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The Story of a Song: Save the Last Dance for Me

Doc Pomus, who wrote songs for Elvis Presley, Andy Williams and Ray Charles, based one of his biggest hits on a moment from his own life.

Doc Pomus performs in a nightclub; credit: Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Doc Pomus urged his beautiful bride, Willi Burke, to dance at their 1957 wedding. He watched as she whirled around the floor in the arms of relatives and friends. But she and Doc never danced. He was on crutches, having lost the use of his legs after a childhood bout with polio.

Doc (born Jerome Felder) grew up in Brooklyn, New York, loving music, especially the blues. As a young man, he made a living singing in Black blues clubs. After recording dozens of songs, he thought he finally had a hit. But the record company didn’t release the song after learning he was a disabled Jewish guy.

Doc shifted to songwriting, penning such hits as “Viva Las Vegas,” “This Magic Moment” and “A Teenager in Love.”

Some three years after his marriage, Doc was scribbling lyrics on the back of unused wedding invitations, trying to match words to a soaring Latin melody composed by his partner Mort Shuman. Doc remembered how it felt to watch his bride dance with someone else. “But don’t forget who’s taking you home and in whose arms you’re going to be,” he wrote. “So, darling, save the last dance for me.”

The Drifters recorded “Save the Last Dance for Me” in 1960, and it spent three weeks at No. 1 on the Hot 100 chart. Dolly Parton and Emmylou Harris would later cover the song born of Doc’s selfless love and determination.

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