Tea for Two (song)

Tea service for two people

"Tea for Two" is a song from the 1925 musical No, No, Nanette with music by Vincent Youmans and lyrics by Irving Caesar. It is a duet sung by Nanette and Tom (Louise Groody and Jack Barker) in Act II as they imagine their future. It was also sung by Doris Day and Gordon MacRae in the 1950 musical film, Tea for Two.


The song contains abrupt key changes between A-flat major and C-major. The song also consists mostly of dotted eighth and quarter notes. Alec Wilder described these features as being uncharacteristic of a great theatrical song but acknowledged the song's great success regardless.[1]

The story may be apocryphal, but Irving Caesar indicated on Steve Allen's radio show that the lyrics were intended to be temporary.


The earliest recordings of the song were by Marion Harris (Brunswick 2747), Ben Bernie (Vocalion 14901) and the Benson Orchestra of Chicago (Victor 19438), in 1925.[2]

In October 1927, the conductor Nikolai Malko challenged Dmitri Shostakovich to do an arrangement of the song after the two listened to it on record at Malko's house. Malko bet 100 roubles that Shostakovich could not completely re-orchestrate it from memory in under an hour. Shostakovich took him up and won, completing it in around 45 minutes. His "Tea for Two" arrangement, Opus 16, was first performed on 25 November 1928. It was incorporated into Tahiti Trot from his ballet The Golden Age first performed in 1929.

"Tea for Two" became a jazz standard and was recorded by numerous bands and instrumentalists. Early notable performances and a recording of the song were made by jazz virtuoso Art Tatum in 1939. Pianist Thelonious Monk knew the song well, reharmonizing the song and recording it with a bebop-style melody in 1952 with the name "Skippy" and returning to the original melody with a charming arrangement for his 1963 album Criss Cross. Anita O'Day's rendition of the song at the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival was considered one of the festival's highlights.

"Tea for Two" was the most played song on the Lawrence Welk TV show, with over 1000 different broadcast episodes, "Tea for Two" was played on 67 different shows due to its popularity.

Recordings of the song (record, TV, etc.) have been made by Helen Clark & Lewis James 1924, Benson Orchestra 1924, Marion Harris 1925, Ben Bernie 1925, Red Nichols 1930, Fats Waller 1939, Art Tatum 1939, Gene Krupa 1946, Louis Armstrong & The All Stars 1947, Tex Beneke, Artie Shaw, Benny Goodman, Doris Day 1950, Oscar Peterson 1951, Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra, Frank Sinatra & Dinah Shore 1945, Tony Bennett, Nat King Cole 1957, Sammy Davis, Jr. & Carmen McRae 1957, Anita O’Day 1958/1963, Tommy Dorsey 1958 (Top 10), Cliff Richard & The Shadows (on their 1961 album 21 Today), Lawrence Welk, Nina Temple & April Stevens 1964, Sarah Vaughn 1965, Alvin and the Chipmunks 1965, Judy Garland & Terry Thomas 1963, Judy Garland & Carl Reiner 1963, Judy Garland & June Allyson 1963, Judy Garland & George Jessel 1963, Judy Garland & Jayne Meadows 1964 (all on "The Judy Garland Show"), Edye Gorme & Steve Lawrence, Della Reese, Julie Andrews, Connie Boswell & Bing Crosby 1977, Smokey Robinson 2006

One famous interpretation of the song is Tommy Dorsey's cha-cha-cha version, top ten in 1958, re-popularized in 2005 by adverts for McVitie's biscuits.

The song was covered by Alvin and the Chipmunks for their 1965 album The Chipmunks Sing with Children.

The song was used in the French comedy Don't Look Now - We're Being Shot At! ("La Grande Vadrouille"), set during World War II, as a recognition code with a British flyer.

On The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, Tonight Show bandleader Doc Severinsen would cue up the song whenever one of Johnny Carson's jokes bombed. Carson would do an impromptu soft shoe, eliciting laughter from the studio audience and turning a bad joke into a big laugh.

The song was used multiple times on The Muppet Show, including a backwards performance by Rowlf the Dog and Lew Zealand.

It was also used, with altered lyrics as the theme tune for BBC sitcom Next of Kin (1995-7).

Tommy Dorsey's version is used as an intermission on the 1997 album Ixnay on the Hombre by California punk band The Offspring.

Chinese Composer Gao Ping quotes the song in the 2nd Soviet Love Song for Vocalizing Pianist, titled "Katyusha, Homage to D.Shostakovich."[3] The pianist whistles the theme while playing, ironically interrupting a turbulent passage for a few seconds.

A brief part of the song was used by comedian Stewart Francis for one of his one-liners concerning an over-active imagination and tap-dancing chipmunks.

The 2009 made-for-TV movie "Grey Gardens" (based on the 1975 documentary "Grey Gardens") features the character Edith Bouvier, played by Jessica Lange, singing "Tea for Two" and dancing by the piano while her musical instructor plays.

Pablo Bubar reintroduced "Tea for Two" in one of the musical romance sketches of "Pablo the Romantic" from "Boom Town", broadcast by BBC Three (UK, 2013). This version includes the piano music of Ross Leadbeater .

See also


  1. Alec Wilder, James T. Maher (1972-04-27), American popular song: the great innovators, 1900-1950, ISBN 9780195014457
  2. Whitburn, Joel (1986). Pop Memories 1890-1954: The History of American Popular Music. Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin: Record Research, Inc. p. 590. ISBN 0-89820-083-0.
  3. http://sounz.org.nz/works/show/19365
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