Within the last 24 hours or so I have become aware that Hugh Martin, Jr., best known as the writer of the music for the musical "Meet Me In St. Louis," died last Friday, March 11 at the age of 96 from natural causes. The Los Angeles Times first reported the story late on Friday and then published a longer story on Sunday.
Martin was best known for his work in the musical theater in such productions as Best Foot Forward (1941); Look Ma, I'm Dancin'! (1948); Make a Wish (1951); High Spirits (1964) and as an arranger and choral arranger for many other musicals. Martin was lucky enough to write music in the golden age of pop music.
Martin collaborated with Ralph Blane on three songs for the classic 1944 MGM musical "Meet Me In St. Louis" which starring Judy Garland. The plot centered around the Smith family and the events happening to their family around the time of the Louisiana Purchase Exposition held during 1904 in St. Louis.
Martin and Blane wrote the music and lyrics for "The Trolley Song", "The Boy Next Door" and "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas." In the movie Garland sung all three of their songs with "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas" becoming a Christmas standard in later years. Martin and Blane were nominated for an Academy Award for "The Trolley Song" at the seventeenth annual award ceremony held in March, 1945. On the 50th anniversary of the film's release in 1994, the Library of Congress deemed the work as culturally significant and added it to the National Film Registry. "The Trolley Song" was ranked #26 by the American Film Institute in 2004 on the 100 Years... 100 Songs list.
As someone with a degree in history and an affinity for antiques and all things old, I have to recognize that the 1904 World's Fair was a monumental event in the history of St. Louis. The Missouri History Museum in Forest Park has a permanent exhibit dedicated to the fair and its impact on the city. The St. Louis Art Museum is housed in one of the last buildings left from the fair. With a population over 575,000 people in 1900, St. Louis was the fourth largest city in the United States. That year the Olympic games were held in St. Louis; a first for a city in the United States. Written in 1904 with words by Andrew B. Sterling and music by Kerry Mills and later revitalized by the movie, "Meet Me In St. Louis, Louis" was played by the organ player at Busch Stadium between innings during St. Louis Cardinals baseball games.
In October, 2011 after celebrating his 96th birthday, Martin published his autobiography Hugh Martin - The Boy Next Door chronicaling his work as a songwriter in theater and film.
"Clang, clang, clang went the trolley/Ding, ding, ding went the bell/Zing, zing, zing went my heartstrings as we started for Huntington Dell."
- The Trolley Song by Hugh Martin & Ralph Blane
Streetcar service started in St. Louis in 1859, and by the early twentith century it was ubiquitous in major American cities, however, the service ended in St. Louis in 1966 only to be replaced by buses until the Metrolink light rail system started in 1993. A movement to reinstate a streetcar/trolley line from the Forest Park Metrolink stop to the University City Loop area could bring back the sound of the bells within a few years.