John La Touche (lyricist)

John Treville Latouche (La Touche) (November 13, 1914,[1] Baltimore, Maryland – August 7, 1956, Calais, Vermont) was a lyricist and bookwriter in American musical theater.


John Treville Latouche was born in Baltimore, Maryland. His family moved to Richmond, Virginia, when he was four months old. He attended Columbia University, where he wrote for the Varsity Show and joined the Philolexian Society but never graduated.

In 1937 he contributed two songs in the revue Pins and Needles. In 1939 for the show Sing For Your Supper he wrote the lyrics for "Ballad for Uncle Sam", later retitled "Ballad for Americans", with music by Earl Robinson. It was featured at both the 1940 Republican Convention and the convention of the American Communist Party, and was extremely popular in 1940s America. This 13-minute cantata to American democracy was written for a soloist and as well a full orchestra. When performed on the CBS Radio network by singer Paul Robeson, it became a national success. Subsequently, both Robeson and Bing Crosby[2] regularly performed it. Actor and singer Brock Peters also made a notable recording of the cantata.

Latouche provided the lyrics for Vernon Duke's songs (including, with Ted Fetter, "Taking A Chance On Love") for the musical Cabin in the Sky (1940) and also for Duke's musical Banjo Eyes, which starred Eddie Cantor (1941). He appeared as The Gangster in the experimental film Dreams That Money Can Buy (1947), and wrote the lyrics for the song "The Girl With the Pre-Fabricated Heart" (music by Louis Applebaum), which accompanies the sequence conceived by Fernand Léger.

Latouche wrote the book and lyrics for The Golden Apple in 1954 with music by Jerome Moross, which won the New York Drama Critics' Circle Award for Best Musical. In 1955 he provided additional lyrics for Leonard Bernstein's Candide. Latouche also wrote the libretto to Douglas Moore's opera The Ballad of Baby Doe, one of the few American operas to join the standard repertoire. In 1955, he collaborated with co-writer Sam Locke and composer James Mundy on the Carol Channing vehicle The Vamp, which closed after a run of only 60 performances. He had been working with David Merrick on musicalizing the Eugene O'Neill play Ah, Wilderness but died during the writing of it. (It would later become Take Me Along)

He was a protégé of James Branch Cabell and friends with writers Gore Vidal and Jack Woodford. Latouche dated Louella Woodford when they were both teenagers. He also was friends of the architect William Alexander Levy (who designed and built Hangover House for travel writer Richard Halliburton), and writer Paul Mooney, who assisted Halliburton in several of his classic travel works.[3]

Latouche died of a sudden heart attack at his home in Calais, Vermont, aged 41.

The New York Theatre Company produced Taking a Chance on Love - The Lyrics and Life of John LaTouche, A New Musical Revue ("The Bad Boy of Broadway Is Back") in 2000, with notes by Ned Rorem (OC-4444: Original Cast Records, Box 496, Georgetown, CT 06827). The John LaTouche Archive, containing journals, family letters, scrapbooks of photographs and newspaper articles, is housed at Columbia University. Out in the World - Selected Letters of Jane Bowles 1935-1970, edited by Millicent Dillon (Santa Barbara: Black Sparrow Press, 1985), contains a number of references to LaTouche, and his circle of friends and acquaintances. Chapter 28 of The Autobiography of Jack Woodford (Doubleday, Garden City, 1962) is devoted to La Touche.[4]

Notable songs

  • "Taking a Chance on Love" with Vernon Duke
  • "Lazy Afternoon" with Jerome Moross
  • "Wind Flowers" with Jerome Moross
  • "Day Dream" with Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn
  • "On the Wrong Side of the Railroad Tracks" with Duke Ellington
  • "Brown Penny" with Duke Ellington
  • "I've Got Me" with Duke Ellington
  • "Summer Is A-Comin' In" with Vernon Duke
  • "Ragtime Romeo" with James Mundy
  • "A Nail in the Horseshoe" with John Strauss
  • "Not a Care in the World" with Vernon Duke
  • "Backer's Audition" with John Strauss and Kenward Elmslie
  • "The Best of All Possible Worlds" with Leonard Bernstein
  • "You Were Dead, You Know" with Leonard Bernstein and Richard Wilbur
  • "My Love" with Leonard Bernstein and Richard Wilbur


  • Walpurgis Eve (1928 play)
  • Flair-Flair, the Idol of Paree (1935 musical)
  • Ballad for Americans (1939 cantata)
  • Polonaise (1945 musical)
  • Beggar's Holiday (1946 musical)
  • The Ballad of Baby Doe (1956 opera)


  1. Some sources say his year of birth was 1914, and others say 1917. The "Vermont Death Records, 1909-2008" database on indicate he was born in 1917. A ship manifest for the S.S. Matadi indicate he was born in 1914. The 1920 U.S. Federal Census lists him (with the first name "Treville") as being 5 years old, consistent with being born in 1914. The 1930 U.S Federal Census lists him (still under the first name Treville) living with his divorced mother and younger brother Louis. His age is given as 15, also consistent with him being born in 1914.
  2. "A Bing Crosby Discography". BING magazine. International Club Crosby. Retrieved November 3, 2018.
  3. See Gerry Max, Horizon Chasers - The Lives and Adventures of Richard Halliburton and Paul Mooney (McFarland, 2007) for references.
  4. See also Virginia Spencer Carr, Paul Bowles - A Life (Scribner: New York London Toronto and Sydney, c2004) for frequent snapshot references to LaTouche.
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