Sir Charlie Chaplin wrote the melody for the tune Smile in 1936 for his film Modern Times. The lyrics were added in 1954. Since then Smile has become a popular standard of the classic song book and has been recorded by everyone from Nat King Cole to Diana Ross, Tony Bennett, Harry Connick Jr., Josh Groban, Barbara Streisand, Martina McBride, Michael Bolton, Michael Bublé, Elvis Costello, and many more.
Michael Jackson said Smile was his favorite of all of the songs he had recorded. MJ loved it so much that Jermaine Jackson donned a white sequined glove to sing Smile at his brother’s funeral.
Although Chaplin didn’t write the lyrics to Smile, they were influenced by both his movie Modern Times and Chaplin’s life. Lived mostly under the bright light of super stardom, Chaplin swung from debilitating tragedy and scandal to overwhelming successes. The contrasts of Chaplin’s life can be seen most readily in his rise from a dismal childhood spent in a London orphanage to eventually winning not only the World Peace Prize and the Academy Award for Lifetime Achievement but by being knighted in England and awarded France’s Legion of Honor.
Not only was Chaplin a comedian and moviemaker, he also authored two autobiographies, and composed the musical scores for the movies he wrote, directed, and stared in. Thanks to his immense popularity, Chaplin was believed to be one of the highest-paid people in show business. What’s more, Chaplin was universally acknowledged as the biggest brand in the world and perhaps the most famous person ever — at the apex of his fame, Chaplin’s character the Tramp, with his iconic bowler hat, was the most recognized image on the planet. It’s said that only Elvis and The Beatles even came close to Chaplin’s domination of media around the world although even they never surpassed his popularity. And if all that wasn’t enough, Charlie Chaplin died on Christmas Day.
Chaplin’s best known song, Smile, distills his positive outlook on life into a simple but profound masterpiece. And even though Smile was written almost 80 years ago, its message seems truer — and more necessary — today than ever before.
If you click on the artists’ names throughout this article, they will take you to different YouTube versions of Chaplin’s wonderful song — sung by some of the most important artists and performers of our time. As much as I love almost anything Eric Clapton does, I’m particularly partial to the Nat King Cole’s version of Smile which, coincidentally, was the first version released. I’m eager to hear whose version you prefer — please reply to this email with your favorite. And if you know of another great version of Smile I’d love to hear about that too.
These songs, combined with my warmest wishes for health and happiness, are my holiday gift to you. Thank you for being part of my community and thank you for reading my blog. And always remember to smile.
“Smile though your heart is aching
Smile even though it’s breaking.
When there are clouds in the sky
You’ll get by.
If you smile through your fear and sorrow
Smile and maybe tomorrow
You’ll see the sun come shining through
Light up your face with gladness,
Hide every trace of sadness.
Although a tear may be ever so near
That’s the time you must keep on trying
Smile, what’s the use of crying.
You’ll see that life is still worthwhile
If you just smile.”