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Carl Sigman was a pianist, composer and lyricist who wrote an amazing number of songs which were performed by artists as diverse as Kenny Drew, Mel Torme, Dottie West, Joni Mitchell, and Jerry Lee Lewis. Sigman completed law school, but his heart was in music. His friend Johnny Mercer, with whom he wrote “Just Remember” (1936), encouraged him to focus on writing lyrics.
Sigman wrote the lyric for Glenn Miller’s hit, “Pennsylvania 6-5000,” in 1940, the same year Frank Sinatra and Tommy Dorsey recorded “Love Lies” (written with Ralph Freed and Joseph Meyer). During service in WWII, from which Sigman emerged a hero, he wrote the official song for the 82nd Airborne.
Sigman returned home to a string of hits. “(Dance) Ballerina (Dance),” written with Bob Russell, went to number one for Vaughn Monroe in 1947 and was later revisited by Nat “King” Cole. “Civilization (Bongo, Bongo, Bongo),” written with Bob Hilliard for the Broadway show Angel in the Wings, propelled Elaine Stritch to stardom. In 1950 Guy Lombardo had a hit with “Enjoy Yourself (It’s Later Than You Think)” (written with Herb Magidson), and Guy Mitchell took “My Heart Cries for You,” written with Percy Faith, to the charts. In 1951 Sigman added lyrics to a classical piece written by Charles G. Dawes, and it became “It’s All in the Game,” which made the charts several times over the next 30 years. Robert Maxwell’s “Ebb Tide,” a popular instrumental, was recorded by everyone from Sinatra to the Righteous Brothers once Sigman added lyrics. In 1953 “Dream Along with Me,” with Sigman’s music and lyrics, became Perry Como’s TV theme. Sigman wrote the English lyric for “Arrivederci, Roma” and the lyric for Francis Lai’s theme to 1970’s Love Story, “Where Do I Begin.”
Many of Sigman’s tunes rate high with jazz musicians. “All Too Soon,” a collaboration with Duke Ellington, was recorded by Mildred Bailey in 1941. Tadd Dameron’s “If You Could See Me Now” with Sigman’s lyric was a hit for Sarah Vaughan in 1946 and is still among the top 200 jazz standards. Billie Holiday introduced the Sigman/Russell tune “Crazy He Calls Me” in 1949. “I Could Have Told You,” written with Jimmy Van Heusen, was a hit for Sinatra in 1953. Sigman also wrote the English lyric for Luis Bonfa’s “Manha de Carnival” which became “A Day in the Life of a Fool.”
Sigman’s son Michael has compiled a 3-CD set of his father’s music selected from some 800 songs that cut across musical genres, testament to Sigman’s status as a great American songwriter.
- Sandra Burlingame
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