Washington was born in Pennsylvania and began his career in vaudeville as a master of ceremonies. Having started his songwriting career with Earl Carroll's Vanities on Broadway in the late 1920s, he joined the ASCAP in 1930. He would become one of the giants of Tin Pan Alley and contributed numerous popular standards to jazz and to the big band scene. During these tenures, he collaborated with many of the great composers of the era, including Hoagy Carmichael, Victor Young, Max Steiner, and Dimitri Tiomkin. His catalogue includes titles, such as "I'm Getting Sentimental Over You" (theme song for bandleader Tommy Dorsey), "Singin in the Bathtub", "I Don't Stand a Ghost of a Chance With You", "The Nearness of You" (made popular by Glenn Miller), "Stella By Starlight", "Green Dolphin Street", "La Cucaracha", and "My Foolish Heart.
In 1934, he relocated to Los Angeles where he began writing full scores for feature films, as well as songs, like Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, Town Without Pity, Circus World, Brazil, The Young Land, Wild Is the Wind, Miss Sadie Thompson, The High and the Mighty, High Noon, My Foolish Heart, Let's Do It Again, Tropic Holiday, The Big Show, Return to Paradise, Round-Up Time in Texas, Romance in the Dark, and Night at the Opera. Washington was nominated for eleven Academy Awards from 1940 to 1962. He won the Best Original Song award twice.
He also co-wrote theme song for the television shows: Naked City, Gunslinger, Temple Houston, and Rawhide.
He also served as a director of the ASCAP from 1957 until his death in 1976 of a heart ailment. He also served as a member of the Songwriters Hall of Fame of which he was inducted in 1972.
|1940||Pinocchio||Lyricist: "When You Fish Upon a Star"|
"Little Wooden Head"
"Give a Little Whistle"
"I've Got No Strings"
|1941||Dumbo||Lyricist: "Look Out for Mr. Stork"|
"Pink Elephants on Parade"
When I See an Elephant Fly"
|1942||Saludos Amigos||Lyricist: "Saludos Amigos"|
|1943||Figaro and Cleo||Lyricist: "Figaro and Cleo"|
|1947||Fun and Fancy Free||Lyricist: "I'm a Happy-Go-Lucky Fellow"|
|1951||Alice in Wonderland||Music Department - uncredited|