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George Clifford Adams is another one of those composers about who virtually nothing has been known. The research for this entry did not turn up much, but did yield more than virtually nothing. Perhaps it will lead to even more at some point. Clifford was born in Dayton, Ohio, to Ambrose V. Adams and Anna "Annie" Ryan in late 1887. He had two younger siblings, Brainard (9/1891) and Sarah R. (4/1895). As of the 1900 census, Ambrose was a machine operator. Virtually nothing else could be found on George's upbringing. However, a 1905 Dayton directory showed him listed there as a pianist. He was shown as a clerk in the 1906 and 1907 Dayton directories.
In his early 20s George became an itinerant pianist, traveling the country in small shows and at least one Chataqua series. This might explain how his first composition, Ink Splotch Rag, ended up getting published in Omaha, Nebraska by the A. Hospe Company. Copies of this piece are quite rare, so it likely received only limited circulation. It is an eclectic rag with some novel ideas, with some passages that would later be reflected in other piano rags of the Ohio Valley and Missouri. He copyrighted and self-published a similar two-step, Patsy Boliver, and a song, Loving You, in 1910 from Bremerton, Washington. All of his musical compositions were copyrighted and printed as Clifford Adams, and he indeed uses that name in the 1910 census taken in Bremerton. His occupation was listed as theater musician, and the record shows him as having recently been married to Edith Adams of Oklahoma. She likely gave the enumerator the incorrect information, as even though the correct George has been confirmed as the one in Bremerton and born in Ohio, the record shows he and his parents as born in New York. All other records indicate Dayton, Ohio.
Most of the productions that Adams played for appear to have been under the radar, as his name does not appear under George or Clifford in advertising of that time, or in the music trades. He still managed to produce a new piece from time to time, the next being a two-step copyrighted from Spokane, Washington in 1914 titled Hanky-Pank. It was published in New York by M. Witmark, so saw better circulation. By the mid 1910s George and Edith were living in Chicago. His 1918 draft record shows George and his wife in Chicago, and not working, listed as an unemployed musician. The couple appears to have had no children.
While George could not be found in the 1920 census, he had moved to Los Angeles, California around that time, evidently without his wife, having likely divorced. He continued to show a divorced status into the 1940s. On a 1922 passport application it appears that George had been hired to work for a cruise line. The destinations shown for his trip on the Shinyou Maru included Japan, China, Hong Kong, India, Australia, South Africa, Argentina, Brazil, Egypt, Burma, New Zealand and the South Sea Islands. After he returned from his world trip, another Adams composition made the rounds in 1923, Frolics and Fancies, composed with Tom Clark and published by Schirmer in New York. It is probable that George relocated to New York, because that is where he was found in most subsequent records.
In the 1930 census Adams was lodging at 305 97th Street in Manhattan, and listed his occupation as composer and producer. The word musician had been started, but was crossed out. There is no record available of anything he may have produced in New York, however. A couple of piano solos and a song emerged over the next dozen years, all published in New York. The 1940 census, taken across the river in Queens, NY, shows Adams as a music composer. In the late 1930s George took a job with the Associated Musicians of Greater New York Local 802, located at 1267 6th Avenue. They are shown as his point of contact on his 1942 draft record (claiming self-employment), and he is mentioned in a couple of their bulletins as having attended certain events. George was living close by at 52nd Street and Broadway, a vital musical center of New York following World War II.
The trail goes cold there, but Adams ended up in Indianapolis, Indiana, where he passed on at age 87 in 1975. This is verified by the birth date on his Social Security record, even though the birth year is incorrect. Any additional information on Clifford Adams and his later years would be both welcomed and properly acknowledged.
One of the earliest published composers of syncopated music, George Barnard actually contributed more to American band music, and band programs for youth. He was born in late 1857 nearly four decades before ragtime was first heard by the general public. George was the youngest child of Michigan farmer Daniel BarnardRebecca A. Banks. His older siblings included William Stuart (1842), Emily (1845), Charles (1847), James (1851), Luther (1852-1871) and Roland (1853). While George's birth year has been traditionally reported as 1858, he himself noted 1857, and since he was 2 in August of 1860, 12 in June of 1870 and 22 in June of 1880, these are all consistent with the 1857 birth year which is used here. Also, his original home was Sandstone in Jackson County, Michigan, not Jackson itself. The Barnard family is shown there in both the 1860 and 1870 Census enumerations.
