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With a Song in His Heart

Alum centenarian Alan Tripp might be part of the oldest songwriting duo in the world.

Alan Tripp 1290X645
Songwriter Alan Tripp at a Philadelphia-area recording studioImage: Lisa Schaeffer

By Daniel Rosenzweig-Ziff
Spring 2020
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For the retirement-age and older crowd, the lead song of Alan Tripp’s debut album has a catchy and relatable chorus: “I’m ready now to kiss you/but baby there’s an issue/I just can’t remember your name.”

senior songbook album coverAfter graduating from Northwestern with an undergraduate business degree, Tripp ’37 worked in broadcasting and advertising, at one point running his own ad agency. Now, from his retirement home in Bryn Mawr, Pa., the 102-year-old has achieved a lifelong dream with the release of Senior Song Book — a mix of ’40s- and ’50s-style tunes with modern lyrics that he calls “grown-up music.”

Marvin Weisbord was at my 99th birthday party when I read a poem that I had written called “Best Old Friends.” He wrote music to put that poem into a song as a present for my 100th birthday. Marvin didn’t know that I had the lyrics for six other songs in a drawer. He’s a very good jazz pianist. In a few months, we had written 14 songs together.

We decided we shouldn’t let these songs disappear into the darkness of musical history. We put together a band of musicians and recorded them. Someone told me that the whole thing has gone viral. At first, I thought that was a disease. But it was a great success, and now we are working on making it into a cabaret night. [Tripp and Weisbord have been featured on Access Hollywood, CBS Evening News and NPR.]

All my life I wanted to be a songwriter. When I was 15 years old, I used to hang out at the Brill Building in Manhattan, where all the song publishers had their offices. One day a little jingle popped into my mind for Kool cigarettes, so I took it over to the ad agency. When I sang it for them, they bought it for $75 on the spot. I again tried to be a songwriter when I was around 40 years old. I produced a weekly TV show in Philadelphia, and the director was Alan Bergman [who later won two Oscars for best original song]. Alan and I wrote a couple songs that never got anywhere. So finally, at 102, I have become a songwriter.

I was very happy at Northwestern. You do better work when you’re happy. In college, you’re honing and polishing a jewel — yourself. At that age, you don’t understand that each day is precious. Make the most of those years. You don’t get to repeat that experience.

John Paul Jones said, “Don’t give up the ship!” If you really love something, you should do it. People talk about having a passion. It’s just a word, but it’s the right word.

If you like an idea, never just throw it away. I’ve got a song I’m writing now. I’ve written the first half, but I’m hung up on the second half. I’ll beat it. I’ll get it. I’ve always been that way. My kids always knew that I was like a little dog that gets hold of a ball and doesn’t let it go. It’s my nature.

Interview by Dan Rosenzweig-Ziff, a junior journalism major from Newton, Mass.

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Reader Responses

  • I think this is fabulous. My sister Jane Bostwick works for Allen and talks about him often. He is amazing!

    Chris Balch Penn Valley Pa., via Northwestern Magazine

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