Wrote "Santa Claus Is Coming To Town" on the subway
Collaborated with leading songwriters and artists of 1920s and 30s
Haven Gillespie, one of the great Tin Pan Alley writers, is the composer and lyricist of the timeless classics “You Go To My Head,” “Honey,” “By the Sycamore Tree” and “Santa Claus is Coming to Town.”
"Santa Claus is Comin' to Town" is one of the most popular Christmas songs ever written. But Gillespie was never enthusiastic about it. According to "Drifting and Dreaming: The Story of Songwriter Haven Gillespie," written by Gillespie's nephew William Frist, in 1934, Gillespie went to Manhattan to meet with his publisher immediately after attending his brother Irwin's funeral. He is said to have not been enthusiastic about writing a children's Christmas song when his publisher approached him in 1934.
His publisher, Leo Feist, Inc., was adamant Gillespie write a children's Christmas song because Gillespie had a "good vocabulary" for children's songs. He left the office and 15 minutes later on the subway train, Gillespie wrote the lyrics to “ Santa.” With music by J. Fred Coots, the song debuted on the "Eddie Cantor Thanksgiving Show" and became an overnight hit, with sales reaching 25,000 copies a day. Gillespie, though, was never thrilled about the song's success because it always reminded him of his brother's death.
Gillespie left high school at the age of 16 to work in the print trade, Gillespie worked as a typesetter at the Cincinnati Times Star newspaper. In his early 20’s, he moved to New York City and found work as a journalist at the New York Times and other newspapers. He started working as a song plugger on Tin Pan Alley while writing lyrics for vaudeville acts. In 1911, Gillespie had his first published song and a contract with Leo Feist, Inc.
Other than Coots, Gillespie colloabroated with Henry Marshall, Harry Tobias, Charles Tobias, Neil Moret, Peter De Rose, Egbert Van Alsyne, Victor Young, Jack Little, Richard Whiting, Peter Wendling, Seymour Simons, Byron Gay, Rudy Vallee, Larry Shay and Lee David.
For the past 60 years, Gillespie’s songs have been recorded by the greatest singers of their time, including Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra, Michael Jackson, Louis Armstrong, Sarah Vaughn, Margaret Whiting, Bruce Springsteen, and George Straight.
Haven Gillespie died in 1975 in Las Vegas, NV.