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Al Sherman (September 7, 1897 – September 16, 1973) was an American Tin Pan Alley songwriter from the first half of the twentieth century. Sherman is a link in a long chain of musical Sherman family members.
Al Sherman was born into a Jewish musical family in Kiev, Russian Empire. His father, Samuel Sherman, fled a Cossack pogrom in 1903, settling in Prague which was then part of Austria-Hungary. Samuel eventually found success working as a concertmaster, first violinist and intermittent court composer in the Royal Court of Emperor Franz Josef. Samuel's family came to live with him in Prague.
As a young boy, Al would stand in the wings to hear his father play for the Bohemian Emperor, thus sparking the young boy's love of music. Once, when Al was about six years old, the Emperor sent guards to find out who was rustling around behind the curtains. He then asked the frightened youngster (Al) to sit on his knee for the duration of the concert.
In 1909 Samuel decided to take his family to America, but in America Samuel's luck turned again, this time for the worse. In New York City, Samuel was just another out-of-work musician. The pressure became too much for Samuel and he eventually left his wife Lena and their five young children, Olga, Al, Edith, Regina and Harold.
At the age of 13, Al became the "man" of the family and quit school to work. Nevertheless, Al had a very "accepting" attitude and kept in close contact with Samuel until Samuel's death in 1947. Al had a burning desire to become a musician and taught himself to play the piano, learning from the Beyers Book for Beginners.
Despite his youth and scant knowledge of English, his natural talent for piano improvisation soon earned him a reputation as a top "mood music" pianist. His services to improvise inspirational music were sought by many silent film stars including Pauline Frederick, Mae Murray and Olga Petrova. In 1916, Universal signed Al to do bit parts in silent films as well. He later appeared in motion pictures with Mary Pickford, Mary Fuller, Clara Kimball Young and William Powell.
Al's composing career began in 1918 when he became a staff pianist for the Remick Music Company. There, he worked alongside George Gershwin and Vincent Youmans. During this time Al also organized and directed a small orchestra which played in New York and Miami Beach.
In the summer of 1921, Al was at the piano leading his orchestra when he met a silent film actress, Rosa Dancis. They married in 1923.
Sons, Richard & Robert
Al and Rosa Sherman's elder son, Robert Bernard Sherman was born on December 19, 1925. Their younger son, Richard Morton Sherman was born on June 12, 1928. Both boys were born in New York City. The Sherman Brothers would one day prove to be Al's greatest songwriting achievement, forming one of the most formidable songwriting teams in family entertainment (Mary Poppins, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang).
In the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s, Al collaborated with songwriters including Sam Coslow, Irving Mills, Charles O'Flynn, Al Dubin, Pat Flaherty, B.G. deSylva, Harold Tobias, Howard Johnson, Harry M. Woods, Alfred Bryan, Buddy Fields, Archie Fletcher, Al Lewis, Abner Silver, Edward Heyman, Buddy Feyne and many others. Al quickly rose to become one of "Tin Pan Alley's" most sought after songwriters.
Between 1931 and 1934, during the last days of Vaudeville, Al and several of his fellow hitmakers formed a sensational review called "Songwriters on Parade", performing all across the Eastern seaboard on the Loew's and Keith circuits.
Some of Al Sherman's most well known songs also include, "Wanita", "Save Your Sorrow", "Lindbergh (The Eagle of the U.S.A.)", "Pretending", "On the Beach at Bali-Bali", "Over Somebody Else's Shoulder", "No! No! A Thousand Times No!!", "For Sentimental Reasons", "(What Do We Do on a) Dew Dew Dewey Day", "Nine Little Miles from Ten-Ten-Tennessee" and "Ninety-Nine Out of a Hundred (Wanna Be Loved)".
Maurice Chevalier's American breakthrough hit was an Al Sherman/Al Lewis song entitled "Livin' in the Sunlight, Lovin' in the Moonlight" from the Paramount Picture The Big Pond. "You Gotta Be a Football Hero" has been played, sung and marched to since 1933 when Fred Waring and his "Pennsylvanians" introduced it on the radio.
The Sherman/Fletcher song "On a Little Bamboo Bridge" became a hit for Louis Armstrong. Artists who recorded Al Sherman songs include Benny Goodman, Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Tommy Dorsey, Frank Sinatra, Al Jolson, Bing Crosby, Eddie Cantor, Rudy Vallée, Ozzie Nelson, Lawrence Welk, Peggy Lee, Patti Page, Duke Ellington and his Cotton Club Orchestra among many others.
Al Sherman's style and settings are suggested by such song titles as "Got the Bench, Got the Park", "Woodland Reverie", "Never a Dream Goes By" and "When You Waltz with the One You Love". Although he would continue to write songs and musical compositions until his death, Al wrote his last big song in 1952, "Comes A-Long A-Love", and was sung by Kay Starr.
In 1973 the Associated Press wrote, "Al Sherman helped raise the spirits of a Depression-era generation with his hit `Potatoes Are Cheaper - Tomatoes Are Cheaper - Now's the Time To Fall In Love!'. Al wrote more than five hundred songs but gained his greatest fame for that happy tune." Always capable of finding the "silver lining", "Potatoes Are Cheaper" became Al's signature song. In 1973 he wrote his autobiography entitling it, "Potatoes Are Cheaper" for this reason.
Al Sherman died in Los Angeles, California on September 16, 1973 at the age of 76.
In 1983, Sherman's song, "He's So Unusual" was chosen as the title song of Cyndi Lauper's signature album, She's So Unusual. She's So Unusual catapulted Lauper to stardom with such hits as "Girls Just Want To Have Fun", "She Bop" and "Time After Time". Lauper's rendition of "He's So Unusual" was a clear homage to the original 1920s production, even going so far as to feature scratches and hisses on the track, making it sound even more like the original 78 record. She's So Unusual won its sole Grammy in the category of Best Album Package, the concept of which clearly finding foundation on the title of the Sherman's song. As of 2002 She's So Unusual has sold more than 16 million copies worldwide. The album peaked at #4 on the Billboard pop albums chart (US). In 2003, the album was ranked number 494 on Rolling Stone magazine's list of the 500 greatest albums of all time. Sherman alongside his sons, Robert and Richard became the subjects of a London musical concert called, A Spoonful of Sherman narrated by Sherman's grandson, Robert J. Sherman. A Double CD of A Spoonful of Sherman was released by SimG Records in 2015.
- Sherman, Robert B. Walt's Time: from before to beyond. Chapter 2; "Al's Time", Pages 88–141. Santa Clarita: Camphor Tree Publishers, 1998.
- Al Sherman at the Internet Movie Database
- Al Sherman at SoundUnwound
- Sherman Music
- Songwriters Hall of Fame