensely prolific and a personally magnetic man, Loesser was a major figure during the Broadway golden age that included Rodgers and Hammerstein, Lerner and Loewe, and Bernstein. Riis traces Loesser’s early career as a Hollywood songwriter and a noted contributor to the war effort. He discusses in depth each of Loesser’s musicals and provides a look at the legacy of a man admired as a mentor who inspired dozens of assistants, protégés, young songwriters, novice singer-actors, and aspiring producers. This book offers a concise look at Loesser’s life along with an engaging examination of the totality of his works. 



Thomas L. Riis is the Joseph Negler Professor of Music and director of the American Music Research Center, University of Colorado at Boulder. He is a specialist in musical theater, and he lectures and writes frequently on many topics in nineteenth- and twentieth-century African American music.

"Frank Loesser was that rare bird: a skillful stage composer and brilliant writer of song lyrics. Riis's deeply researched and musically astute study shows us what makes a great show such as Guys and Dolls tick."—Ralph P. Locke, Professor of Musicology, Eastman School of Music, University of Rochester

"This superb, imaginative songwriter has finally received the biography he deserves."—Gerald Bordman, author of American Musical Theatre: A Chronicle

"With musical examples, excerpts from lyrics, and detailed examinations of individual songs . . . this discerning and valuable study is recommended for all libraries, particularly in light of the dearth of published sources concerning Loesser."—Library Journal

"A solid overview of an underappreciated talent. . . . Mr. Riis's work will be invaluable for anyone seeking to understand an American composer whose stature will surely increase over the decades."—Mark Steyn, Wall Street Journal

"The first scholarly work on Loesser. . . . Highly recommended."—Choice

"Any musical theater fan or scholar can enjoy this delightful read, just as lighthearted and cheerful as a Loesser song."—Alexandre Bádue, Music Research Forum

Selected as a 2008 AAUP University Press Book for Public and Secondary School Libraries.
ISBN: 9780300217636
Publication Date: July 7, 2015
352 pages, 6 1/8 x 9 1/4
25 b/w illus. + 52 music examples