“Swanee” was legendary composer George Gershwin’s first big hit. With the music composed by Gershwin and lyrics written by Irving Casear, the song was born in 1919. However it found true success in 1920 when Al Jolsen covered it. The song is still largely associated with Jolsen. His version reached number one on the charts and stayed there for 9 weeks. It’s peppy, quick-tempoed, leaning into the traditions of Tin Pan Alley and ragtime.
Aretha’s version is slowed-down slightly but it doesn’t lose any of it’s pep. It still has a foot-tapping tempo, and lends itself to a big band swing arrangement. Recorded on October 12, 1965, it was one of the final 3 songs Aretha recorded on Columbia Records. It was originally released on 1965’s Soul Sister LP, though thr LP doesn’t have much soul music on it. 2011’s Take A Look: Aretha Franklin Complete on Columbia reorganized the recordings and issued “Swanee” on the final disc on the set, titled The Queen In Waiting (not to be confused with the 2-disc set of the same name released in 2002). It placed “Swanee” with the other two songs recorded during that final session, and 4 others recorded in her penultimate Columbia Records session in May of 1965.
Listen to Aretha add some vocal power and swing to “Swanee”: