New York, November 19, 2004. ASCAP Board Vice - Chairman Cy Coleman, one of the all-time great composers of Broadway musicals died last night in Manhattan at the age of 75, apparently of a heart attack. Coleman's numerous Broadway hits included Wildcat, Little Me, I Love My Wife, Sweet Charity, On the Twentieth Century, Barnum, City of Angels and Will Rogers Follies. Among Coleman's many standards are "If My Friends Could See Me Now," "Big Spender," "The Best Is Yet to Come," "Witchcraft," "Pass Me By," "Hey, Look Me Over," "Real Live Girl," "I've Got Your Number," and "The Colors of My Life." Over the years, Coleman collaborated with many great lyricists, including Dorothy Fields, Carolyn Leigh, Michael Stewart, David Zippel, A.E. Hotchner, Betty Comden & Adolph Green and, most recently, Alan and Marilyn Bergman.
Cy Coleman was born Seymour Kaufman on June 14, 1929 in the Bronx to East European Jewish immigrant parents in a decidedly non-musical family. His father was a carpenter and his mother owned apartment buildings. He once reminisced that his family came into possession of its first piano from a tenant who "skipped out on the rent" and left the instrument. Coleman became "obsessed" with the piano and was given lessons beginning at age four. He soon proved to be a prodigy and gave solo piano recitals at Steinway, Town and Carnegie Halls. His first piano teacher was Constance Tallarico, grandmother of Aerosmith singer Steven Tyler. He later attended the High School of Music and Art. After graduating, he opted to work as a pianist in clubs, becoming as he recalled, "High Society's darling." He soon turned his attention to jazz, leading a trio, which became a successful club attraction and recording act. Early composing efforts for Coleman included writing piano preludes in the style of George Gershwin. His first lyric-writing partner was Joseph A. McCarthy, with whom he wrote "Why Try to Change Me Now," recorded by Frank Sinatra in 1952. Upon teaming with Carolyn Leigh and scoring a major hit for Sinatra with "Witchcraft" in 1958, Coleman turned his full attention to writing.
Leigh and Coleman became a Broadway team with Wildcat, starring Lucille Ball in 1960. The show ran for six months and featured "Hey, Look Me Over." 1962 brought another Broadway collaboration with Little Me, starring Sid Caesar. That show included "Real Live Girl" and "I've Got Your Number." Coleman's next Broadway venture was Sweet Charity, this time in collaboration with veteran lyricist Dorothy Fields. Gwen Verdon starred in this musical takeoff of the Fellini film, Nights of Cabiria and it became a major success, yielding the standards, "Big Spender" and "If My Friends Could See Me Now." The show was later made into a film, starring Shirley MacLaine. Subsequent Coleman musicals featured collaborations with different lyricists, ranging from Betty Comden & Adolph Green (1978's On the Twentieth Century and 1991's Will Rogers Follies) to Michael Stewart (1977's I Love My Wife and 1980's Barnum) and David Zippel (1990's City of Angels). Coleman received Tony Best Score honors for On the Twentieth Century, City of Angels, and Will Rogers Follies.
Coleman film scores include Father Goose, The Art of Love, Garbo Talks and Family Business. In addition, he scored Shirley MacLaine's memorable television specials, If My Friends Could See Me Now and Gypsy in My Soul. Coleman was the recipient of numerous honors, including induction into the Songwriters Hall of Fame, the Songwriters Hall of Fame Johnny Mercer Lifetime Achievement Award, and The ASCAP Foundation Richard Rodgers Award, among many others.
Commenting on the passing of Coleman, ASCAP President & Chairman Marilyn Bergman said, "Cy's intellect and integrity, coupled with his warmth and humor, made him a vital and effective presence on the ASCAP Board of Directors for 38 consecutive years, more than half of his life. He was dedicated to ASCAP, even as he pursued a world-class career as a composer. On a personal note, he was a great friend and great collaborator. Over the last year, Cy, Alan and I wrote the score for a new musical "Like Jazz" which is planned for Broadway in 2005. To work with him was to watch a creator in total command of his art. We will miss him – his voice, his friendship, his music."
Coleman joined ASCAP as a songwriter member in 1953 and was elected to the ASCAP Board of Directors in October 1966. He was very active in ASCAP and music industry affairs, frequently traveling to Washington in support of copyright holders' rights. He is survived by his wife, Shelby and their daughter, Lily Cy, of Manhattan.
2004 marks the 90th anniversary of the founding of ASCAP. As the world's largest Performing Rights Organization, ASCAP has nearly 200,000 composer, lyricist and music publisher members representing all genres of music. ASCAP is committed to protecting the rights of its members by licensing and collecting royalties for the public performance of their copyrighted works, and then distributing these fees to the Society's members based on performances. ASCAP's Board of Directors is made up solely of writers and publishers, elected by the membership every two years.