CLEVELAND, OH – One of the sweetest songs the original Four Tops sang was written by mixed-race Republican President Calvin Coolidge’s vice president. Charles Dawes was from Marietta, Ohio and a self-taught piano player and flautist. It means he also played the flute.
Like all true musicians, Dawes had his own sound and combination of melody lines he liked. Dawes couldn’t get a melody line in “A major” out of his head that consist of the notes A, C sharp and E; so he recorded it. “Melody in A Major.” And he played it for audiences.
Dawes played piano as Coolidge’s vice president. But he also played when he ran Ohioan William McKinley’s campaign for president of the United States; and while he served as his comptroller of the currency. Dawes played his piano when he formed the Central Trust of Illinois bank; and during his time as a general during World War 1. He also played it after winning the Nobel Peace Prize for his work in reconstructing Germany after World War 1.
Like South African trumpet player Hugh Masakela who asked this writer how he would like playing the same song for the last decade during an interview at Cleveland’s MadHatter in 1978, Vice President Dawes grew tired of his Melody in A Major to the point he eventually didn’t like it. He died on April 23, 1951 before Carl Sigman the same year added his “All In The Game” lyrics to Dawes’ melody and the song became popularly-known when it was sung by Russian American singer Dinah Shore nee Stein.
Singer Sammy Kaye did a White male “cover” of Dawes’ melody with Sigman’s “All In The Game” lyrics. But it was American and Black singer Tommy Edward’s one hit wonder version of the song that at the time sold best. From the 1950’s the song became a “standard” sang by lots of artists. Among them were Americans Brook Benton, Nat King Cole and Russian American Barry Pincus who’s better known as Barry Manilow.
Merle Haggard, Van Morrison and Cliff Richards recorded “All In the Game” versions. But no group charted higher with the song than the Four Tops. Number 6 on the R&B charts and number 24 on Billboard in 1970. Singer Isaac Hayes charted his “All In the Game” version at 86 on the Billboard Hot 100. The Four Tops. Abdul Duke Fakir, Levi Stubbs, Renaldo Obie Benson and Lawrence Payton … hands down.
An observant reader may have the “back of the mind” thought that Dawes’ melody seems to have been really hooked up by Black American singers and recording artists. One of the little known secrets about the president he served, Calvin Coolidge, is that he was mixed-race Black American under this nation’s “one drop rule” where a drop of Black blood makes a person Black. Dawes appears to have faced similiar questions.
Coolidge, when asked, said who knows who his great grandmother slept with and left it alone. Both Coolidge and Vice President Dawes were anti-slavery abolitionists who, unlike Donald Trump and leading candidates from both parties, actually had roots to the original 13 American colonies.
Ohioans who attended Marietta College, Cincinnati law school graduates and members of the Delta Upsilon fraternity should acknowledge Dawes as one of “Ohio born their own.” It’s also interesting that the same state which produced Bone Thugs & Harmony produced self-taught piano player and violinst Charles Dawes.