If you haven’t watched the musical Yankee Doodle Dandy recently, there’s a good chance you don’t even know who George Cohan was. Among other things, he was an actor, composer, singer and producer. He is comparable to Irving Berlin, in that he wrote many familiar, catchy, and often patriotic songs; however, for some reason, he doesn’t seem to be as well-known.
In 1936, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt presented him with the Congressional Gold Medal for his contributions to WWI morale. In particular, he’s remembered for writing “You’re a Grand Old Flag” and “Over There.” Given that both of these songs are still sung today, I’d say that he was quite deserving of the medal!
The movie Yankee Doodle Dandy is actually a biographical musical about George Cohan’s life. It won several Academy Awards, and was nominated for many more. It has also been recognized by the American Film Institute as both one of the top 100 movies of all time and one of the top 100 musicals, as well as containing one the of the top 100 quotes, (“My mother thanks you. My father thanks you. My sister thanks you. And I thank you.”), and songs (“The Yankee Doodle Boy”).
Whenever you hear the songs “The Yankee Doodle Boy,” (more commonly known simply as “Yankee Doodle Dandy”), “You’re a Grand Old Flag,” or “Over There,” (as well as other familiar, although less patriotic songs, like “Give My Regards to Broadway”), think of their writer, George Cohan, and the contributions he made to American morale during the Great War, without ever going into battle himself. He’s a perfect example of embracing one’s vocation, and serving where best able to serve, a legacy which his children also embraced.
“Over there, over there,
Send the word, send the word over there
That the Yanks are coming, the Yanks are coming
The drums rum-tumming everywhere.
So prepare, say a prayer,
Send the word, send the word to beware –
We’ll be over, we’re coming over,
And we won’t come back till it’s over, over there.”