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Ervin Drake - BIOGRAPHY

Drake, Ervin
Vice Chairman The Songwriters Hall Of Fame


(Immediate Past-President of SGA and President Ex-Officio-1973-1982)

When Ervin M. Drake announced in 1975 that he was determined to lead the guild, then called AGAC or the American Guild of Authors and Composers, to Washington, DC to spearhead a songwriters' drive for a new Copyright Law, many people thought it impossible. The guild was poor and it would be costly to fly songwriters in from all parts of the country and put them up in hotels for days at a time so that they could storm the Senate and House of Representatives in order to tell our message. Where were we to get funding? But President Drake said, "first you make the commitment, then you worry about the rest."

And so Ervin Drake enlisted his friend - Lewis Bachman, the new Executive Director, in the effort and, to kick off the campaign, they flew to Nashville to outline our plan to our country writer friends. They received a real display of southern hospitality from members of the music community when they explained that, whether East, West, North or South, songwriters share the same problems and that, only by visits to Washington to present our case to the nation's lawmakers, would it be possible to gain passage of a new law that would lengthen copyright protection to Life Plus Fifty and to win a new mechanical royalty rate - one that had been stuck in place at 2 cents since 1909! Well, we passed the hat and songwriters East and West dug deep in their pockets to fund the fight. We engaged the legendary lobbyist, Tom Boggs, brother of Cokie Roberts. Then we invited the Nashville writers to meet us in Washington and soon the battle was joined. History records that we won!

But, although the Congress gave us many more years of copyright protection, they raised our royalty rate only by 3/4 of a cent! However, part of the new law was a Copyright Royalty Tribunal. Drake fought this new fight side-by-side the publishers and, together, we won the new rate which has risen over the years to 8 cents.

The Congressman took it for granted that Ervin Drake was a paid lobbyist for the guild. After all, who else would concentrate his days and nights on an unpaid full-time effort in such a campaign? Ervin had to sit down at the piano and play and sing ballads of his like "It Was A Very Good Year," "Good Morning Heartache," "I Believe," etc., to convince legislators that he was only an amateur "lobbyist." The daily bread still came from his songs.

Another stellar achievement early in his presidency was the concept and introduction of the Catalogue Administration Plan (CAP, developed with the
invaluable input of Lew Bachman) which made it possible for a songwriter to publish his own songs under the aegis of the guild for only a 9% fee. The lowest cost of a royalty control firm for the same management is still 15-20%.

Drake was, up to that point, a career hit songwriter. But he felt his all-consuming desire for a new Copyright Law was worth the sacrifice. Until then, the top singers in the land had recorded his songs: Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole, Perry Como, Natalie Cole, Dick Haymes, Vic Damone, Buddy Clark, Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Diana Ross, Dinah Shore, Tony Martin, the Mills Brothers, Frankie Laine, the Andrews Sisters, Mahalia Jackson, Johnny Mathis and on and on and on.

Ervin's first two hits (and lifelong standards) in the early 1940s were "Tico Tico" and "Perdido." He supplied lyrics for those two great melodies. His first words and music hit was a song that hit the charts in 1946, "The Rickety Rickshaw Man," catapulted to the top by bandleader/vocalist Eddy Howard. But publishers knew that he had a special knack for breathing life into tunes from abroad and called upon him to adapt "Al Di La" and "Come To The Mardi Gras," as well as "Quando Quando Quando" and "Made For Each Other."

But Broadway was always in Ervin Drake's future plans. He had already contributed single songs to shows like "Artists and Models" and "The Ziegfield Follies" but he was looking for the right property to convert into a musical.

One day it struck him that the 20th century classic novel, "What Makes Sammy Run?" was just what he wanted. A musical about an anti-hero. A show with bite. He convinced Budd Schulberg, the author and Oscar-winning screenwriter ("On The Waterfront") to adapt his own book and Ervin wrote a score that gave us the standards "A Room Without Windows" and "The Friendliest Thing."

