One of the first and most iconic teen idols in pop music, Paul Anka helped define the voice of a generation. The gifted songwriter has crafted the kinds of lyrics and melodies destined to top charts and win hearts, whether for himself or a fellow famed singer — and despite the fleeting, ever-evolving shape of pop, he has managed to do it for decades.
Born July 30, 1941, Anka grew up in a tight-knit Ottawa family, but didn’t waste much time getting his life in music started. He sang in the choir at church and studied piano. By 13, he had his own vocal group, the Bobbysoxers.
Soon after, he won a trip to New York through a Campbell’s soup contest for IGA Food Stores that required him to spend three months collecting soup can labels. It was there that his dream solidified: he was going to make it as a singer and composer.
In 1956, Anka convinced his parents to let him travel to Los Angeles, where he called every record company in the phone book looking for an audition. A meeting with Modern Records led to the release of Anka’s first single, “Blau-Wile-Deveest-Fontaine.” It was not a hit, but he kept plugging away, going so far as to sneak into Fats Domino’s dressing room to meet the man and his manager in Ottawa.
When Anka returned to New York in 1957, he scored a meeting with Don Costa, the A&R man for ABC-Paramount Records. He played him a batch of songs that included “Diana,” a dreamy, melodically soaring ode to an older girl. Costa was enthusiastic about the potential of the young singer and songwriter. The rapid and enormous success of “Diana” — his first number one hit — made him a star.
Soon, Anka found himself travelling by bus with the Cavalcade of Stars, which featured some of the top names of the day in the era of segregation. He performed at the Copa Cabana, the youngest entertainer ever to do so, and honed his craft surrounded by the likes of Jerry Lee Lewis, Buddy Holly, Frankie Lyman and Chuck Berry.
Throughout the ’60s, Anka continued to write hit songs for numerous performers. He eventually came across a French song entitled “Comme d’habitude” performed by Parisian singer Claude François, and was inspired to rewrite the lyrics for an English-speaking audience. The song became “My Way” and was recorded by Frank Sinatra, becoming one of his signature songs.
By the ’70s, the success of “My Way” and a string of hits such as “(You’re) Having My Baby” confirmed his status as an icon of popular music. His later achievements as a recording artist included “Hold Me ’Til the Morning Comes,” a hit duet with Peter Cetera in 1983, the Spanish-language album Amigos in 1996, and A Body of Work, a 1998 duets album that featured Sinatra, Celine Dion, Patti LaBelle, Tom Jones and daughter Anthea Anka.
Anka co-wrote Michael Jackson’s posthumous 2009 hit, “This Is It,” reworked from a collaborative effort they started in 1983. Four years later, he rerecorded the song, adding some of his own vocals, and included it on the LP Duets, which also features collaborations with Dolly Parton, Gloria Estefan, Willie Nelson and others. The work signals his continued high standing among the most prominent singers and songwriters over multiple generations.
Releases first hit single “Diana”.
“Lonely Boy” hits number one on the Billboard chart in 1959 and stays for four weeks.
Writes “My Way” for Frank Sinatra.
Wins the JUNO Award for Male Vocalist of the Year.
Receives star on Canada’s Walk of Fame.
Releases his autobiography, My Way.