Various Artists | George M. Cohan: Rare Recordings

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George M. Cohan: Rare Recordings

by Various Artists

Here are rare, early 20th-century recordings by legendary entertainer/songwriter/playwright George M. Cohan--the original "Yankee Doodle Dandy" himself--plus additional recordings of his songs by others. Dedicated with appreciation to the Cohan family.
Genre: Easy Listening: Nostalgia
Release Date: 

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  Song Share Time Download
1. Give My Regards to Broadway (Live)
George M. Cohan
2:29 $0.99
2. The Yankee Doodle Boy (Live)
George M. Cohan
0:43 $0.99
3. Over There (Live)
George M. Cohan
2:07 $0.99
4. Medley: Give My Regards to Broadway / The Yankee Doodle Boy / You're a Grand Old Flag
George M. Cohan
1:58 $0.99
5. Over There (With Spoken Intro)
George M. Cohan
1:01 $0.99
6. I Want to Hear a Yankee Doodle Tune
George M. Cohan
2:31 $0.99
7. Life's a Funny Proposition After All
George M. Cohan
3:29 $0.99
8. You Won't Do Any Business If You Haven't Got a Band
George M. Cohan
2:35 $0.99
9. The Small Town Girl
George M. Cohan
2:48 $0.99
10. I'm Mighty Glad I'm Living, That's All
George M. Cohan
2:55 $0.99
11. Hey There! May There!
George M. Cohan
2:31 $0.99
12. That Haunting Melody
Al Jolson
2:34 $0.99
13. Over There (Caruso)
Enrico Caruso
2:45 $0.99
14. Over There (Murray)
Billy Murray
3:38 $0.99
15. Over There (Bayes)
Nora Bayes
3:03 $0.99
16. I Was Born in Virginia
Ethel Levey
2:39 $0.99
17. Yankee Doodle Boy
Billy Murray
2:34 $0.99
18. Popularity
Vess Ossman
2:53 $0.99
19. When You Come Back
John McCormack
3:13 $0.99
20. Gertrude Lawrence & George M. Cohan Salute King George
Gertrude Lawrence & George M. Cohan
0:46 $0.99
21. Dear Old Darling (Rehearsal)
George M. Cohan, Sam Forrest & The Dear Old Darling Company
11:02 $0.99
22. Al Smith Reminisces (An Excerpt)
Al Smith & George M. Cohan
0:55 $0.99
23. Give My Regards (Plus Speech in Salute to Cohan)
George M. Cohan
1:49 $0.99
24. Cohan's Catholic Actors Guild Speech
George M. Cohan
6:11 $0.99
25. You're a Grand Old Rag
Billy Murray
2:41 $0.99
26. Popularity (A Modern Take)
S. P. McKinley
1:39 $0.99
27. I Want to Be a Popular Millionaire
Max Beer & The Foy Kids
0:40 $0.99
28. You Remind Me of My Mother
Zack Riopelle
0:54 $0.99
29. Mary's a Grand Old Name
Michael Townsend Wright & Jack Saleeby
1:36 $0.99
30. I'm a Yankee Doodle Dandy (feat. The Seven Little Foys Company)
Jon Peterson
1:42 $0.99
Downloads are available as MP3-320 files.


Album Notes


George M. Cohan was known, in his day, as "The Man Who Owns Broadway." When he died, The New York Times (November 6th, 1942) called him a "great song and dance man--perhaps the greatest in Broadway history." The Times noted: "At the height of his career he was unquestionably the first man in the American theatre. Songwriter, dancer, actor, playwright, producer, theatre owner--he was the most versatile person in show business. " Gene Buck, erstwhile president of ASCAP, hailed Cohan as "the greatest single figure the American theatre ever produced--as a player, playwright, actor, composer and producer."

For me, he's a tremendous source of inspiration--a self-made man who rose to the top in one field after another. He did the things that interested him in life, ignoring the nay-sayers who questioned his qualifications.

Cohan is the father of American musical comedy. He gave Broadway its pace and its snap. He wrote quickly and well; his dialogue crackled with vitality. And the fast-paced musicals he created--set in contemporary America, with confident leading characters very much like Cohan himself--enjoyed enormous popularity. He wrote or co-wrote some 50 shows in his career; he produced or co-produced some 80 shows.

The greatest of the hundreds of songs he created--such as "Give My Regards to Broadway," "I'm a Yankee Doodle Dandy," and "You're a Grand Old Flag"--remain enduring staples of the American songbook, more than 100 years after he wrote them.

