Saturday, July 7, 2018

Mort Shuman (1938 – 1991)

Mort Shuman was born in 1938, in Brooklyn, New York City, the son of Polish Jewish immigrants. He attended Abraham Lincoln High School where he became a fan of R&B music. Mort inherited his parents’ passion for art and music and because he identified with the city’s black community he moved to Harlem to live. While at college played piano blues in Greenwich Village bars and there he met singer, Doc Pomus (fifteen years his senior). Despite their age difference they became good friends. Shuman studied philosophy at the New York City College before dropping out after a year then switched academic paths to study music at the New York Conservatory.

Shuman and Pomus went on to form a sognwriting partnership in 1957, with Alton Records in the Brill Building in New York. At first, they were allocated a small office with an upright piano and ashtray, but that was more than enough for them to start writing a string of popular songs with Pomus scribing the lyrics and Shuman the melody. The pair were soon signed up with Hill and Range Songs, a music publisher that had already established a working relationship with Elvis Presley. From 1958 through the mid-'60s, Pomus and Shuman authored 500 pop song hits including, "A Mess of Blues," (Elvis Presley), "A Teenager in Love" (Dion and the Belmonts) and “Save the Last Dance for Me," (The Drifters) among many others. Many of their songs went on to become timeless classics. Their songs sold more than 30 million records.

By the mid-1960s, the Pomus/Shuman partnership had run its course and the songwriters went their separate ways. Now resident in England he co-wrote a series of hits for some British acts, including: Billy J Kramer ("Little Children") in 1964, ( J. Leslie McFarland and Mort Shuman ); "Here I Go Again" for The Hollies in 1964 (Clive Westlake, Mort Shuman ): and "Sha La La La Lee" for the Small Faces (Kenny Lynch and Mort Shuman ) in 1967.

After holidaying in France in 1966, he heard Jacques Brel and became transfixed at the Belgian singer/songwriter’s brilliance, Shuman with Eric Blau began to translate a number of his songs. In 1969, Shuman released his first album as an artist in his own right, My Death. The title track had been co-written by Jacques Brel and Mort Shuman and was originally titled ‘La Mort.’ Many of Shuman’s songs had already been translated into French and were performed by French artists including Frank Alamo and Johnny Halliday.

In 1966, during a visit to Paris, Mort Shuman discovered one of Belgium’s great poet-singers, Jacques Brel and instantly recognised his genius. On his return to America, he and Milton Blau the translated lyrics from 30 songs and put them together, ‘Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris’ which became an off-Broadway musical in 1968. The show became one of the three longest-running off-Broadway musicals in history. In 1974, the musical was turned into a film.

The translated lyrics and other Brel/Shuman compositions were readily recorded by many artists including Scott Walker, David Bowie, Alex Harvey, Dionne Warwick and many, many more.

In 1971, Mort moved to live in Paris and started a new career as a recording artist. Throughout the decade, he established himself as a popular performer and songwriter with six gold albums and countless French-language hit singles to his credit.

He continued songwriting and is credited with 15 film scores including: A Day at the Beach (1970), Romance of a Horsethief (1971), Black Thursday (1974), À nous les petites Anglaises (1976), Sex O’Clock USA (1976) Monsieur Papa (1977) and The More It Goes, the Less It Goes (1977).

Mort also appeared as an actor in several films.

In 1977, he co-wrote the autobiographical My Name is Mortimer (1977) with his first French wife Elisabeth Moreau.

Despite the previous success of the 70s, his musical dedicated to the love of Paris entitled, Ma Ville was released as an album in 1983 but the planned musical failed to attract support and backing, and was never performed live.

After 15 years of unbroken success in France, Mort Shuman moved to London to pursue his English language songwriting and recording career. Unfortunately, the ambitious musical based on the successful TV series Budgie from the book by Keith Waterhouse & Willis Hall had a limited run outside London. Written in collaboration with lyrist Don Black, the musical featured Adam Faith and Anita Dobson.

He continued to write songs, including hits for Johnny Hallyday in France. Sadly, Shuman was unable to complete the score for a stage musical, "Save the Last Dance for Me," which was to be launched on London's West End. Mort Shuman died of cancer in 1991.

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