Ervin Drake, who has died aged 95 (January 15), was the songwriter behind the Frank Sinatra classic It Was a Very Good Year (1966), Billie Holliday’s heart-wrenching Good Morning Heartache (1946) and doz-ens of other standards.
During a career spanning more than 60 years, Drake composed or wrote the lyrics for some 400 to 500 songs, ranging from show tunes (he was the composer and lyricist behind the 1964-65 Broadway hit What Makes Sammy Run? to gospel songs (Frankie Laine’s version of his I Believe spent 18 weeks at No 1 in the UK singles chart in 1953).
He also worked in television, writing material for such performers as Louis Jourdan, Yves Montand, Ethel Merman, Julie Andrews and Gene Kelly.
The son of Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe, he was born Ervin Maurice Druckman in Manhattan on April 3 1919. After studying art at the City College in New York, Ervin (who changed his surname to Drake) joined his father’s furniture business.
He had wanted to be a composer – his mother liked to sing, and as a teenager he wrote songs for her – but as he recalled: “My father said to me that he did not want to aid and abet me on the road to hell and he insisted I come into his business.”
Drake composed both the music and the lyrics of It Was a Very Good Year, a bitter-sweet meditation on growing old, in under an hour, at the behest of a publisher friend who needed a new song for the Kingston Trio’s 1961 album Goin’ Places.
Originally written as a folk song, it was trans-formed by the 50-year-old Frank Sinatra on his wistfully introspective comeback album Septem-ber of My Years (1965), winning the singer a 1966 Grammy for Best Male Vocal Perform-ance. Later the song featured in Spike Lee’s 1991 film Jungle Fever and the second season of The Sopranos.
Drake was inducted into the Songwriters’ Hall of Fame in 1983.