George Michael Cohan was born in Providence, Rhode Island. His baptismal certificate says that he was born on July 3, but Cohan himself always said the day was 4th of July -- United States Independence Day. George's family were traveling Vaudeville performers, and he joined them on stage while still an infant, at first as a prop, later learing to dance and sing soon after he could walk and talk. With his parents and sister, he toured as a member of The Four Cohans.
Cohan became known as one of Vaudeville's best male dancers, and also started writing original skits and songs for the family act. Soon he was writing professionally, selling his first songs to a national publisher in 1893. Cohan had his first big Broadway hit in 1904 with the show Little Johnny Jones, which introduced his tunes "Give My Regards To Broadway" and "I'm a Yankee Doodle Dandy".
George M. Cohan became one of the leading Tin Pan Alley songwriters, publishing several hundered original songs, noted for their catchy melodies and clever lyrics. His other major hit songs included "You're a Grand Old Flag", "The Warmest Baby In The Bunch", "Life's A Funny Proposition After All", "I Want to Hear a Yankee Doodle Tune", "You Won't Do Any Business If You Haven't Got A Band", "Mary's a Grand Old Name", "The Small Town Gal", "I'm Mighty Glad I'm Living, That's All", "That Haunting Melody", and "Over There".
He wrote numerous other Broadway plays, in addition to contributing material to shows written by others. Some of the notable Broadway shows he starred in included Forty-five Minutes from Broadway (1905), The Talk of New York (1907), Broadway Jones (1912), The Song and Dance Man (1923), American Born (1925), Ah, Wilderness! (1933), and I'd Rather Be Right (1937).
In 1942 a musical film biography of Cohan, "Yankee Doodle Dandy", was released, with James Cagney playing the role of Cohan. Cohan enjoyed attending a screening of the film a few weeks before his death. George M. Cohan died in New York City and was buried in Woodlawn Cemetery.
Cohan was awarded a congressional medal in recognition of his contibution to the war effort (1917-18) through his songs "You're a Grand Old Flag" and "Over There." In the 1960s a statue of Cohan was erected at Broadway and 47th Street in Manhattan.