Born in New York City, New York, Ervin Drake had his first song published at age 12, in 1931. The son of Jewish immigrants Max Druckman and Pearl Cohen, he attended Townsend Harris High School in the borough of The Bronx, New York, graduating in 1935, and went on to receive a Bachelor of Arts degree in social science from the City College of New York in 1940. His elder brother, Milton, also became a songwriter, with work including "The Java Jive" and "Nina Never Knew"; and his younger brother Arnold Drake, became a writer for DC Comics, Marvel Comics, and others, as well as an author and playwright.
Drake provided lyrics for "Perdido", composed by trombonist Juan Tizol, a member of Duke Ellington's orchestra, and first recorded (by Ellington) in 1944. Besides composing music and lyrics for dozens of pieces he was also a television producer and worked with performers including Jackie Gleason and Milton Berle. Among his best known songs is "I Believe", the first hit song ever introduced on television, which was commissioned and introduced by Jane Froman on her television show in 1953, and became a number-one hit for Frankie Laine, holding the record for number of non-consecutive weeks spent at number one. It has also been recorded by many other artists including Barbra Streisand and Elvis Presley.
He wrote the words and music for "It Was a Very Good Year" in 1961, when a publisher friend told him that Bob Shane of the folk music group the Kingston Trio would be in the publisher's office the next morning, and the publisher asked Drake to write a song for Shane to sing solo. Shane recorded it for the album Goin' Places and other folk performers covered it. In a 2009 interview, Drake said that in 1965, Frank Sinatra had heard the song on his car radio as he was driving home in the desert and immediately pulled over in the middle of the night to a gas station and pay phone. He called Gordon Jenkins and told him he wanted him to make an arrangement with plenty of strings and maybe an interesting instrument like the oboe could be used as well. When he arrived back in L.A. he recorded it for his career comeback album September of My Years. The Sinatra recording was a Top 30 single on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 in 1966, and made No.1 on the Adult Contemporary chart.
The piece has been recorded in over 10 languages and more than 50 artists. As a lyricist, Drake, with composer Irene Higginbotham, wrote the jazz standard "Good Morning Heartache". It has been recorded by over 100 artists, including Billie Holiday and later Diana Ross when she portrayed Holiday in the movie Lady Sings the Blues. Most recently, Gloria Estefan recorded it for her 2013 album The Standards, and sang it to Ervin and wife Edith on live TV on CBS This Morning. Following the performance Ervin, Gloria and the two hosts bantered a while about love and love lost.
Drake was the founding president of American Guild of Authors and Composers from 1973 to 1982, which has since changed its name to Songwriters Guild of America (SGA)
On January 15, 2015, Drake died at his home in Great Neck, New York due to complications from bladder cancer aged 95.
Drake received several honorary doctorates and achievement awards, as well as being inducted into the Songwriter's Hall of Fame in 1983.
On June 30, 2013, Five Towns College named the Ervin Drake Popular Music Center after Drake."Now I Have Everything"
"A Room without Windows"
"Good Morning Heartache"
"It Was a Very Good Year"
"The Rickety Rickshaw Man"
"I Wuv A Rabbit"
"Who Are These Strangers"
"I Am A Card Carrying Bleeding Heart Liberal"
"Lying Beneath A Scrubby Palmetto"
"I've Never Had The Pleasure"
"Al di là"
"Quando Quando Quando"
Heads or Tails (1947) - play - co-playwright with Hans Lengsfelder
What Makes Sammy Run? (1964) - musical - composer and lyricist
Her First Roman (1968) - composer, lyricist, and bookwriter
Sophisticated Ladies (1981) - revue - featured songwriter for "Perdido" with Juan Tizol and Hans Lengsfelder
Motown 2013 Broadway featured songwriter for "Good Morning Heartache" Billie Holiday 2014 Broadway featured songwriter for "Good Morning Heartache"