Born in Toronto, Ontario, I was the son of Polish immigrants...my father was a tailor and my mother ran a grocery.
As a student at the University of Toronto, I competed in the first William Lowell Putnam Mathematical Competition and won one of the first Putnam Fellowships, which paid for my subsequent graduate work at Harvard University.
As the first graduate student under Saunders Mac Lane, I obtained a Ph.D. and taught mathematics at Harvard...then moved with Mac Lane to Columbia University...then finally onto the University of Chicago for almost 30 years.
My research interests in mathematics included group theory, ring theory, operator algebras, and field theory....and people seem to regard my many publications, citing "their clarity, style and beauty."
When awarded the Steele Prize by the AMS, I could not attend the ceremony but in a written statement offered some advice: "spend some time every day learning something new that is disjoint from the problem on which you are currently working (remember that the disjointness may be temporary), and read the masters."
An accomplished amateur musician, I studied piano until age 15, earned money in high school playing in a dance band, taught Tom Lehrer, and played in Harvard's jazz band in graduate school...plus had a regular program on Harvard's student radio station....and later composed music such as A Song About Pi whose melody assigns notes to the first 14 decimal places of pi (You probably have heard my singer-songwriter daughter perform it YouTube...if not, search and listen to it now!).
Irving Kaplansky (1917-2006)