Providence Gives Regards to Cohan

Robert Shure's bust of George M. Cohan in Providence, RI. Courtesy of Sy Dill.
Robert Shure's bust of George M. Cohan in Providence, RI. Courtesy of Sy Dill.

By Sheila Langan, Deputy Editor
December / January 2012

George M. Cohan will always be remembered on Broadway. A statue of the late composer and performer, who penned such influential songs as “Over There,” “You’re a Grand Old Flag” and “Yankee Doodle Dandy,” stands proudly in Times Square, saluting all those who pass by.

But long before Cohan was a star of the stage and screen, he was a son of Providence, RI. Cohan was born there on July 3 (though the legend that it was July 4 persists) and was raised by his Irish immigrant family in a cold-water flat at 536 Wickendon Street, in the Fox Point neighborhood. He got his start performing in the family vaudeville act, and then went on to conquer Broadway and define American patriotism through song. Though the family had changed their name to Cohan from the Irish Keohane, Cohan frequently paid tribute to his Irish roots, with such hit songs as “H-A-Double R-I-G-A-N (Spells Harrigan)” and shows like The Merry Malones and Little Nelly Kelly.

When he learned that Cohan had been born in Providence, Sy Dill, a New Yorker who moved to Providence in 2003, was astounded that the city had no real memorial to Cohan. Dill, who is now 80, decided to change this by founding the George M. Cohan Committee of Providence, RI and set out to have a proper statue erected in Cohan’s honor.

After receiving the OK from the city, he approached Massachusetts-based sculptor Robert Shure, who, appropriately, had designed Providence’s Irish Famine Memorial a few years prior.

Unveiled in the summer of 2009, Shure’s bust of Cohan is a livelier counterpart to the more staid statue of him in New York. The bronze Cohan, located at the intersection of Governor and Wickendon Streets, raises his hat in a dapper manner, as though he is about to take a bow.

To further the legacy of Cohan within Providence and to draw much needed support, the committee created an annual George M. Cohan Award for Excellence in Art & Culture. The inaugural 2009 recipient was Curt Columbus, the Artistic Director of Providence’s Trinity Repertory Company. The 2010 recipient was Michael Fink, Professor of English at the Rhode Island School of Design.

Dill and the Committee also hope that the city of Providence will benefit from some Cohan-related tourism and interest. Said Dill, “Cohan represented America, but he was born here in Providence. You can’t deny the importance of that.”

One Response to “Providence Gives Regards to Cohan”

  1. Tomás Tuipéar says:

    Dear friends,
    A friend of mine in Boston sent me your article on George M. Cohan (Keohane). I have spent some time researching his roots which are in Clonakilty, West Cork but have failed so far to locate the exact street or townland where the family came from. There are many Keohane families still in West Cork and it will be a great day in Clonakilty when we eventually unveil a plaque to our famous Irish American.
    Good wishes,
    Tomás Tuipéar

Leave a Reply




Share



More Articles

Irish musician Hozier (left) performs with Annie Lennox at the 2015 Grammys in Los Angeles, February 8. (CBS)
Hozier and Annie Lenox Perform at 2015 Grammys

Last night’s 57th annual Grammy Awards held some promise for its Irish contenders at the outset, but in the end,...

More

Dublin Coach Launch at The RDS, Dublin Photo:Michael Donnelly.
Hop Into Dublin

Is there a better way to take in Ireland’s capital than sitting back with coffee on a hop-on hop-off coach tour while...

More

"The Army's Full of Irish" sheet music cover detail. Part of the Ward s Irish Music Archive. See below for full size image.
Accolades for Ward’s
Irish Music Archives

Following the Award of Merit from the American Association for State and Local History, the Ward Irish Music Archives,...

More

From left: Jano Cabrera, Clare Gannon, Liz Cunningham-Purchia, and Tim Gannon at Gaelic Park in Dublin for the U.S./Ireland Men’s soccer friendly. Despite their World Cup performance, the U.S. lost. All photos courtesy of the authors.
Follow the Music: Advice from a
November Holiday in Ireland

Liz Cunningham-Purchia, her boyfriend Tim Gannon, his sister Clare, and her husband Jano Cabrera, all Washington,...

More