Sammy Cahn, one of the most renowned and celebrated lyricists of the past six decades, died Friday of congestive heart failure at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in L.A.
The prolific Cahn, who won four best song Oscars, including ones for “Three Coins in the Fountain” and “All the Way,” and an Emmy for “Love and Marriage,” was 79.
Cahn is perhaps best known for his long association with Frank Sinatra. The singer reportedly paired Cahn with composer James Van Heusen, and the duo turned out a long list of hit songs for Sinatra, including “The Tender Trap,””The Second Time Around,””My Kind of Town (Chicago Is),””Pocketful of Miracles,””Come Fly With Me,””Come Dance With Me,””Only the Lonely,””Love and Marriage” and “September of My Years.”
In addition to Sinatra, Cahn’s songs were recorded by such artists as Tony Bennett, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., Rosemary Clooney, Paul Anka and Vic Damone.
The list of Cahn standards includes “I’ve Heard That Song Before,””Bei Mir Bist Du Schon,””Saturday Night Is the Loneliest Night in the Week,””Guess I’ll Hang My Tears Out to Dry,””Day by Day,””The Things We Did Last Summer,””Five Minutes More,””Time After Time,””Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow” and “Teach Me Tonight.”
In a business well-known for divisions by ages, Cahn’s talent and songs seemed to bridge the generation gap, and he garnered respect from a wide range of songwriters.
“Sammy was a great lyric writer, who always kept going,” said composer Burt Bacharach. “He was always interested in what he was doing and stayed alive to write and perform.”
Diane Warren, ASCAP’s pop songwriter of the year in 1990 and 1991, added, “He was a brilliant, brilliant writer. We will all dearly miss the kind and brilliant man.”
“It’s the end of an era,” said Oscar-winning songwriter Ray Evans. “There’s nobody left from that generation. It’s a void that’s never going to be filled. His dedication to songs, the way he wrote songs, the way he cared about songs, the way he cared about songwriters. That was his whole life and his whole frame of reference and he made it important. He was the man you looked up to.”
Grammy-winning songwriter Lamont Dozier said Cahn was “a beautiful man with an extraordinary gift who will be forever missed by all of us who were his students and who envied, admired and learned from his life and works.”
Oscar-winning songwriter Jay Livingston recalled that when his and Ray Evans’ song “Mona Lisa” was up for Oscar consideration in 1951, the Academy was considering disqualifying it because it was sung in Italian.
“Sammy got up at the meeting and told them that that was ridiculous and that the song should be eligible for an Oscar.” Ironically, that year, Cahn’s song “Be My Love” was in contention, and ultimately lost to “Mona Lisa.”
Performers also held Cahn in high esteem.
“Sammy was fun and spirited,” said Doris Day, who sang a number of Cahn songs , including “Romance on the High Seas.””I started in movies because of Sammy Cahn and Jule Styne. They wrote so many fabulous songs for me. I am really saddened by the news.”
“Sammy was the last of the great legendary lyricists,” Michael Feinstein said. “He was an extraordinarily creative and facile writer, and a very warm soul, young at heart. I am grateful to have his songs as a constant reminder of a man whom I shall miss terribly.”
Born in New York’s Lower East Side, the songwriter was originally named Cohen , before changing his name to Cohn and then Kahn. He ultimately decided to change his name to Cahn to avoid being confused with another well-known lyricist , Gus Kahn.
At an early age, at his mother’s insistence, Cahn studied the violin, which led him to a dance band, where he began collaborating with Saul Chaplin, also a member of the band. The early teaming resulted in many hit songs.
About his collaboration with Cahn, Chaplin said, “If it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t be in show business. He found original ways of saying the same things that people had said before.”
The success that Cahn and Chaplin enjoyed took them to Hollywood, where they were signed to Columbia Pictures. Eventually, the duo split up and Cahn went on to collaborate with Jule Styne.
In addition to writing many hit songs, they also wrote the score for Broadway’s “High Button Shoes,” which featured the songs “Papa Won’t You Dance With Me,””I Still Get Jealous,””You’re My Girl” and “On a Sunday By the Sea.”
Other composers with whom Cahn collaborated include Axel Stordahl, Paul Weston, Gene De Paul, Sammy Fain and George Barrie.
A member of the American Society of Composers, Authors & Publishers since 1936, Cahn served on the ASCAP board since 1977. He was most recently ASCAP’s VP.
Since his election in 1973, Cahn served as president of the National Academy of Popular Music, which became known as the Songwriters Hall of Fame.
In 1974, Cahn initiated a one-man show, “Words and Music,” which played to sell-out crowds throughout the U.S. and abroad.
Cahn is survived by his wife Tita, son Steve Kahn, daughter Laurie Cahn and two grandchildren.
Funeral services are pending.