This album gathers together rare recordings of Cohan himself, plus recordings of Cohan's contemporaries performing some of his famous songs. You'll also hear--a rare treat--Cohan and castmates rehearsing one of his plays. The album concludes with a few modern performances of some timeless Cohan numbers.

* * *


The first five tracks offer us samples of Cohan (1878-1942) in the last six years of his life, singing some of his signature songs "live": "Give My Regards to Broadway," "The Yankee Doodle Boy," "Over There," "You're a Grand Old Flag." He was in his late 50s to early 60s, when these performances took place. By then Cohan--who'd been in show business virtually all of his life--had sung these numbers for decades. He carries them off, in these "live" performances, with tremendous--and still thrilling--showmanship. These brief "live" performances by him, captured on radio broadcasts late in his life, are some of the best representations of his work that we have.

Tracks 6-11 are studio recordings made by Cohan (who was then just 32 years old) for Victor Records on a single day--May 4th, 1911. Cohan never had great interest in recording; his great love was always performing "live" on stage. And he never did another recording session after this one. The songs you'll hear include " I Want to Hear a Yankee Doodle Tune," "Life's a Funny Proposition After All," " You Won't Do Any Business If You Haven't Got a Band," "The Small Town Girl," " I'm Mighty Glad I'm Living, That's All," and "Hey There! May There!" It's curious that Cohan never opted to make records of his most famous songs (such as "Give My Regards to Broadway," "The Yankee Doodle Boy," "Mary'a Grand Old Name," "So Long Mary," "H-A-R-R-I-G-A-N," "You're a Grand Old Flag," "Over There"). But two of the sides Cohan recorded on May 4th, 1911--his philosophical "Life's a Funny Proposition After All" and the amiable "Small-Town Girl"--became top-ten hits in 1911 (according to the standard reference book concerning records of that era, Joel Whitburn's "Pop Memories: 1890-1954").

Cohan was content to let others record his songs. He was busy enough, writing, producing, and starring in Broadway shows. He earned money as a performer, playwright, songwriter, and producer. (Sales of sheet music for his songs were huge.) At his peak, in the early 20th century, he was making more money than anyone else in show business. And his impact and influence was profound. He gave Broadway its pace, its beat, its rhythm. He's really the father of modern American musical-theater; it was Cohan who made America--not Europe--the pace-setter in musical-theater. He remade the American songbook. (The maudlin, sentimental ballads of the Victorian Era suddenly seemed hopelessly out-of-date.) And, in the early 20th century, everyone was singing his songs.

He had almost no formal education. His parents, Jerry and Nellie Cohan, put George and his sister Josie into the family act when they were children, and the "Four Cohans" toured in vaudeville. While growing up, he and his family criss-crossed the continent ten times. He had no time to attend school. Variety theaters from coast to coast served as his schoolhouses. By the time he was 15, he'd taken charge of the family act, writing its songs and sketches, and handling all bookings. "The Four Cohans" became the best-known, highest-paid family act in vaudeville. In his mid-20s, Cohan conquered Broadway. Such breezy, fast-paced Cohan musicals as "Little Johnny Jones," "45 Minutes from Broadway," "George Washington Jr.," "The Yankee Prince," and "The Little Millionaire" galvanized the theatrical world. For some 15 years, from 1904-1919, Cohan enjoyed an unprecedented winning streak. He scored most of his greatest accomplishments as a songwriter and playwright in that period. But in later years, his talents as a performer continued to ripen. He had major triumphs in the 1930s, starring in the play "Ah Wilderness" (written by Eugene O'Neill) and the musical comedy "I'd Rather be Right" (written by Kaufman & Hart, and Rodgers & Hart). In 1940, President Franklin D. Roosevelt presented Cohan with a Congressional Medal--Cohan was the first member of his profession ever to be so honored--for his "contributions to the American spirit."

* * *

In addition to recordings of Cohan singing his own songs, this album includes some noteworthy period recordings by others singing Cohan songs.

Al Jolson, who would eventually become known as "the world's greatest entertainer," made his recording debut in 1911 singing a Cohan song, "That Haunting Melody," which we hear on track #12. Cohan wrote this number specifically for Jolson, who introduced it at the Winter Garden Theater on Broadway in the show "Vera Violetta." (Incidentally, when Warner Bros. released its terrific film biography of Cohan, "Yankee Doodle Dandy," in 1942, it was Jolson who bought the first ticket.)

