A well-established figure in a variety of forms of American popular music, Martin Kalmanoff probably remains nonetheless most famously associated with his hit song “Just Say I Love Her” (1950, in collaboration with Jimmy Dale, Sam Ward, and Jack Val). His complete catalogue of popular songs, which also comprises such other commercially successful titles as “A Night to Remember,” “At a Sidewalk Penny Arcade,” and “My Dream House,” is represented in more than 200 recordings by a broad list of performers that includes such singers as Dean Martin, Steve Lawrence, and Elvis Presley. Born in Woodmere, New York, where his father was one of the founders of Temple Beth-El, Kalmanoff came to popular music armed with a solid classical music education at Harvard, where he studied with Walter Piston and received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees. His principal instrument was the piano, and he supported himself early on by accompanying, conducting, and playing the organ at Temple Beth-El.
Kalmanoff’s more than fifty musical theater works embrace many operas and operatic-type pieces—a number of which are for children’s performances—ranging from one-act to full-length productions. Yet his oeuvre is not limited to popular songs or musical theater, and his art songs include a cycle on poetry by Emily Dickinson. In the realm of Judaically related music, in addition to his theatrical presentations such as The Victory at Masada and his children’s opera about King David (King David and David King), he has composed for the Hebrew liturgy. His full Sabbath service, The Joy of Prayer (1980), was written for Temple Emanu-El in New York, later performed at the Kennedy Center, and recorded with baritone Sherrill Milnes as the cantorial soloist.
By: Neil W. Levin