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The Musical Comptroller

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In the list of great and near-great Americans who served as Comptroller of the Currency, none stands out more than Charles G. Dawes. Of distinguished lineage – his ancestors had been among the founders of the Massachusetts Bay Colony – Dawes was only 33 years old when President William McKinley named him the 10th Comptroller in 1897.

For Dawes, the OCC was the first in what was to be a long series of public positions that included the vice presidency of the United States under Calvin Coolidge and the U.S. ambassadorship to Great Britain. In recognition of his work to promote global economic recovery after World War I, Dawes was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

But his first love was music. Visitors to his Chicago-area home would often find him at the piano, plunking out tunes and making up a few himself. He was particularly proud of a melody in the key of A, which he shared one day in 1911 with a musician-friend. Some months later, strolling down State Street, he was shocked to see in the window of a music shop “a poster size picture of myself, my name plastered all over the window in large letters and the window space entirely filled with the sheet music.”

The tune had become a hit – much to Dawes’s consternation. He was afraid he’d be taken less seriously as a banker and politician. It made him wince when the tune was played to greet him during campaign stops for the vice presidency. But music has a life of its own, and Dawes’s “Melody” has had a long life in various guises: as a cadenza in the repertoire of classical violinist Fritz Kreisler, in versions for orchestra, and with lyrics and a new title “It’s All in the Game,” as a number-one hit song for vocalist Tommy Edwards in 1958.

Listen to it on the Internet. And when you do, think about the Comptroller who wrote it.