Irving Gordon

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Irving Gordon
Irving Gordon, ca 1950
Background information
Birth name Irving Gordon
Born (1915-02-14)February 14, 1915
Origin Brooklyn, New York, United States
Died December 1, 1996(1996-12-01) (aged 81)
Los Angeles, California, United States
Occupation(s) Songwriter

Irving Gordon (February 14, 1915 – December 1, 1996) was an American songwriter.


Irving Gordon was born in Brooklyn, New York. As a child, he studied violin and, after attending public schools in New York City, went to work in the Catskill Mountains at some of the resort hotels in the area. While working there, he took to writing parody lyrics to some of the popular songs of the day. In the 1930s, he took a job with the music publishing firm headed by talent agent Irving Mills, at first writing only lyrics but subsequently writing music as well.

After Gordon was introduced to Duke Ellington in 1937, Ellington sometimes invited him to put words to his compositions. Working with Ellington was probably the most difficult commission there was, because most of the Ellington songs were really instrumental pieces whose singable potential only emerged after they had been played and recorded by one or another of the soloists in the Ellington orchestra.[1]

After writing "Mister and Mississippi", Gordon decided he enjoyed puns on state names, and some years later wrote "Delaware." He is perhaps best known for his song, "Allentown Jail", which was played by numerous other musicians, and told the story of a man who stole a diamond for his girlfriend and ended up in the Allentown jail, unable to make bail. Late in his life he won a Grammy for Song of the Year when Natalie Cole re-recorded her father Nat "King" Cole's earlier hit of "Unforgettable."

Gordon did not care for rock music, which he said was composed not of "melodies but maladies."[2] Gordon told the Los Angeles Times that by 1960 the vogue for rhymed words and hummable melodies had passed, "So I became a tennis pro. I have many lives."[3]

Abbott and Costello often performed a baseball comedy routine, "Who's on First?" which they perfected during their years in vaudeville. Gordon has been credited with writing "Who's on first?" though others have also claimed authorship.

Gordon is noted for his contribution to music and lyrics of the Americana genre.

He died of cancer in Los Angeles, California.

Partial selection of his published songs[edit]


  1. ^ Benny Green. Obituary: Irving Gordon: Simply Unforgettable. The Guardian (London), December 4, 1996 Features page; Pg. 16
  2. ^ Irv Lichtman. 10th Yr. For Writers' Haven; Irving Gordon Rages Again. Billboard June 13, 1992, Artists & Music; Words & Music; Pg. 18
  3. ^ Myrna Oliver. Obituary; Irving Gordon; Composer of 'Unforgettable.' Los Angeles Times, December 3, 1996 Page: 26, Section: A; Metro Desk
  4. ^ Irwin Silber, Jerry Silverman (1995). Songs of the Civil War. Dover Publications. Retrieved July 8, 2010.