“Willow Weep for Me” was introduced by vocalist and whistler Muzzy Marcellino performing with Ted Fio Rito and His Orchestra. Their October, 1932, Brunswick recording entered the pop charts December 3, 1932, and rose to number seventeen. On December 17 Paul Whiteman and His Orchestra’s Victor recording with singer Irene Taylor entered the charts and was more favorably received, rising to number two. Over thirty years later in 1964 “Willow Weep for Me” reemerged on the pop charts, this time by the British duo Chad and Jeremy.
Whether Ted Fio Rito or Paul Whiteman introduced “Willow Weep for Me” is a matter of some dispute. Ann Ronell had sold the song directly to Paul Whiteman, who presumably performed it first. Fio Rito, on the other hand, had the edge by two weeks in introducing the song to the public at large.
Composer Ann Ronell dedicated “Willow Weep for Me” to George Gershwin, the composer who helped her get her start in the music industry. In Joan Peyser’s Gershwin biography, The Memory of All That: The Life of George Gershwin, Ronell is quoted as saying, “George was sacred to me. He was my idol. I became like a sister to the family and was his protege.” Ronell’s dedication was undoubtedly a gesture of professional thanks rather than flattery by way of imitation. In The Poets of Tin Pan Alley: A History of America’s Great Lyricists, author Philip Furia comments that the melody is more Arlen than Gershwin and her “languorously driving lyric is much closer to Koehler than to Ira Gershwin.”
– Jeremy Wilson, JazzStandards