Gus Kahn

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Gus Kahn
Gus Kahn
Gus Kahn
Background information
Birth nameGustav Gerson Kahn
Born(1886-11-06)November 6, 1886
Koblenz, German Empire
DiedOctober 8, 1941(1941-10-08) (aged 54)
Beverly Hills, California, U.S.

Gustav Gerson Kahn (November 6, 1886 – October 8, 1941) was an American lyricist who contributed a number of songs to the Great American Songbook, including "Pretty Baby", "Ain't We Got Fun?", "Carolina in the Morning", "Toot, Toot, Tootsie (Goo' Bye!)", "My Buddy" "I'll See You in My Dreams", "It Had to Be You", "Yes Sir, That's My Baby", "Love Me or Leave Me", "Makin' Whoopee", "My Baby Just Cares for Me", "I'm Through with Love", "Dream a Little Dream of Me" and "You Stepped Out of a Dream".

Life and career[edit]

Kahn was born in 1886 in Bruschied, in the Rhine Province of the Kingdom of Prussia, the son of Theresa (Mayer) and Isaac Kahn, a cattle farmer.[1] The Jewish family emigrated to the United States and moved to Chicago in 1890. After graduating from high school, he worked as a clerk in a mail order business before launching one of the most successful and prolific careers from Tin Pan Alley.[2] Kahn married Grace LeBoy in 1916 and they had two children, Donald and Irene.

In his early days, Kahn wrote special material for vaudeville. In 1913 he began a productive partnership with the well-established composer Egbert Van Alstyne, with whom he created several notable hits of the era, including "Memories" and, along with Tony Jackson, "Pretty Baby." Later, he began writing lyrics for composer and bandleader Isham Jones. This partnership led to one of Kahn's best-known works, "I'll See You in My Dreams," which became the title of a 1951 movie based on his life, starring Danny Thomas as Kahn and Doris Day as his wife, Grace LeBoy Kahn.[2]

Throughout the 1920s, Kahn continued to contribute to Broadway scores such as Holka Polka (1925), Kitty's Kisses (1926), Artists and Models (1927), Whoopee! (1928), and Show Girl (1929). He went on to write song lyrics for several movies, primarily for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.[2]

By 1933, Kahn had become a full-time motion picture songwriter, contributing to movies such as Flying Down to Rio, Thanks a Million, Kid Millions, A Day at the Races, Everybody Sing, One Night of Love, Three Smart Girls, Let's Sing Again, San Francisco, Naughty Marietta, and Ziegfeld Girl.[2]

He also collaborated with co-lyricist Ira Gershwin and with some of the finest composers, including Grace LeBoy Kahn (his wife), Richard A. Whiting, Buddy DeSylva, Al Jolson, Raymond Egan, Ted Fio Rito, Ernie Erdman, Neil Moret, Vincent Youmans, George Gershwin, Harry Akst, Harry M. Woods, Edward Eliscu, Victor Schertzinger, Arthur Johnston, Bronisław Kaper, Jerome Kern, Walter Jurmann, Sigmund Romberg, and Harry Warren, though his primary collaborator was Walter Donaldson.[2]

He had a long friendship with Walter Donaldson. Their first collaboration was the song My Buddy in 1922. They went on to compose over one hundred songs together.[3]

Death and legacy[edit]

Kahn died in Beverly Hills, California, on October 8, 1941, of a heart attack at age 54. He was interred in the Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery in Glendale, California.

His catalog contained some of the greatest collections of songs from the first half of the 20th century, and it is for this reason that he was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1970, nearly 30 years after his death. He was survived by his son, songwriter and musician Donald Kahn, who died at the age of 89 on April 11, 2008, in Beverly Hills, California. His daughter, Irene, was married to Arthur Marx, the son of Groucho Marx.[4]

Gus Kahn's most famous songs include “My Buddy" (1922) with music by Walter Donaldson; "It Had To Be You" (1924), with music by Isham Jones; and "Makin' Whoopee" (1928), with music by Walter Donaldson. Kahn was also the lyricist for the Ted Healy/Three Stooges short film Beer and Pretzels (1933), with music by Al Goodhart. Kahn has been incorrectly associated with the song "Side by Side", which has words and music by Harry M. Woods.

Kahn's papers are housed at the Great American Songbook Foundation.[5]

Danny Thomas played Kahn opposite Doris Day as Grace LeBoy in the 1951 film I'll See You in my Dreams.

Selected songs[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • Donaldson, Walter and Gus Kahn. Vocal Selections from Whoopee!: A Musical Comedy. S.l., U.S.A.: Macmillan, 1979. OCLC 159410131
  • Ewen, David. American Songwriters: An H.W. Wilson Biographical Dictionary. New York : H.W. Wilson, 1987. ISBN 0-8242-0744-0 OCLC 14357785
  • Furia, Philip. American Song Lyricists, 1920–1960. Detroit : Gale Group, 2002. ISBN 0-7876-6009-4 OCLC 50004668
  • Kahn, Gus. I'll See You in My Dreams. Warner Bros. Publications, 1989. OCLC 650149287
  • Kahn, Gus, Bronislaw Kaper, and Walter Jurmann. To-Morrow Is Another Day. New York: Robbins Music Corp, 1937. OCLC 76656495
  • Whorf, Michael. American Popular Song Lyricists: Oral Histories, 1920s–1960s. Jefferson, NC : McFarland, 2012. ISBN 0-7864-6538-7 OCLC 761369338


  1. ^ Fisher, James (2000). "Kahn, Gus (1886-1941), lyricist | American National Biography". doi:10.1093/anb/9780198606697.article.1800648. ISBN 978-0-19-860669-7.
  2. ^ a b c d e Colin Larkin, ed. (1997). The Virgin Encyclopedia of Popular Music (Concise ed.). Virgin Books. p. 694. ISBN 1-85227-745-9.
  3. ^ "Songwriters Hall of Fame – Walter Donaldson Biography". Archived from the original on 2015-06-11. Retrieved 2015-05-03.
  4. ^ "Gus Kahn: The Man Behind the Music". The Center For The Performing Arts. Retrieved 2021-07-29.
  5. ^ "A Great American Songbook Foundation". The Center For The Performing Arts.
  6. ^ a b c d e f Parker, Bernard S. (2007). World War I Sheet Music - Volume 2. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company. pp. 479, 549, 575, 590, 646, 772. ISBN 978-0-7864-2799-4.
  7. ^ a b c d e f g Parker, Bernard S. (2007). World War I Sheet Music - Volume 1. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company. pp. 76, 161, 164, 182, 250, 280, 311. ISBN 978-0-7864-2798-7.

External links[edit]