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Adamson, Harold Campbell (10 December 1906–17 August 1980), lyricist, was born in Greenville, New Jersey, the son of James H. Adamson, a building contractor, and Marion Campbell. During his childhood Adamson wrote poetry for his school newspaper and skits for school shows. While studying at the University of Kansas, he wrote songs and worked with a local professional theater company during vacations. From Kansas, Adamson moved on to Harvard University, where he wrote shows and songs for Harvard’s Hasty Pudding Club. Following his graduation from Harvard in 1930, Adamson entered show business as a lyricist for both stage and screen....

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Atteridge, Harold Richard (09 July 1886–19 January 1938), librettist and lyricist, was born in Lake Forest, Illinois, the son of Richard H. Atteridge and Anna T. O’Neill. He attended the University of Chicago, graduating in 1907 with a bachelor’s degree in philosophy (Ph.B). While at the university, Atteridge joined the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity and began writing skits and revues, including two musical comedies, ...

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Blossom, Henry Martyn, Jr. (06 May 1866–23 March 1919), librettist, lyricist, and playwright, was born in St. Louis, Missouri, the son of Henry Martyn Blossom, an insurance executive, and Susan S. Brigham. He came from a wealthy family and, after graduating from the Stoddard School in St. Louis, chose not to attend college but rather to enter his father’s insurance business. He soon became disenchanted with the insurance trade and began his career as an author. Two novels appeared in the 1890s. The first, ...

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Bolton, Guy Reginald (23 November 1884–05 September 1979), writer, was born in England, the son of American parents Reginald Pelham Bolton and Katherine Behenna. Bolton’s father was a consulting engineer, which may have helped to determine Bolton’s initial decision to become an architect. After studying at the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn and the Atelier Masquerey in France, he designed some houses in Manhattan, worked at West Point, and helped design the Soldier’s and Sailor’s Monument on Riverside Drive. He married four times: to Julie Alexander Currie in 1910 (two children), Marguerite Namara in 1917 (one child), Marion Redford in 1927 (one child), and Virginia de Lanty in 1939. He became an American citizen in 1956....

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Caesar, Irving (04 July 1895–17 December 1996), songwriter, was born Isidore Caesar in New York City's Henry Street settlement, the son of Morris Caesar, the owner of a secondhand bookstore, and Sophia Selinger Caesar. He attended the Chappaqua Mountain Institute, graduated from New York City's Townsend Harris Hall High School in 1914, and was briefly enrolled at the City College of New York before going to Detroit in 1915 to work for the Ford Motor Company as a mechanic. Caesar also served as secretary to ...

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Irving Caesar. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

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Chapin, Harry Forster (07 December 1942–16 July 1981), popular singer and writer of topical songs, was born in New York City, the son of James Forbes Chapin, a big-band percussionist, and Elspeth Burke. As a high school student, Chapin sang in the Brooklyn Heights Boys Choir and, later, played guitar, banjo, and trumpet in a band that included his father and brothers Stephen Chapin and Tom Chapin. He attended the U.S. Air Force Academy briefly and studied at Cornell University from 1960 to 1964. Chapin was best known for his popular ballads, films, and cultural and humanitarian work for the cause of eradicating world hunger. He married Sandra Campbell Gaston in 1968; they had five children....

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George M. Cohan Photograph by Carl Van Vechten, 1933. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LOT 12735, no. 236 P&P).

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Cohan, George M. (3 or 4 July 1878–05 November 1942), performer, writer of songs, musicals, and plays, and producer, was born in Providence, Rhode Island, the son of Jeremiah “Jerry” John Cohan and Helen “Nellie” Frances Costigan. (Cohan’s middle initial stands for Michael.) At the age of seven, Cohan was sent to the E Street School in Providence. His formal schooling lasted six weeks, after which the school sent him to rejoin his parents and sister, Josie, in their theatrical travels. He took violin lessons and played the instrument both in the theater orchestra and in a trick violin act he devised. The Cohans went on their first road show as a family in 1889; when the show failed they went back to ...

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Cook, Will Marion (27 January 1869–20 July 1944), composer and librettist, was born in Washington, D.C., the son of John Hartwell Cook, a professor of law at Howard University, and Marion Isabel Lewis, a sewing instructor. He received classical violin training at the Oberlin Conservatory of Music (1884–1887). For approximately the next decade he presumably studied violin and composition with the German violinist Joseph Joachim at the Hochschule für Musik in Berlin (1888–1889?), and he continued harmony and counterpoint training under ...

