Star Spangled Spectacular

The first medley in the concert is entitled Star Spangled Spectacular. It was written by John Cacavas (see below) in 1962. The medley includes five songs written by George M. Cohan.

George Michael Cohan (1878 - 1942) Cohan was an iconic American entertainer, playwright, composer, lyricist, actor, singer, dancer and theatrical producer. Cohan began his career as a child, performing with his parents and sister in a vaudeville act known as “The Four Cohans”. Beginning with Little Johnny Jones in 1904, he wrote, composed, produced, and appeared in more than three dozen Broadway musicals. Cohan wrote more than 50 shows and published more than 300 songs during his lifetime. As a composer, he was one of the early members of the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers (ASCAP). He displayed remarkable theatrical longevity, appearing in films until the 1930s and continuing to perform as a headline artist until 1940. Known in the decade before World War I as “the man who owned Broadway”, he is considered the father of American musical theater. His life and music were depicted in the Oscar-winning film Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942) and the 1968 musical George M!. A statue of Cohan in Times Square, New York City, commemorates his contributions to American musical theatre.

After a brief introduction with short quotes from several Cohan songs, the first complete song in the medley is “Mary’s a Grand Old Name”. It was written and first appeared in the 1906 musical play “Forty-five Minutes from Broadway”. The song tells the story of a woman named Mary who is named after her mother. It is a tribute to the power of love and the enduring legacy of those who have come before us. The song emphasizes that Mary is a plain and simple name. The song also warns against the name Marie, which is seen as a more fashionable but less genuine alternative to Mary.

The second song in the medley is “Give My Regards to Broadway”. It come from the musical play Little Johnny Jones which debuted in 1904. Cohan, playing the title character, sings this song as a friend is about to sail to America, looking for evidence aboard the ship that will clear his name for allegedly throwing the English Derby. He is sure he'll be exonerated and will soon be able to re-join his cohorts in the theater district of New York, therefore bidding his friend to “Give my regards to Broadway.”

The third song in the medley, “Forty-five Minutes to Broadway” obviously comes from the aforementioned 1906 musical. It was a three-act musical about New Rochelle, New York. The title refers to the 45-minute train ride from New Rochelle to Broadway. Although the distance is not very great, the atmosphere of the two places is quite different.

The fourth song in the medley is named “The Yankee Doodle Boy”, though most of us know it as “(I'm a) Yankee Doodle Dandy” It is also from the 1904 Broadway musical Little Johnny Jones. The play concerns the trials and tribulations of a fictional American jockey, Johnny Jones (based on the real-life jockey Tod Sloan), who rides a horse named Yankee Doodle in the English Derby. Cohan incorporates snippets of several popular traditional American songs into his lyrics of this song, as the character proudly embraces his American heritage to English detractors. The song was performed by James Cagney in the 1942 film Yankee Doodle Dandy, in which he played Cohan.

The fifth and final song in medley is “You’re a Grand Old Flag”. Cohan wrote it for the 1906 musical George Washington, Jr. The original lyric for this perennial favorite came, as Cohan later explained, from an encounter he had with a Civil War veteran who fought in the battle of Gettysburg. The two men found themselves next to each other on a park bench and Cohan noticed the vet held a carefully folded but ragged old flag. When Cohan commented about the flag, the man reportedly then turned to Cohan and said, “She’s a grand old rag.” Cohan thought it was a great line and originally named his tune “You're a Grand Old Rag”. So many groups and individuals objected to calling the flag a “rag”, however, that he “gave ‘em what they wanted” and changed the words, renaming the song “You're a Grand Old Flag”.

Arranger John Cacavas (1930 -2014) displayed an early talent for music, forming a local band at age 14. He studied musical composition at Northwestern University. Cacavas was probably best known for his television scores, notably Kojak, for which he was the chief composer, and for which he composed the second main title theme, used throughout the show's fifth and final season. Cacavas's television credits also included Hawaii Five-O, The Bionic Woman, Mrs. Columbo, and Buck Rogers in the 25th Century. While he had extensive credits in television series and television movies, such as Perfect Murder, Perfect Town, he has comparatively few credits for film scores, most notably two entries in the Airport series: Airport 1975 and Airport '77. He was also responsible for the eerie score for Horror Express, a film starring Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing. Scoring music for the 1981 television movie Hellinger's Law reunited him with Kojak veteran Telly Savalas.

More recently, Cacavas wrote the theme song for the 2005 video game Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City Stories.

He was also well known for his hundreds of arrangements of works for wind band.

Cacavas published his autobiography, entitled It's More than Do-Re-Mi: My Life in Music, in 2001. He lived in Beverly Hills, California, and London, England.

The music for Star Spangled Spectacular was provided for the band by the Reynolds Family in memory of Marge Reynolds.