As a youth he received some musical training, but spent much of his own time and initiative learning various band instruments. In his early twenties he was knowledgeable enough about both instruments and band orchestrations that he was able to get a job working for music dealer, instrument maker and sometime publisher Lyon and Healy of Chicago. In early 1880 George married his first wife, Jennie Ruby, and she often accompanied him as he traveled the country peddling the Lyon and Healy products. But it is probable that George was also playing in various bands, and perhaps doing some piano performance as well. In the 1880 Census, living in East Saginaw, Michigan with his new bride, George was listed as a musician. His mother had been widowed by that time, and was living in Jackson with her son Charles.
George learned more about band orchestrations during his travels and experiences with bands.By 1890 he was dabbling in composition, and Lyon and Healy utilized him as an arranger as well. Many of his early compositions were published in Philadelphia by the John Church company. Barnard had the advantage of being exposed to what was often the newest type of music in one or another location, then spreading the idea of that form to other places he visited. In 1897 he wrote his first of many waltzes, which was also a Spanish-tinged serenade, a form he would revisit again. Two years later, during the height of the Cakewalk craze, George contributed his own durable entry, Alabama Dream. Even though most cakewalks were fairly good sellers, well written ones like Alabama Dream did even better. It was played by many bands and pianists around the country.
As of the 1900 Census, George and Jennie were living in Cincinnati, Ohio, with her mother, Matilda A. Ruby. They had been there for perhaps eight years by that time. Most of his compositions over the next few years shied away from syncopation, and were comprised largely of marches, waltzes and overtures. In 1902 the Barnards moved again, this time to Lincoln, Nebraska, where he was given the task of directing French's Military Band. He gave up representation of Lyon and Healy around that time. In 1907 George and Jennie moved again, this time back to Michigan and Calumet where he both played with and directed the Calumet and Hecla Band. This was one of many organizations around the country that was largely comprised of miners and their families, in this case, copper miners.
Even though cakewalks were more or less passé by 1910, and "coon songs" were thankfully on their way out, Barnard added one more entry to that genre with A Cyclone in Darktown: Just Rags. The sheet music sported an unfortunate cover featuring a black man running from "darktown" holding a razor in one hand and a watermelon in the other. This was the responsibility of publisher Carl Fischer than Barnard, who more or less left that part of the business decision making alone. A Cyclone in Darktown had more syncopation in it that Alabama Dream, but was only a moderate seller in a time when songs about ragtime were becoming more popular than the ragtime itself.
Barnard would continue his composition career within the three genres he was more comfortable with, waltzes, marches and Latin serenades. There were a few piano pieces published, but most would end up as band or orchestral arrangements. While in Michigan George met and married his second and last wife, Hortencia "Daisy" Weismann, twenty years his junior. She was the sister of Leonard Weismann, a cornet player in Barnard's band. In 1913 the couple left Michigan for Oskaloosa, Iowa, for a year, then in 1914 moved to Oklahoma, spending the remainder of the decade in Ardmore in the south-central part of the state. Leonard followed along as a member of George's stock company, and played for many years in a band there. He and Daisy were found in Ardmore, Oklahoma in the January 1920 Census, with George listed as a band master working from home.
In mid 1920 George and Daisy relocated one last time, settling in Maysville, Kentucky. There he took over leadership of the Kentucky Cardinals Boys Band, which had been founded in Maysville in February 1919. This was a pioneering organization which spawned similar bands around the country as their reputation grew. It was also a quality unit, with George arranging most of the music they played, assisted by J. Barbour Russell who managed the organization.
Having accumulated some wealth through his compositions, arrangements, endorsements and band leadership, Barnard had a home custom built for he and his wife. It had a music room large enough to host a small band, and it is said there was a large bass drum on one side with a cardinal logo. Barnard entertained and also taught private lessons in that room. In 1925 when a Kentucky statue was proposed concerning regulating and taxing municipalities that sponsored musical concerts, Barnard became involved with it, supporting it as good for the state. He had not flagged on composition either, continuing to turn out new arrangements, but mostly for band and not piano. In 1927 George published a series of band/orchestra books full of flexible arrangements of well-known classical and march works.
Barnard retired from his regular band work around 1927 when he turned 70, but continued to teach privately and perform or conduct now and then. Many in the mainstream of music had forgotten about or simply were not aware of this fairly prolific composer and dynamic leader, as he had always led a fairly private life away from the bandstand. He continued working at arranging and teaching until early January 1933, and was taken in his home by a cerebral hemorrhage at the age of 75 that same month. He reportedly left behind some 400 compositions, many published under various pseudonyms, including G.F. Daniels, George McQuaide, Edward Russell, Ed Hazel and M.B. Eaton. Hortensia survived him and continued to submit his pieces for recopyright for many years. Barnard's compositions and arrangements for bands remain in print to this day, some even available for digital downloads more than a century after their inception.
