Hugh Martin, the songwriter who enlivened the Judy Garland movie musical “Meet Me in St. Louis” with an indelibly melodic trio of evergreen songs — “The Trolley Song,” “The Boy Next Door” and “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” — died March 11 in California. He was 96.
A talented lyricist as well as a composer, Martin wrote the scores for several Broadway musicals, including Best Foot Forward (1941) (which featured the rousing fight song “Buckle Down, Winsocki”); Look, Ma, I’m Dancin’ (1948), which was conceived and co-directed (with George Abbott) by Jerome Robbins; Make a Wish (1951); and High Spirits (1964); and did musical and vocal arrangements for the likes of Cole Porter, Irving Berlin and Richard Rodgers.
But it was for the lush M-G-M film “Meet Me in St. Louis,” a collaboration with his frequent writing partner Ralph Blane, that he made his most lasting contribution on the American songbook. A sentimental tale of a close-knit St. Louis family at the turn of the 20th century, whose serenity is threatened by the father’s plan to move to New York, the movie was made memorable through Judy Garland’s ardent, warm delivery of the score. Her boisterous take on the bouncy, syncopated “The Trolley Song,” sung while riding on a bustling trolley, became a piece of cinematic history. And the melancholy “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” evolved into a yuletide classic, recorded by hundreds of artists over the years.