Cy Coleman (1929–2004) was born Seymour Kaufman in New York City to Eastern European Jewish parents, and was raised in the Bronx. A child prodigy, Coleman gave piano recitals at Steinway Hall, Town Hall and Carnegie Hall between the ages of six and nine. His educational background included classical training in piano composition and orchestration at New York City’s High School for the Performing Arts and NY College of Music.
Despite early success in the classical and jazz genres, Coleman decided to build a career in popular music. He changed his name at age 16 in time to use it on his first composition with lyricist Joe A. McCarthy. The two collaborated on the classics “Why Try to Change Me Now,” “The Riviera” and “I’m Gonna Laugh You Right Out of My Life.” He also penned “Playboy’s Theme,” which became the signature music of the regular TV shows and specials presented by Playboy. Coleman’s most successful early partnership was with Carolyn Leigh. The pair wrote many pop hits, including “Witchcraft” for Frank Sinatra and “The Best Is Yet To Come,” originally for Tony Bennett.
Coleman’s winning streak as a Broadway composer began when the team of Coleman/Leigh collaborated on the musical Wildcat (1960), which marked the Broadway debut of comedienne Lucille Ball. The score included the hit tune “Hey, Look Me Over.” Up next for the two was Little Me, with a book by Neil Simon based on the novel by Patrick Dennis. The show introduced “Real Live Girl” and “I’ve Got Your Number,” which became popular standards.
In 1965, Coleman began collaborating with Dorothy Fields. Their first project was the Broadway smash Sweet Charity, again with a book by Neil Simon, and starring Gwen Verdon. The show was a major success and spawned the showstoppers “Big Spender” and “If My Friends Could See Me Now.” The Peggy Lee pop recording of the song “Big Spender” also created additional buzz for the Broadway play after it became a mammoth hit and spent several weeks at the top of the charts in tandem with the play’s Broadway run. Sweet Charity also went on to grace the silver screen in a film starring Shirley MacLaine that was directed and choreographed by Bob Fosse. After Sweet Charity, the team of Coleman/Fields worked on the Broadway show Seesaw, which reached Broadway in 1973, and their partnership was cut short by Fields’ death in 1974.
Coleman remained prolific throughout the 1970s and ‘80s. He composed the score for I Love My Wife (1977) with lyrics by Michael Stewart, and then On The Twentieth Century (1978) with Betty Comden and Adolph Green. In 1980, Coleman served as producer and composer for the circus-themed Barnum, which introduced theatergoers to Jim Dale and Glenn Close. Later in the decade, he collaborated on Welcome To The Club (1988) with A.E. Hotchner and City of Angels (1989) with David Zippel, with a book by Larry Gelbart. In the latter, inspired by the hard-boiled detective film noir of the 1930s and ‘40s, he returned to his jazz roots, and the show was a huge critical and commercial success.
The 1990s brought two more new hit Cy Coleman musicals to Broadway: The Will Rogers Follies (1991), again with Comden and Green, and The Life (1997) with lyricist Ira Gasman. A hit revival followed in 1999 with Little Me (Roundabout), starring Martin Short. Shortly before his death in 2003, Coleman returned to his jazz roots, re-forming the popular Cy Coleman Trio performing to sold-out audiences throughout New York City. Coleman’s film scores include Father Goose, The Art of Love, Garbo Talks and Family Business. In addition, he composed scores for memorable television specials for Shirley MacLaine, Bob Hope and Peggy Lee.
Cy Coleman has received numerous awards, including: 3 Grammy Awards (a total of 13 nominations), 3 Tony Awards (11 nominations), 3 Emmy Awards (5 nominations) an Oscar nomination for Sweet Charity, the Johnny Mercer Award, the Richard Rodgers Award for Lifetime Achievement in American Musical Theatre (ASCAP), and induction into the Songwriters Hall of Fame.
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