Renèe C. Baker visited the Black Film Center & Archive in May 2022 to conduct research on the Phil Moore Collection. Ms. Baker wrote the following post documenting her findings and thoughts.
In 2016, my first encounter with the genius composer/arranger Phil Moore occurred. While nosing through boxes that had not yet been catalogued nor digitized, I opened a box to find handwritten score manuscripts of a little-known composer. Why was I not aware of this composer and his music? The number of boxes (71) spoke to his prolific nature as a writer. Touching practically every milieu in sound arts from television to film, from night club acts to musicals as well as arthouse music, Phil Moore missed no beats between genres. Every box of envelopes revealed yet one more arena in which he imprinted his influence.
With an innate ability to convincingly move at a brilliant pace while influencing practically anything that was being listened to from the 30s to mid 50s, Moore had a great touch of magic, probably without knowing it.
Every encounter I’ve had with the Black Film Center & Archive spawned projects that have had profound impact on my practices as composer, artist and filmmaker. As I went through the materials, I’m suddenly aware of the history that I’m holding, touching, and seeing. Scores of luminaries like composer Quincy Jones, entertainers like Clifton Davis, actor Lou Gossett and Cicely Tyson, singers like Johnny Mathis, were all collaborators that Phil Moore arranged music for or coached and assisted. From the talents of Lena Horne, Diahann Carroll, Leslie Uggams, Marilyn McCoo, Bobby Short, Scatman Crothers, all were helped on their professional paths by Moore’s gift of reaching in and pulling the best out of these already talented pros.
Dubbed the “Doctor,” “Svengali,” and “Pygmalion,” Moore developed the sound qualities of singers that needed that extra polish or push, all while developing film scores for over 60 films at MGM, and subsequent project assignments at Paramount, Columbia, RKP, BBC, PBS, and NBC. With a pedigree developing like this, Moore had the ability to name-drop legitimately and this undoubtedly led to the furtherance of his own popularity as a go-to composer, arranger, and vocal coach. Priming celebrities to reach even higher musical standards and polishing stage presence and image was what he was best known for.
How ironic that although his composing activity was legendary, he wasn’t allowed to claim ownership of much of his most popular productions. Hired as a ghost staff writer for many projects, it appears that he was not able to sign his name to any of those prestigious film, television and movie projects until after joining ASCAP (1944) and publishing many of his own works under his own identity. So much of what the public heard of his music was not attributable to him. Looking through the scores of the late 40s and 50s, a selection of his signed works contained concerti, full orchestral works, small ensemble works, even a children’s opera score.
With his credits known publicly, would the moniker Phil Moore become a household name like his famous colleagues?
Looking at a photo of Mr. Moore in his piano studio, I can see album covers of notable artist collaborations: Bobby Short, Lena Horne, LaVern Baker, Don Elliott, Jackie Paris, Julie Wilson, Judy Garland, Perry Como, Marilyn Monroe, Lionel Hampton, Benny Goodman, Goldie Hawn, Dandridge Sisters (including Dorothy), Tom Jones, Ava Gardner, Louis Armstrong, Tallulah Bankhead, Meredith Wilson, Frank Sinatra, Jane Russell, Herb Alpert, Rosemary Clooney, Ray Charles, The Supremes, Duke Ellington, Aretha Franklin, Bing Crosby, and Buddy Rich…Did I miss anyone?
He was the standard that everyone wanted to access and uphold. From Mr. Magoo to Gerald McBoing Boing, the effect of his touch ran through generations of listeners. Without making this writing appear like a Phil Moore catalogue, it was important to name-drop at least a portion of the extensive impact and influence his composing and arranging had on the musical landscape of his time. As a conductor for legendary entertainment vehicles like the Ed Sullivan Show and the Tonight Show, the highlights of his career are endless. A trailblazer in a field where many Blacks were never given a chance, Moore never looked to the ground. He knew he could be anything or anyone, and the world of music will forever reflect his touch and influence in so many music arenas.
Renée Baker is founding music director and conductor of the internationally acclaimed Chicago Modern Orchestra Project. She has composed more than 2,000 works for various ensembles around the world. In composing for silent cinema, she has created cutting-edge original scores for more than 100 films and performed her work at live screening events and film festivals. Renée’s film scores include Body and Soul (1925), Broken Blossoms (1919), Women of Ryazan (1927), An Orphan (1929), Birth of a Nation (1915), A Natural Born Gambler (1916), and The Bluebird (1918), to name a few.