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Irving Gordon

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Irving Gordon
Gordon, c. 1950
Gordon, c. 1950
Background information
Birth nameIrving Gordon
Born(1915-02-14)February 14, 1915
Brooklyn, New York City, U.S
OriginBrooklyn, New York City, U.S.
DiedDecember 1, 1996(1996-12-01) (aged 81)
Malibu, California, U.S

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

Early life and education[edit]

Gordon was born in Brooklyn, New York City, to a Jewish family, and later lived on Coney Island. He was named Israel Goldener but later changed his name to Irving Gordon. As a child, he studied violin.


After attending public schools in New York City, Gordon worked 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 lyrics to his compositions. However, working with Ellington was probably one of the most difficult commissions there was, since 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] While working as Ellington's lyricist, Gordon wrote the lyrics to Billy Strayhorn's piece "Prelude to a Kiss." For years he like many other composers worked out of the Brill Building in Manhattan.

After writing "Mister and Mississippi", Gordon decided he enjoyed puns on state names and later wrote "Delaware", which was a hit for Perry Como.

His 1956 hit for Patti Page, "Mama from the Train", was written to describe the love of a mother who had been born in the old country, but although the lyrics identify her as "Pennsylvania Dutch", the shifts into and out of a minor key mark the melody as Eastern European, and it was widely perceived as a tribute to a Yiddish-speaking mother.

Gordon is perhaps best known for his song "Unforgettable". He also wrote "Allentown Jail", which was played by numerous 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, and was recorded by the French singer, Edith Piaf among others.

Late in his life, Gordon won a Grammy Award for Song of the Year when Natalie Cole re-recorded her father Nat "King" Cole's earlier hit of "Unforgettable." Gordon wrote both the lyrics and music for "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]

Gordon's obituary claimed that he wrote the Abbott and Costello baseball comedy routine, "Who's on First?." This claim was never made by Gordon when he was alive, and others have also claimed authorship. The duo perfected the routine after they formally teamed in 1936.

Gordon is noted for his contribution to music and lyrics of the Americana genre. For example, it was commonly thought that his song "Two Brothers" was about the American Civil War.

For several years before his death, he was writing a musical about Sigmund Freud.


Irving Gordon died of multiple myeloma cancer in Malibu, California. He was survived by two sons.

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; p. 18.
  3. ^ Myrna Oliver. Obituary; Irving Gordon; Composer of 'Unforgettable.' Los Angeles Times, December 3, 1996, p. 26, Section: A; Metro Desk.
  4. ^ Irwin Silber, Jerry Silverman (1995). Songs of the Civil War. Dover Publications. ISBN 9780486284385. Retrieved July 8, 2010.