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Irving Gordon, ca 1950
|Birth name||Irving Gordon|
|Born||February 14, 1915|
|Origin||Brooklyn, New York, United States|
|Died||December 1, 1996
Los Angeles, California, United States
Irving Gordon (February 14, 1915 – December 1, 1996) was an American songwriter.
Irving Gordon was born in Brooklyn, New York, 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. In high school he wrote a symphony piece, but his teacher laughed at it. Gordon wanted to study at Juilliard but Jews were not admitted at that time.
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 words 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. While working as Ellington's lyricist, Gordon wrote the words to Billy Strayhorn's piece "Prelude to a Kiss." For years he like many other composers worked out of the Brill Building in Manhattan.
Irving 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.
Late in his life, Gordon won a Grammy for Song of the Year when Natalie Cole re-recorded her father Nat "King" Cole's earlier hit of "Unforgettable." Gordon wrote both the words and music for "Unforgettable."
Gordon did not care for rock music, which he said was composed not of "melodies but maladies." 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."
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?" although others have also claimed authorship.
Gordon is noted for his contribution to music and lyrics of the Americana genre. For examples it was commonly thought that his song Two Brothers was a folk song about the civil war. For several years before his death he was writing a musical about Sigmund Freud.
Irving Gordon died of lymphoma cancer in Malibu, California. He was survived by three sons.
Partial selection of his published songs
- "Allentown Jail"
- "Be Anything, But Darling Be Mine"
- "Blue Prelude" (lyrics by Gordon; music by Duke Ellington)
- "Delaware" (Perry Como hit vocal)
- "Mama From The Train" (Patti Page hit vocal)
- "Me, Myself and I" (Billie Holiday hit vocal, co-written with Allen Roberts and Alvin S. Kaufman)
- "Mister and Mississippi" (Patti Page hit vocal)
- "Nine Tenths of the Tennessee River" (Moon Mullican country blues ballad)
- "Prelude to a Kiss" (lyrics by Gordon; music by Duke Ellington and Irving Mills)
- "Two Brothers" (Civil War Song)
- "Unforgettable" (major hit for Nat King Cole, Grammy Award in 1992)
- "What Will I Tell My Heart" (Bing Crosby hit vocal)
- "Sinner or Saint" (1952)
- "Sorta on the Border" (1953)
- "The Kentuckian Song" (Eddy Arnold vocal from the Burt Lancaster film The Kentuckian, 1955)
- "Rollin' Stone" (Perry Como vocal)
- "Too Fat For the Chimney" (1953) (Gisele Mackenzie, recorded on "Christmas Songs For Bad Little Boys & Girls")
- Benny Green. Obituary: Irving Gordon: Simply Unforgettable. The Guardian (London), December 4, 1996 Features page; Pg. 16
- Irv Lichtman. 10th Yr. For Writers' Haven; Irving Gordon Rages Again. Billboard June 13, 1992, Artists & Music; Words & Music; Pg. 18
- Myrna Oliver. Obituary; Irving Gordon; Composer of 'Unforgettable.' Los Angeles Times, December 3, 1996 Page: 26, Section: A; Metro Desk
- Irwin Silber, Jerry Silverman (1995). Songs of the Civil War. Dover Publications. Retrieved July 8, 2010.