This post was written by library volunteer Gail Denisoff
Probably few people are aware of the historical marker on Charles Street in Scotia honoring Robert Allen Deitcher or recognize his name, but most would be familiar with his work. Known professionally as Robert Allen, Newsweek Magazine called him “America’s most popular songwriter” in the 1950’s. Writing the music for many popular songs of the 1950’s and 1960’s, he worked with well-known musicians such as Johnny Mathis, Perry Como, Mitch Miller, Andy Williams and The Four Lads. His songs, including “Chances Are”, “Moments to Remember”, “It’s Not for Me to Say” and (There’s no place like) ”Home for the Holidays” are still being performed and recorded more than 20 years after his death.
|NYS historical marker on Charles Street for Robert Allen Deitcher. Photo by Howard Ohlhous on the Historical Marker Database|
Born in Troy NY on February 5, 1927 to parents of Russian-Jewish descent, Charles and Ruth Gold Deitcher, Robert spent his early years in Troy before his parents divorced. Moving to Schenectady and then Scotia with his mother when she remarried, Robert attended Scotia Glenville schools for middle and high school as well as Nott Terrace Hebrew School. Growing up he was active in many local activities including the 1937 Schenectady Soap Box Derby, was a member of Boy Scout Troop 63, played basketball and was crowned 9th grade and school ping-pong champion at Scotia Junior High. He was a member of the high school band, participated in the Dramatic Club and was salutatorian of his class, graduating in January of 1945.
Robert was awarded an engineering scholarship to RPI but after a summer job playing piano in Schroon Lake he declined to try his luck at being a professional musician. After waiting tables in New York City he got some music gigs in Canada, earned his union card and returned to play jazz piano on the New York Club circuit for several years.
His first big break came in 1952 when he became a composer and arranger for NBC’s popular TV series “The Colgate Comedy Hour” with Jimmy Durante. Allen wrote a duet for Durante and Margaret Truman, earning praise from Truman’s father, former President Harry S Truman. He also wrote songs for another of “Colgate’s” headliners, Eddie Cantor. Other television work included arrangements for Perry Como’s “Kraft Music Hall” for which he wrote the song “You are Never Far from Me” which closed the show and “Sing Along” for Mitch Miller’s “Sing Along with Mitch”.Robert soon formed a collaboration with lyricist Al Stillman (1906-1979) that would last for decades. Together they wrote some of the most popular songs of the 1950’s and 1960’s. Songwriting between 1920 and 1965, the era in which most American Standards were written, was largely an on-demand business and most of their songs were commissions.
|Robert Allen in the 1960s.|
Early in his career, in November of 1954, music producer Mitch Ayres told Robert that Perry Como wanted a new holiday song for release that Christmas, and he and Al Stillman had one day to write it. Robert went to Rockefeller Center, was inspired by the skaters, and wrote the music in one afternoon. Stillman wrote the lyrics that same night. Como recorded “Home for the Holidays” the next day and it was pressed and in stores within about 10 days. Since then, it’s been covered by 122 different artists.Another of Robert's favorite commissions was also in 1954. The Auburn University football team was having a very successful season and one of their most loyal supporters and generous donors, Roy Sewall, thought the team needed a new fight song. With the blessing of the University he commissioned Robert Allen and Al Stillman to write the new song which was something unheard of at the time for a college to do. The finished product was declared “a peach of a song” by Sewell but not necessarily embraced at first by the athletic department. It became a hit on campus though, is the song for which Auburn is known and “War Eagle” not only became the new fight song but the Auburn battle cry. It can still be heard on campus every day at noon when the Stanford Carillon rings the song in the Stanford Hall clock tower. It is played before and after games, when Auburn scores and has also been recorded several times. The Auburn alumni association gifted Robert a music box in the shape of a football that played the songl, something he always treasured. His wife said that he would watch Auburn football games on TV just to hear the band play the tune and it was one of the songs he was most proud of. Roy Sewall gifted the rights to the song to the Auburn Alumni Association as soon as it was written but because no one at Auburn renewed the copyright, it reverted to Robert and Al Stillman’s estate in 1983 and is now controlled by Charlie Dietcher Productions managed by Robert’s widow, Patty.
