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Lesson for General Music class:

Students will learn about the life of George M. Cohan and sing one of his most famous songs.

Materials needed:

CD player and a recording of the musical George M! Sheet music for You’re A Grand Old Flag Student objectives: Students can define terms: vaudeville, musical comedy Students can recite the lyrics of You’re a Grand Old Flag Students can sing the melody of You’re a Grand Old Flag Background:
Born in Providence RI in 1878, George M. Cohan was the cocky, quick-witted personification of the American spirit at the turn of the century. He was also just about the most multi-talented man ever to hit Broadway, winning fame as an actor, composer, lyricist, librettist, director, and producer. He began his career as a vaudeville performer with his family, The Four Cohans. He wrote their songs and rehearsed their act, and his “My father thanks you, my mother thanks you, my sister thanks you, and I thank you” became a household phrase. But George wanted more – he wanted to star in musical comedy on the stages of the new emerging Broadway. He brought his family to New York and got started.

Cohan’s third musical show – Little Johnny Jones – became his first hit in 1904. Its plot concerned an American jockey who goes to London to ride his horse Yankee Doodle in the Derby. Accused of throwing the race, he discovers he was framed by an American gambler. He clears his name and celebrates with the memorable song, Give My Regards to Broadway.

In 1906, Cohan had his second hit – Forty-Five Minutes From Broadway – written for Broadway star Fay Templeton. Many more shows were to follow, but changes on Broadway and the advent of the actors union drove Cohan into retirement. In 1937, his former partner, Sam Harris, coaxed him back to play President Franklin Roosevelt in the satiric musical I’d Rather Be Right. It would be the only show he ever appeared in that he did not write himself.

Cohan died in 1942 and is most remembered for his songs, especially the ones written during the World War I era. Despite his brash exterior, Cohan was a very patriotic American. He was born on July 3, but liked to tell everyone that he was born on the Fourth of July.

A motion picture version of his life entitled Yankee Doodle Dandy starred Jimmy Cagney. The musical story of his life entitled George M! opened on Broadway in 1968 and played 427 performances with Joel Grey as Cohan.