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Jay Gorney Papers

Call Number



1932-1992, inclusive


Gorney, Jay, 1896-1990 (Role: Composer)
Gorney, Sondra (Role: Donor)


1 Linear Feet (2 boxes)

Language of Materials

Materials are in English.


Jay Gorney (1896-1990) was a composer for musical theater, most notably of the Depression-era hit, "Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?" He was questioned by the House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC) on May 6, 1953 regarding his participation in pro-Communist groups and publications. This collection contains biographical material, documents concerning Gorney's appearance before HUAC, files on him compiled by the FBI, and sheet music of songs with a political slant.

Historical/Biographical Note

Jay Gorney, born Abraham Jacob Gornetzky, was a composer and lyricist for theater, films, and television. Born in Bialystok, Russia on December 12, 1896, he immigrated to the United States with his family in 1906. After settling in Detroit, Gorney took piano lessons and improvised music for the local silent film theater. He studied at the University of Michigan in the literary department and took music classes on the side in harmony, counterpoint, and composition. He enlisted in the Navy during World War I and was stationed at the Great Lakes Naval Training Center. Later earning his LL.B degree, he practiced law for less than one year before deciding to move to New York City and work in musical theater.

Gorney's songs started appearing in Broadway shows in the 1920s. He began collaborating with lyricist E.Y. ("Yip") Harburg and in 1932 they scored their biggest hit in the show Americana with the song "Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?" This simple melody based on a Russian lullaby soon became the anthem of the Great Depression.

In the 1930s Gorney served as a musical advisor for films made by Paramount Pictures and Universal Films. Capitalizing on this success, Gorney and his family moved in 1934 to Hollywood where he had a contract composing for Fox Films. It was here where he wrote the hits "You're My Thrill" and "Baby, Take a Bow," the latter sung by child-star Shirley Temple, who had recently been discovered by Gorney dancing in the lobby of a movie theater. In 1939 Gorney worked as the administrator, composer, and coordinator of the musical revue, Meet The People, a talent-filled production of legendary forces, that was made into a movie starring Lucille Ball and Dick Powell in 1943.

Gorney eventually moved back to New York and in 1950 was hired by CBS television as a producer, writer, and composer. It was during this period that Gorney was attacked as having pro-Communist sympathies, based on meetings and committees he participated in while living in Hollywood. He was ousted from his new job at CBS. The House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC) called him to a hearing on May 6, 1953, where he sang his song "The Bill of Rights" and then took the Fifth Amendment when asked if he was a Communist. He was not jailed but was considered to be on a blacklist and lost a number of opportunities to work because of his association with Communist sympathizers.

Gorney died on June 14, 1990 in New York City of complications of Parkinson's disease and pneumonia.

Sources: Gorney, Sondra K. Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?: The Life of Composer Jay Gorney. Lanham, MD.: Scarecrow Press, 2005.


Organized into 2 series: I. Personal Papers, 1941-1992; II. Sheet Music, 1932-1982. Arranged alphabetically within each series.

Scope and Content Note

Series I: Personal Papers, 1941-1992. This series contains correspondence, government files, and other assorted documents. Newspaper clippings about the House Committee on Un-American Activities are contained in this series, as are copies of materials sent to CBS president F. M. Flynn about Gorney's pro-Communist actions. Gorney's multiple requests for his personal files under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) are included, along with correspondence with his counsel regarding obtaining files and the possibility of illegal mail seizures.

Series II: Sheet Music, 1932-1982. This series contains sheet music of politically-themed songs written by Gorney, as well as lyric sheets, and correspondence. Related lyric sheets, correspondence, and printed materials are filed with the sheet music.


Conditions Governing Access

Materials are open without restrictions.

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright (and related rights to publicity and privacy) to materials in this collection created by Jay Gorney was not transferred to New York University. Permission to use materials must be secured from the copyright holder.

Preferred Citation

Published citations should take the following form:

Identification of item, date; Jay Gorney Papers; TAM 152; box number; folder number;
Tamiment Library/Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives
Elmer Holmes Bobst Library
70 Washington Square South
New York, NY 10012, New York University Libraries.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Materials donated by Sondra Gorney in September and December 1993. The accession number associated with this gift is 1993.017.

Separated Materials

Three photographs: Jay Gorney, Jay Gorney and Lionel Stander, and statue of Frederick Douglass and one photographic negative of statue of Frederick Douglass, have been separated to the Non-Print Department of the Tamiment Library. One audiotape containing a Paul O'Dwyer campaign song has been separated to the Audio Collections of the Tamiment Library.

Related Material at the Tamiment Library/Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives

Edward Eliscu Papers. (Tamiment # 270) Jay Gorney Papers, Billy Rose Theatre Collection, New York Public Library for the Performing Arts. Jay Gorney Scores, Music Division, New York Public Library for the Performing Arts. Jay Gorney Collection of Non-commercial Sound Recordings, Rodgers and Hammerstein Archives of Recorded Sound, New York Public Library for the Performing Arts.

Collection processed by

Sally Jhehan Roberts

About this Guide

This finding aid was produced using ArchivesSpace on 2023-08-20 16:54:26 -0400.
Using Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language: Description is in English


Tamiment Library and Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives
Tamiment Library and Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives
Elmer Holmes Bobst Library
70 Washington Square South
2nd Floor
New York, NY 10012