Historians have long viewed George M. Cohan (1878–1942) as one of the most important figures in the evolution of the American musical theater. Yet his successes as a performer and impresario have greatly overshadowed his equally impressive influence as a composer of some of this country’s most popular music; to date, little research has been presented regarding Cohan’s work as a composer and lyricist. His songs such as “Over There,” “You’re A Grand Old Rag,” and “Give My Regards to Broadway” are still so widely known that there is a general assumption that Cohan’s artistic output and cultural significance has been thoroughly documented. But it has not. While his Broadway contemporaries stuck with the formulas of European operetta, Cohan blazed the path for modern American musical comedy using syncopation to advance his stories. His raggy tunes and slangy lyrics injected a new sense of vitality, brashness, and informality to the American stage, creating a stylistic model adopted (and amplified) by later “Golden Age” figures such as Kern and Gershwin.
This recording presents a fresh and compelling look at the music of Cohan using original period orchestrations (most of which have never before been recorded), played with authentic style on vintage instruments. Its intent is to sweep away the commonly held (and largely incorrect) “perceptions” of Cohan’s work by presenting it exactly as his contemporaries first heard in the early 1900s. The program comprises a mixture of songs: “That Haunting Melody,” “The Yankee Doodle Dandy,” “Give My Regards to Broadway,” “Eyes of Youth,” “Mary’s A Grand Old Name,” “Harrigan,” and “Over There,”; and selected instrumentals: “Geo. M. Cohan’s Rag,” “You’re a Grand Old Rag,” “There’s Only One Little Girl for Me,” “Popularity”; and the overtures to The Talk of New York, The Man Who Owns Broadway, and Little Nellie Kelly. Included is a forty page booklet with history, analysis, photos, and newly surfaced first-hand accounts by Cohan’s orchestrator and conductor, Mayhew Lake.