Call him irrepressible—Sammy Cahn always had a way with words. As a skinny, bespectacled kid, it kept him out of trouble with his parents and the neighborhood bullies. As an adult, his way with words made him one of the most popular and successful lyricists of all time.
Young Samuel Cohen was not a good student in the classroom, but he studied the theater voraciously; from an early age, he would cut classes to see movies and watch vaudeville shows. One time when he had been at the theater instead of at school, he was spotted by a friend of his mother, who reported Sammy’s truancy. He avoided punishment by brazenly lying his way out of the jam.
As a kid, he played the violin. But this was only a hobby until he was 13. At his bar mitzvah, he saw his mother pay the musicians and realized he could make money playing the violin. A year later he joined the small Dixieland orchestra his mother had hired, the Pals of Harmony. The group played local gigs and then began traveling to perform in hotels in Atlantic City and the summer resorts of the Catskills.
Sammy Cohen, who adopted the professional surname Cahn, wrote his first song when he was about 16 years old. As he recalled in his autobiography, I Should Care, “It was actually Jackie Osterman at the Academy of Music on 14th Street who inspired my song writing career.... In the middle of the act, [Osterman] took a change of pace and said he’d like to sing a song he’d written. It was a fascinating thing for me to be actually looking at a songwriter—in person.... Walking home... I began to frame a song in my head. By the time I reached home I had actually written a lyric.... The song was a piece of idiocy called “Like Niagara Falls, I’m Falling for You—Baby!” But if, as... somebody said, a journey of a thousand miles starts with the first step, that was the first step.” Soon he teamed up with the pianist from the Pals of Harmony, Saul Chaplin, and a songwriting team was born.
The duo of Cahn and Chaplin soon began to have some success at writing specialty numbers for vaudeville acts, but they could not get their songs published. Then one day in 1935, a friend told them that the bandleader Jimmy Lunceford, who was then playing at the Apollo Theater in Harlem, needed a song. They wrote “Rhythm Is Our Business,” which was recorded for the Decca label and became a modest hit. They began to write for
For the Record…
Born Samuel Cohen, June 18, 1913, in New York, NY; son of Abraham and Elka Riss Cohen; died of congestive heart failure, January 15, 1993, in Los Angeles, CA; married Gloria Delson, 1945 (divorced, 1964); married Virginia “Tita” Basile, 1970; children: Steven, Laurie.
Joined Dixieland group Pals of Harmony as violinist, 1927; wrote first song, c. 1929; with pianist Saul Chaplin, wrote specialty songs for vaudeville acts; wrote songs for big-band singers, including Ella Fitzgerald, mid-1930s; wrote English lyrics to Yiddish song “Bei Mir Bist Du Schön (Means That Your Grand),” 1937; worked for Vitaphone Studios, New York City, late 1930s; split from Chaplin and began working with Jule Styne; worked with Frank Sinatra, early 1940s; worked with various composers; mounted Broadway show Words and Music, 1974; toured with show, 1975-early 1990s. President of Songwriters Hall of Fame.
Contributed music to films, including Lady of Burlesque, 1943; Anchors Aweigh, 1945; Tonight and Every Night, 1945; Wonder Man, 1945; The Kid From Brooklyn, 1946; Romance on the High Seas, 1948; West Point Story, 1950; April in Paris, 1953; Peter Pan, 1953; Three Coins in a Fountain, 1954; You’re Never Too Young, 1955; The Court Jester, 1956; All the Way, 1956; The Man With the Golden Arm, 1956; Serenade, 1956; The Joker Is Wild, 1959; A Hole in the Head, 1959; High Time, 1960; A Pocketful of Miracles, 1961; Papa’s Delicate Condition, 1963; Robin and the Seven Hoods, 1964; Where Love Has Gone, 1964; Thoroughly Modern Millie, 1967; and Star, 1968.
Awards: Academy awards, 1954, for “Three Coins in a Fountain,” from Three Coins in a Fountain; 1957, for “All the Way,” from The Joker Is Wild; 1959, for “High Hopes,” from A Hole in the Head; 1963, for “Call Me Irresponsible,” from Papa’s Delicate Condition. National Cash Box Award, 1959, for “High Hopes.” Inducted into Songwriters Hall of Fame, 1972.
other big-band stars like Ella Fitzgerald (“If You Ever Should Leave”), were accepted as members of ASCAP (the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers), and were on their way.
