The son of Jewish immigrant parents from Galicia, Poland, Cahn grew up on Manhattan's Lower East Side. Encouraged by his mother, he learned to play the violin, joined a small orchestra that played at bar mitzvahs and other functions, and later worked as a violinist in Bowery burlesque houses. At the age of 16 he wrote his first lyric, 'Like Niagara Falls, I'm Falling For You', and persuaded a fellow member of the orchestra, Saul Chaplin, to join him in a songwriting partnership. Their first published effort was 'Shake Your Head From Side To Side', and in the early 30s they wrote special material for vaudeville acts and bands. In 1935 the duo had their first big hit when the Jimmie Lunceford orchestra recorded their 'Rhythm Is Our Business'. The following year Andy Kirk topped the US Hit Parade with the duo's 'Until The Real Thing Comes Along', and Louis Armstrong featured their 'Shoe Shine Boy' in the revue Connie's Hot Chocolates Of 1936. In the following year Cahn and Chaplin had their biggest success to date when they adapted the Yiddish folk song 'Bei Mir Bist Du Schön'. It became the top novelty song of the year and gave the Andrews Sisters their first million-seller. The team followed this with 'Please Be Kind', a major seller for Bob Crosby, Red Norvo and Benny Goodman. During this time Cahn and Chaplin were also under contract to Warner Brothers Records, and soon after that commitment ended they decided to part company.
In 1942, Cahn began a very productive partnership with Jule Styne, with their first chart success, 'I've Heard That Song Before'. Just as significant was Cahn's renewed association with Frank Sinatra, whom he had known when the singer was with Tommy Dorsey. Cahn and Styne wrote the score for the Sinatra movies Step Lively (1944), ('Come Out, Come Out Wherever You Are' and 'As Long As There's Music'), Anchors Aweigh (1945) ('I Fall In Love Too Easily', 'The Charm Of You' and 'What Makes The Sunset"') and It Happened In Brooklyn (1947) ('Time After Time', 'It's The Same Old Dream' and 'It's Gotta Come From The Heart). Sinatra also popularized several other 40s Cahn/Styne songs, including 'I'll Walk Alone', 'Saturday Night Is The Loneliest Night In The Week', 'The Things We Did Last Summer', 'Five Minutes More', and the bleak 'Guess I'll Hang My Tears Out To Dry', which appeared on his 1958 album, Only The Lonely. Other hits included 'It's Been A Long, Long Time', associated with Harry James and his vocalist Kitty Kallen, 'Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!' (Vaughn Monroe) and 'There Goes That Song Again' (Kay Kyser and Russ Morgan). Cahn and Styne wrote the scores for several other movies, including Tonight And Every Night (1945), two Danny Kaye vehicles, Wonder Man (1945) and The Kid From Brooklyn (1946), and The West Point Story (1950). They also provided the songs for Romance On The High Seas (1948), the movie in which Doris Day shot to international stardom, singing 'It's Magic' and 'Put 'Em In A Box, Tie It With A Ribbon'. The two songwriters also wrote the Broadway show High Button Shoes (1947), starring Phil Silvers and Nanette Fabray, which ran for 727 performances and introduced songs such as 'I Still Get Jealous', 'You're My Girl' and 'Papa, Won't You Dance With Me'.
After High Button Shoes Cahn went to California, while Styne stayed in New York. Cahn collaborated with Nicholas Brodszky for a time in the early 50s, writing movie songs for Mario Lanza including 'Be My Love', 'Wonder Why', 'Because You're Mine', 'Serenade' and 'My Destiny'. The collaboration also composed 'I'll Never Stop Loving You' for the Doris Day movie Love Me Or Leave Me (1955). Cahn and Styne reunited briefly in 1954, ostensibly to write the score for the movie Pink Tights, to star Sinatra and Marilyn Monroe, but the project was shelved. Soon afterwards, Cahn and Styne were asked to write the title song for Three Coins In The Fountain. The result, a big hit for Sinatra and for the Four Aces, gained Cahn his first Academy Award. Cahn and Styne eventually worked with Monroe when they wrote the score for the comedy The Seven Year Itch (1955).
In the same year Cahn started his last major collaboration - with Jimmy Van Heusen and, some would say, with Frank Sinatra as well. They had immediate success with the title song of the Sinatra movie The Tender Trap (1955), and won Academy Awards for songs in two of his movies, All The Way', from The Joker Is Wild (1957) and 'High Hopes', from A Hole In The Head (1959). A parody of'High Hopes' was used as John F. Kennedy's presidential campaign song in 1960. Among the many other numbers written especially for Sinatra were 'My Kind Of Town' (from Robin And The 7 Hoods, 1964) and the title songs for his bestselling albums Come Fly With Me, Only The Lonely, Come Dance With Me!, No One Cares, Ring-A-Ding-Ding! and September Of My Years. Cahn and Van Heusen also produced his successful Timex television series during 1959-60. They won another Oscar for 'Call Me Irresponsible' (from Papa's Delicate Condition, 1963), Cahn's fourth Academy Award from over 30 nominations, and contributed to many other movies including 'The Second Time Around' (from High Time) and the title songs from A Pocketful Of Miracles, Where Love Has Gone, Thoroughly Modern Millie and Star. The songwriters also supplied the score for a television musical version of Thorton Wilder's play Our Town, which introduced 'Love And Marriage' and 'The Impatient Years'. In the mid-60s they wrote the scores for two Broadway musicals, Skyscraper ('Everybody Has The Right To Be Wrong' and 'I'll Only Miss Her When I Think Of Her') and Walking Happy, while in 1969 Cahn worked with Styne again on another musical, Look To The Lilies ('I, Yes, Me! That's Who!').
Cahn's other collaborators included Axel Stordahl and Paul Weston ('Day By Day' and 'I Should Care'), Gene De Paul ('Teach Me Tonight'), Arthur Schwartz ('Relax-Ay-Voo'), George Barrie (All That Love To Waste') and Vernon Duke ('That's What Makes Paris Paree', and 'I'm Gonna Ring The Bell Tonight'). In 1972 Cahn was inducted into the Songwriters Hall Of Fame after claiming throughout his lifetime that he only wrote songs so that he could demonstrate them. Two years later he mounted his 'one man show', Words And Music, on Broadway, and despite his voice being described by a New York critic as that of'a vain duck with a hangover', the nostalgic mixture of his songs, sprinkled with amusing memories of the way they were created, won the Outer Circle Critics Award for the best new talent on Broadway. Later in 1974, he repeated his triumph in England, and then re-staged the whole show all over again in 1987. After over six decades of'putting that word to thatnote', as he termed it, Sammy Cahn died of congestive heart failure in January 1993.
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