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"Make Believe" by Benny Davis and Jack Shilkret

The History Behind "Make Believe" by Benny Davis and Jack Shilkret: A Journey Through Time and Art


Creating art on old music sheets allows me to weave together the rich history of music with my contemporary artistic vision. One such piece that inspired me is "Make Believe" by Benny Davis and Jack Shilkret. This song, cherished by many during its time, provided the perfect canvas for my recent drawing—a beautiful 1920s witch holding a candle, appearing as if she's about to blow it out, with a small tattered-winged fae demon emerging from her hair. Let’s delve into the historical context of this song, the lives of its composers, and how these elements inspired my artwork.



The Composers: Benny Davis and Jack Shilkret

Benny Davis and Jack Shilkret were notable figures in the music world during the early 20th century. Benny Davis, born in 1895, was a prolific lyricist and composer known for his ability to craft songs that captured the emotions and experiences of everyday life. Jack Shilkret, born in 1896, was a talented composer and orchestra leader. Together, they created songs that resonated with audiences and left a lasting impact on the American music scene.


Historical Context: Early 20th Century America

The early 20th century was a time of great change and cultural evolution in America. The Roaring Twenties, characterized by economic prosperity and cultural dynamism, saw the rise of jazz, the flapper movement, and a new sense of modernity. This period was also a golden era for Tin Pan Alley, the hub of songwriting and music publishing in New York City, where composers like Davis and Shilkret thrived.

"Make Believe" by Benny Davis and Jack Shilkret was composed in 1926, a year when America was experiencing the height of the Jazz Age. The song’s themes of fantasy and escapism were reflective of a society that was embracing new forms of entertainment and expression. The Roaring Twenties were a time when people sought to break away from the past and explore new possibilities, and music was a key part of that cultural shift.


The Artwork: Merging History and Contemporary Expression

When I found the old music sheet of "Make Believe," I saw an opportunity to blend its historical essence with a modern, fantastical element. I drew a beautiful 1920s witch holding a candle, poised as if she’s about to blow it out. Her serene, mysterious demeanor, paired with a headscarf that adds to her enchanting aura, embodies the spirit of the Jazz Age woman—independent, intriguing, and forward-thinking.

Emerging from her hair is a small tattered-winged fae demon, fairy-sized, looking as if it’s about to whisper secrets to her. This mystical creature symbolizes the hidden depths and the magic that lies beneath the surface of everyday life, much like the era’s fascination with fantasy and the supernatural.


The Symbolism: Witches and the Fae

The choice of a witch and a fae demon in my artwork connects symbolically to the song's themes of fantasy and make-believe. Witches, often seen as wise and powerful figures, represent mystery, magic, and the unseen forces of the world. The act of holding a candle, about to be blown out, signifies the delicate balance between light and dark, known and unknown.

The small fae demon, with its tattered wings, adds a touch of whimsy and intrigue, embodying the idea of secrets and hidden knowledge. Together, these elements create a narrative of enchantment and wonder, inviting viewers to imagine the stories and secrets that lie within.


The Significance of the Music Sheet

Using an old music sheet as the canvas for my art adds a tangible sense of history and continuity. Music sheets from the early 20th century are not just relics of the past; they are windows into the cultural and social dynamics of their time. They tell stories of the people who composed, performed, and cherished these songs.

For me, "Make Believe" represents more than just a medium for notes and lyrics. It embodies the spirit of an era and the personal journeys of countless individuals who found solace, joy, and reflection in its melody. By creating art on this music sheet, I aim to pay homage to these historical narratives while infusing them with new life and contemporary relevance.


Fun Facts and Stories:


Davis and Shilkret's Creative Process

Benny Davis and Jack Shilkret had a remarkable ability to create music that resonated with the public. Davis's lyrical talent combined with Shilkret's musical composition created a synergy that resulted in memorable and beloved songs. Their work often reflected the hopes, dreams, and fantasies of the people of their time.


The Song’s Popularity

"Make Believe" quickly became a favorite among listeners in the 1920s. Its dreamy melody and imaginative lyrics provided a perfect escape from the daily grind, resonating with a society eager for entertainment and fantasy. Picture the audiences of the 1920s, dressed in their finest attire, gathering in dance halls and parlors, enchanted by the whimsical allure of "Make Believe."


Shilkret's Musical Background

Jack Shilkret, along with his brother Nat Shilkret, was a significant figure in the music industry. Jack’s background as an orchestra leader and composer gave him a deep understanding of musical arrangement and performance, contributing to the lasting impact of his collaborations with Benny Davis.


Inspiration from Daily Life

An interesting anecdote about Davis and Shilkret is how they often drew inspiration from the world around them. It’s said that the idea for "Make Believe" stemmed from observing the fantasies and daydreams of people in their everyday lives. They captured the essence of imagination and transformed it into a beautiful, melodic expression of escapism.


Bringing It All Together

Combining historical context and contemporary art creates a rich tapestry that invites you to explore both the past and the present. The choice to draw a 1920s witch holding a candle on the music sheet of "Make Believe" highlights the timeless nature of human expression and the ongoing quest for identity and transformation.

By sharing this piece on my blog, I hope to offer you not only a glimpse into the history of a beautiful song but also an opportunity to reflect on broader themes of exploration, fantasy, and cultural heritage. This fusion of history and art can attract a diverse audience, from music historians and art enthusiasts to those interested in surrealism and magical realism.

As I continue to create and share my art, each piece becomes a narrative thread that weaves together the stories of the past with visions of the future, making my blog a unique and enriching destination for all who visit.


"Make Believe" by Benny Davis and Jack Shilkret is more than just a song; it’s a piece of history that continues to inspire and resonate. Composed in 1926 during a time of cultural dynamism, it reflects themes of fantasy, escapism, and the endless possibilities of the imagination. By integrating this historical music sheet with my contemporary artwork, I aim to create a powerful commentary on the enduring nature of human creativity and the ongoing dialogue between different eras. Through my blog, I invite you to join me on this journey of exploration and artistic expression.



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