The song that made Cahn and Chaplin famous and rich enough for Cahn to buy his parents a new house was the specialty number “Bei Mir Bist Du Schön (Means That You’re Grand).” Cahn heard this Yiddish song at the Apollo Theater and thought an English version would work well. He had trouble selling the idea at first, but then an as-yet-unknown sister act from the Midwest heard the song. Cahn explained in his autobiography: “One day Lou (Levy) brought the Andrews Sisters, Patty, Maxene, and LaVerne up to our apartment. On the piano was this copy of a song in Yiddish. Patty asked... ‘How does it go?’ I played it for them, and they started to sing right along and to rock with it. ‘Gee,’ said Patty, ‘can we have it?’ Cahn penned English lyrics to the song, the Andrew Sisters recorded it, and it shot both Cahn and the Sisters to national fame, eventually selling over one million copies.
During the late 1930s the team of Cahn and Chaplin wrote under contract for New York City’s Vitaphone Studios, a subsidiary of Warner Bros. that produced short feature films. The duo wrote songs sung in these films by performers such as Betty Hutton, Bob Hope, and Edgar Bergen. In 1940 Vitaphone Studios closed, and Cahn and Chaplin, still under contract to Warner Bros., moved out to Hollywood. But they had no luck with the western studios, got no commissions, and parted ways.
About the time Cahn was becoming frantic from lack of work, he was asked to write songs with composer Jule Styne. “From the beginning it was fun,” he remembered. “He went to the piano and played a complete melody. I listened and said ‘Would you play it again, just a bit slower?’ He played and I listened.... I then said, ‘I’ve heard that song before’—to which he said, bristling, ‘What the hell are you, a tune detective?’ ‘No,’ I said, ‘that wasn’t a criticism, it was a title: “I’ve Heard That Song Before.’” This song, the first of many Cahn and Styne hits, led to a fruitful series of film collaborations. The duo wrote songs for the films Anchors Aweigh (1945), Tonight and Every Night (1945), Wonder Man (1945), The Kid From Brooklyn (1946), Romance on the High Seas (1948), and The West Point Story (1950). Their songs include “I’ll Walk Alone,” I Fall in Love Too Easily,” “Saturday Night Is the Loneliest Night in the Week,” “As Long as There’s Music,” “Come Out, Come Out,” “Five Minutes More,” and “The Things We Did Last Summer.”
Cahn wrote many songs specially for certain singers. After he met young Frank Sinatra singing with the Tommy Dorsey Band, he provided Sinatra with a number of songs that became hits and helped to make both men stars. In the early 1940s Sinatra was signed by MGM to appear in the musical Anchors Aweigh; he refused to sing unless Cahn wrote the material. In 1954 Cahn and Styne wrote “Three Coins in a Fountain” for Sinatra to sing in the film Three Coins in a Fountain. The song garnered Cahn his first Oscar.
During his long career, Cahn worked with many different composers. In 1957 Cahn and composer Jimmy Van Heusen won an Oscar for their song “All the Way,” from the movie The Joker Is Wild; they won another in 1959 for “High Hopes,” from A Hole in the Head, and in 1963 they won their third Oscar for the song “Call Me Irresponsible,” from the film Papa’s Delicate Condition. The duo also received Academy Award nominations for their songs “To Love and Be Loved,” “Second Time Around,” “High Time,” “My Kind of Town,” “Where Love Has Gone,” “Thoroughly Modern Millie,” “A Pocketful of Miracles,” and “Star.” Other Cahn collaborators included Nicholas Brodsky, Sammy Fain, Arthur Schwartz, Sylvia Fine, Vernon Duke, Axel Stordahl, Paul Weston, and Gene de Paul.
In 1974 Sammy Cahn starred in his own Broadway show. Two years earlier he had been asked to put together a show to run as part of a now-legendary series at the 92nd Street YMCA called “Lyrics and Lyricists.” The audience loved him. When he finally took the act, titled Words and Music, to Broadway, critics raved, and Cahn became the toast of the town. His show ran for nine months on Broadway and almost two decades on tour before declining health put an end to Cahn’s performing career.
