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Al Hoffman and “Takes Two to Tango”

Hoffman

Al Hoffman (September 25, 1902 – July 21, 1960) was an American song composer, active as a hit songwriter in the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s, usually co-writing with others and responsible for number one hits through each decade, many of which are still sung and recorded today. Hoffman was born in Minsk, then part of Russia, now Belarus, to a Jewish family.   His parents moved to Seattle, Washington, in the United States when he was six. After graduating from high school in Seattle, he started his own band, playing the drums, moved to New York City in 1928 to pursue a music career, and got a job drumming in a nightclub. Though he continued playing the drums in night club bands and selling bagels door-to-door on Broadway, he began writing songs, collaborating with other songwriters such as Leon Carr, Leo Corday, Mann Curtis, Milton Drake, Walter Kent, Dick Manning, and Bob Merrill.

Hoffman’s first hit came quickly, with “I Don’t Mind Walkin’ in the Rain” (1930). He followed this up with a number of hits over the next few years, including “Heartaches” (1931), “Auf Wiedersehen, My Dear” (1932), and “I Saw Stars” (1934).  In 1934 Hoffman moved to London to work on stage productions and movies, co-writing the hit songs “She Shall Have Music” and “Everything Stops for Tea.” During this time, Hoffman worked with his chief collaborator since the early ’30s, Al Goodhart, and with Maurice Sigler.  He returned to the U.S. three years later.  Over the years, he also collaborated with Ed Nelson, Sammy Lerner, and Jerry Livingston. Hoffman also collaborated with Mack David on the score of Disney’s Cinderella, which includes such songs as “A Dream Is a Wish Your Heart Makes” and “Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo” (1949).

The popularity of Hoffman’s song, “Mairzy Doats”, co-written with Jerry Livingston and Milton Drake, was such that newspapers and magazines wrote about the craze. Time magazine titled one article “Our Mairzy Dotage.”  The New York Times simply wrote the headline, “That Song.”   Hoffman’s songs were recorded by singers such as Frank Sinatra (“Close To You”, “I’m Gonna Live Until I Die”), Billy Eckstine (“I Apologize”) Perry Como (“Papa Loves Mambo”, “Hot Diggity”), Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong (“Who Walks In When I Walk Out”), Nat “King” Cole, Tony Bennett, the Merry Macs, Sophie Tucker, Eartha Kitt, Patsy Cline, Patti Page (“Allegheny Moon”) and Bette Midler. In October, 2007, Hoffman’s “I’m Gonna Live Til I Die” was the lead single from Queen Latifah’s album, “Trav’lin’ Light”.

Though Hoffman had apparently little connection to Chicago, he wrote the Chicago Bears fight song “Bear Down, Chicago Bears” in 1941 under the pseudonym Jerry Downs.   Some of Hoffman’s other best-known songs include “I Apologize,” (1931), “Fit As a Fiddle” (1932), “Black Coffee” (1935), “I’m in a Dancing Mood” (1936), “On the Bumpy Road to Love” (1938), “Chi-Baba, Chi-Baba” (1947), “Takes Two to Tango,” (1952), and his final hit, 1959’s “La Plume de Ma Tante.”  He died on July 21, 1960, in New York City, NY, of prostate cancer, and was buried in New Jersey.  In 1984 he was posthumously inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame. He has over 1,500 songs registered with A.S.C.A.P.

The following work by Al Hoffman is contained in my collection:

Takes Two to Tango (1952)

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