Historical Markers
Jay Livingston Historical Marker
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Jay Livingston

Pittsburgh Region


Marker Location:
Rt. 980 (S. McDonald St.) and Panhandle Trail, McDonald

Dedication Date:
October 7, 2004

Behind the Marker

Jay Livingston's 1937 yearbook photograph.
Jay Livingston's yearbook photograph, University of Pennsylvania, 1937.

"A horse is a horse, of course, of course.
And no one can talk to a horse, of course.
That is, of course, unless the horse is the famous Mr. Ed."

Anyone who ever watched the popular 1960s television show Mr. Ed recognizes the words to the program's famous theme song. The average person probably does not know, however, that the song's composer, Jay Livingston, sang the song on the show, or that Livingston and his partner Ray Evans were responsible for some of the most popular show, movie, and television tunes from the 1940s to the 1960s.

Livingston was born on March 28, 1915 in McDonald, Pennsylvania, a small town not far from Pittsburgh. As a child, he studied piano in Pittsburgh with Harry Archer, a well-known bandleader and Broadway songwriter in the 1920s. After graduating from McDonald High School in 1933, Livingston went to the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, where he studied choral music, and organized and conducted The Continentals, a dance band that played at campus functions, local nightclubs, and, later, on cruise ships. There, too, he met Ray Evans.
Cover of the sheet music with photograph of Livingston and Evans
Book cover, The Songs of Livingston and Evans, 1993.

After graduating from Penn in 1937, Livingston and Evans moved to New York City to become songwriters. There, Evans worked as an accountant and Livingston as a piano accompanist and musical arranger for NBC Radio. The pair scored their first hit in 1941 with "G'Bye Now". After the United States entered World War II, Livingston served two years in the army, and Evans worked for an aircraft company.

In 1944, the pair moved to Los Angeles, where they wrote movie music for a string of Paramount Pictures films, including To Each His Own, starring Olivia DeHaviland in 1946; The Paleface starring Bob Hope and Jane Russell in 1948; The Lemon Drop Kid, again starring Hope in 1950; and Tammy and the Bachelor, starring Debbie Reynolds in 1957.

Livingston's and Evans' compositions included hit songs that became inseparably identified with their famous singers, including "Que Sera Sera," which Doris Day first sang in Alfred Hitchcock's 1956 thriller The Man Who Knew Too Much, and "Buttons and Bows" made famous by singer Dinah Shore.
Alan Young with Mister Ed Talking on Telephone.
Actor Alan Young horsing around with "Mr. Ed."

Livingston and Evans also wrote "Mona Lisa" the signature song of the great African-American song stylist Nat King Cole. At first Cole refused to record the song, then was less than enthusiastic about it until Livingston promoted Cole's recording to local radio stations when he was on a publicity tour for Paramount in 1950. Reluctant to write yet another Christmas song, Livingston and Evans decided to focus on holidays in the city.

In 1950 they published the holiday classic "Silver Bells," an enormously popular song that Livingston would later refer to as "our annuity." Livingston and Evans also applied their talents to television, writing music for series and specials into the 1970s. In addition to the catchy "Mr. Ed," their music included the theme song for the popular western "Bonanza." By the time they were done, Livingston and Evans had written twenty-six songs that sold more than a million records, and won three Academy Awards. Total record sales of their songs have surpassed 400 million.

Image of Beatles and Alan Livingston. From left to right, Ringo Starr, Paul McCartney, John Lennon, Allan Livingston, and George Harrison.
Capitol Records president Alan Livingston presents the Beatles with gold records...
Shortly before Livingston's death, the concert and cabaret star Michael Feinstein made a tribute compact disc, "Livingston and Evans Songbook," with Livingston on piano and vocals, that featured some of their lesser known compositions.

"Some of their greatest hits are not necessarily songs that show off the full extent of their genius," songwriter Michael Feinstein told Billboard magazine in 2000. "As much as I love ‘Que Sera Sera" and ‘Buttons and Bows," there are dozens of other songs, many of which have never seen the light of day, that are extraordinarily sophisticated, lyrically and musically."

Summing up his own work, Livingston once explained, "All our songs have very simple chords. That's why they're hits." While perhaps true to a point, the modest oversimplification ignores both the universal appeal and durability of Livingston's and Evan's music.
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