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Ann Ronell

One of the first successful female composers working in Hollywood and Tin Pan Alley, Ann Ronell was born in Omaha, NE, on December 28, 1908 (some sources alternately list 1906). She attended Radcliffe College and studied composition with Walter Piston, and also served as an editor on the college newspaper, where she got the chance to interview George Gershwin. Gershwin wound up giving her a job as his rehearsal pianist, giving her entry into the world of Broadway theater. Additionally, she took up teaching, worked as a vocal coach, and kept perfecting her songwriting, ranking as one of the few professionals of the era to handle both lyrics and music. She got her start in the business with 1930's "Baby's Birthday Party"; two years later she wrote the song that would become her greatest success, "Willow Weep for Me," a jazz and pop standard recorded by countless singers and instrumentalists. In 1933, Ronell took on a rare collaborative role, teaming with Disney composer Frank Churchill for the smash "Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?," the first hit song in Disney history; Ronell's exact contributions are in dispute, though the sheet music cover credits her simply with "additional lyrics." Ronell also composed background music for other Disney animated shorts, as well as a number of other songs aimed at younger audiences. She contributed songs to films like Champagne Waltz (1937) and Blockade (1938), among others, and eventually began writing full scores. Her work on 1945's The Story of G.I. Joe -- produced by her husband, Lester Cowan -- earned her two Oscar nominations, one for Best Score (along with co-composer Louis Applebaum) and one for Best Song ("Linda"). In 1948, she helped adapt the successful Kurt Weill/Ogden Nash musical One Touch of Venus for the screen, penning additional lyrics and material. The following year, she scored the final Marx Brothers film, Love Happy. Her last major film project was 1953's Main Street to Broadway, a song-filled extravaganza for which she served as musical director. In addition to her Hollywood credits, Ronell also wrote the music and lyrics for the 1942 Broadway musical Count Me In, and composed music for ballet and lyrics for opera. She passed away on Christmas Day, 1993; six years later, she was featured along with Dorothy Fields, Dana Suesse, and Kay Swift in the PBS documentary Yours for a Song: The Women of Tin Pan Alley.