George M. Cohan’s Debut

180px-george-m-cohan-1.jpgIn time for Independence Day, it might be fitting to discuss George Cohan’s relation to Haverstraw, as he was so famously “Born on the Fourth of July!” Cohan travelled and performed with his parents and sister on a Vaudeville circuit that continually stopped at Haverstraw’s Waldron Opera House Theatre. Cohan would stay in Haverstraw for weeks on end practicing, writing and performing on stage for the local elite in Westchester and Rockland Counties. It was here, at the Haverstraw Waldron Opera House (once located on Broadway in the Village of Haverstraw, but lost by fire) in the spring of 1888 that he first performed Yankee Doodle Dandy, which would later go on to be one of his most famous songs in 1904 in his Broadway hit Little Johnny Jones. These plays became popular just as Cohan was becoming a teenager and as he was moving away from Vaudeville and into the spotlight in New York City. 

It is also believed that Cohan performed Your a Grand ‘Ole Flagin Haverstraw as a child, long before it became such an anchor in American Pop Culture and nationalism. These songs, “You’re A Grand Old Flag” and “Yankee Doodle Dandy,” are also believed to be written in Haverstraw previous to his debut performance at the Broadway Theatre. He also debuted as a violin soloist here. He was just turning 10 years old, a young virtuoso if you will.

Cohan went on to become the leading Broadway song writer and is often said to be the father of modern Broadway shows. He is responsible for:

“The Warmest Baby In The Bunch”, “Life’s A Funny Proposition After All”, “I Want to Hear a Yankee Doodle Tune”, “You Won’t Do Any Business If You Haven’t Got A Band”, “Mary’s a Grand Old Name”, “The Small Town Gal”, “I’m Mighty Glad I’m Living, That’s All”, “That Haunting Melody”, “Give My Regards To Broadway” and the very popular war song, “Over There”. His 1936 song “Johnny Q. Public of the U.S.A.” popularized a new nickname for the average citizen. An avid baseball fan, he also composed the official march of the St. Louis Cardinals…

Cohan also wrote and directed hundreds of plays and screenplays. He can most definitely be considered the leader of American entertainment. There is an 8-foot bronze statue of George M. Cohan standing at the corner of Broadway and 46th street. After Cohan died in 1942, Oscar Hammerstein II donated near $100,000.00 for this statue in honor of Cohan. The statue remains the only standing tribute to an actor in New York City. Read more about the history of George M. Cohan here.


2 thoughts on “George M. Cohan’s Debut

  1. There is a historic marker titled “Cohan’s Debut” at the empty lot where the theater once stood. It’s located near the center of Broadway…

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