Cohan's immortal "Over There" was THE song of the First World War. We hear stirring period renditions by Enrico Caruso (singing in Italian, as well as in English, on track #13), Billy Murray and chorus ( track #14), and Nora Bayes (who played a huge role in popularizing the song, track #15). These recordings, made in 1917-1918, remain inspiring.

"I Was Born in Virginia" (also known as "Ethel Levey's Virginia Song") was written by Cohan for his first wife, entertainer Ethel Levey. And this recording, from 1911 (track #16) , gives us a feel for her ebullient style.

Billy Murray, whose 1905 recording of Cohan's "The Yankee Doodle Boy"--which we'll hear next (track #17)--was the biggest-selling recording artist of the first two decades of the 20th century. And he scored hits recording one Cohan song after another, including "Give My Regards to Broadway," "45 Minutes from Broadway," "Harrigan," "You Can Have Broadway," "Under Any Old Flag at All," "Always Leave them Laughing When You Say Goodbye," "The American Ragtime," "When a Fellow's on the Level with s Girl Who's on the Square," and more.

I love Cohan's infectious ragtime march, "Popularity." And I love the irresistible 1906 recording of "Popularity" that you'll hear (on track #18); this performance is by one of the great recording stars of the early 20th century, Sylvester "Vess" Ossman (known as "the Banjo King"). His fleet five-string-banjo work impresses us yet for its virtuosity and musicality. (You will also have a chance to hear a modern-day piano performance of "Popularity" on track #26.) "Popularity" was played before every performance of Cohan's play of that same name during its Broadway run. (That play--Cohan's first "straight" play--was not a hit, but Cohan's ragtime march "Popularity" became very popular. Cohan didn't give up on the play, though; he eventually added songs to the script, reworked it as bit, and turned it into a hit musical.)

"When You Come Back"--which we hear sung (in 1918) by one of the most popular singers of the era, John McCormack (track #19)--was written by Cohan during the first World War. It's addressed to the American boys heading overseas to fight in the Great War. The lyrics, as originally written by Cohan, began, "When You Come Back, if you DO come back..." Cohan had second thoughts, though, and soon revised the lyrics to read "When you come back, and you WILL come back...." McCormack sings these more-optimistic revised lyrics on this recording. I have in my collection some of the early sheet music, featuring the original lyrics (with the revised lyrics also stamped onto the paper by the publisher); many of the young men heading off to fight in the war, of course, never did come back. Cohan's original lyric was more honest; but the revised lyric--assuring the soldiers that they would be coming back safely--was more hopeful.

Tracks 20-24 are mostly spoken word. We'll hear samples Cohan and others speaking. For me, these historic recordings help conjure up the spirit of Cohan, no less than the songs.

On track #20, we hear the voices of two legendary theatrical figures, Gertrude Lawrence and George M. Cohan, offering good wishes to the King and Queen of England.

Track #21 is, for me, fascinating. In this 11-minute clip, we get to hear Cohan rehearsing his latest play (in which he also starred), "Dear Old Darling." This was a remote radio broadcast (December 29th, 1935) from the Nixon Theatre in Pittsburgh, during the show's pre-Broadway tryout. We also hear the voices of director Sam Forrest (who worked with Cohan for nearly 30 years) and a couple of the actors in Cohan's "Dear Old Darling" company. In his long career, Cohan wrote many hit plays. But, like all artists, he had some flops, too. And "Dear Old Darling" was one of them. After engagements in such cities as Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Detroit, Rochester, Philadelphia, Washington DC, and Boston, the show opened in New York City on March 2nd, 1936 at the Alvin Theater (today called "The Neil Simon Theater"); it lasted just 16 performances. (Cohan would have one of the great triumphs of his career at that very same Broadway theater, the following year, when he starred in the musical "I'd Rather be Right.") But it's great to have this taste of Cohan at work--even if the play was not one of his hits. (My thanks to Jack Foley for finding this radio clip, some years back, and alerting me to its existence.)

On track #22, we get to hear a snippet of Governor Al Smith, reminiscing, saluting Cohan, and singing off-the-cuff, from memory, a bit of an early Cohan hit he liked, "Come On Downtown." This is just an excerpt from a longer speech by Smith, in which he also noted that he had enjoyed Cohan for many years--seeing him in "Running for Office" way back before he first began running for office himself.