Only snippets of information are available on the life of Bernard Adler, who made at least one important ragtime contribution. The collective snippets are presented here for the first time as a long-view portrait of the composer. Bernard was born in Chicago, Illinois to German immigrant clock and watch repairman Louis Adler and his California born wife Sophie (or Sallie) Aal (possibly the Hebrew A’al). He was the middle child of five siblings, including Flora (12/9/1876), Maurice (c.1878), Sophie (1880) and Janet (1889). While little is known of his training or home life, his abilities went beyond what would be taught at Chicago public schools. The fact that Maurice also became involved in the music business suggests that the brothers received some kind of formal music instruction in a town full of very competent musical talent.
Harry Belding is another one of those infrequent composers with a big hit about who virtually nothing has been known. What little that was pieced together by the author will help to tell his story of his less than meteoric rise to fame and nearly instant decline. Harry was born in Jefferson, Iowa, to Jay W. Belding and Lovina "Vina" (Cotton) Belding. He had an older sister, Vesperia "Pearl" Belding. In the 1880 Census, Jay was an operator of some kind, and Vina was a music teacher. Jay became involved with the piano and organ business at some point in the mid 1880s, and his intent to take a mortgage for a store was printed in the Music Trade Review in 1889. It can be surmised that Harry received some form of musical training at the piano either from his mother or one of her local teacher associates.
By the time of the 1900 Census, Jay and Vina were divorced after nearly 30 years of marriage, and Harry was living with his father who had moved to Des Moines, Iowa. Also in the household was his sister, who had recently married J.H. McClintock, and their young son. Jay was listed as a college professor, and Harry as his assistant, although the field of study was not included. There is no mention of Harry in the news or official documents over the next decade, although he married his wife Minnie (Doring) Belding, also from Iowa, around 1902.
Belding appears in Kansas City, Missouri in the 1910 Census as the manager of a vaudeville theater. It was here that he perhaps caught the performance bug and made the right connections. In 1912 and 1913 Harry went on the road with a partner, and they toured as Alexander and Belding. It was this act that introduced Good Gravy Rag, which was published by Buck and Lowney in St. Louis in 1913. For the next season he teamed up with a young lady named Myrtle Souders. In a December 22, 1913 review of their act at the Pantages Theater in Berkeley, California, it was noted that: "Harry Belding and Myrtle Souders are an attractive young couple, with fine singing voices. Belding is an excellent pianist also, and their four numbers have the lilting refrains that are whistled and hummed after one leaves the theater." It was shortly after this that he published his only other known piece, Apple Sass Rag. During the 1914 season he also managed to get a picture on one of the cover runs of Irving Berlin's He's a Rag Picker, and a performer credit on Back to the Carolina I Love by Jean Schwartz and Grant Clarke. Then Harry literally vanished from view after a mere two years on stage.
After 1914 any mention of Belding is hard to find, and none of it in show business. He either did not care for life on the road or it and some audiences or managers did not care for him. In any case, Harry and Minnie and their daughter Dorothy were next sighted in Los Angeles, California in 1918. On his draft record he lists his occupation as farmer, employed by his father who had also moved to Los Angeles. Jay W. Belding passed on sometime before the 1920 Census. The younger Beldings could not be located in that record. Harry shows up in San Diego, California, in the mid 1920s, as per several newspaper articles that mention him, many in a musical context. He is in the 1930 Census record, also taken in San Diego, California. Harry had remarried a few years earlier to Shirley A. Belding of Michigan, also a pianist and singer. The music business was not mentioned anywhere, as Harry was working as a real-estate agent in that lucrative market.
In addition to the real estate business, Belding was plying his musical talent in various San Diego area venues as per a number or articles in the San Diego Union. These included appearances as a tenor with the Arizonans and the San Diego County Realtors Glee Club. There were also frequent appearances in the late 1920s as a soloist on local radio broadcasts. Sadly, Harry Belding died at age 49 as the result of a fall of a landing and down a flight of stars in October 1931. His daughter, Dorothy (Newcomb) died of a long illness the following January. While Belding only left behind those two musical works, they are still frequently performed today on CD recordings and at ragtime festivals around the United States.
Thanks to historian Reginald Pitts who was able to dig up a few bits of information on Belding's final years in Southern California, including a newspaper article on his death.
Theron C. Bennett was born in Pierce City, Missouri, to Vermont native George Nelson Bennett and his Missouri wife Hattie Bennett. It appears he was an only child to the druggist and his wife. After his schooling in Missouri, during which his mother died in the 1890s, Theron attended New Mexico College of Agriculture and Mechanic Arts (now New Mexico State University) in Las Cruces, where he obtained a degree focused on music, but possibly with some business background. While there he engaged in organizing a minstrel troupe of around twenty members with one of the professors. As of the 1900 Census, Theron still listed Pierce City as his home base.
