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Ervin Drake, Composer of Pop Songs, Dies at 95 – NYTimes.com

Ervin Drake, Composer of Pop Songs, Dies at 95 – NYTimes.com


Ervin Drake, Composer of Pop Songs, Dies at 95


Ervin Drake at his home in Great Neck, N.Y., in 2001. He wrote his first big hits in the 1940s, including one for Billie Holiday. Credit Maxine Hicks 

Ervin Drake’s “Now That I Have Everything” debuted the same day he was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1983, a fitting coda for a career that was punctuated by hit versions of his songs, like Frank Sinatra’s “It Was a Very Good Year,” Billie Holiday’s “Good Morning Heartache” and the inspirational “I Believe,” sung by Frankie Laine.

Mr. Drake, who wrote lyrics and music, produced television programs and was president of the American Guild of Authors and Composers, died on Thursday at 95 at his home in Great Neck, N.Y. The cause was complications of bladder cancer, said his stepson, Jed Berman.

Ervin Maurice Druckman was born in Manhattan on April 3, 1919; graduated from Townsend Harris High School in Manhattan (it is now in Queens) in 1935; and received a bachelor’s degree from City College. He later studied at the Juilliard School of Music.

But before embarking on a songwriting career, he made a brief detour into home-furnishings sales.

“My father said to me that he did not want to aid and abet me on the road to hell, and he insisted I come into his business,” Mr. Drake once recalled. “I was in that business for 14 months, and then some songs I had sold to a publisher suddenly yielded the magnificent sum of $300, and in 1941, $300 was all the money in the world. That was my declaration of independence. I left the furniture business. I had a feeling I never would have been in the furniture man’s hall of fame.”

Writing English lyrics for Spanish melodies, Mr. Drake scored his first big hits in the 1940s with “Tico-Tico” and “The Rickety Rickshaw Man,” which sold more than a million copies.

He later collaborated with Irene Higginbotham on the lyrics for “Good Morning Heartache,” which Miss Holiday recorded in 1946. (She was said to have called it one of her favorite songs.) It was later recorded by a host of singers, including Ella Fitzgerald, Diana Ross and Alicia Keys.

“I Believe” was commissioned by Jane Froman, the singer and actress, as an antidote to angst over the Korean War. Described as the first hit song introduced on television, it was a huge hit for Mr. Laine in 1953 and has been recorded by dozens of others, including Elvis Presley, Perry Como and Patti LaBelle. (Mr. Drake shares songwriting credit with Irvin Graham, Jimmy Shirl and Al Stillman.)

Mr. Drake wrote the words and music for the wistful “It Was a Very Good Year” in 1961 for Bob Shane of the Kingston Trio. Mr. Sinatra heard it on his car radio driving to Palm Springs, Calif., and his recording of it on a comeback album in 1966 hit the Top 10.

The Sinatra version has remained a staple on radio and sometimes on television. As the soundtrack to an extended film montage, it opened the second season of the HBO series “The Sopranos” in 2000.

A meditation on the stages of a man’s life — at 17, 21, 35 and the “autumn” years (Mr. Sinatra was 50 or so when he recorded it) — the song begins:

When I was 17, it was a very good year

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It was a very good year for small-town girls

And soft summer nights

We’d hide from the lights on the village green

When I was 17

A nimble lyricist, Mr. Drake also wrote for television and for Broadway shows, including “What Makes Sammy Run?,” and his music endured in film scores, including those of Woody Allen’s “Radio Days” and Spike Lee’s “Jungle Fever.”

His other songs include “Across the Wide Missouri,” “A Room Without Windows,” “Castle Rock” and “Father of the Girls.” Among the other stars who recorded his lyrics were the Andrews Sisters, Tony Bennett, Duke Ellington, Barbra Streisand and Sarah Vaughan.

In 1947, Mr. Drake married Ada Sax, who died in 1975. In addition to his stepson, Mr. Berman, he is survived by his wife, the former Edith Bein, known as Edith Bermaine, whom he married in 1981; two stepdaughters, Linda Bovina and Betsy Drake Rodriques; six grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.

Correction: January 21, 2015 

Because of an editing error, an obituary on Saturday about the songwriter Ervin Drake misstated the name of the high school he attended and misidentified the borough in which it was located. It is Townsend Harris High School, not Townsend Harris Hall, and it was in Manhattan at the time, not in Queens, its current location.



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