Allan Sherman Biography

Allan Copelon, 30 November 1924, Chicago, Illinois, USA, d. 21 November 1973, Los Angeles, California, USA. Allan Sherman enjoyed a lucrative career during the 60s with his self-penned parodies of popular and folk songs. After his parents’ 1930 divorce, Sherman lived with his mother and attended 21 different schools in Chicago, Los Angeles, New York and Miami. After attending college in the early 40s and serving in the army, he began writing. One of his first works was a musical parody in which the Jewish Sherman starred himself as Adolf Hitler. In 1947 he began working in the fledgling television medium, writing jokes for variety programmes. He joined the popular US I’ve Got A Secret show in 1951, with which he stayed for seven years. Sherman then wrote for the Steve Allen programme but in 1960 found himself unemployed. His career took an upswing when he entertained guests at neighbour Harpo Marx’s party with witty send-ups of show tunes. Talent scout Bullets Durgom, who had nurtured the success of Jackie Gleason, took an interest and convinced Warner Brothers Records to sign Sherman. Originally the label wanted him to record his show tune parodies but decided on folk songs instead, as folk was the music of the moment. Sherman’s My Son, The Folk Singer, was issued in October 1962 and became the fastest-selling album in Warners’ history at that time. The rotund Sherman capitalized on Jewish suburban humour by turning folk songs such as Harry Belafonte’s ‘Matilda’ into ‘My Zelda’, and the folk song ‘The Streets Of Laredo’ into ‘The Streets Of Miami’. The French standard ‘Frere Jacques’ became ‘Sarah Jackman’ and the USA patriotic number ‘The Battle Hymn Of The Republic’ was turned into ‘The Ballad Of Harry Lewis’, the story of a garment salesman. The debut and the following two albums all reached number 1 in the US album charts, this record, for a comedian, is unlikely to be beaten. Sherman’s success was immediate, with numerous appearances on major USA television programmes and a headlining concert at Carnegie Hall. The formula of the first album was repeated on the subsequent My Son, The Celebrity and My Son, The Nut. The third album also produced a number 2 single, ‘Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh! (A Letter From Camp)’, based on Ponchielli’s ‘Dance Of The Hours’. By 1964 the phenomenal novelty had diminished although Sherman continued to record for Warner Brothers until 1967, hosted television specials, acted on the stage and even wrote humour books, but never regained that initial blast of fame. He died in Los Angeles, owing to respiratory illness caused by his obesity.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

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