Bennett's first publication, Pickaninny Capers, came in 1902, the year he graduated. It was followed by the successful and suggestive self-published Satisfied: An Emotional Drag in 1903. This got the attention of publisher Victor Kremer of Chicago who hired him as a composer and arranger and bought Satisfied for reissue as well. It turned out to be a fortuitous move for both when in 1904 Bennett took the notorious "Buddy Bolden/Funky Butt" strain from New Orleans and incorporated into St. Louis Tickle, one of many pieces exploiting the 1904 Lewis and Clark Exposition (World's Fair) in St. Louis, Missouri. It was published using the names Barney & Seymore as the composers, in part to perhaps sound like a vaudeville act, and in part to perhaps protect the composer's identity if the use of the wicked strain backfired. Fortunately it did not, and St. Louis Tickle, clearly a hit at the fair and often recorded since, ended up selling well for over two decades. Bennett also contributed a set of waltzes to the fair's musical mélange under his own name.
Theron wrote two fine rags over the next few years, including Sweet Pickles and Pork and Beans. He also composed an Indian intermezzo, a popular genre at that time started by Theron's friend Charles N. Daniels' and his non-Indian piece Hiawatha. Lovelight was released as an instrumental, and as two songs with different lyric sets in different keys. Around 1908, as the Kremer firm began to dissipate, starting with the defection of its namesake owner, Bennett formed his own music firm which published his own works plus notable pieces like All the Grapes, California Sunshine and Melancholy Baby. His first move was to Omaha, Nebraska, in 1908 where he opened a new piano dealership. He was in Omaha for the 1910 Census as a musician in a store. Within a couple of years, he had settled in Denver, Colorado, but still traveled regularly to the retailers he distributed his works, including New York, St. Louis and Omaha.
One of the more notorious episodes of his publishing career has to do with W.C. Handy's Memphis Blues. As the story goes, Bennett was visiting his Memphis representative L.Z. Phillips at Bry's Department Store. Phillips had agreed to print Memphis Blues for Handy on speculation based on the clear potential of good sales, and was waiting for the first 1000 copies for distribution in Memphis. Based on Phillips recommendation, Bennett told Handy he would act as a distribution agent offering him national exposure, a deal hard to turn down. Phillips and Bennett were both present with Handy when the initial delivery of 1000 copies was made. When Handy came to check on sales a weeks after the delivery, Phillips and Bennett showed him a stack of nearly the full 1000 copies, noting that sales were slow, and encouraged him to simply sell the piece outright, which a confused Handy, who knew the piece had been popular, agreed to for a mere $50. What they did not tell Handy was that this was the second stack of 1000 as the first 1000 copies had sold out quickly. A few weeks later, another 10,000 copies were ordered with Bennett's imprint, and Zimmerman was offered a job as a wholesale manager. Within months, Bennett sold the piece to publisher Joe Morris for a rather large amount. To make matters worse, Bennett's frequent lyricist George Norton was hired by Morris to add words to a song version of Memphis Blues which were only fair at best, and which Handy objected to. The whole episode compelled Handy to form his own music company, Handy and Pace, which was successful on its own merits for many years.
Bennett pulled a similar number on Ernie Burnett's Melancholy, first getting Burnett to agree to have Norton replace the lyrics that Burnett's wife Maybelle Watson had penned, then altering the title to Melancholy Baby after having bought it outright. The piece did very well for the publisher throughout most of his remaining life. During this period Bennett also started a chain of music stores with his profits from the sales, primarily offering sheet music and records. He had outlets in Denver, New York City, Omaha, Chicago, St. Louis and Memphis.
Bennett continued to write and publish some of his own works as well. Chills and Fevers was a good seller for his company. In Denver, Theron was listed in the mid to late-1910s as not only a publisher but as the proprietor of the Dutch Mill Cafe (a descendant of which is still in operation today), which was also a music store. It was evidently one of the great meeting places of Denver musicians and artists. In 1917 he published the song Around Her Neck She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, which is the source of the tradition for yellow ribbons in honor of those who have gone to war, and possibly the later song Tie a Yellow Ribbon 'Round the Old Oak Tree. The authorship of this song remains disputed to this day, but it was likely an older folk melody that Bennett simply adapted and arranged. When it was later included in the John Wayne film She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, Leroy Parker and M. Ottner received composition credit.
His 1918 draft record also describes him as being short with medium build, and black hair with brown eyes. It also indicates that his father had now retired to Florida. Existing records indicate that he likely never married. In the 1920 Census Theron is listed as the manager of a department store, likely the sheet music department within the store.
