He was born 3 July, 1878 — not on the fourth of July as his parents claimed — to an Irish-Catholic family in Providence, Rhode Island. His parents were vaudeville performers, and he joined the act almost as soon as he could roll over in his crib. He grew up singing and dancing with his parents’ act, and was soon considered a top male dancer.
George M. Cohan rocketed to fame in 1904 when his musical Little Johnny Jones premiered on Broadway. He was also one of the Tin Pan Alley songwriters and wrote over 1,500 songs, many of which are permanent members of American culture. George M. Cohan also acted in a few movies and continued writing plays nearly to the end of his life. His last play, Return of the Vagabond premiered in 1940, starring Celeste Holm.
Cohan is probably now best known for his songs. They include such well-known tunes as “Mary’s a Grand Old Name,” “Over There,” popular during World War I, “You’re a Grand Old Flag” and of course, “Yankee Doodle Boy.” His tunes have been played in numerous movies, cartoons, commercials and are everywhere in pop culture references. His influence on American music and culture is rivaled only perhaps by Irving Berlin.
Writing or contributing to more than 50 Broadway plays, George M. Cohan is one of the most honored American entertainers. A bronze statue of his likeness stands in Times Square in New York City, he has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and also received the Congressional Gold Medal from President Franklin D. Roosevelt, for his contributions to morale during World War I. Cohan also was a founding member of the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP), which still helps protect copyrights for songwriters in the United States.
George M. Cohan died of abdominal cancer on 5 November 1942. He is buried in the Bronx, in New York City. Numerous articles are available online about this man who was a composer, singer, actor, dancer, playwright, and his musicals are still being produced.