Composer of over 400 songs, including “Moon Over Miami,” “Tiptoe Through the Tulips With Me” and “It Looks Like Rain in Cherry Blossom Lane,” Joe Burke had an endless list of hits. In 1936, the Hit Parade was Burke’s nearly exclusive domain, where four out of the top five songs in the nation were his.
Born in Philadelphia in 1884, Joseph A. Burke studied at the Philadelphia Conservatory of Music and went on to become a top Tin Pan Alley tunesmith with “Oh How I Miss You Tonight,” which sold over a million copies of sheet music. Burke began his entertainment career as an actor, appearing in several films from 1915 through 1929. He didn’t have his first big hit as a composer until after his 40th birthday, with 1925’s “Yearning,” written with lyricist Benny Davis, and the team enjoyed another success three years later with the song “Carolina Moon” (a hit for Gene Austin).
In 1929, Burke teamed with Al Dubin to write the first musical comedy for Warner Brothers, Golddiggers of Broadway. From 1929-1930, they wrote for eleven motion pictures and wrote such songs as “Tiptoe Through the Tulips With Me,” “Dancing With Tears in My Eyes” and “For You.” In the mid-’30s Burke collaborated with lyricist Edgar Leslie, resulting in “On Treasure Island” (a hit for Tommy Dorsey) “Moon Over Miami” (popularized by Eddy Duchin) and 1937’s “It Looks Like Rain in Cherry Blossom Lane,” among others. Burke’s last hit was “Rambling Rose” in 1948. Joe Burke died in Upper Darby, Pennsylvania on June 9, 1950.
What is the key to writing a hit song? “They want madhouse music. In the old days a guy got an idea for a beautiful tune and wrote sensible lyrics to fit it. Today… I take sentences and write them backwards. I listen to babies mouthing their first lines, then jumble the whole works. The result? A hit.” Joe Burke said this in 1939 and his words, as well as his songs, still ring true today.