Jimmy Van Heusen Collection of Musical Works and Papers
Jimmy Van Heusen (1913 – 1990) was an American song composer for radio, films, television, and the stage best known for several enduring standards made popular by Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra. Van Heusen was born in Syracuse, NY on January 26, 1913 as Edward Chester Babcock; his parents were Arthur and Ida May Babcock, and his brother, Wilbur. He acquired his professional name “Jimmy Van Heusen” (borrowed from the Phillips-Van Heusen shirt company) at the age of 16 when he became a radio pianist, singer, and announcer. Jimmy Van Heusen became his primary identity, often more formally as “James Van Heusen,” although he was still known to a few intimates as “Chester.” He would also compose a small number of songs under the pseudonym “Arthur Williams.”
Van Heusen studied piano from the age of eight. After his early dismissal from Cazenovia Seminary, he studied music with Howard Lyman at Syracuse University between 1930 and 1932. The following year, he replaced Harold Arlen as composer at the Cotton Club in Harlem and subsequently found work as a pianist and song plugger for Tin Pan Alley. In 1938, Van Heusen had his first hit (“It’s the Dreamer in Me”) with Jimmy Dorsey, and followed this with other successful collaborations with Johnny Mercer and Eddie DeLange. In 1939, he partnered with lyricist Johnny Burke and moved to Hollywood, CA, where the pair wrote songs for many of Bing Crosby’s best-known films. During World War II, Van Heusen put his budding aviation skills to use as a test pilot for Lockheed warplanes. His second great songwriting partnership was with lyricist Sammy Cahn. Between 1955 and 1969 the pair collaborated on songs for movies and television, many of them for Frank Sinatra who was Van Heusen’s close friend. Van Heusen continued to compose into the 1970s, building on a career that included four Academy Awards—“Swinging on a Star” (1944, with Burke), “All the Way” (1957, with Cahn), “High Hopes” (1959, with Cahn), and “Call Me Irresponsible” (1963, with Cahn)—and one Emmy Award—“Love and Marriage” (1955, with Cahn).
Van Heusen also became involved with the business end of his music career, founding music publishing companies such as Burke & Van Heusen, Inc. and Van Heusen Music Corporation. Associates in this context included Edward Traubner (business manager), Peggy Price (personal secretary), and Miriam Stern (personal secretary). Van Heusen maintained residences in North Hollywood, CA, New York City, and Brant Lake in upstate New York, but after 1940 spent most of his time in the southern California desert communities of Palm Springs and Yucca Valley, where he built his ranch. Here he pursued his interests in aviation (small planes and helicopters) and horses. Van Heusen also continued to perform for special occasions and private parties, often altering the verses of his own music to fit the event. His accolades include nomination as Honorary Mayor of Yucca Valley (1967), an honorary doctorate from Gonzaga University (1975), and achievement awards from Syracuse University (1982) and Cazenovia College (1961), where he also served on the Board of Trustees. A bachelor until the age of 56, Van Heusen married Josephine “Bobbe” Perlberg (1901 – 1999) in 1969. Bobbe’s maiden name was Dagmar Brock, and she had performed with her sisters in a vaudeville trio called the Brox Sisters. Jimmy Van Heusen died following a stroke on February 7, 1990 in Rancho Mirage, CA.
Collection consists of American song composer Jimmy Van Heusen’s papers and materials, both business and personal. Items include an extensive collection of unpublished music manuscripts and song lyrics, published sheet music, correspondence, personal papers, and business documents. Many materials relate to his interactions with Johnny Burke, Sammy Cahn, Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, and others, and to his publishing companies Burke & Van Heusen, Inc. and Van Heusen Music Corporation. Also includes sound and audiovisual materials, including his personal LP collection, unpublished home recordings, and home movies. Photographic material includes both press and personal prints, some negatives, and color slides. Other items include performance scripts, altered lyrics, biographic materials, professionally assembled scrapbooks, and other published materials from his personal collection. In addition to his musical career, the collection highlights his interests in horses and flying, and his domestic life with wife Josephine Van Heusen.
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