Cahn died of congestive heart failure on January 15, 1993, at Cedars-Sinai Medial Center in Los Angeles. In 1972 he had been inducted into the Songwriter’s Hall of Fame and had later served as its president. He had labored hard to establish a Songwriter’s Hall of Fame Museum, and he never lost his love for popular music of any variety. In 1992 he told Pulse! that he would love to write songs for contemporary singers like belter Michael Bolton or superstar Madonna. “My opinion of the music of today,” he told Pulse!, “is simply put: Whatever the number-one song in the world is at this moment, I wish my name were on it.”
Walking Happy, Capitol, 1966.
An Evening With Sammy Cahn, DRG, 1978, reissued, 1993.
Frank Sinatra Sings the Songs of Sammy Cahn and Jule Styne, Vintage Jazz Classics, 1993.
Cahn, Sammy, I Should Care: The Sammy Cahn Story, Arbor House, 1974.
Cahn, Sammy, Sammy Cahn’s Rhyming Dictionary, Warner Bros. Publications Inc., 1983.
Songs With Lyrics by Sammy Cahn, Cahn Music Co., 1982.
Chicago Tribune, January 16, 1993.
Entertainment Weekly, January 29, 1993.
Gentlemen’s Quarterly, July 1991.
Facts on File, January 21, 1993.
London Times, January 18, 1993.
Los Angeles Times, July 10, 1990; January 16, 1993.
New York Times, January 16, 1993.
Newsweek, January 25, 1993.
People, February 1, 1993.
Pulse!, April 1992; October 1992.
Time, January 25, 1993.
Variety, January 25, 1993.
Washington Post, July 11, 1990; January 16, 1993.
"Cahn, Sammy." Contemporary Musicians. . Encyclopedia.com. (September 19, 2019). https://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/cahn-sammy
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Lyricist. Nationality: American. Born: Samuel Cohen in New York City, 18 June 1913. Family: Married 1) Gloria Delson, 1945 (divorced 1964); one son and one daughter; 2) Tita Curtis, 1970. Career: Violinist in vaudeville band, then formed band with Saul Chaplin; lyricist from 1935, often working with composers Jules Styne, Jimmy Van Heusen; 1974—appeared on Broadway in Words and Music. Awards: Academy Awards for songs "Three Coins in the Fountain," 1954; "All the Way," 1957; "High Hopes," 1959; "Call Me Irresponsible," 1963. Died: 15 January 1993.
Films as Lyricist:
Argentine Nights (Rogell); Ladies Must Live (Smith)
Time Out for Rhythm (Salkow); Go West, Young Lady (Strayer); Sing for Your Supper (Barton); Rookies on Parade (Santley); Two Latins from Manhattan (Barton); Honolulu Lu (Barton)
Two Yanks in Trinidad (Ratoff); Johnny Doughboy (Auer); Blondie Goes to College (Strayer); Blondie's Blessed Event (Strayer); Youth on Parade (Rogell)
Crazy House (Cline); Lady of Burlesque (Wellman); Let's Face It (Lanfield); Thumbs Up (Santley); The Heat's On (Ratoff)
Follow the Boys (Sutherland); Knickerbocker Holiday (Brown); Jam Session (Barton); Carolina Blues (Jason); Step Lively (Whelan); Jamie (Curtiz); A Song to Remember (C. Vidor); Tonight and Every Night (Saville)
Anchors Aweigh (Sidney); The Stork Club (Walker); Thrill of a Romance (Thorpe)
The Kid from Brooklyn (McLeod); Cinderella Jones (Berkeley); Earl Carroll Sketchbook (Rogell); Tars and Spars (Green); The Sweetheart of Sigma Chi (Bernhard); It Happened in Brooklyn (Whorf)
Ladies Man (Russell)
Romance on the High Seas (Curtiz); Sons of Adventure (Canutt); Two Guys from Texas (Butler); Miracle of the Bells (Pichel)
It's a Great Feeling (Butler); Borderline (Seiter); Always Leave Them Laughing (Del Ruth); Anna Lucasta (Rapper)
