Sammy Cahn

Sammy Cahn (June 18, 1913 – January 15, 1993) was an American lyricist, songwriter and musician. He is best known for his romantic lyrics to films and Broadway songs, as well as stand-alone songs premiered by recording companies in the Greater Los Angeles Area. He and his collaborators began a series of hit recordings with Frank Sinatra during the singer’s tenure at Capitol Records, but also enjoyed hits with Dean Martin, Doris Day and many others. He played the piano and violin. He won the Academy Award four times for his songs, including the popular song “Three Coins in the Fountain“.

Cahn was born as Samuel Cohen in the Lower East Side of New York City, the only son (he had four sisters) of Abraham and Elka Riss Cohen, who were Jewish immigrants from Galicia , Poland.[1] His sisters, Sadye, Pearl, Florence, and Evelyn, all studied the piano. His mother did not approve, for she thought the piano was a woman’s instrument, so he took violin lessons. After three lessons and his bar mitzvah, he joined a small dixieland band called Pals of Harmony, who would tour the Catskill Mountains in the summer and do private parties. This new dream of Cahn’s destroyed the hope that his parents had for him to be a professional man.[2]

1957 Sinatra sings the Sammy Cahn song, “All The Way”

Some of the side jobs he had were violinist in a theater-pit orchestra, worked at a meat-packing plant, served as a movie-house usher, tinsmith, freight-elevator operator, restaurant cashier, and porter at a bindery. At age 16, he was watching vaudeville, which he had been a fan since the age of 10, and he witnessed Jack Osterman sing one of his songs. After this, he wrote his first lyric “Like Niagara Falls, I’m Falling for You.” Years later he would say “I think a sense of vaudeville is very strong in anything I do, anything I write. They even call it ‘a vaudeville finish,’ and it comes through in many of my songs. Just sing the end of ‘All the Way’ or ‘Three Coins in the Fountain’–‘Make it mine, make it mine, MAKE IT MINE!’ If you let people know they should applaud, they will applaud.” [2]

Helen Forrest and Harry James perform Cahn’s song, “Ive Heard That Song Before” -Huge big band hit.

Much of Cahn’s early work was written in partnership with Saul Chaplin. They first met when Cahn invited Chaplin to audition for him at the Henry Street Settlement. Cahn said “I’d learned a few chords on the piano, maybe two, so I’d already tried to write a song. Something I called ‘Shake Your Head from Side to Side.'” Billed simply as “Cahn and Chaplin” (in the manner of “Rodgers and Hart“), they composed witty special material for Warner Brothers‘ musical short subjects, filmed at Warners’ Vitaphone studio in Brooklyn, New York.

Doris Day singing, “Day By Day”

Here’s another version of the tune. Recorded July 20, 1966 with the Marty Paich Orchestra, Ella is at the peak of her vocal prowess on this Sammy Cahn/Jule Styne composition.

“There was a legendary outfit on West 46th Street, Beckman and Prasky . . . they were the MCA, the William Morris of the Borscht Belt.I got a room in their offices, and we started writing special material. For anybody who’d have us–at whatever price.” They did not make much money, but they did work with up-and-comers Milton Berle, Danny Kaye, Phil Silvers, and Bob Hope.[2]

One of his childhood friends, Lou Levy, who had gone from neighborhood bum to blackface dancer with the Jimmie Lunceford Orchestra.

Lyric writing has always been a thrilling adventure for me, and something I’ve done with the kind of ease that only comes with joy! From the beginning the fates have conspired to help my career. Lou Levy, the eminent music publisher, lived around the corner and we met the day I was leaving my first music publisher’s office. This led to a partnership that has lasted many years. Lou and I wrote “Rhythm is Our Business,” material for Jimmie Lunceford‘s orchestra, which became my first ASCAP copyright. I’d been churning out “special lyrics” for special occasions for years and this helped facilitate my tremendous speed with lyric writing. Many might have written these lyrics better—but none faster! Glen Gray and Tommy Dorsey became regular customers and through Tommy came the enduring and perhaps most satisfying relationship of my lyric writing career – Frank Sinatra.[3]

The song became the Orchestra’s signature song. The duo then worked for Glen Gray‘s Casa Loma Orchestra and their premiere at Paramount Theatre. They also worked for Andy Kirk and his Clouds of Joy and they wrote Until the Real Thing Comes Along.[2]

Teddy Wilson and his orchestra – Billie Holiday – “Until the real thing comes along”

Cahn wrote the lyrics to “Love and Marriage,” which was used as the theme song for the FOX TV show Married… with Children. The song originally debuted in a 1955 television production of Our Town, and won an Emmy Award in 1956. This was only one of many songs that Cahn and Jimmy Van Heusen wrote for Frank Sinatra. They were “almost considered to be his personal songwriters.”[4]

Cahn contributed lyrics for two otherwise unrelated films about the Land of Oz, Journey Back to Oz (1971) and The Wizard of Oz (1982). The former were composed with James Van Heusen, the latter with Allen Byrns, Joe Hisaishi, and Yuichiro Oda.

