When I received copies of Kay Swift’s hand-written sheet music to her “nursery songs,” I read the titles as “Doggie,” “Kitty,” “Piggie,” and “Sheep.” Well, it didn’t take me long when I read the lyrics that this song’s theme was less about sheep and had more to do with sleep. James Warburg’s lyrics, which were written long before he wrote the lyrics to the entire Broadway show Fine and Dandy, demonstrate his versatility and delicate touch when it was called for.
Warburg was the world’s least likely lyricist. As an international banker, her traveled frequently to Germany during the 1920s and ’30s and was an early voice expressing concern about Hitler’s destructive potential, with few taking Warburg’s concerns very seriously. He was also very vocal about the need to help Germany’s struggling banking system and overall economy.
Warburg became an advisor to FDR and later had a falling out over some of FDR’s policies. Warburg wrote an anti-FDR book which he later apologized for in part. FDR famously responded to Warburg that before Warburg opine on national matters, he should “Please get yourself an obviously secondhand Ford car…put on your oldest clothes and start west for the Pacific Coast, undertaking beforehand not to speak on the entire trip with any banker or business executive (except gas station owners), and to put up at no hotel where you have to pay more than $1.50 a night.” According to his son Philip Warburg, James never made that trip. I’m sure it would have been a fascinating trip for a man who led a fascinating life, and happened to be a formidable lyricist.
Download fake-book style sheet music to “Sleep” here: Sleep
Here is Kay Swift’s “Sleep” arranged for strings from her original manuscript:
And here is a jazzier version of “Sleep”:
Lyrics to “Sleep” by James Warburg
Sleep, come softly where Baby lies.
Fold your whispering wings o’er the sweet head in the small, soft bed.
Softly descend where my little one lies. Softly while Mother sings.
Sleep come swiftly down from the skies.
Send from your secret springs swift, soft streams of fairy charms.
Come, as the swift winged swallow flies. Swiftly while Mother sings