As part of Billboard's celebration of the 60th anniversary of our Hot 100 chart this week, we're taking a deeper look at some of the biggest artists and singles in the chart's history. Here, we revisit Tommy Edwards' “It’s All in the Game,” which finished at No. 47 in our all-time Hot 100 singles ranking.
The first No. 1 song by a black performer on the Billboard Hot 100 -- which arrived merely a month after the chart’s inception -- tells one of those tales that finds American music slipping the bounds of genre. Tommy Edwards’ 1958 song, “It’s All in the Game,” wasn’t rock’n’roll or R&B, but a tune-up of Edwards’ own 1951 version of a swelling, croony ballad -- itself an adaptation of a four-decade-old ditty by an amateur parlor tunesmith. That last detail also makes it the only pop hit ever written by a top White House official and improbably ties a 1925 Nobel Peace Prize winner to the 2016 literary Nobel laureate.
“It’s All in the Game” draws its sweet tune from “Melody in A Major,” written in 1911 by a banking executive named Charles G. Dawes, who would soon be a military general and later a federal budget chief. By the mid-1920s, Dawes would be Calvin Coolidge’s vice president, though reputedly a lousy one. His Nobel was for his earlier work on the Dawes Plan, which (temporarily) helped Germany stave off postwar economic collapse. But in his off-hours, Dawes was an avid light-classical flautist-pianist. “Melody” is his only known composition, and it’s dumb luck it’s known at all: He handed off the score to a friend who, to Dawes’ amazement, got it published. It became a piano-roll hit, renowned violinist Fritz Kreisler made it his curtain closer, and by the 1930s, it was in the repertoire of big-band orchestras like Tommy Dorsey’s -- though the first attempt to set it to words, as “Let Me Dream,” fell flat. Over time, Dawes found himself vexed by the song, which bands “manhandled” in his honor everywhere he went, according to his biographer Bascom N. Timmons in Portrait of an American.