Cahn became a member of the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1972. He later took over the presidency of that organization from his friend Johnny Mercer when Mercer became ill.[5]

Sammy Cahn died in January 15, 1993 at the age of 79 in Los Angeles, California. His remains were interred in the Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery.

Sinatra singing, “Love And Marriage”

He was married twice: first to vocalist and former Goldwyn girl Gloria Delson in 1945, with whom he had two children, and later to Virginia “Tita” Basile in 1970. He changed his last name from Cohen to Kahn to avoid confusion with comic and MGM actor Sammy Cohen and again from Kahn to Cahn to avoid confusion with lyricist Gus Kahn.

Live performance of the song, “Let It Snow” performed at Oakbrook Church during Christmas services 2008. Michael Buble

His second wife was Virginia (Tita) Curtis, a former fashion coordinator for the clothes designer Donald Brooks. He was the father of Laurie Cahn and jazz/fusion guitarist Steve Khan [4] who had a general dislike for his father, and so changed the spelling of his last name to Khan.

Composer Garrison Hintz exchanged numerous letters with Sammy Cahn regarding musical composition and credits Mr. Cahn with teaching him the craft of lyric writing.

Over the course of his career, he was nominated for 23 Academy Awards, five Golden Globe Awards, and an Emmy Award. He also received a Grammy Award nomination, with Van Heusen, for Best Original Score Written for a Motion Picture or Television Show for the film Robin and the 7 Hoods.

In 1988 the Sammy Awards, an annual award for movie songs and scores, was started in his honor. When notified by Roger Hall, Cahn said he was “flattered and honored” that these awards were named after him.[6] He was chosen because he had received more Academy Award nominations than any other songwriter, and also because he received four Oscars for his song lyrics.

In 1993, taking up the sentiments expressed in the song, “High Hopes,” the Cahn estate established the “High Hopes Fund” at the Joslin Diabetes Center in Boston. The former Joslin patient and songwriter’s goal was to provide hope and encouragement to kids with diabetes while supporting research into the causes of the disease.

The lyrics he wrote for Sinatra is the subject of a chapter in Gilbert Gigliotti’s A Storied Singer: Frank Sinatra as Literary Conceit, “Come [Fly, Dance, and Waltz with] Us on Equal Terms”: The Whitmanesque Sinatra of Sammy Cahn,” published by Greenwood Press in 2002.

“Teach Me Tonight” performed by Dinah Washington. Composed by Gene De Paul and lyrics by Sammy Cahn.

-As you can see after reading through this post and listening to the songs, Sammy Cahn could write! In fact, he wrote more hit songs than almost any other American composer. Read through the song list below and you’ll be amazed at how many popular songs he wrote. You probably know a dozen or more. I had the occasion to see Sammy Cahn perform in his one man show at the Marine’s Memorial Theater in San Francisco in 1992. He was extraordinary. He was well into his seventies at the time and came out with the as much energy and charm as someone half his age. He danced, he sang and told all sorts of anecdotal stories about the singers that made his songs famous all while he took a back seat to his tunes. This was his chance to showcase his material as he had showcased it successfully for dozens of well known entertainers for over 6 decades. You can scarcely listen to any recording of standards music without hearing at least one Sammy Cahn song. A truly remarkable man!

Quick Bio Facts:

Sammy CahnSammy Cahn – AKA Samuel Cohen

Born: 18-Jun1913
Birthplace: New York City
Died: 15-Jan1993
Location of death: Los Angeles, CA
Cause of death: Heart Failure
Remains: Buried, Westwood Memorial Park, Los Angeles, CA

Gender: Male
Religion: Jewish
Race or Ethnicity: White
Sexual orientation: Straight
Occupation: Songwriter

Nationality: United States
Executive summary: Three Coins in the Fountain

Father: Abraham Cohen
Mother: Elka Reis
Wife: Gloria Delson (Goldwyn girl, m. 5-Sep-1945, div., one son, one daughter)
Wife: Virginia Basile (“Tita”, m. 4-Aug-1970, until his death)

High School: Seward Park High School, Manhattan, NY (dropped out)

National Academy of Popular Music President
Oscar for Best Music Original Song 1955 for “Three Coins in the Fountain” (shared)
Oscar for Best Music Original Song 1958 for “All the Way” (shared)
Oscar for Best Music Original Song 1960 for “High Hopes” (shared)
Oscar for Best Music Original Song 1964 for “Call Me Irresponsible” (shared)
Emmy 1956 for Producers’ Showcase (shared)
Songwriters Hall of Fame

Boardwalk (14-Nov-1979)

Author of books:
I Should Care: The Sammy Cahn Story (1975)
The Songwriter’s Rhyming Dictionary (1984)

Sources: Wikipedia, YouTube,,

Academy Award winners
Academy Award nominees
Other well-known songs

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