Rich, Young and Pretty (Taurog); Sugarfoot (Marin); Two Tickets to Broadway (Kern); Double Dynamite (Cummings)
April in Paris (Butler); She's Working Her Way Through College (Humberstone); Stazione Termini (Indiscretion of an American Wife) (De Sica)
Because You're Mine (Hall); Peter Pan (Luske, Geronimi, and Jackson); Three Sailors and a Girl (Del Ruth) (+ pr)
Three Coins in the Fountain (Negulesco); Vera Cruz (Aldrich)
The Tender Trap (Walters); Love Me or Leave Me (C. Vidor); The Court Jester (Panama and Frank); Anything Goes (Lewis); Pete Kelly's Blues (Webb); You're Never Too Young (Taurog); How to Be Very, Very Popular (Johnson); Ain't Misbehavin' (Buzzell); The Seven Year Itch (Wilder)
Meet Me in Las Vegas (Rowland); Written on the Wind (Sirk); Quincannon, Frontier Scout (Selander); Serenade (A. Mann); Somebody Up There Likes Me (Wise); Forever Darling (Hall); The Opposite Sex (Miller) Pardners (Taurog); Beau James (Shavelson)
Pal Joey (Sidney); The Joker Is Wild (C. Vidor); Until They Sail (Wise); Ten Thousand Bedrooms (Thorpe); Don't Go Near the Water (Walters); This Could Be the Night (Wise)
The Long Hot Summer (Ritt); Indiscreet (Donen); Paris Holiday (Oswald); Some Came Running (Minnelli); Home Before Dark (LeRoy); Rock-a-Bye Baby (Tashlin); The Sound and the Fury (Ritt); Party Girl (Ray); Kings Go Forth (Daves)
A Hole in the Head (Capra); Who Was That Lady? (Sidney); The Best of Everything (Negulesco); Career (Anthony); They Came to Cordura (Rossen); This Earth Is Mine (H. King); Say One for Me (Tashlin); Holiday for Lovers (Levin); Journey to the Center of the Earth (Levin); Night of the Quarter Moon (Haas)
High Time (Edwards); Wake Me When It's Over (LeRoy); Let's Make Love (Cukor); Oceans Eleven (Milestone); The World of Suzie Wong (Quine)
The Pleasure of His Company (Seaton); Pocketful of Miracles (Capra); By Love Possessed (J. Sturges)
Boys' Night Out (Gordon); The Road to Hong Kong (Panama); How the West Was Won (Ford, Marshall, and Hathaway); Gigot (Kelly)
My Six Loves (Champion); Papa's Delicate Condition (Marshall); Come Fly with Me (Levin); Come Blow Your Horn (Yorkin); Johnny Cool (Asher); Under the Yum Yum Tree (Swift); 4 for Texas (Aldrich)
Robin and the 7 Hoods (Douglas); Honeymoon Hotel (Levin); Looking for Love (Weis); The Pleasure Seekers (Negulesco); Where Love Has Gone (Dmytryk)
Licensed to Kill (The Second Best Secret Agent in the Whole Wide World) (Shonteff) (song in US version)
The Oscar (Rouse); Texas Across the River (Gordon)
The Bobo (Parrish); Thoroughly Modern Millie (Hill); The Cool Ones (Nelson); The Odd Couple (Saks); Jack and the Beanstalk (Kelly)
Star! (Wise); A Flea in Her Ear (Charon); Bandolero! (McLaglen)
The Great Bank Robbery (Averback)
Journey Back to Oz (Sutherland)
The Heartbreak Kid (May); A Touch of Class (Frank)
Paper Tiger (Annakin)
Whiffs (Post); I Will, I Will . . . for Now (Panama)
The Duchess and the Dirtwater Fox (Frank) (co)
The Stud (Masters)
Heidi's Song (Taylor—animation)
By CAHN: book—
I Should Care (autobiography), New York, 1974.
On CAHN: articles—
Craig, Warren, in The Great Songwriters of Hollywood, San Diego, California, 1980.
Schwartz, Jonathan, "Call him irreplaceable," in Gentleman's Quarterly, July 1991.
Frank, Michael, "Sammy Cahn," in Architectural Digest, April 1992.
Obituary in Variety, 25 January 1993.
Obituary in Classic Images (Muscatine), April 1993.
