George M. Cohan is universally known and referred to in the world of theatre as The Father of Broadway. He is best known for his compositional works and iconic stand-alone songs. Throughout his career he has been attributed with refining and creating modern musical theatre as we know it today. He played a major influential role during the pursuit of cleaning up Broadway and creating the entertainment mecca it is known as today. To honor his work, a bronze statue depicting Cohan was created by artist Georg John Lober and architect Otto Langman and placed in Duffy Square in Manhattan.
George M. Cohan was an American-born performer, playwright, composer, and producer. Cohan was born on July 3rd, 1878, and died on November 5th, 1942, at 64 years old. He was born to Irish-Catholic parents in Providence, Rhode Island. Though this was his place of birth, he did not stay put for very long. He spent the majority of his younger years traveling all parts of the country as a part of his families traveling vaudeville act. This was his earliest exposure to the world of the performing arts, that would lead to a lifelong career.
Due to his constant traveling in his youth, Cohan was quite familiar to the ins and outs of how the country worked on a social and political level. Cohan was a very smart man, so he was determined to find a way to profit off his passion for the arts. Cohan learned at a very young age that there are few things that America as a whole loved more than America. This was a very highly patriotic country, and many things were fueled and funded through profiting off of America's love for itself. Cohan's attempt at this was quite successful. Cohan was referred to by many as an Anthem Machine. He had a keen ability to write unifying songs through the use of patriotic themes and melodies. Throughout his career he pumped out these patriotic, foot-tapping tunes like clockwork. Not only were these songs featured in Cohan's countless Broadway musicals, they were often times adopted by groups of soldiers fighting overseas as a type of war-anthem. For example, Cohan wrote the tune Over There during the wake of World War I, and claimed it was inspired by the sound and feeling of a bugle call. This song became quickly popular, and was adopted by the boys overseas as a marching call. This was due to his smart use of patriotic language, and integration of familiar sounds that could be indirectly related to instruments used by these soldiers. This song fueled America's love for America, and through music provided a way to unify the country during turbulent times. Smart decisions like this are what lead to Cohan being such an entertainment powerhouse during this era and for years to come.
Despite the majority of Cohan's legacy being centered around his iconic compositional works such as You're a Grand Ol' Flag, Yankee Doodle Dandy, and Give My Regards to Broadway, Cohan was also a highly decorated performer. Cohan has been regarded as the premier musical comedy performer before 1925. Between his work as a performer, and composer, Cohan has had his hand in over 300 songs and 50 shows. This is huge because most modern composers and actors are known for at maximum 10 productions. Despite Cohan gracing the stage quite frequently, there are very few actual recordings of Cohan himself singing. Rumor has it that Cohan was not a huge fan of the sound of his own singing voice, so he stared clean of any recording studios whenever possible.
Due to his thumbprint on the creation of Broadway as we know it today being so wildly visible, it is nearly impossible not to wish to honor him in some sort of way. What better way than a bronze statue erected right in the heart of the place he worked so hard to mold and create. Thus, the George M. Cohan statue came to be.