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History | Lyrics | George M. Cohan

George M. Cohan

George Michael Cohan became the stuff theatrical legends are made of, so it shouldn't be surprising that he instigated a few of those legends -- including one surrounding his birth date.

Cohan's baptismal certificate (the only written record) verifies that he was born in Providence, Rhode Island on July 3rd, 1878. However, Cohan's family unfailingly insisted that George and his country shared birthdays on the 4th. Although noted for their honesty, the Cohans certainly would have found it hard to resist the publicity value of a performer being "born on the Fourth of July." While my guess is that the 3rd is his actual birth date, it seems silly to begrudge George a charming piece of his legend. Whatever his natal day, it marked the beginning of a remarkable life that spanned six vital decades of American show business history.

George was the second child of Jeremiah and Helen Costigan Cohan, better known as Jerry and Nellie. These New Englanders of Irish descent interrupted their endless tour of the variety circuit so Nellie could give birth in her hometown of Providence – just as she had done when her daughter Josephine was born two years before.

When the time came to get back to touring, Jerry and Nellie took the children along. Although George got little formal schooling, his later accomplishments prove that he developed a more than passing mastery of reading, writing and arithmetic. He certainly got a first-hand perspective on geography, spending his childhood traveling perpetually around the United States. Although George got his start as a performer playing the violin in theatre pit bands, his aim was to appear on stage. When he was eleven, he and Josie joined his parents in a full family song and dance act.

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