* * *
Sammy Cahn was one of the mainstays of Hollywood's popular music industry during its Golden Age from the 1930s to the 1960s. In a remarkable career from 1942 to 1975 he worked as a lyricist with four different composers to garner some 25 Academy Award nominations for best original song. He won four times and will always be remembered for the words to such popular classics as "Three Coins in the Fountain," "All the Way," and "High Hopes." Cahn proved to be a survivor by adapting to the changing musical tastes of a nation. From the Broadway-inspired musical tunes of the 1940s he moved smoothly to ballads for the 1950s and 1960s.
Songwriter Jules Styne and lyricist Cahn churned out hit after hit during the 1940s. They were one of a select team of composer/lyricists who wrote the year's top ten hits, year in and year out. In the 1940s the movies, by and large, introduced the major popular musical hits, and Styne and Cahn contrived their share for such stars as Frank Sinatra in Anchors Aweigh and Danny Kaye in The Kid from Brooklyn.
But movie music moved into different forms, and Cahn, ever the professional, adapted. In the 1950s he teamed with Nicholas Brodszky to write several forgettable songs from movies such as The Toast of New Orleans and Love Me or Leave Me. But with "Three Coins in the Fountain," a major hit in 1953, Cahn's career was off again. The reason was a new partner, Jimmy Van Heusen, and the renewed career of hit-maker Frank Sinatra.
The late 1950s and the early 1960s were a "Golden Age" for Cahn and Van Heusen. Together with Sinatra they provided hit after hit in the face of a revolution in popular music—rock and roll. "All the Way" and "High Hopes" came to be Sinatra standards. Unfortunately the Sinatra rage ended with the coming of the Beatles. Yet Cahn and Van Heusen kept on with the formula music which had worked so well before, and provided the forgettable theme song from the gigantic bust Star! Musical idioms had changed and the contributions of Sammy Cahn would fade into the world of nostalgia.
Sammy Cahn, thus, stands as yet another example of the multitude of top professionals who labored to create the great Hollywood movies of the past. Though working in a niche of the business that is not often taken very seriously, Cahn does deserve a note as one of the film industry's (as well as the popular music industry's) great talents.
"Cahn, Sammy." International Dictionary of Films and Filmmakers. . Encyclopedia.com. (September 19, 2019). https://www.encyclopedia.com/movies/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/cahn-sammy
"Cahn, Sammy." International Dictionary of Films and Filmmakers. . Retrieved September 19, 2019 from Encyclopedia.com: https://www.encyclopedia.com/movies/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/cahn-sammy
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Sammy Cahn (kän), 1913–93, American lyricist, b. New York City as Samuel Cohen. With his first collaborator, Saul Chaplin, he wrote material for vaudeville, and scored his first success (1935) with
"Rhythm Is Our Business."
He was even more successful with a 1938 version of the Yiddish
"Bei Mir Bist du Shoen,"
which became a number-one hit for the Andrews Sisters. Cahn soon moved to Hollywood, where he collaborated with composer Jule Styne (1942–51) to write songs for 19 movies. He also wrote lyrics for several Broadway musicals, beginning with High Button Shoes (1947). Later collaborating with Jimmy Van Heusen, Cahn often worked with Frank Sinatra. The singer recorded 89 Cahn songs, including
"Three Coins in the Fountain"
"All the Way"
"Call Me Irresponsible"
(1963), each of which won Cahn an Academy Award. Toward the end of his active career (1974) he starred in a one-man Broadway show featuring his songs.
See his autobiography, I Should Care (1974).
"Cahn, Sammy." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. (September 19, 2019). https://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/cahn-sammy
"Cahn, Sammy." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Retrieved September 19, 2019 from Encyclopedia.com: https://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/cahn-sammy
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CAHN, SAMMY (Samuel Cohen ; 1913–1993), U.S. songwriter. The son of Jewish immigrants, Cahn was born on the Lower East Side of New York City. He studied the violin as a child, and in his teens worked as an itinerant fiddler at weddings and bar mitzvahs. With his first songwriting collaborator, Saul Chaplin, he wrote material for vaudeville. They had their first success in 1935 with "Rhythm Is Our Business," written for the bandleader Jimmie Lunceford; it later became his signature song.
