Anka, Paul

  Paul (Albert) Anka. Singer, songwriter, actor, of Syrian descent, b Ottawa 30 Jul 1941, naturalized US 1990; honorary D MUS (St. John's University, NY) 1978. Paul Anka began to perform locally in amateur shows and on radio at 10 and formed a vocal trio, the Bobby Soxers, at school. His formal music studies were brief: piano with Winnifred Rees and theory with Frederick Karam (in whose St Elijah Syrian Orthodox Church choir he sang). At 15 Anka recorded one of his own songs, "Blauwildesbestfontein," in Hollywood. Returning to Canada he appeared on CBC TV's "Pick the Stars" and "Cross-Canada Hit Parade." At Easter 1957 he went to New York and signed a recording and songwriting contract with ABC-Paramount. His first single, "Diana," became one of the most successful records in pop music history. In December 1957 Anka embarked on a 91-city tour of Britain, the USA, and Canada, attracting - as he would for several years - audiences largely of teenage girls. Later in 1958 he travelled to Japan and Australia.

A Teen Idol

As one of the leading teen idols of the day, Paul Anka was as popular in Europe as he was in North America. A Parisian reviewer (quoted by David Cobb in Canadian Magazine) commented: "A finger of Johnnie Ray, a touch of Frankie Laine, the zest of Elvis Presley, several drops of the Platters - shake and serve. That's the Paul Anka cocktail." An acclaimed National Film Board production, Lonely Boy (the title taken from one of his 1960 hits), documented Anka's rise to stardom. In 1960 he became the youngest performer ever to appear at the Copacabana in New York; the LP At the Copa (ABC S-353) was made at this time. Though his records were no less popular in Canada, Anka made only rare Canadian appearances over the next dozen years, and his family moved to New York in 1961. Anka later made his home in Carmel, California.

Paul Anka's hits 1957-62 for ABC-Paramount included: "You Are My Destiny," "Put Your Head on My Shoulder," "It's Time to Cry," "Puppy Love" (a hit again in 1972 as recorded by Donny Osmond), "My Home Town," and "Dance on Little Girl." Several of these were million-sellers and with other popular singles were reissued on the LPs Vintage Years (1957-61) (Sire K-6043) and Anka Gold - 28 Original Hits (2-Sire 3704). During this period his songs also were recorded by Annette, Connie Francis, Johnny Nash, Patti Page, Bobby Rydell, and others. Anka also wrote "It Doesn't Matter Anymore" for Buddy Holly, who had a No. 1 hit with it in 1959.

Anka, who took small roles in Hollywood films in the early 1960s (eg, The Longest Day), saw his singing career wane in the mid-1960s, the result of the change in popular tastes coinciding with the rise of the Beatles. His recordings released 1962-9 by RCA included just three substantial hits: "Love Me Warm and Tender," "A Steel Guitar and a Glass of Wine," and "Eso Beso." His "Ogni Volta" was a million-seller in Italy in 1964. Concentrating on songwriting, he wrote "My Way" to the melody of a French song, "Comme d'habitude," for Frank Sinatra, who made it a personal philosophical statement on the later years of his career. The song also was recorded by many other singers, including Elvis Presley and the Sex Pistols. Anka's "She's a Lady" was a major hit in 1971 for Tom Jones.

Comeback and Songwriting Career

At about 30, Paul Anka made something of a comeback as a ballad singer, specializing in rather maudlin material. His career by then was centred in Las Vegas, where, in 1971, he began performing from six to eight weeks annually at Caesar's Palace. Anka's records from this period included "Do I Love You," (Buddah 1971), "Let Me Get to Know You," (Fame 1973), and, 1974-5 for United Artists, "(You're) Having My Baby," "One Man Woman, One Woman Man" (both sung with Odia Coates), "I Don't Like to Sleep Alone," "(I Believe) There's Nothing Stronger than Our Love," and "Times of Your Life." He recorded less frequently after 1975; his "Hold Me 'Til the Morning Comes" (a collaboration with David Foster) was popular in 1983, as was the 1996 Spanish-language album Amigos. In 2005 he made a successful foray into jazz with the album Rock Swings, which went gold in Canada and the UK and reached No. 2 on Billboard's jazz album chart.

Anka resumed his acting career in the early 1990s, appearing (among other roles) in the film Ordinary Magic. He continued to perform in Las Vegas and also appeared regularly in Atlantic City. He frequently gave private concerts at conventions.

Recordings; Awards

Anka made more than 120 LPs, among them several for ABC-Paramount, more than a dozen for RCA, and others for Buddah, Barnaby, United Artists, Columbia, and other labels. Collections of his most popular records also were released by RCA, United Artists, Buddah, and K-Tel. Anka was an affiliate of BMI; copyright of his songs was held by Spanka Music Corp and Paulanne Music, Inc. Sixteen of his songs, including "My Way" and "Having My Baby," received BMI awards for two million or more performances. He has been nominated a dozen times for Juno awards, winning in 1975 as composer of the year. A songbook comprising 28 Anka hits was published by Cherry Lane Music Co in 1989. Anka's theme for The Tonight Show was reputedly played 1.4 million times (it earned a BMI Classic Contribution Award); his score for The Longest Day was nominated for an Academy Award.

Canadian Appearances

Paul Anka's later Canadian appearances remained intermittent but included several concerts 1974-84 in major venues - eg, the O'Keefe Centre, the National Arts Centre, the Canadian National Exhibition Grandstand, Maple Leaf Gardens, and Place des Arts. He starred 1972-3 in the CBC-TV variety series "ANKA," originating in Vancouver. In 1991 Anka was briefly part-owner of the Ottawa Senators' National Hockey League franchise. An Ottawa street was named Paul Anka Drive. Anka performed a public concert in his hometown in 2002, his first there in two decades.

Major Honours

Anka's achievements were chronicled in a CBC Life and Times documentary (first aired 2003), as well on A&E's Biography. He was inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame, the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame, and the American Songwriters Hall of Fame, and in 1991 France named him a Chevalier de l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres. He is a member of the Order of Canada and has a star on Canada's Walk of Fame.

See also The Canadian Encyclopedia.

Selected Discography

Face in the Mirror. 1993. Polydor 519 095-2

Paul Anka Sings His Big 10. 1994. D2-77558 Curb

Amigos. 1996. XCD 82002 Sony

A Body of Work. 1998. EK 69405 Epic

The Very Best of Paul Anka. 2000. 07863 67998-2 RCA

Rock Swings. 2005. B0004751-02 Verve

Classic Songs: My Way. 2007. 0251726647 Decca