Our Iowa Heritage: May The Good Lord Bless And Keep You.

May The Good Lord Bless And Keep You is a popular song published by Iowa’s very own Music Man, Meredith Willson, in 1950. The song is now considered an American classic, having been recorded by countless artists over the years, and, as you might have noticed if you hang around this website very long, it has become, for me, my theme song…

Here are the simple words…

May the Good Lord bless and keep you, whether near or far away,
May you find that long-awaited golden day today.
May your troubles all be small ones, and your fortune ten times ten.
May the Good Lord bless and keep you till we meet again.


May you walk with sunlight shining, and a bluebird in every tree.
May there be a silver lining back of every cloud you see.
Fill your dreams with sweet tomorrows, never mind what might have been.
May the Good Lord bless and keep you till we meet again.

From the early 1900’s into the 1970’s, most top-rated popular songs were always distributed in sheet music formats and sold in music or record stores along with the records (45 RPM or 33 1/3 RPM) made by the artists who recorded the song.

May The Good Lord Bless And Keep Youthe composer – Meredith Willson.

Actress Tallulah Bankhead introduced the song in November of 1950, using it as her theme song for the entire two-year run of the successful 90-minute NBC-radio program, The Big Show. At the end of each program, Bankhead would recite the first line of the song in her rich husky voice, inviting her guest stars to join her, singing or speaking out one line per star – making a truly memorable ending for each show.

Tallulah Bankhead and Meredith Willson
Here’s a rare recording of the song’s debut performance – November 19, 1950 (the third show in the two-year series). Take a listen as The Big Show host, Tallulah Bankhead, invites the evening’s cast to join her in introducing the song at Thanksgiving time, with the stars: 1) Mindy Carlson, 2) Bob Hope, 3) Jimmy Durante, 4) Perry Como, and 5) Eddie Cantor. If you’re interested, click here to visit the Old Time Radio website – click on Show #3 – 50/11/19 for the entire 90-minute broadcast. May The Good Lord Bless and Keep You can be found at time marker 1:24:15.

Soon after being introduced on The Big Show, artists from a variety of musical genres began recording the tune, making it one of the best-known songs across America in the 1950’s and 60’s.

Click here to read more about The Big Show and listen to the Christmas Eve 1950 version of May The Good Lord Bless And Keep You.

(M-0125) Back in the early 1950’s – player pianos were still in people’s homes and QRS was a well-known company that produced a variety of piano rolls for most of the most popular songs of the day. Meredith Willson’s May The Good Lord Bless And Keep You (Word Roll #8718) was certainly one of those popular tunes!

Prior to writing his smash Broadway show, The Music Man (1957), Iowa’s own Meredith Willson was best known as a brilliant composer and musical arranger/conductor for countless radio shows throughout the 1940’s. Author John C. Skipper tells us more…

Willson had been in show business, in one form or another, for almost 30 years, and had never experienced anything to compare with the public response to his song. For a time, he averaged 2,000 fan letters a week. Indeed, the hymn took on a life of its own. One night on The Big Show, just for variety, Willson decided to speed up the tempo of the song to give it a slightly different beat. He was deluged with cards, letters, and phone calls telling him to leave it alone. One letter writer told him crisply, “Quit jazzing up that hymn!”

One day Willson was at a radio station in Manhattan when he received a message to call a phone number in Brooklyn. He did not know anybody at that number, but he dialed it nonetheless. A woman answered and asked, “Is this Meredith Willson?”

“Yes it is,” he answered.

“May the Good Lord bless and keep you,” she said and then hung up.

The American public had clearly assumed ownership of the song, and Willson thought he knew why. “It’s not a hymn, it’s not hillbilly, it’s not pop, but it does for all of them,” he said. “It’s not like what you hear in church. Not much for quality but sure long on feeling. It was corny but so is home and so are the boys overseas, like the GIs in Korea. And,” he added proudly, “It was their most requested song.”

