Composer Bernice Petkere, whom Irving Berlin once called the “Queen of Tin Pan Alley,” died Jan. 7 of natural causes at Queen of Angels Hospital in Los Angeles. She was 98.
Petkere is best remembered for writing songs that were recorded and sung by such stars as Bing Crosby, Kate Smith and Tony Bennett.
Born in Chicago, she broke into vaudeville as a singing 5-year-old in a duo billed as the Baby Dolls. She landed a job in her teens as a pianist for a New York music publishing house.
Crosby sang her first song, “Starlight.” She scribbled notes for the song on the back of a menu at a New York jazz bar in 1931. Soon, her songs were being performed by some of the biggest radio stars of the day including Smith, Russ Columbo, Harry Richman and Guy Lombardo.
Petkere had a big hit with “Lullaby of the Leaves” and often collaborated with such lyricists as Joseph Young, Marty Symes and Walter G. Samuels.
Berlin once sent her red roses, a get-well card and a letter addressed to “Bernice Petkere, Queen of Tin Pan Alley, New York.”
Petkere later moved to Los Angeles and wrote music for radio. She also wrote the score for MGM’s “Ice Follies of 1939,” starring Joan Crawford and James Stewart.
She is survived by a sister and several cousins.