In 1938 Cahn and Chaplin wrote the English-language lyrics to a song from the 1933 Yiddish musical "I Would if I Could." The result was the enormously popular "Bei Mir Bist Du Schoen" (music by Sholom Secunda), which launched the recording career of the Andrews Sisters and became a No. 1 hit. Cahn and Chaplin also wrote "Until the Real Thing Comes Along." In the early 1940s the songwriting team moved to Los Angeles to write songs for Columbia Pictures. After they split, Chaplin became a well-known orchestrator of Hollywood musicals and Cahn began a collaboration with Jule *Styne. Between 1942 and 1951 they wrote songs for 19 films, including Anchors Aweigh (1944) and Romance on the High Seas (1948), which gave Doris Day her first No. 1 recording, "It's Magic." Many of the team's 1940s songs became synonymous with wartime nostalgia: "I'll Walk Alone," "Guess I'll Hang My Tears Out to Dry," and "It's Been a Long, Long Time." They achieved a major success on Broadway with the 1947 musical High Button Shoes, whose score included "Papa, Won't You Dance With Me" and "I Still Get Jealous." In 1954, two years before they split, they wrote the title song for the film Three Coins in the Fountain, which won an Oscar and was a hit for Frank Sinatra. Cahn had other collaborators, including Axel Stordahl and Paul Weston, with whom he wrote two of Sinatra's biggest 1940s hits, "Day by Day" and "I Should Care."
In 1956 Cahn began a full-time collaboration with Jimmy Van Heusen, and they concentrated on songs for Sinatra, starting with the title song for his film The Tender Trap. The singer recorded 89 Cahn songs, including "Love and Marriage," "All the Way," "High Hopes" (which became the theme of the Presidential campaign of John F. Kennedy), "Call Me Irresponsible," "The Second Time Around" and "My Kind of Town." They also wrote the title songs for four classic Sinatra albums: "Come Fly With Me," "Come Dance With Me," "Only the Lonely," and "September of My Years." Cahn's autobiography, I Should Care, was published in 1974, the year he starred on Broadway in a one-man show about his career. It ran for nine months and Cahn toured with it extensively. Cahn was a prolific lyricist, who was famous for writing special material for nightclub performers and for parodies and adaptations of his own and other people's lyrics. He won four Academy Awards.
[Stewart Kampel (2nd ed.)]
"Cahn, Sammy." Encyclopaedia Judaica. . Encyclopedia.com. (September 19, 2019). https://www.encyclopedia.com/religion/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/cahn-sammy
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Cahn was born Samuel Cohen, the only son and the second of five children of Abraham Cohen and Elka Riss, who had immigrated to the United States from Poland. His father was a restaurateur. His mother, a homemaker, persuaded him to take violin lessons in his childhood. He attended Seward Park High School on Manhattan’s Lower East Side but dropped out before graduating. In his teens he joined a group, Frankie Miggs and His Pals of Harmony, which also featured pianist Saul Kaplan. As Sammy Cahn and Saul Chaplin, they formed a writing partnership, initially penning special material for vaudeville acts. In 1935 they had their first hit with “Rhythm Is Our Business,” recorded by Jimmie Lunceford and His Orchestra; Lunceford was credited as a cowriter. Tommy Dorsey’s Clambake Seven recorded their follow-up, “(If I Had) Rhythm in My Nursery Rhymes” (co-credited to Lunceford and Don Raye), and it reached the hit parade (the popular song ranking on the weekly Your Hit Parade radio show) in January 1936. They had two more songs in the hit parade before the end of the year: “Until the Real Thing Comes Along” (a revision of L. E. Freeman and Mann Holiner’s song “Till the Real Thing Comes Along”), recorded by Andy Kirk and His Twelve Clouds of Joy, and “If It’s the Last Thing I Do,” recorded by Tommy Dorsey and His Orchestra.
The biggest hit of Cahn’s early career was “Bei Mir Bist du Schön,” for which he and Chaplin provided an English lyric to the original Yiddish song written by Sholom Secunda and Jacob Jacobs. The Andrews Sisters scored their first success with the song, which topped the hit parade in January 1938. The songwriters had begun working for Vitaphone Studios, writing songs for film shorts; from these efforts “Please Be Kind,” recorded by Red Norvo and His Orchestra, with Mildred Bailey on vocals, became another number-one hit in May. They returned to the hit parade eleven months later with “I Want My Share of Love,” recorded by Larry Clinton and His Orchestra.
