“Without a Song”


Volume 124, No. 4April, 2024

Eve Zanni

During the mid-1980’s in New York City. I was a jazz singer and single mom living in Greenwich Village. “Without a Song” by Vincent Youmans, with lyrics by Billy Rose and Edward Eliscu, written in 1929, was my new favorite song. I sang it every chance I got.

One summer my son and I traveled up to Maine to meet my dad and stepmother for a family vacation. We were happy to be out of the city. As we grooved down the highway, I leaned my head out the window and burst into “Without a Song.”

My son and my dad were in the back seat. Then I noticed tears in my dad’s eyes. That was highly unusual. When we stopped, I asked him why. He said, “You and your brother might not be here if it wasn’t for that song” he said.

Then out came a story I’d never heard.

During the Great Depression, my musician and artist father from South Philly got a job through the WPA as a traveling sign painter. He was sent to the farmlands of southern New Jersey. One of his gigs was to paint a giant tiger, up high on a ladder, for the Giant Tiger supermarket. My mother and two of her sisters worked there as cashiers. My handsome swarthy dad flirted with the red haired, blue-eyed beauties and fancied my mother. Somehow, he got invited out to their farmhouse.

My mother’s family all loved to sing around the piano each night. My dad was a larger-than-life presence, full of swagger and charm. He was a singer who played several instruments, was a whiz on the harmonica, had won a local harmonica contest and played with Borrah Minevitch’s Harmonica Rascals.

During the visit, my grandfather stayed upstairs and couldn’t be bothered to come down and meet the cheeky stranger.

They sang many songs and then my father launched into “Without a Song,” which had recently been a big hit by Bing Crosby with the Paul Whiteman Orchestra in 1929. (A version of the song was also featured in the 1929 Broadway musical “Great Day.”) As they all sang, they suddenly looked up to see my usually stern grandfather coming downstairs, smiling as he blended his melodious tenor voice to the throng.

It was his favorite song, too. Somehow it took this particular song to melt my grandfather’s suspicions of the stranger. My father was welcomed into the fold, and my parents’ love story began.

The power of timeless songs runs deep. I’m not sure why I was so connected to “Without a Song” because I never consciously knew any of this. My mother had a fatal heart attack at age 44 when I was a child. Her sudden death fragmented our family and many histories, songs and memories were left to languish in vaults like buried treasure. I don’t remember my parents singing “Without a Song.” I discovered it as a young adult, following my passion for standards from the Great American Songbook.

“Without a Song” found a way to welcome a stranger from the big city of Philadelphia into a close-knit farm family in rural New Jersey. Many years later, it found its way to me in New York City and I fell in love with it, never dreaming that it was the aphrodisiac that gave birth to my parents’ new love and passion. I still love to sing it.

“Without a Song” by Vincent Youmans, Lyrics by Billy Rose and Edward Eliscu (1929)

Without a song, the day would never end
Without a song, the road would never bend
When things go wrong, a man ain’t got a friend
Without a song!
That field of corn, would never see a plough
That field of corn, would be deserted now
A young one’s born, but he’s no good no how
Without a song!
I got my trouble an’ woe, but sure as I know
The Jordan will roll (Roll you river Jordan! )
I’ll get along as long as a song is strung
In my soul!
I’ll never know what makes the rain to fall
I’ll never know what makes the grass so tall
I only know there ain’t no love at all
Without a song!


Vocalist Eve Zanni first joined Local 802 in 1989. To inquiry about submitting a personal essay to MEMBER TO MEMBER, send an e-mail to