“Gloomy Sunday” is a song composed by Hungarian pianist and composer Rezső Seress and published in 1933, as “Vége a világnak” (“End of the world”). Lyrics were written by László Jávor, and in his version the song was retitled “Szomorú vasárnap” (“Sad Sunday”). The song was first recorded in Hungarian by Pál Kalmár in 1935.
“Gloomy Sunday” was first recorded in English by Hal Kemp in 1936, with lyrics by Sam M. Lewis, and was recorded the same year by Paul Robeson, with lyrics by Desmond Carter. It became well known throughout much of the English-speaking world after the release of a version by Billie Holiday in 1941. Lewis’s lyrics referred to suicide, and the record label described it as the “Hungarian Suicide Song”.
- The song was composed by Rezső Seress while living in Paris, in an attempt to become established as a songwriter in late 1932.
- Seress wrote the song at the time of the Great Depression and increasing fascist influence in the writer’s native Hungary, although sources differ as to the degree to which his song was motivated by personal melancholy rather than concerns about the future of the world.
- There have been several urban legends regarding the song over the years, mostly involving it being allegedly connected with various numbers of suicides, and radio networks reacting by purportedly banning the song. However, most of these claims are unsubstantiated.
- In January 1968, some 35 years after writing the song, its composer Rezső Seress did commit suicide. He survived jumping out of a window in Budapest, but later in the hospital choked himself to death with a wire.
- The BBC banned Billie Holiday’s version of the song from being broadcast, as being detrimental to wartime morale, but allowed performances of instrumental versions. However, there is little evidence of any other radio bans; the BBC’s ban was lifted by 2002.