Remembering Ervin Drake

The Songwriters Hall of Fame is mourning the loss of one of our founding members, legendary songwriter and esteemed inductee, Ervin Drake.

“Ervin was one of the first songwriters to come on board at the Songwriters Hall of Fame after the organization was created by Johnny Mercer, Howie Richmond and Abe Olman in 1969,” said SHOF President/CEO Linda Moran. “Besides being a successful songwriter, he was very witty, known as a dapper dresser and a true gentleman.  Approaching his 96th birthday in April, he and his bride, the love of his life, Edith, could be seen out on the town several nights a week at clubs and gatherings performing his songs (“It Was A Very Good Year,” “I Believe,” “Good Morning Heartache,” etc.); songs that are still being recorded and performed by contemporary artists. We should all enjoy and live life to its fullest as Erv did in his later years. He will be missed.”

He was born Ervin Maurice Druckman in New York City on April 3, 1919. He attended Townsend Harris Hall, and then the City College of New York, where studied social sciences and graphic arts and received a BSS. In college, he edited a college magazine Mercury, and wrote varsity shows. Later, in 1963, he studied music formally at the Juilliard School of Music.

His first success came in 1942 when he wrote the English lyric to “Tico-Tico,” a popular Brazilian instrumental by Zequinha Abreu. In 1944 he wrote words to Juan Tizol’s instrumental “Perdido.” He had a major hit in 1945 writing both words and music for “The Rickety Rickshaw Man”, which sold over a million copies.

“I Believe,” a religious song written in 1953 with Irvin Graham, Jimmy Shirl, and Al Stillman, was a huge hit, totaling some 20 million copies in its various recordings.

Other successful songs included “A Room Without Windows” (words and music), which was recorded by Steve Lawrence; “Across The Wide Missouri” (with Jimmy Shirl); “Castle Rock” (lyric, with Al Sears and Jimmy Shirl); “Quando Quando Quando” (English language lyric to an Italian song by Elio Cesari and Alberto Testa); and “Father Of The Girls”, which was a success for Perry Como in 1968.

Other collaborators included Johnny Hodges, Ernesto Lecuona, Max Steiner, Paul Misraki, Robert Stolz, A. Donida, and Tony Renis.

One of his two best known songs was 1946’s “Good Morning Heartache” (for which he wrote the lyric, with Irene Higginbotham and Dan Fisher), which was unforgettably recorded by Billie Holliday. The genesis of “Good Morning, Heartache” is rooted in a legendary personal love story. At that time, Ervin was dating a Broadway chorus girl named Edith, who subsequently broke his young heart, providing inspiration for what would become one of the most important songs of that era. Ervin and Edith each went on to marry others and have families, not speaking for many years. Then, in the mid-seventies after they were both widowed, and by coincidence, they saw each other’s names in the paper. After a proper period of time Edith called Ervin. She said, “Ervin, you might not remember me.” Ervin immediately said, “Edith, where have you been all my life?” Soon thereafter they were married, and remained so until present day.

His other best known song was 1961’s “It Was A Very Good Year”, for which he wrote both words and music, and which was a surprise hit for Frank Sinatra in 1965.

Between 1948 and 1962, he worked primarily in television, where he wrote, composed, and produced some 700 prime time network programs. His series included Sing It Again, Songs for Sale, The Jane Froman Show, The Frankie Laine Show, The Mel Torme/Teresa Brewer Show, and The Merv Griffin/Betty Ann Grove Show. He also produced the Timex Comedy Hour. In addition, he was writer and producer of some 40 specials for such stars as Ethel Merman, Gower Champion, Mike Nichols, Elaine May, Julie Andrews, Ginger Rogers, Margeret Truman, Eddie Cantor, Nat “King” Cole, Johnny Mathis, Paul Anka, Yves Montand, Polly Bergen, Gene Autry, Jayne Mansfield, Tony Bennet, Perry Como, Arthur Godfrey, and Gene Kelly. He won a Sylvania Award in 1957 as composer, lyricist, and co-producer of NBC’s The Bachelor.

For Broadway, he wrote lyrics and music for What Makes Sammy Run? and for Her First Roman (for which he also wrote the book, based on a play by George Bernard Shaw).

From 1973 to 1982, he was President of the American Guild of Authors and Composers, and as such he was a leader of the successful campaign for the passage of the US Copyright Law of 1976.

Ervin passed away today at the age of 95, and is survived by his ever-loving wife Edith, and his children, Linda Bovina, Betsy Rodriquez and Jed Berman.

In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Lustgarten Foundation, fighting pancreatic cancer:

Read a tribute to Ervin by Jim Bessman here: