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George M!

“Over there! Over there!”

“I’m a Yankee Doodle Dandy…”

“You’re a grand old flag, you’re a high flying flag!”

Do these songs seem familiar to you?

Did you know that they were all written by the same composer, George M. Cohan?

George M. Cohan (he’s usually referred to by his full name, middle initial and all), was born in Rhode Island in 1878. His musical upbringing is concretely rooted in the vaudeville tradition, as he, his sister, and both his parents were “The Four Cohans,” a staple on the late 19th-century vaudeville stage.  In 1900, he promptly left the vaudeville circuit for Broadway, where he established himself as one of the most well-loved American composers of the modern era.

His first big hit was in 1904, when he wrote the musical Little Johnny Jones. This musical, considered to be one of the earliest examples of the Broadway musical, contains both “Yankee Doodle” and ”Give My Regards to Broadway.” These songs can be found in the following items from our collection:

Yankee Doodle
Braille:
American Favorite Ballads (BRM30421, vol. 2)
Reader’s Digest Family Songbook (BRM29977, vol. 4)

Large Print:
Happy Birthday America (LPM00451)
Big-note Carnival (LPM00400)

Digital Talking Book:
How Simple a Tune (DBM00349)

Give My Regards to Broadway
Braille:
Popular Music Lead Sheets, No. 60 (BRM29939)
World’s Favorite 71 Famous Melodies: for all Organs (BRM24607, vol. 1)

Large Print:
Best Loved Songs of the American People (LPM00637)

"President [Roosevelt] presents medal to Cohan for 'Over There' War Song"

President [Roosevelt] presents medal to Cohan for ‘Over There’ War Song. Photo by Harris & Ewing, May 1940 //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/hec.47570

Over the next few years, Cohan became a staple on the Tin Pan Alley songwriter’s market. During those years, he penned such notable compositions as “You’re A Grand Old Flag,” “Mary is a Grand Old Name,” and perhaps one of his most famous compositions “Over There,” written in 1917—the same year the United States entered into armed conflict in World War I.

This song became so famous, and so ingrained in the spirit of both World Wars, that President Franklin D. Roosevelt presented Cohan with the Congressional Gold Medal for his “ability to instill in the hearts of the growing citizenry a loyal and patriotic spirit for their country and what it stands for in the eyes of the world.” You can find that historic song in our collection in the following titles:

Over There
Braille:
Over There: Fox-trot — On the Great American War Song (BRM 08899)
The Adult Explorer at the Piano (BRM 07270)

Digital Talking Book:
Hymns of Fire (DBM 00877 — this also includes other Cohan songs)

I think it is safe to say that the American musical, and, subsequently, American popular music would not be the same without his contributions. For some general books in our collection about Cohan, please check out the following titles:

Digital Talking Book:
When Vaudeville was King (DBM 00890)
Cohan is a Grand Old Name (DBM 00328)
Do you have a favorite George M. Cohan song? Let us know in the comments!

One Comment

  1. John Simson
    November 5, 2015 at 3:59 pm

    And who could forget Jimmy Cagney’s portrayal of him in “Yankee Doodle Dandy”. A great American composer.

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