At the end of the 1930s, Warner Brothers, Vitaphone’s parent company, transferred Cahn and Chaplin to Hollywood. There they provided songs for the film Ladies Must Live (1940), including the minor hit “I Could Make You Care,” recorded by Tommy Dorsey, with Frank Sinatra on vocals, thus beginning an association between Cahn and Sinatra. Over his long career, Sinatra recorded more songs by Cahn than by any other songwriter.
Cahn and Chaplin moved from Warner Brothers to Republic Studios and then Columbia Pictures without scoring any more hits, and they ended their partnership in 1942. Shortly after, Cahn did his first writing with composer Jule Styne back at Republic, for the film Youth on Parade (1942). Among their compositions was “I’ve Heard That Song Before,” which was recorded by Harry James and His Orchestra for a million-selling record that became the biggest hit of 1943 and was Cahn’s first to be nominated for an Academy Award. (He would ultimately receive a total of twenty-six nominations, the most for any songwriter.) With that, he and Styne made their partnership permanent. In 1944 they scored major hits with “Vict’ry Polka,” recorded by Bing Crosby and the Andrews Sisters, and “I’ll Walk Alone,” recorded by Dinah Shore.
Cahn and Styne’s first attempt at a Broadway musical, Glad to See You, closed out of town in 1944, but “Guess I’ll Hang My Tears Out to Dry” from the score later became a standard. Renewing his association with Sinatra, who had become a successful solo singer, Cahn wrote “Saturday Night (Is the Loneliest Night of the Week)” with Styne for the singer, who scored a hit with it in 1945. Sinatra also had a hit with “I Should Care,” which Cahn wrote with Axel Stordahl and Paul Weston for the film Thrill of a Romance (1945), and insisted that Cahn and Styne be engaged to write songs for his film Anchors Aweigh (1945), among them “I Fall in Love Too Easily.” The songwriters’ most successful song of 1945 was “It’s Been a Long, Long Time,” with a lyric perfectly timed to appeal to returning GIs and their loved ones; three different recordings of the song each hit number one toward the end of the year. Meanwhile, Cahn married actress Gloria Delson on 5 September 1945. They had two children and were divorced in April 1964.
Cahn and Styne had two number-one hits in 1946, “Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!,” recorded by Vaughn Monroe, in January, and “Five Minutes More,” recorded by Sinatra, in September. In 1947 they finally succeeded on Broadway, writing the songs for the musical High Button Shoes, which opened on 9 October and ran for 727 performances, the longest-running musical of the 1947–1948 season. Returning to Hollywood, they went to work at Warner Brothers, writing songs for Doris Day’s film debut, Romance on the High Seas (1948), among them the hit “It’s Magic.” Styne, however, wished to continue writing for the theater, while Cahn preferred the movies, and after writing songs for another Doris Day vehicle, It’s a Great Feeling, in 1949, the two parted amicably.
Over the next six years, Cahn had no permanent song-writing partner. The composer he worked with most frequently during this period was Nicholas Brodszky, with whom he wrote “Be My Love” for Mario Lanza to sing in the film The Toast Of New Orleans (1950); it hit number one, sold a million copies, and earned an Academy Award nomination. Cahn and Brodszky’s title song for the Lanza film Because You’re Mine (1952) was another major hit and Academy Award nominee. The early 1950s marked a decline in original movie musicals, but Cahn kept busy writing title songs for nonmusical films; in 1954 he teamed with Jule Styne again to write “Three Coins in the Fountain,” a chart-topping, million-selling hit that finally won him the Academy Award for best song, on his tenth nomination. The same year, he was surprised by the belated top-ten success of “Teach Me Tonight,” a song he had written years earlier with Gene de Paul.
In 1955 Cahn formed his third long-term songwriting partnership, with James Van Heusen at the instigation of Sinatra. Their first work together came with the television production of Thornton Wilder’s play Our Town. For it, they wrote “Love and Marriage,” a hit for Sinatra and an Emmy Award winner. Within months, Sinatra was back on the charts with another Cahn—Van Heusen song, “(Love Is) the Tender Trap,” from his film The Tender Trap (1955). Although the songwriters worked together for the next fourteen years, for Cahn it was not an exclusive partnership. He worked extensively with other composers on film projects and independent songs. His next top-ten hit, in December 1956, came with Sinatra’s recording of “Hey! Jealous Lover,” which he wrote with Kay Twomey and Bee Walker. The following year, he and Van Heusen wrote “All the Way,” which Sinatra sang in The Joiner Is Wild (1957) and recorded for a top-ten hit; it won the lyricist his second Academy Award.