In truth, for Meredith Willson and his wife, Rini, the five years between his time on The Big Show (1950-1952) until December 1957 (when The Music Man finally opened on Broadway) was one of the toughest financial seasons of their married life. Radio shows were a dying breed and no new opportunities were happening for Meredith in television.

In his book about the long and winding journey of writing a musical for Broadway (But He Doesn’t Know The Territory), Meredith quickly admits that if it weren’t for the “blessings” God provided through the royalty checks from May The Good Lord Bless And Keep You, they would never have made it through this dry season when jobs were few and far between! In a January 1958 interview with the New York Times, a month after The Music Man had its successful opening on Broadway, Meredith talked about those hard years…

“I felt like I had one foot on a departing boat,” Willson explained, “and the other on a receding dock.” When asked how he and Rini survived, Meredith responded with eight words…

“May The Good Lord Bless And Keep You.”


As we close, allow me to give you a handful of recordings of this classic song that kept Meredith & Rini Willson alive until The Music Man hit the Broadway stage...

May the Good Lord Bless and Keep You Eddy Arnold. The first recording of Meredith’s song was released in January 1951 – and was a country rendition. For a list of various recordings and dates over the years click here.
May the Good Lord Bless and Keep You The Mellomen
May the Good Lord Bless and Keep You Kate Smith. Known as the First Lady of Radio, Kate was an American contralto, well known for her rendition of Irving Berlin’s “God Bless America.” She had a radio, television, and recording career spanning five decades, which reached its pinnacle in the 1940s.
May the Good Lord Bless and Keep You Jim Reeves. With records charting from the 1950s to the 1980s, Gentleman Jim became well known as a practitioner of the Nashville country/pop sound.
May the Good Lord Bless and Keep You Johnny Mathis. Although frequently described as a romantic singer, Mathis’ discography includes traditional pop, Brazilian and Spanish music, soul, rhythm and blues, show tunes, Tin Pan Alley, soft rock, blues, country music, and even a few disco songs for his album Mathis Magic in 1979.
May the Good Lord Bless and Keep YouBing Crosby, The Andrew Sisters, and Nat King Cole. This unique recording brings three of the hottest recording artists from the 1940’s and 1950’s. Amazing!
May the Good Lord Bless and Keep You Perry Como. Mr. C had his own popular TV show in the 1960’s, and as a young, upcoming artist, Perry was on The Big Show on that fateful night Meredith’s song debuted (1950).
Here’s SUI’s Old Gold Singers‘ rendition as recorded around 1960.
May the Good Lord Bless and Keep YouEmile Pandolfi. In 2007, the popular piano stylist, Pandolfi, ended his sacred CD, How Sweet The Sound, with Meredith Willson’s classic – a beautiful instrumental arrangement.

We close with one of the most cherished books in my Iowa collection. Here (above) we are treated by the unique way Iowa’s very own, Meredith Willson, inscribed his 1955 biographical book, Eggs I Have Laid

With Love – Meredith

Followed with a sketch of the first three bars of May The Good Lord Bless And Keep You.

Amen.


Kudos to the amazing resources below for the many quotes, photographs, etc. used on this page.

May The Good Lord Bless And Keep You, Meredith Willson, Wikipedia

May The Good Lord Bless And Keep You sheet music, Meredith Willson, The Great American Songbook Foundation, 1950

The Big Show – NBC Radio, Wikipedia

May the Good Lord Bless and Keep You, The Big Show, November 19, 1950, OTRR-The Big Show

Tallulah Bankhead, Wikipedia

May The Good Lord Bless And Keep You, Record Release History, SecondHandSongs.com

But He Doesn’t Know The Territory, Meredith Willson, G.P. Putnam & Sons, 1959, p 54

Meredith Willson – The Unsinkable Music Man, John C. Skipper, Savas Publishing, 2000, pp 100-101, 106, 128

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