Brooklyn-born Mort Shuman inherited from his parents a passion for art and music. He studied philosophy at school, but despite being accepted at City College of New York, Shuman opted for a career in music and began writing songs. When he was barely 16, he met 31-year-old Doc Pomus, a singer of some repute around the spots on Bleecker Street in Greenwich Village. Pomus was also a songwriter, and in him, Shuman found a soulmate. Pomus became a friend and mentor and the two began writing songs together despite the 15-year age differential between them.
Thanks to a series of chance encounters with a number of music professionals, the pair signed up with Hill and Range Songs, a music publisher that had already established a working relationship with Elvis Presley. From 1958 through the mid-'60s, Pomus and Shuman authored a great body of pop song hits including, "A Mess of Blues," "Little Sister," "Surrender," "Viva Las Vegas" and "His Latest Flame" for Presley; "You Are My Baby" for Ray Charles; "A Teenager in Love" for Dion; "Can't Get Used to Losing You" for Andy Williams; and "This Magic Moment," "Sweets for My Sweet" and perhaps the most memorable of them all, "Save the Last Dance for Me," for The Drifters.
Together, these songs sold more than 30 million records. Despite this success, Shuman left New York in the mid-'60s to enjoy a life of travel. Stopping for a time in London, he managed to write a series of hits for some of the top British acts, including "Little Children" for Billy J. Kramer, "She La La La Lee" for the Small Faces and "Here I Go Again" for The Hollies.
During a visit to Paris, he discovered one of France's great treasures, the poet-singer, Jacques Brel. Returning to America, Shuman brought a bundle of Brel's records with him, translated 30 of them into English and created the off-Broadway musical, "Jacques Brel Is Alive and Well and Living in Paris." Ultimately, the show became one of the three longest-running off-Broadway musicals in history.
The show was also presented in major cities in the United States, Canada and throughout the world. The score of the show using the Shuman lyrics spawned recordings by several important name artists. David Bowie performed on the song "Amsterdam" and both Dion and Dionne Warwick recorded "If We Only Have Love," perhaps the best-known song from the show.
Having fallen in love with Paris, Shuman later returned there to live and to embark on a new career, that of recording artist. Eventually, he became one of France's most popular personalities, both as performer and as songwriter. He has six gold albums and countless hits to his credit, including "Le Lac Majeure", which became one of the most successful singles ever to be issued in France. He also created 15 film scores.
After 15 years of unbroken success in France, Shuman moved to London to pursue his English language songwriting and recording career. Shortly before his death, Atlantic Records released "Distant Drum," his debut album for the label. Almost until his death, Shuman was writing songs, including hits for Johnny Hallyday in France. He also was adding the finishing touches to the score for a stage musical, "Save the Last Dance for Me," which was to be launched on London's West End.
Shuman died November 2, 1991 after a courageous fight against cancer, leaving his wife, Maria-Pia and their four daughters, Maria-Cella, Barbara, Maria-Pia and Eva-Maria.