By the late 1950s, Cahn was working more frequently with Van Heusen and less frequently with others. As the pop singles market turned toward rock and roll, while pop singers remained dominant in the LP format, Cahn and Van Heusen contributed title songs to classic Sinatra albums such as Come Fly with Me, Only the Lonely, Come Dance with Me!, and No One Cares, released in 1958 and 1959. They also wrote the light-hearted “High Hopes” for Sinatra to sing in the film A Hole in the Head (1959), resulting in another Academy Award and a Grammy nomination for song of the year. “The Second Time Around,” their most successful song of 1960, was written for the Bing Crosby film High Time, although Sinatra scored the top of the chart with it; Academy Award and Grammy nominations followed.
Even title song assignments for the movies began to dry up in the early 1960s, though Cahn and Van Heusen wrote “Pocketful Of Miracles” for the film of the same name in 1961. In 1963, their “Call Me Irresponsible” was used in Papa’s Delicate Condition and won Cahn his fourth Academy Award while also earning another Grammy nomination for song of the year. The songwriters’ work in 1964 on the movie musical Robin and the Seven Hoods, starring Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis, Jr., and Bing Crosby, included “My Kind Of Town,” an Oscar nominee that became a Sinatra signature song. The following year, they wrote the title song for the acclaimed Sinatra album September of My Years, yet another Grammy song of the year nominee.
By the mid-1960s, there was little demand for their style of writing in Hollywood, and Cahn and Van Heusen wrote the songs for a Broadway musical, Skyscraper, which opened in November 1965 and ran for 248 performances. A second show, Walking Happy, opened a year later and ran for 161 performances. After this, Cahn’s work was only occasional, although it included the title songs for the Julie Andrews vehicles Thoroughly Modern Millie (1967) and Star! (1968), with Van Heusen, and the unsuccessful 1970 stage musical Look to the Lilies with Styne. He married on 2 August 1970, to Virginia “Tita” Basile Curtis, a fashion consultant. They had no children.
Cahn always claimed to be the most highly paid performer in show business, figuring that his song demonstrations to potential singers of his works ended up earning him vast sums when the songs were taken up and used. In 1974 he branched out into performing in public, staging an autobiographical Broadway revue, Words and Music, in which he sang his songs and told stories about his life. (The same year, he published his autobiography, I Should Care.) The show ran for 127 performances on Broadway, and then Cahn toured it around the United States and in England. He continued to place occasional songs in films until 1987. In 1993 he died of congestive heart failure in Los Angeles, where he is buried in Westwood Memorial Park.
Sammy Cahn was known for his speed and professionalism. In addition to the many well-remembered songs he wrote, he continued throughout his career to turn out special material and parody lyrics, without charge, for his favorite performers. His facility as a lyricist and his earthy manner, along with his long career in Hollywood, caused him to be underestimated both for the quality of his work and its emotional content. He himself downplayed his abilities. In fact, he was a consummate craftsman whose lyrics hold up well against those of the classic songwriters who preceded him by a decade or so on Broadway, and for all his disclaimers, his words revealed him to be an unashamed romantic who reveled in detailing the wonders of love through verse.
Cahn’s autobiography, I Should Care (1974), is the best source for biographical information. Also useful is the recording An Evening with Sammy Cahn (1978), an early version of his Broadway show Words and Music, which was performed as part of the “Lyrics and Lyricists” series at the Ninety-second Street YMHA in New York. There is no biography. Max Wilk, They’re Playing Our Song (1973), has a chapter featuring an interview, and David Ewen, American Songwriters (1987), contains a good entry. Didier C. Deutsch’s annotations to the Columbia House Music Collection’s album The Great American Songwriters: Sammy Cahn (1992), provides another good, brief biographical essay. An obituary is in the New York Times (16 Jan. 1993).
William J. Ruhlmann
"Cahn, Sammy." The Scribner Encyclopedia of American Lives. . Encyclopedia.com. (September 19, 2019). https://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/cahn-sammy
"Cahn, Sammy." The Scribner Encyclopedia of American Lives. . Retrieved September 19, 2019 from Encyclopedia.com: https://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/cahn-sammy