|Robert and Patty Allen. Photo from Carnegie Hall Legacy of Giving, "And the Music Keeps Playing On and On."|
During his early years in New York City, Robert led a glamorous life as seen through the eyes of his sister, Judy, who was 14 years his junior and still living in Scotia. “I got to spend a lot of weekends with him and got to do a lot of things young people around here didn’t get to do. I went to all the Broadway shows and went to good restaurants.” The obituary of Dorothy Morrison Allen, Robert’s second wife, notes she enjoyed her early married life in NYC “in 1956 (she) married composer Robert Allen… with whom, along with friends, gaily soaked up the City’s vibrancy and nightlife - Sinatra, the Copa, Judy Garland, Ethel Merman’s Gypsy and more.”
Throughout the 1950s and 1960’s, Robert was busy and in high demand. He wrote or arranged music for the most popular singers of the day including the aforementioned, Johnny Mathis and Perry Como, Tony Bennett, Billie Holiday, Kate Smith, Carol Burnett and Doris Day. Almost all of his compositions were in collaboration with Al Stillman as lyricist. One notable exception was the Doris Day hit “Everybody Loves a Lover” with lyrics by Richard Adler, which was also a hit for The Shirelles.
According to the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers, Robert’s compositions have sold more than 500 million recordings. Songs including “It’s Not For Me to Say”, “To Know You (is to Love You)”, “No, No Not Much”, “Chances Are”, “Home for the Holidays”, “My One and Only Heart” and “Moments to Remember” have become American standards.
Later in his career Robert wrote the music for several movies and wrote and produced the album “Bob McGrath from Sesame Street”. He retired from writing music in the 1970’s and kept busy at the home he designed and built in Quogue, in the Southampton area of Long Island. He was interested in carpentry, gardening and cooking and made annual trips to Scotland to play golf.
Robert and his third wife, Patty, were very involved in philanthropy. His album “Three Billion Millionaires” featuring Bing Crosby, Jack Benny, Sammy Davis Jr, Judy Garland, Carol Burnett and Danny Kaye raised funds for UNICEF. They donated the royalties for his songs to Carnegie Hall to establish the Robert Allen Memorial Fund. Robert made it a point to help young musicians throughout his life. After his death, Patty made a sizeable donation to the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers to establish the Robert Allen Award, “given in the spirit of Allen's work, a cash award is presented annually to an ASCAP songwriter in the pop and/or jazz musical genres”.
A humble man, his wife Patty recalled, “He didn’t want to be famous. He could walk around New York and no one would know him. He would hear people humming his music on the sidewalks and subways and loved that”.
Robert Allen Deitcher passed away on October 1, 2000 at the age of 73 in his Quogue home after a battle with colon cancer. He was survived by his wife, Patty, and four children from two previous marriages. Robert’s mother lived in her Scotia home until her death a year later and his sister, Judy lives in Clifton Park.In 2007, a New York State Historical Marker was erected in front of his childhood home at 528 Charles Street in Scotia. Former Scotia Mayor William Seyse led the effort, along with town historian Michelle Norris, to get the composer this recognition and raised funds through donations. At the unveiling on June 1, 2007, his widow Patty said her husband would have been flattered by the sign but also self-conscious. “He would have died of embarrassment but I think it’s wonderful."
Allen, Robert, Songs Written by Robert Allen. Second-Hand Songs.com
“And the Music Keeps Playing On and On”, Legacy Giving, Robert and Patty Allen – Carnegie Hall.
Dorothy Allen,Obituary, Legacy.com.
Johnson, Carl. “Scotia’s Most Famous Composer”, Hoxsie! 10/5/2018.
Kazek, Kelly. Hidden History of Auburn. History Press, 2011.
TrueTiger, “Auburn Fight Song”. All Things Considered, 7/24/2004.
Robert Allen, 73, Prolific Hit Songwriter for Top Artists. Obituary, Chicago Tribune, Oct. 8, 2000.
Volke, Matt.” Area musician had big city talent”, Daily Gazette, 6/7/2007.