Song of the Day, August 31: What’ll I Do from the McGarrigle Hour

McGWhatllToday’s song is a splendid family rendering of a pop standard. Irving Berlin wrote What’ll I Do in 1923 for inclusion in his Music Box Revue series. It was introduced by singers Grace Moore and John Steel and has been covered by dozens of artists; Nelson Riddle famously adopted it as a theme for his Oscar-winning score for the 1974 film The Great Gatsby.

When Kate and Anna McGarrigle assembled their extended family live shows, the McGarrigle Hour, they selected songs that showed the breadth of their tastes, let each performer shine, and resonated with them personally. Kate had selected What’ll I Do for their mother’s funeral, and the sisters decided to include it in the program. To capture the family spirit, Kate sang it with her ex-husband Loudon Wainwright III and their children Rufus and Martha Wainwright.

Sister Jane McGarrigle describes the situation nicely in her liner notes for the album taken from the show.

This song means a lot to us. Kate came up with it when our mother died in May 1994, and we wanted her funeral music to have a special touch. It was from [her] era and perfectly expressed our grief. … Here, Kate, Loudon and their kids, a foursome who had never sat down to a Christmas turkey together, let alone sing a song, come together as natural as breathing.

The family harmonies are lovely and haunting, giving no hint of the tense history they share. The track is a standout from the show and a fine moment in all four perfomers’ catalogs.

Enjoy this beautiful song today.

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About Robert Hulshof-Schmidt
Freelance writer, researcher, online comic vendor, and project manager. Fan of a wide range of music -- especially folk and 80s pop -- vintage comics, British TV, and LGBT fiction.

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