Thanks to Sonny Bono, the UJA-Federation stands to earn additional millions of dollars from the lyrics of the great Broadway songwriter Lorenz Hart.
The son of Jewish immigrants from Germany penned some of the most unforgettable American show tunes with partner Richard Rodgers in the 1920s and ‘30s.
When Hart died in 1943, he left his valuable estate in a trust to his brother and sister-in-law, specifying that at their deaths, the trust be turned over to the Support of Jewish Philanthropic Societies of New York. That organization eventually became the UJA-Federation of New York.
Hart’s sister-in-law Dorothy Hart died in April 2000, and UJA-Federation dusted off its files and began to assume control of the trove of nearly 1,000 songs, which in the last 10 years generated an annual income ranging from several hundred thousand to over a million dollars.
The copyrights of classics like “Blue Moon” “My Funny Valentine” and “The Lady Is a Tramp” were to begin to expire in another few years, says Charles Goldman, group vice-president of UJA-Federation, but the 1998 Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act gave rights owners an extra 20 years. UJA-Federation is now “thinking creatively on how to use the lyrics and musical revivals as fund-raising modalities.”
This is the first time such valuable intellectual property has become a UJA-Federation endowment fund, and Goldman sees that as a new area of donor support, which is “going to be mentioned at our next big entertainment group dinner.”
That the brilliant gay songsmith, who led a famously troubled life, “thought enough of the Jewish community when it came time to write his will sends a powerful message,” Goldman says.
Last month, however, the U.S. Supreme Court announced it would review a case that challenges the constitutionality of the Sonny Bono copyright extension law.
Meanwhile, Goldman says UJA-Federation is still getting the asset inventoried and valued and looks forward to earning full royalties from Hart’s estate in a few months.