After a decade or so in Denver, Bennett followed the crowds down to Southern California in 1922, and remained there for the rest of his life. It wasn't long before he formed a jazz band primarily composed of band students from the University of Southern California (USC) as well as his own society orchestra. His group was among the first to play live on the new medium of radio before the end of 1922. As referenced in The Music Trade Review of April 14, 1923: "Edgar F. Bitner, general manager of Leo Feist, Inc., who is touring the Pacific Coast accompanied by Mrs. Bitner, was tendered an unusual entertainment prior to his departure from Los Angeles, when an all-Feist program was broadcasted [sic] from the Anthony Studios, [KFI] station, through the courtesy of Herb Wiedoeft's orchestra... Theron Bennett, the well-known orchestra leader who conducts the Green Mill Orchestra in Los Angeles, and who has been a close friend of Mr. Bitner for many years, did much to entertain the party during its stay in Los Angeles." He also conducted the Packard Six Orchestra (sponsored by the automobile company of the same name), and still appeared with his Dutch Mill Orchestra, both frequently hear on KFI. In the mid 1920s KFI, a clear channel station, could often be heard as far off as the East Coast, reflected in the radio listings of papers like The Washington Post and The Bridgeport [Connecticut] Telegram.
In the mid 1920s Bennett opened his own school of popular music, dance music and jazz piano at 3290 W. Pico Boulevard in Los Angeles, advertising it heavily in 1926. He also served as the president of the California organization of former New Mexico students for his alma mater. As of 1930 Bennett was listed as a music teacher with a house mate, Austen Peerly, a local gardener and landscaper 30 years younger than the composer. As the Great Depression settled in, his businesses all folded and he lost virtually all of his assets. Theron Bennett died nearly destitute in 1937 at age 57 after a prolonged illness. The official obituary in the Los Angeles Times incorrectly listed Melancholy Baby and Memphis Blues as being among his compositions, which further exacerbated that lingering issue. The New York Times got it correct, however. He left behind a fair body of pieces that he either composed or published, and some of them are pieces that are still well remembered today as important works of the ragtime era. Bennett was honored at the one of the earliest ragtime festivals organized by Bob Darch in Pierce City in September 1961.
Irving Berlin, perhaps more than any other composer of the first half of the 20th Century and beyond, represents America and American Music at its finest. Given his background it becomes even more extraordinary when one understands his contributions to this adopted country of his. Berlin also managed to stay right on the cusp of popular forms to which he was contributing, not mastering them, but certainly writing into them well. It is likely that he wrote AND published more songs than any other popular song writer in history, wrote hundreds of unpublished or unpublishable tunes as well, and likely created more pieces than any other 20th century writer as both composer and lyricist. He was also quirky, but in spite of not being a movie star in stature, he was a true American favorite among the public and among the stars as well. From truly humble beginnings Berlin managed to build a musical empire and a legacy that is hard to match and remains with us in the 21st century.
This great American was actually born in Mogilev (modern day Belarus) or Tehmen (according to his 1942 draft record, but at variance with other records), Russia in 1888 as Israel Isidore Baline, to Jewish parents Moses Baline and Leah (Yarchin) Baline. His father was a cantor who sometimes worked as a shochet (the person who kills animals in a kosher manner for sale and consumption) as well to support his wife and eight children. In the face of the increasing progroms and oppression of Jews in Russia, Baline moved his family to the United States when Israel, the youngest sibling, was around five. Perhaps the first hint of the coming name change, the family is shown on the arrival list of the Rhynland on September 14, 1893, as the Beilin family, but it is not clear whether they actually adopted the Berlin last name when they immigrated.
Moses found work in New York certifying Kosher meat before it went to market, while his wife kept house. When Israel was around eight his father died, leaving the boy and his older brothers and sisters (one already working as a domestic) in the position of helping their mother survive in the New York ghetto. So he and his siblings went to work as news butchers, delivery boys, and whatever odd jobs they could find, usually at the sacrifice of sufficient schooling. He picked up some singing skills as well, although the boy never had formal training in piano, voice, or even harmony and theory. He was simply a natural.
In 1902 Izzy, as he was often referred to, left home to make try to find his own way in the world. The fourteen-year-old sang in bars, or on the streets, and continued to do whatever odd jobs he could find. The hardships he encountered would stick with him throughout his life, as even though he eventually had more money that he could imagine, he was still very cautious with it. This reality may have also formed his work ethic, feeling the need to always be productive. A side job for the boy was as a song plugger or demonstrator (as a vocalist) for Harry Von Tilzer, but this was not steady work. Still, it placed him in Tony Pastor's famed Vaudeville house, and got him some notice among musicians.
