Cy Coleman

Cy Coleman
Cy Coleman
Background information
Birth name Seymour Kaufman
Born June 14, 1929(1929-06-14)
New York City, New York
Died November 18, 2004(2004-11-18) (aged 75)
Genres Jazz, pop
Occupations songwriter, composer, jazz pianist

Cy Coleman (June 14, 1929 - November 18, 2004) was an American composer, songwriter, and jazz pianist.


Life and career

He was born Seymour Kaufman on June 14, 1929, in New York City to Eastern European Jewish parents, and was raised in the Bronx. His mother, Ida (née Prizent) was an apartment landlady and his father was a brickmason.[1] He was a child prodigy who gave piano recitals at Steinway Hall, Town Hall, and Carnegie Hall between the ages of six and nine.[2] Before beginning his fabled Broadway career, he led the Cy Coleman Trio, which made many recordings and was a much-in-demand club attraction.

Despite the early classical and jazz success, he decided to build a career in popular music. His first collaborator was Joseph Allen McCarthy, but his most successful early partnership, albeit a turbulent one, was with Carolyn Leigh. The pair wrote many pop hits, including "Witchcraft" and "The Best Is Yet To Come." One of his instrumentals, "Playboy's Theme," became the signature music of the regular TV shows and specials presented by Playboy, and remains synonymous with the magazine and its creator, Hugh Hefner.

Coleman's career as a Broadway composer began when he and Leigh collaborated on Wildcat (1960), which marked the Broadway debut of comedienne Lucille Ball. The score included the hit tune "Hey Look Me Over," which was later adapted into one of LSU's school songs, "Hey, Fightin' Tigers." When Ball became ill, she left the show, and it closed. Next for the two was Little Me, with a book by Neil Simon based on the novel of the same name by Patrick Dennis. The show introduced "Real Live Girl" and "Little Me," which became popular standards.

In 1964, Coleman met Dorothy Fields at a party, and when he asked if she would like to collaborate with him, she is reported to have answered, "thank God somebody asked."[3] Fields was revitalised by working with the much younger Coleman, and by the contemporary nature of their first project, which was Sweet Charity, again with a book by Simon, starring Gwen Verdon, and introducing the songs If My Friends Could See Me Now, I'm a Brass Band and Hey, Big Spender. The show was a major success and Coleman found working with Fields much easier than with Leigh. The partnership was to work on two more shows – an aborted project about Eleanor Roosevelt, and Seesaw which reached Broadway in 1973 after a troubled out-of-town tour. Despite mixed reviews, the show enjoyed a healthy run. The partnership was cut short by Fields' death in 1974.

Coleman remained prolific in the late 1970s. He collaborated on I Love My Wife (1977) with Michael Stewart, On The Twentieth Century (1978) with Betty Comden and Adolph Green, and Home Again, Home Again with Barbara Fried, although the latter never reached Broadway.

In 1980, Coleman served as producer and composer for the circus-themed Barnum, which co-starred 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. 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 more new Coleman musicals to Broadway: The Will Rogers Follies (1991), again with Comden and Green, The Life (1997), a gritty look at pimps, prostitutes, and assorted other lowlife in the big city, with Ira Gasman, and a revised production of Little Me.

Coleman's film scores include Father Goose, The Art of Love, Garbo Talks, Power, and Family Business.[4] In addition, he wrote memorable television specials for Shirley MacLaine, If My Friends Could See Me Now and Gypsy in My Soul.[5] Coleman has been the only composer to win consecutive Tony awards for Best Score at the same time that the corresponding musicals won for Best Musical: City of Angels and Will Rogers' Follies. Coleman was on the ASCAP Board of Directors for many years and also served as their Vice Chairman Writer.[6]


He died of cardiac arrest on November 18, 2004 at the age of 75. He is survived by his wife, Shelby Coleman and their adopted daughter, Lily Cye Coleman (born in 2000). To the very end, he was part of the Broadway scene - just prior to passing away, he had attended the premiere of Michael Frayn's new play Democracy.[2] One final musical with a Coleman score played in Los Angeles in 2004 under the title Like Jazz, presumably as a Broadway tryout.

Awards, nominations and honors

Awards and nominations
  • 1997 Tony Award Best Book of a Musical The Life (nominee)
  • 1997 Tony Award Best Musical The Life (nominee)
  • 1997 Tony Award Best Original Score The Life (nominee)
  • 1991 Tony Award Best Musical The Will Rogers Follies (winner)
  • 1991 Tony Award Best Original Score The Will Rogers Follies (winner)
  • 1990 Tony Award Best Musical City of Angels (winner)
  • 1990 Tony Award Best Original Score City of Angels (winner)
  • 1980 Tony Award Best Musical Barnum (nominee)
  • 1980 Tony Award Best Original Score Barnum (nominee)
  • 1978 Tony Award Best Musical On the Twentieth Century (nominee)
  • 1978 Tony Award Best Original Score On the Twentieth Century (winner)
  • 1977 Tony Award Best Musical I Love My Wife (nominee)
  • 1977 Tony Award Best Original Score I Love My Wife (nominee)
  • 1974 Tony Award Best Musical Seesaw (nominee)
  • 1974 Tony Award Best Original Score Seesaw (nominee)
  • 1966 Tony Award Best Composer and Lyricist Sweet Charity (nominee)
  • 1966 Tony Award Best Musical Sweet Charity (nominee)
  • 1963 Tony Award Best Composer and Lyricist Little Me (nominee)
  • 1963 Tony Award Best Musical Little Me (nominee)

He also won three Emmy Awards [7] and two Grammy Awards.


Among his many honors and awards, he was elected to the Songwriter's Hall of Fame (1981), and was the recipient of the Songwriter's Hall of Fame Johnny Mercer Award (1995)[8] and the ASCAP Foundation Richard Rodgers Award for lifetime achievement in American musical theatre.[5] He was elected to the American Theatre Hall of Fame[9] and received an Honorary Doctorate from Hofstra University in 2000.[10]


  1. ^ Berkvist, Robert."Cy Coleman, Composer Whose Jazz-Fired Musicals Blazed on Broadway, Dies at 75",The New York Times, November 20, 2004
  2. ^ a b Jones, Kenneth."Cy Coleman, a Master of the Show Tune, Is Dead at 75",, November 19, 2004
  3. ^ Furia, Phillip and Lasser, Michael, America's Songs:The Stories Behind the Songs of Broadway, Hollywood, and Tin Pan Alley (2006), CRC Press, ISBN 0-415-97246-9, p. 287
  4. ^ PBS biography, accessed March 30, 2009
  5. ^ a b Biography, accessed March 30, 2009
  6. ^ ASCAP listing, accessed March 30, 2009
  7. ^ Awards listing at Internet Movie Database accessed March 30, 2009
  8. ^ Song Writers Hall of Fame Mercer Award, 1995, accessed March 30, 2009
  9. ^ List of members, American Theater Hall of Fame, accessed March 30, 2009
  10. ^ Hofstra University: Speakers for Commencement 2000,, May 10, 2000

External links

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