I like the salute to Cohan we hear on track #23. I don't know who the speaker is; I believe this audio clip is from the 1938 Catholic Actors' Guild dinner. (On track #24, we will hear Cohan himself speaking at that event.) But if any Cohan aficionado has more info, please let me know. Whoever the speaker is, his words of praise for Cohan are wonderfully evocative, and I'm glad to include his remarks.

I like track #24 a lot. This is George M. Cohan's speech to the Catholic Actors' Guild in 1938. Cohan became the president of the Catholic Actors' Guild in 1938, and served in that capacity for several years. His father, Jerry Cohan, was the first president of the Catholic Actors' Guild. In fact, Jerry Cohan co-founded the Guild, along with his friend, actor James O'Neill, the father of playwright Eugene O'Neill. In his speech, Cohan remarks that he feels the occasion is really honoring the memory of his late father. Cohan was always very close to his father, his mother, and his sister. By 1938, they were all long gone. (Cohan's sister had died in 1916, his father had died in 1917, and his mother had died in 1928.) But still, Cohan concludes his remarks by offering the famed curtain speech he had used for a quarter-century: "My father thanks you, my mother thanks you, my sister thanks you, and I thank you...."

We hear next Billy Murray's original 1906 Victor record of "You're a Grand Old Rag" (track #25). This record was a monster hit. In fact, this record was the biggest-seller all records Victor produced in its first decade of existence. Note that this record bears Cohan's original title for the song: "You're a Grand Old Rag." When some people complained the title seemed disrespectful, Cohan changed the title of the song to "You're a Grand Old Flag" (which is, of course, the way the song is known today). But Cohan certainly did not intend any disrespect. He got the inspiration to write the song when he saw an elderly Civil War veteran, holding aloft in a parade a tattered U.S. flag from Civil War days; the veteran remarked proudly: "She's a grand old rag, isn't she?" And that prompted Cohan to begin writing a song: "You're a Grand Old Rag / You're a high-flying flag / and forever in peace may you wave...." The original sheet music bore the title "You're a Grand Old Rag." Revised sheet music, bearing the title "You're a Grand Old Flag," was soon rushed to the marketplace. (I have both versions in my collection.)

Tracks 26-30 are modern-day recordings of some Cohan songs: "Popularity," "I Want to Be a Popular Millionaire," "You Remind Me of My Mother," "Mary's a Grand Old Name," and "The Yankee Doodle Boy."

I've always loved Cohan's "Popularity" (track #26), and have included it in several of the musical shows I've written and directed over the years. It's such an infectious march.

"I Want to Be a Popular Millionaire" (track #27) is an early, little-known Cohan song. He grew up in that Horatio Alger / /rags-to-riches era, when any poor American kid might well dream of becoming "a popular millionaire." For Cohan, that early wish certainly came true. (And he was extraordinarily generous in sharing his blessings with others. The New York Times, in its obituary for Cohan noted that he "was probably the most generous man of his day" in his profession.) I included "I Want to be a Popular Millionaire" in my stage musical "The Seven Little Foys." This recording is from the "Seven Little Foys" cast album, which is available from CDBaby, Amazon, iTunes, etc. ( ).

The enthusiastic lead singer (playing young "Charlie Foy") is talented young Max Beer (perhaps best known for his work starring in the motion picture "Jeremy Fink and the Meaning of Life"). In real life, Cohan was a family friend of the Foys, and I was happy to include a few Cohan songs into the score of "The Seven Little Foys." George M. Cohan and Eddie Foy Sr. were popular stars in their day; early in her career, Mae West performed impersonations of both of them on stage!

Cohan wrote "You Remind Me of My Mother" (track #28)--a lovely ballad--for his 1922 musical "Little Nellie Kelly." And Henry Burr had a hit record with it. (Burr's name is not so well-known today, but he was the most popular balladeer on records in the early 20th century. In his lengthy career, his voice was heard on some 12,000 different recordings--far more recordings than any other singer in history.) This recent rendition of "You Remind Me of My Mother," sung sincerely by Zack Riopelle (playing young "Richard Foy"), is from the cast album of my show "The Seven Little Foys." (The score mixes original songs that I wrote with period songs by Cohan and others.)

