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Celebrating Lucille Ball with Music

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First edition of the theme song for "I Love Lucy"First edition of the theme song for "I Love Lucy"

Happy belated 100th birthday to Lucille Ball!

While the Music Division of The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts may seem peripheral to Lucille Ball and her legacy, we do have an important connection to the theme music of her first television show.

To begin with, the Music Division has what is believed to be the first edition of the show’s theme song in sheet music format.

The popularity of that theme is such that, in the disco era of the late 1970s, a disco version — called “Disco Lucy” — was recorded and sheet music printed. It’s also in our collection.

 a disco version of the "I Love Lucy" theme"Disco Lucy": a disco version of the "I Love Lucy" theme

In fact it is just a solo piano rendition of theme (with some swing added), and a couple of disco-like interjections:

"Dance, dance, disco Lucy!""Dance, dance, disco Lucy!"

On both of these published pieces of sheet music (as on the television show's credits), the composer is listed as Eliot Daniel, who was a music director at CBS.

But in fact, the true composer of the I Love Lucy theme is Marco Rizo (1920-1998). Born in Cuba, Rizo was a childhood friend of Desi Arnaz, emigrating to the United States in 1940. He pursued an unusual career — one that would be characterized today as “crossover.” While he was a band leader of popular music, specializing in a Latin sound, he was also studying music, first at Juilliard (he was a student of the noted piano teacher Rosina Lhevinne, whose papers reside in the Music Division) and later at UCLA under Igor Stravinsky and Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco. (You can read more about him at his homepage.)

When the television show I Love Lucy was being planned, Desi Arnaz called upon his childhood friend to be the music director. Rizo composed not only the theme but also the background music during the show's entire run. There are several times on the show where the band is seen and Desi (as Ricky) calls out to the band leader “Marco!” to begin a song. He is actually speaking to Marco Rizo, who was occasionally seen leading the band on the show.

We are fortunate that Marco Rizo’s sister has donated his papers to the Music Division. While the music Rizo specifically composed for the show presumably remains with Desilu, he did arrange a few pieces using the I Love Lucy theme which are part of the collection.

Here’s a portion of the title page of a work he called I Love Lucy: A Musical Portrait of Desi Arnaz’s Family. (If you can read music, you can see the entrance of the I Love Lucy theme on the bottom staff.)

 A Musical Portrait of Desi Arnaz's Family" by Marco Rizo"I Love Lucy: A Musical Portrait of Desi Arnaz's Family" by Marco Rizo

So as the celebrations of Lucille Ball’s 100th birthday continue, let’s remember a musical component that is hard to separate from her. Even if it was only a short part of her career, it had and continues to exert a major influence on many.

Lucille Ball, Marco Rizo, and Desi Arnaz in the early 1950sLucille Ball, Marco Rizo, and Desi Arnaz in the early 1950s

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