By 1906, at 18, Izzy had a job as a singing waiter at Callahan's, and then Pelham's Cafe in Chinatown (some sources also cite a place called Nigger Mike's). Since a rival pub had their own song published in 1907 (it was increasingly easy to get a song into print in Manhattan by this time), the owner asked Izzy if he help to write one for Pelham's. Baline fitted lyrics to a melody by the cafe's pianist, Nick Nicholson, and in short order, Marie from Sunny Italy became the first of his songs in print. This was quite a feat as he was still having some difficulty with English, as Russian had been spoken in his home, and Yiddish was the common language on the streets, but he showed a propensity for clever rhyming. Izzy made a whopping 37 cents in royalties, but he gained something more - his famous name. The cover artist and printer misread the name and put it down as "I. Berlin," but since it sounded much more Americanized, he adopted Irving Berlin as his legal name. (Note that this is the most common story, although the Ellis Island arrival list cannot be discounted as a contributing possibility).
The published effort managed to gain Berlin some small fame, and he next found himself singing at Jimmy Kelly's establishment, a bit closer to Tin Pan Alley than he had previously been. Encouraged by the minor sucess of Marie, and in spite of what was still an English handicap, Berlin set out to contribute lyrics to more tunes. In some cases, he would create a set of lyrics and be in search of an existing melody or a potential writer for that melody. In the year following Marie this translated into a total of two more pieces. However, 1909 would prove to be the year of his emergence as a great lyricist. Remember that Babe Ruth was initially known for his pitching prowess, so that the immigrant Berlin was utilized as a pitcher of lyrics makes for a better story, once his other true talent was revealed. Berlin had been experimenting with his own melodies, which had to be hummed to a pianist who would translate them. Through watching, he soon learned enough tricks to be able to pound out his own melodies, albeit usually transcribed by a copyist or arranger.
The incident that spurred him on to be a music writer involved another early song, Dornado. Irving had his own definitive idea about how the melody for the piece should sound, but the collaborator who transcribed it came out with something quite different. So Berlin struck out to find someone who could literally translate the melody, and Dornado was born. It got him enough notice that Ted Snyder, who had recently come from Chicago and opened both Seminary Music and Ted Snyder Publishing in Manhattan, hired Berlin as a staff lyricist in early 1909. According to Berlin's obituary, he had taken a lyric to Snyder for consideration in late 1908. The newly minted publisher asked to hear the melody. Even though Irving had not considered adding his own tune to the lyric, he improvised one on the spot, hummed to Snyder's pianist/arranger, and performed it right away. Snyder was impressed enough to bring Berlin into the fold in short order. His hiring was announced in the New York Clipper on March 20, 1909:
Berlin and Snyder quickly turned out She Was a Dear Little Girl, which was quickly interpolated into a show on Broadway, giving them some momentum. Snyder then tried Berlin with another newcomer, Edgar Leslie, and their song Sadie Salome, Go Home eventually helped Fannie Brice land her long-time job with the Ziegfeld Follies.
Henry Waterson, of the Ted Snyder Company, immediately recognized in young Berlin talent out of the ordinary. Encouraging him in the pursuit of his vocation, Messrs. Waterson and Snyder induced Berlin to perfect several manuscripts which they immediately proceeded to put into press. Three of these are particularly novel and valuable. They are entitled, respectively: "Sadie Salome Go Home." a comic dialect; "Dorandor!" an Italian humorous ditty, and "No One Could Do It Like My Father," another witty efusion.
Further oddities from this writer's pen are shortly to follow and the Ted Snyder firm will push them with the same profitable vigor as has been evidenced in their famous "My Dream of the U.8.A." and "Beautiful Eyes* numbers.
While Berlin lyrics were fitted to the music of a few other Snyder composers, it soon became evident that he and Snyder were a good match, and they started turning out a number of appreciably good tunes on a regular basis. Two rags that were turned into songs with Berlin's lyrics, George Botsford's Dance of the Grizzly Bear, and Snyder's own Wild Cherries, translated into good sales for the company. Snyder also let Irving work with transcribers to turn out his own songs, including two early lasting efforts, Yiddle, on Your Fiddle, Play Some Ragtime and That Mesmerizing Mendelssohn Tune, both from 1909. In 1910, the output from Berlin as well as his collaborations with Snyder exploded in quantity, although other than Grizzly Bear there were no enormous successes. He appears in the 1910 Census as Irving Berlin, head of household, living with his mother and his sister Augusta, his occupation that of Music Writer. The following year, 1911, would prove to be the turning point in Berlin's writing career, and his earliest major success was also touched with a bit of controversy.
