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(1886 - 1941)

Gus Kahn was born in Germany and came as a child to Chicago where he began his musical career writing for vaudeville. A prolific lyricist, Kahn was versatile and had a poet’s turn of phrase. Eddie Cantor and Al Jolson popularized many of his songs: “Pretty Baby” (1915), “Toot, Toot, Tootsie (Goodbye)” (1921), “Yes, Sir, That’s My Baby” (1925) and “Makin’ Whoopee”(1928), the last two written with Walter Donaldson. Kahn and Donaldson produced a string of hits, including the torch song associated with Ruth Etting, “Love Me or Leave Me”(1928), that became a movie of that title starring Doris Day as Etting (1955).

His association with Isham Jones was equally successful and produced “It Had to Be You” (1924) which Johnny Mercer called “the greatest popular song ever written.” It has appeared in over 40 films, including Casablanca, Annie Hall, and When Harry Met Sally. Another huge hit was “I’ll See You in My Dreams” (1924) which became the title of a 1951 movie biography of Kahn, played by Danny Thomas with Doris Day as his wife. Howard Alden dubbed the song on guitar for Sean Penn in 1999’s Sweet and Lowdown.

While some of his songs may seem dated, Kahn’s work still crosses musical boundaries. “Dream a Little Dream of Me” (1931), for instance, was introduced by the Wayne King orchestra, popularized by Kate Smith, picked up by Frankie Laine in 1950, recorded by both Louis Armstrong and the Mamas and Papas in 1968, and appeared on the soundtrack of Beautiful Thing (1996).

-- Sandra Burlingame

Courtesy of JazzStandards.com

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