For his next Broadway musical, he received permission fron the George Bernard Shaw Estate to adapt Shaw's "Caesar and Cleopatra" which Drake entitled "Her First Roman." In addition to supplying music and lyrics, he wrote the book adaptation. The show was an artistic triumph. Clear proof of this lies in the fact that in 1993, Lockett-Palmer Records produced a "25th Anniversary Cast Album for which Richard Kiley and Leslie Uggams recreated their original singing roles of Caesar and Cleopatra. Because of this, in 1996, the York Theatre Company staged a successful revival.

In 1984, the Margo Jones theatre in Dallas presented "G & S or Florence of Arabia'" a musical-within-a-musical for which Ervin Drake wrote music and lyrics and collaborated on the book with Arnold Drake.

Drake songs have been featured in Spike Lee's "Jungle Fever," Woody Allen's "Radio Days," "The Fabulous Baker Boys," "True Love," "Remembering Marilyn," "Lady Sings the Blues," "Sinatra Mini-Series," "Going To Chicago," "Another Woman," "Young At Heart," Ginger Rogers sang two Drake songs in "Heartbeat," "Radioland Murders," "Marilyn Monroe: The Mortal Goddess," and "Seven Years In Tibet." In the year 2000, TV's "The Sopranos" opened with the Sinatra recording of "It Was A Very Good Year." And later, in "Sex And The City," it was sung by cast member Chris Noth.

He has been honored by the Lawyers' Division of the UJA for his part in the passage of the 1976 Copyright Law, by ASCAP for his song "Good Morning Heartache," by the Christopher Society for "I Believe," by Five Town College with an Honorary Doctorate In Music, and by NARAS with a Grammy nomination for his score to "What Makes Sammy Run?" In 1983, Drake was inducted into the Songwriters' Hall of Fame.

Ervin Drake is proud of his 14 years as a Producer/Writer/Composer in television, functioning in those capacities for over 700 prime time network shows, such as "YVES MONTAND ON BROADWAY," TO OUR FIRST LADY WITH LOVE" (a Birthday tribute to Mrs. Dwight Eisenhower, simulcast by CBS, ABC & NBC),
"TIMEX COMEDY HOUR," "ETHEL MERMAN SPECIAL," MIKE TODD'S "THE WOULD BE GENTLEMAN," "THE BACHELOR"(Sylvania Award), "ACCENT ON LOVE," etc. Some were Emmy nominees. In the course of these programs, Drake worked with Gene Kelly, Tony Bennett, Julie Andrews, Mike Nichols, Elaine May, Gower Champion, Louis Jourdan, Ginger Rogers, Polly Bergen, Andy Williams, Julie Wilson, Jayne Mansfield, Carol Haney, Mel Brooks, Carl Reiner, Buddy Hackett and Mrs. Eisenhower who wrote, thanking him for the song "To Mamie With Music."

In 1999 Leann Rimes went platinum four times with Drake's "I Believe" and, at the same time, Barbra Streisand went platinum three times with the same song. Ms Streisand drew standing ovations by singing this song in her recent "retirement concerts." And recently, Barbra recorded it again for her "Timeless" CD (already accredited for one million sales). In 2002, Ms Streisand recorded "One God" in her CD "Christmas Memories." In 1999, Tony Bennett sang "Good Morning Heartache" on his CD, "BENNETT ON HOLIDAY," and both Lorrie Morgan as well as Sheryl Crow recorded "Good Morning Heartache." Ms Crow and Mr. Bennett liked the song sao much, they then did it together in duet. Debbie Gravitt recorded "Tico Tico" and John Gabriel recorded four Drake standards and four new songs of his on an 18 song CD. In 2004, Michael Feinstein recorded Drake's "Who Are These Strangers?" And in 2004, Ray Charles and Willie Nelson sang "It Was A Very Good Year" in a duet.

Currently, Ervin is planning with Budd Schulberg and a Producer/Director team to stage a revival of "What Makes Sammy Run?" And he is busy composing and demo recording several new songs for the new version.

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