It might surprise you to learn that “What a Diff’rence a Day Made” (sometimes known as “What a Difference a Day Makes”) actually began as a song written in Spanish by a very talented lady who’d previously relocated from Mexico to New York City. Of course, it didn’t become a familiar song to most of us until Dinah Washington won a Grammy with it in 1959, but it began life way back in 1934 with the title, “Cuando Vuelva A Tu Lado” (“When I Return To Your Side”), written by María Grever.
Born as María Joaquina de la Portilla Torres in Mexico City in 1885, she was just a child when she moved with her family to her father’s native Spain, but she was already pointed toward music. As she grew older she studied in France, at one point working with legendary composer Claude Debussy, and she continued her musical education after moving back to Mexico as a teen. Adulthood brought marriage to an American oil company executive and an eventual move to New York, where she had a long career as a musician and as a prolific composer.
When Grever’s song was published in 1934 it was retitled and given English lyrics by Stanley Adams, making it a little more accessible to American musicians. One of the bands that recorded it that same year, the Dorsey Brothers orchestra, had a solid-selling record with the song, but it still didn’t make much of a splash for the next couple of decades. That ended in 1959 when Dinah Washington made it her first big hit record, one that would eventually show up in the Grammy Hall of Fame. (In the rare video below, she’s introduced by a future president.)
Sadly, Grever had died a few years before that but her legacy continued to build in subsequent years as her song became a popular choice for many singers. Some of the best records included those by Dean Martin, Aretha Franklin, Natalie Cole, Sarah Vaughan, and Edie Gorme, who performed the original Spanish version on her album, Canta En Espanol.