George M. Cohan's Music Gets a Fresh Spotlight on New CD, "You're a Grand Old Rag"

News   George M. Cohan's Music Gets a Fresh Spotlight on New CD, "You're a Grand Old Rag"
New World Records, the label cherished by fans of vintage, lesser-known musical scores, has gone back in time to create a new studio recording of songs by George M. Cohan, one of the foundations of American musical theatre.
Cover art for
Cover art for "You're a Grand Old Rag"

"You're a Grand Old Rag: The Music of George M. Cohan," featuring The Paragon Ragtime Orchestra, directed by Rick Benjamin (who conceived the album), was released Nov. 10. Its goal is to offer a fresh listen to Cohan the composer with world premiere recordings of original period orchestrations.

Tenor Colin Pritchard (speak-singing in the style of actor Cohan, on some tracks) and soprano Bernadette Boerckel perform songs on the disc.

According to New World notes, "Historians have long viewed George M. Cohan (1878–1942) as one of the most important figures in the evolution of the American musical theatre. 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."

The 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 tracks (running about 66 minutes) include 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 40-page booklet with history, analysis, photos, "and newly surfaced first-hand accounts by Cohan's orchestrator and conductor, Mayhew Lake."

Judith Sherman produced and engineered "You're a Grand Old Rag."

New World Records' past releases include studio recordings of Cole Porter's Fifty Million Frenchmen and Jerome Kern and P.G. Wodehouse's Sitting Pretty.

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At the southern tip of Duffy Square (where the TKTS booth resides, in Times Square) stands a statue of George M. Cohan, facing south toward 42nd Street. Engraved on its pedestal are the names of his most famous songs, including "Give My Regards to Broadway."

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