Having become more competent as a pianist, albeit in a limited fashion, but more valuable also as one who could recognize good work when it came across his desk,
Berlin was also utilized to review the works of other composers for publication, and became Snyder's right hand man. One of these composers was Scott Joplin, who in 1911 was shopping his opera Treemonisha around Tin Pan Alley in hopes of getting it in print, and raising money to stage it. There is a good chance that the score came across Berlin's desk. Later in that year with the help of Snyder arranger Alfred Doyle he re-purposed an earlier unsuccessful song, Alexander and His Clarinet, with a new verse, a tune we all now know as Alexander's Ragtime Band. This new verse was highly similar to the original melody of Joplin's A Real Slow Drag which closed the opera. In fact, it was reported by Joplin's surviving wife, Lottie Stokes Joplin, that he likely altered the melody afterwards so it did not match the verse to Alexander's Ragtime Band. A newspaper notice of that time also noted that Joplin was looking for Mr. Berlin on a certain matter, which may have been concerning the potentially subconscious plagiarism. The issue was never fully resolved, but the facts seem plausible.
The chorus of Alexander's Ragtime Band is similarly constructed from existing tunes, including the Reveille bugle call and Stephen Collins Foster's Old Folks at Home (Swanee River). While there is not a lick of actual ragtime syncopation in the piece, it quickly became and has stayed as an anthem of the ragtime era, and it permanently cemented Berlin's name in the songwriting world. The piece was immediately recorded by the Victor Military Band, and even played on the Titanic's maiden (and final) voyage the following year. It has been recorded endlessly by all stripes of music artists, including Ray Charles in a unique arrangement. In the late 1930s a movie was made based on the song. Even in its original printings at least 40 different entertainers were featured on the various covers of the piece. A piano solo version was also available for a while, likely arranged by Doyle. All of this success from one publication, and yet Irving was just beginning his contributions to the Great American Song Book.
With Alexander's Ragtime Band, Berlin readily found the pulse of the American music consumer, and did all he could to feed it. It would be some time before he started turning out his famed romantic ballads, but for now he simply became a song machine, with many songs centered around dance or ragtime. He turned enough ragtime-centric songs to be deemed "King of Ragtime Songs," (which should not be confused with syncopated piano ragtime). Even though there were only a couple of scant mentions of him in the news prior to May of 1911, he was suddenly a big item in music and entertainment stories, and his name remained in the press for decades to come.
In 1911 and 1912 Berlin and Snyder continued to turn out a tidal wave of tunes, and all told there was a new Berlin song every four to five days, an astonishing feat. His output in 1911 and 1912 alone eclipsed that of the lifetime output of most successful ragtime writers and many popular writers as well.
It should be noted that because of his limitations as a pianist, which were extreme in 1911 and 1912, that Berlin never wrote piano ragtime, nor would he write true jazz or stride. He was and would remain a writer of popular songs. However, Irving was in some sense a proponent of ragtime, reporting on it and encouraging it through his songs. During the ragtime era the ratio of popular songs (verse and chorus tunes that were about any number of topics but not classically composed) to rags, or even rags and intermezzos combined, was at least 20 to 1, and maybe higher. So with Alexander's Ragtime Band, That Mysterious Rag, Oh, That Beautiful Rag and similar tunes, Berlin was simply voicing, or in some cases creating more interest in the music. The success of a song was clear even back then. It needs a good topic and a good musical hook that is easy to remember as well as hum. So for capturing the essence of the ragtime era and making it live far beyond its rumored end in the late 1910s, even with limited syncopation in some of his 1910s pieces, Berlin could very much be considered a viable composer of ragtime, even if not piano rags.
Riding high on his successes, Irving gained confidence in himself and his stature as a musician. It should be noted that throughout his career this was never a solo effort, as he never completely gained the necessary skills to notate and arrange his own tunes. With his rudimentary piano skills, which as legend tells it centered around playing the black keys, usually in Gb major, he was able to play sufficient melody and chords to get the general notion of a piece across. But there was usually a ghost writer at his side who turned his ideas into a salable product. Usually in the music industry this person was cited as an arranger, and indeed a few Berlin pieces did have an arranging credit. But for the most part, whether it was initially his decision or that of the other firm's partners, Berlin's name usually stood alone. Among the assistants were composer Cliff Hess, who worked with Berlin from around 1912 to 1917, and later Arthur Johnston and then Helmy Kresa. In some cases a co-composer credit might have been fitting as they worked out some of the chord changes, but it became a Berlin tradition that if it was his melody it was his song. It also became increasingly clear during 1912 and 1913 that he was better able to fit his own lyrics to a proper melody, and collaborations with a handful of lyricists started diminishing, particularly as his solo efforts flew off the store shelves.
