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J. Fred Coots and Santa Claus is Coming to Town

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John Frederick (J. Fred) Coots (May 2, 1897 – April 8, 1985) was an American pop songwriter who was responsible for many hits of the late ’20s and ’30s, composing over 700 popular songs and over a dozen Broadway shows. Born on May 2, 1897, in Brooklyn, NY, he began work with Farmers’ Loan & Trust Co. in New York in 1914 at age 17.  In 1916, his first hit song, “Mr. Ford You’ve Got the Right Idea” with words by Ray Sherwood, was published.  In 1919, actor-producer Eddie Dowling gave Coots his first chance at writing a musical score for Friars’ Frolics.   In 1922, Dowling commissioned Coots to write the songs for Sally, Irene and Mary, a show which ran for two years on Broadway.  The songwriter got his first break with 1928’s “Doin’ the Raccoon,” and he moved to Hollywood, California, in 1929.

Hal Kemp & His Orchestra recorded Coots’s song “I Still Get a Thrill Thinking of You” in 1930; this was a song that Dinah Shore would cover 20 years later. Coots then collaborated with Nick and Charles Kenny to write “Love Letters in the Sand,” which did well in 1931 and was revived by Pat Boone’s 1957 cover, as well as his performance of it in the movie Bernardine. Three years after penning “Love Letters in the Sand,” Coots wrote “For All We Know” with lyricist Sam M. Lewis.  In 1934, Coots wrote the melody with his then chief collaborator, lyricist Haven Gillespie, for the biggest hit for them both “Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town.”   When Gillespie brought him the lyrics to “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town,” Coots came up with the skeleton of the music in just ten minutes. Coots took the song to his publisher, Leo Feist Inc., who liked it but thought it was “a kids’ song” and didn’t expect too much from it.

Coots offered the song to Eddie Cantor who used it on his radio show that November and it became an instant hit. The morning after the radio show there were orders for 100,000 copies of sheet music and by Christmas sales had passed 400,000.  The song became one of the biggest sellers in American history.  “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town” went on to be recorded by Bing Crosby, the Andrews Sisters, Ozzie Nelson, and Tommy Dorsey.  Coots and Gillespie teamed up again to write the successful follow-ups “A Beautiful Lady in Blue” (1935) and “You Go to My Head” (1938). Originally sung by Bea Wain with Larry Clinton, “A Beautiful Lady in Blue” also went on to be recorded by many artists.  In 1940, Coots wrote “The Rangers’ Victory Song.”  In the following decades, his songs were periodically revived by the likes of Dinah Shore, Frank Sinatra, Doris Day, and more.  Coots died in New York City, NY, age 87, on April 8, 1985.

My collection includes the following work by J. Fred Coots:

Santa Claus is Coming to Town.

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