SAMMY CAHN (1913-1993)

by Robin Armstrong

Personal Information

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.M


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 Schon (Means That Your Grand)," 1937; worked for Vitaphone Studios writing music for short subjects (PLEASE BE KIND was the first song written for a short subject which made the hit parade), New York City, late 1930s; split from Chaplin and began working with Jule Styne; their song I'LL WALK ALONE sold 1 million copies of sheet music; worked with Frank Sinatra who teamed him with Jimmy Van Heusen, 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 lyrics to films, including:

Awards: Academy awards:  nominated 30 times.  Won:

1959 National Cash Box Award, , for HIGH HOPES

1972 Inducted into Songwriters Hall of Fame.

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 Caplan (it was Sammy who insisted he change his name to 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 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 Schon (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 the fountain" for Sinatra to sing in the film THREE COINS IN THE FOUNTAIN. The song garnered Cahn his first Oscar.

In 1947 Cahn and Jule Styne created the score for the Broadway hit HIGH BUTTON SHOES.  In 1955, Cahn and Jimmy Van Heusen wrote the score for the TV version of OUR TOWN and won the Emmy for "Love and Marriage".  Cahn and Van Heusen were responsible for many swinging Sinatra hits, such as "Come Fly With Me," "My Kind of Town," "The Tender Trap" and "Hey, Jealous Lover".

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."  Cahn wrote special lyrics for "High Hopes" to be used during President Kennedy's election campaign.

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, WORDS AND MUSIC. 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 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."

Selected Discography

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.


Books 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. Periodicals 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.

~~ Robin Armstrong

Highly recommend is the 1971 CD AN EVENING WITH SAMMY CAHN of Sammy (and others) performing (at the 92nd Street Y as part of their Lyrics and Lyricists series) songs for which he wrote the lyrics.


1960 Ain't That a Kick in the Head
1957 All the Way
1958 All My Tomorrows
1973 All That Love Went to Waste
1973 Amor Mio
1944 And Then You Kissed Me 
1944 As Long As There Is Music
1954 Autumn in Rome
1963 Ballad of Johnny Cool, The
1950 Be My Love
1952 Because You're Mine
1937 Bei Mir Bist Du Schon
1959 Best of Everything, The
1962 Boys' Night Out, The
1947 Brooklyn Bridge
1963 Call Me Irresponsible 
1947 Can't You Just See Yourself
1944 Charm of You, The
1954 Christmas Waltz, The
1963  Come Blow Your Horn
1959 Come Dance With Me
1958 Come Fly With Me 
1944 Come Out, Come Out, Wherever You Are
         Come Waltz With Me
         Crazy Love
1946 Day By Day
         Dick Haymes, Dick Todd and Como
1964 Don't Be a Do-Badder 
1948 Ever Homeward
1948 Every Day I Love You
1958 Every Day's a Holiday in Paris
1965 Everybody Has the Right to be Wrong
1953 Face to Face
1946 Five Minutes More
1952 Good Little Girls Go to Heaven
1944 Guess I'll Hang My Tears Out to Dry
1956 Hey! Jealous Lover
1959 High Hopes
         How Are Ya Fixed for Love?
1947 I Believe
         I Could Make You Care
1973 I Couldn't Care Less
1944 I Fall in Love Too Easily
1964 I Like to Lead When I Dance
1945 I Should Care
1957 I Still Get Jealous
         I Wouldn't Trade Christmas
         If It's the Last Thing I Do
1955 I'll Never Stop Loving You
1965 I'll Only Miss Her When I Think of Her
1944 I'll Walk Alone
1945 I'm Glad I Waited for You
1955 Impatient Years, The
         It Gets Lonely Early
1963 It's a Darn Good Thing
1945 It's Been a Long, Long Time
1948 It's Magic
1958 It's Nice to Go Trav'ling
1947 It's the Same Old Dream
1948 It's You or No One
1942 I've Heard That Song Before
1944 Keep Your Powder Dry
1959 Last Dance, The
1946 Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!
1973 Let Me Try Again
         Look of Love, The
1955 Look to Your Heart
1955 Love and Marriage
         Love Makes Us Whatever We Want to Be
1964 Mister Booze
1964 My Kind of Town
1975 My Little Friend
         Name It and It's Yours
1973 Night Has Many Eyes, The
         No One Cares
1958 Nothing in Common
1973 Nudge Me
1951 Oh, He Looked Like He Might Buy Wine
         Old Fashioned Christmas, An
1958 Only the Lonely
1965 Opposites
1955 Our Town
1947 Papa, Won't You Dance With Me?
1938 Please Be Kind
1959 Pocket Full of Miracles
1944 Poor Little Rhode Island
1948 Put 'em in a Box, Tie 'em with a Ribbon
1935 Rhythm Is Our Business
1935 Rhythm In My Nursery Rhymes
1955 Same Old Saturday Night
         Same Old Song and Dance, The
1944 Saturday Night is the Loneliest Night in the Week
         Saving Myself for You
         Say Hello
1951 Second Star to the Right
1960 Second Time Around, The
         September of My Years, The
1933 Shake Your Head from Side to Side
1936 Shoe Shine Boy
         So Long, My Love
1944 Some Other Time
1976 Somehow
1968 Star
1964 Style
1955 Teach Me Tonight
1957 Tender Trap, The
1944 There Goes That Song Again
1959 They Came to Cordura
1947 Things We Did Last Summer, The
1967 Thoroughly Modern Millie
1954 Three Coins in the Fountain
1947 Time After Time
1958 To Love and Be Loved
1973 Touch of Class
1942 Trinidad
1936 Until the Real Thing Comes Along
1943 Vict'ry Polka
1962 Walking Happy
1944 What Makes the Sunset?
         When No One Cares
         When Somebody Loves You
1944 Where Did You Learn to Love?
1964 Where Love Has Gone
1950 Wonder Why
         You, My Love
         You Never Had It So Good
1939 You're a Lucky Guy
1947 You're My Girl

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