Cohan's "Mary's a Grand Old Name" (track #29) is such a pure, simple, heartfelt song it will live forever. This appealing performance, by Michael Townsend Wright and Jack Saleeby, is from the premiere recording of my show "Irving Berlin's America" ( ). In the show, Wright (whose credits range from television's "Uncle Floyd Show" to such films as "Lansky" and "The Rat Pack") plays Irving Berlin near the end of his life. He recalls that when he was a singing waiter in his youth, "if we wanted to sing a really 'class' song, we sang something of Cohan's." Berlin idolized Cohan; Berlin always kept a portrait of Cohan on the wall in his office. And when Cohan died, it was Berlin who initially led the fundraising drive, so that a statue of Cohan could eventually be erected, on Broadway at 46th Street. Michael Townsend Wright, who's starred in my show "Irving Berlin's America" at the 13th Street Theater (and elsewhere), sings with such warmth and heart, I'm glad to include his rendition of "Mary" in this album. The score for "Irving Berlin's America" includes two dozen songs by Berlin--plus two songs by Cohan, who was such an important role model for Berlin.

This album concludes with a performance of "The Yankee Doodle Boy" (track #30) by Jon Peterson. He's a master song-and-dance man. And for my money, there's no greater living interpreter of Cohan's music. He starred in my Off-Broadway show "George M. Cohan Tonight!" at the Irish Repertory Theater in New York (opening March 9th, 2006), and garnered rave reviews. (He may be heard on the original cast album, released by Sh-K-Boom / Ghostlight Records.) He was nominated for a Drama Desk Award, was honored by the Drama League, and won a Bistro Award for his characterization of Cohan. He's played Cohan in other shows of mine, too. And still periodically makes appearances in "George M. Cohan Tonight!" As I write this, he is gearing up for a five-week run in that show in Boca Raton, Florida--his third visit as "Cohan" to the Stage Door Theater there. He's starred in assorted other shows in England and the US. (For two years, for example, he starred as the Emcee in the national tour of "Cabaret," and he's covered that role on Broadway.) But there's no role he plays with greater joy and gusto than that of Cohan. (This particular recording of him singing--and tap-dancing--to "The Yankee Doodle Boy" is from the album of my show "The Seven Little Foys": ) Jon Peterson does a great job, helping to keep Cohan's legacy alive. I've seen him perform in my Cohan shows countless times--in New York City, in New Orleans, in Minneapolis, in Rochester, in Worcester, in Waterbury; you name it. I never get tired of seeing him portray Cohan.

* * *

Cohan has been a lifelong source of inspiration for me. I was nine years old the first time I saw the film "Yankee Doodle Dandy," starring James Cagney as Cohan. The film was on WOR-TV's "Million Dollar Movie" all week, and I watched it over and over (even skipping swim practice, which I'd never before done, because the film was so important to me; to this day, it remains my favorite movie). I looked up Cohan in the encyclopedia. I then wrote and illustrated a 10-page report on Cohan. No one asked me to do that; I just did it--the first report I ever wrote in my life-and handed it in to my third-grade teacher, Miss Doremus, who was very encouraging. (My parents still have that report, on lined yellow paper, that I wrote back in third grade.) And that was a start of a lifelong interest in Cohan.

My Aunt Ada, who'd enjoyed seeing Cohan on stage in her youth, told me, "His voice was deeper than James Cagney's." And that made me curious to find recordings of Cohn himself. They were not easy to find. But, over time, I collected recordings, and sheet music, and memorabilia pertaining to Cohan. (And I'm grateful to all of the collectors out there, from Marq Stankowski to the late Larry Kiner, who've helped out along the way.)

I've also written and directed shows about Cohan. And all six shows that I've written about Cohan ("George M. Cohan: In His Own Words," "The George M. Cohan Revue," "Yankee Doodle Boy," "George M. Cohan and Co.," "George M. Cohan Tonight!," and "Yankee Doodle Dandy") have been published and produced; all remain available for licensing today. I've had productions in many different cities, from New York to New Orleans; from London to Seoul. (For more details on the shows, please visit: And I've been lucky enough to see many very talented performers--including Cohan's own great-granddaughter, the endearing Jennie Cohan Ross--celebrate Cohan's legacy in my various shows.

I've seen, time and again, the magic that Cohan's music can still work on audiences.

I've also written shows on assorted other subjects, of course. But Cohan will always have a very special place in my heart. He remains--along with Irving Berlin, Cole Porter, and the Gershwins--one of my favorite songwriters. And I'm glad we have these few surviving "live" performances to remind us what a master showman he was.

* * *

This CD is dedicated--with great appreciation, affection, and respect--to George M.'s terrific granddaughter, Mary Ross, his equally terrific great-granddaughter Jennifer Cohan Ross... and the whole grand Cohan family.

January 2015



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