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Da Ponte, Lorenzo (10 March 1749–17 August 1838), poet, librettist, and libertine, was born Emanuele Conegliano in Ceneda (near Venice), Italy, the son of Geremia Conegliano, a tanner and dealer in leather, and Rachele Pincherle. Following the death of his wife in about 1754, Geremia Conegliano wished to marry a Roman Catholic woman and so, together with his three living sons, converted from Judaism to Catholicism in 1763. As was customary at the time, the new converts took the surname of the current bishop of Ceneda, Monsignor Lorenzo Da Ponte, and Emanuele, the eldest son, took the prelate’s first name. His conversion and the bishop’s patronage enabled young Lorenzo to receive an excellent education, especially in the Latin and Italian languages, at the episcopal seminary in Ceneda and later at the seminary in the nearby town of Portugruaro. He progressed so rapidly that he became an instructor at the latter institution in 1770, professor of languages in 1771, and vice rector in 1772. He was ordained as a Roman Catholic priest in 1773, a career decision he was soon to regret....

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DeSylva, B. G. (27 January 1895–11 July 1950), lyricist and film and theatrical producer, was born George Gard DeSylva in New York City, the son of Aloysius Joseph DeSylva, a vaudeville performer turned attorney, and Georgetta Gard, daughter of a U.S. marshal. When he was two, his family moved to Los Angeles, where his father—who had played in vaudeville as Hal de Forest—tried to make a child star of DeSylva. His debut came at age four in a song-and-dance routine at the Grand Opera House, and for a time he toured on the Keith vaudeville circuit. But DeSylva’s youthful show business career was terminated by his maternal grandfather, who insisted the boy receive a stable and normal education (Georgetta’s father had earlier prompted the elder DeSylva to quit show business and seek a “respectable” profession as a condition for marrying his daughter)....

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Dietz, Howard (08 September 1896–30 July 1983), lyricist and publicity director, was born in New York City, the son of Herman Dietz, a jeweler, and Julia Blumberg. While a student at Townsend Harris Hall, a public high school for unusually able students, Dietz took a job as a copyboy on a newspaper, the ...

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Donaldson, Walter (15 February 1893–15 July 1947), popular-song composer, lyricist, and publisher, was born in Brooklyn, New York. The names of his parents are not known. Although his mother was a music teacher, Donaldson seems never to have taken music lessons; instead, he learned to play the piano by ear. While still in high school, he began writing songs, and after graduation he found employment on Wall Street, but he soon gave that up in favor of popular music. For a time he worked as a Tin Pan Alley song plugger at $15 a week; however, his addiction to writing his own songs during working hours cost him his job. His first song to make a public impression was “Just Try to Picture Me Down Home in Tennessee” (1915; lyrics by William Jerome), about a state he had never seen. World War I found him in the Entertainment Division of the U.S. Army, where he met ...

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Dubin, Al (10 June 1891–11 February 1945), popular lyricist, was born Alexander Dubin in Zurich, Switzerland, the son of Simon Dubin, a medical student who later became a gynecologist, and Minna (maiden name unknown), a chemist. In 1896 the family moved to Philadelphia, where Dubin was educated. At age eighteen, having already published two song lyrics, Dubin left high school. He was expelled from a preparatory school just before his twentieth birthday, having developed fondnesses for music, women, food, and intoxication....

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Fisher, Fred (30 September 1875–14 January 1942), composer and lyricist of popular songs, was born Alfred Breitenbach in Cologne, Germany, the son of Max Breitenbach and Theodora (maiden name unknown). He spent his earliest years in Germany before his family immigrated to the United States, where his parents became citizens. When he reached his teen years, young Alfred’s life was filled with remarkable adventures that were typical of the dime novels of the day. At the age of thirteen he ran away from home to enlist in the German navy. A few years later he joined the French Foreign Legion before immigrating back to America on a cattle boat in 1900. Settling in Chicago and changing his name to Fred Fisher, he learned to play the piano from a black barroom pianist in hopes of becoming a popular songwriter....

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Freed, Arthur (09 September 1894–12 April 1973), film producer and popular song lyricist, was born in Charleston, South Carolina, the son of Max Grossman, an international art dealer, and Rosa (maiden name unknown). His father’s job as an art dealer led the family all over the world. But the family eventually settled in Seattle, in a large house filled with antiques. Freed grew up there in a musical family. His father sold zithers as a sideline and was said to have a strong tenor voice. While a student at Phillips Academy in Exeter, New Hampshire, where he graduated in 1914, Freed began writing poetry. From prep school he went into show business, starting out as a piano player for a Chicago music publisher. During World War I, while in the army, he wrote shows with his partner, Louis Silvers. Then, after the war, he went back to Seattle....

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Gilbert, Ray (15 September 1912–03 March 1976), lyricist and composer of popular songs, was born in Hartford, Connecticut, the son of Jacob Kalin, a Russian-Jewish immigrant, and Mina Freeman, a Swedish immigrant. During his childhood the family moved to Chicago, where he graduated from Senn High School in 1930. After graduation Gilbert became a sketch writer for various vaudeville talents, including ...

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See Comden, Betty

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Grey, Clifford (05 January 1887–25 September 1941), librettist, lyricist, and bobsledder, was born Percival Davis in Birmingham, England, the son of George Davis, a whip manufacturer, and Emma Lowe Davis. He was educated at the Camp Hill School for Boys, one of the schools of King Edward the Sixth in Birmingham, winning Latin and English prizes and becoming interested in theatrics....