retro record

LISTEN: This timeless jazz standard has a little-known queer origin

“Fly Me to the Moon” has to be one of the most frequently recreated jazz standards out there. From it’s popularizing Peggy Lee cover to the universally known Frank Sinatra version (as arranged by music legend Quincy Jones) and well beyond, it’s titular opening line has endured since 1954.

As recognizable as it is, most don’t know of the song’s origin. When it was first written, the song had a different name, a different sound, and a real gay love story behind it.

The writer of “In Other Words” (as it was originally titled before becoming known by its opening line) was Bart Howard, an Iowa-born songwriter who made his name as a pianist in New York. Prior to its more upbeat changes by Jones, Howard had written the song in 3/4 time with a slower, more “moony” tempo that sounded equal parts love-stricken and content.

It’s no stretch to think that Howard penned the dreamy, romantic tune with his partner, Thomas “Bud” Fowler, in mind. The two had been together nearly a decade by the time of writing, with many years ahead of them.

Following the Sinatra cover in 1964, the song’s legacy went on to outshine its origins. The uptempo version has been rerecorded hundreds of times and influenced popular media from shows like Neon Genesis Evangelion to the Bayonetta game series. It was even played on both the Apollo 10 and 11 moon missions, as well as sung at Neil Armstrong’s 2012 memorial.

Howard and Fowler would go on to be together for 58 years until Howard’s passing in 2004. Following Fowler’s passing in 2007, the couple were interred together, with their joint grave marker simply reading their names, their dates, and the word “companions.”

Hear the original arrangement of “In Other Words” as performed by Kaye Ballard…

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