For all the controversy, real and imagined, forever embedded within D.W. Griffith's magnificent "The Birth of a Nation," there can be found one element that defies criticism and time itself --- that being a musical piece composed and compiled for the film by Joseph Carl Breil.
Titled "The Perfect Song," further defined as a "love strain," and serving as what would eventually become to be known as a theme song, it's an incredibly lovely composition that, when disconnected from the context of the film, stands up remarkably well as a melody of no particular time nor place --- but still unmistakably stirring and evocative.
How beautifully right, then... or wrong, depending upon how you look at it, that the same melody that accompanied one of the earliest motion picture blockbusters should come to be used --- some fourteen years after it's introduction in 1915, as the theme for the "Amos 'n Andy" radio show, itself a blockbuster and landmark in broadcasting history.
Initially heard as a languid organ solo that bookended the transcribed portion of the show --- and often performed live by a radio station house musician, the melody soon caught the public's fancy, many of whom surely recalled the tune's origin. But, by 1929, Griffith's film was a distant relic of another day --- and the melody would soon become inseparable from the brilliant comedic character creations of Freeman Gosden and Charles Correll.
Here, to our left, is Gosden and Correll autographing copies of a slim book entitled "All About Amos 'n Andy" for delighted fans in a Chicago department store, in 1929 --- just as their radio show and their popularity were exploding across the country.
In an example of cross-promotion of the sort we usually prefer to believe is a relatively modern concept, one could, in 1930, listen to the radio show, buy at least two published books, see the performers in the RKO film "Check and Double Check," read a daily comic strip syndicated to newspapers nationwide and then, at the end of the day, dance to the show's theme song --- "A Perfect Song," now far, far removed from it's original but no less dramatic source.
Here then, is a 78rpm recording of "The Perfect Song," as performed by the Hotel Pennsylvania Orchestra, with vocals, recorded on January 15th of 1930, and issued on the Velvet-Tone label.
The Perfect Song (1930)
Freeman & Gosden image courtesy of the Chicago Historical Society,Chicago Daily News negatives collection, DN-0087461.