Irving's induction into ballads came about in a somewhat tragic way. Riding high on the success of his great ragtime hit, Berlin dated Dorothy Goetz, sister of one of his earlier lyricists, E. Ray Goetz, and they married a few weeks later in February of 1912. They took a honeymoon in Cuba where she contracted typhoid fever, finally succumbing to it in June. Berlin was devastated and unsure how to express his grief over the loss. Goetz suggested that he simply write a ballad about his feelings, and When I Lost You became the first of his many heart-wrenching ballads. He would show up as still single on his 1917 draft record, and remained a widower in the 1920 census. However, a tragedy of this proportion would not strike again in his otherwise charmed life.
That same year of 1912 he had another monster hit with When That Midnight Choo Choo Leaves for Alabam which quickly found its way to the vaudeville stage, and the following year would yield a number of fine tunes, including the comedy hit Snooky Ookums. On two tunes of that year, published with another firm, he was credited as Ren. G. May, an anagram for Germany, of which the principal city was, of course, Berlin. He also used this credit to record the tunes, still being a pretty fair singer. As far has methodology for turning out popular tunes in short order, Irving demonstrated this ability during a trip to England, as recounted in the Music Trade Review of July 12, 1913:
Following the stories from New York regarding Mr. Berlin's ability to dash off a song and sell it for a couple thousand dollars, all in a few minutes, a representative of the Daily Express, of London, called on him for a practical demonstration, and from it wrote the following story:
"Upon receiving the request for a song to order, Mr. Berlin said:
"'Usually, I get my rhythm and melody complete before I give them to the "arranger." This is a pretty hard test, but I'll try.'
"He did. He walked about four miles doing it, in the course of two hours. He was never still a moment. "At the finish a new ragtime had grown before its listeners, all complete, from the introduction and vamp to the final chord of the chorus. Afterwards he made up the words.
"This is how he did it. The 'arranger' sat at the piano, pencil and paper ready. Irving Berlin started a one-step up and down the room, snapping his fingers and jerking his shoulders as he went. He did this for some time. It was the divine afflatus on marionette wires.
"Suddenly he stopped, leaned over the 'arranger,' and 'La-ta-ta-ta-tatata,' he began. 'That's the opening line.'
"The 'arranger' wrote down the precious notes and played them.
"'Fine,' said Irving Berlin; and off he went again, up and down, to and fro, dancing a one-step to imaginary tunes rollicking through his mind.
"'Play it again,' he said, with a snap of his fingers. A minute passed. Irving Berlin clapped his hands to his ears and changed the direction of his walk. It came slowly, but when it did come there was a burst of half a dozen bars.
"So, gradually, the ragtime is built up."
'Play it once more. I want to get back to the key,' he says, after a half-hour's ineffectual lum-tum-tums.'
"Finally, the chorus, the most difficult of all. It has to be catchy, it has to trip and slide, and stop, and drop from key to key and be lifted back again. It has to 'go.'
"With a rush the thing is finished. It has been fitted together like a puzzle, intricate little pieces of melody running haphazard nowhere and fading abruptly as other strains follow, with just a semblance of the motif to keep it together."
The title of the on-the-spot song was curiously not mentioned. While popular songs and ragtime-oriented and dance tunes were helping Berlin make his name, there was another inevitability awaiting him, and it was literally just up the street from his office.
Almost since his collaboration with Snyder began, Irving Berlin songs had found their way into shows on Broadway and 42nd Street through interpolation, and given his past dealings with Tony Pastor he was no stranger to the stage either. However in 1914, Berlin finally released one of the first ragtime-based (more in name than in style) musicals (by today's standards musicals of that time would be considered revues) on Broadway. Few stage musicals at that time, perhaps with George M. Cohan's (who wrote a song lauding Irving Berlin melodies a year later) being the exception, had songs by any one composer, but Berlin did provide the majority of them for Watch Your Step. His original stated intent was to write a "ragtime opera," although he ended up with a pretty decent revue featuring some syncopation and lots of dancing.
For the debut Berlin and his producers already had an ace in the hole, utilizing the recent popularity of the famous dancing couple Vernon and Irene Castle as his stars. Taking some queues from the Ziegfeld Follies, there were even some extravagances displayed on the stage, including a sizable medley of popular opera themes with some syncopation added. The combination of talents in the show made it a great success, and it played initially for 175 performances, a good run at that time. Most of the songs also ended up in print and were sold in the lobby as well as in stores, an added bonus. For the purposes of publishing this show the composer formed his own company, Irving Berlin, Inc., but still remained with Waterson and Snyder who published his popular tunes. One of the tunes in this show quickly gained hit status and eventually became a standard, the finely double-layered Simple Melody (later renamed Play a Simple Melody). The following year he contributed the majority of pieces for Stop! Look! Listen!, which ran for a respectable 105 performances. The standout hit of that show, still with us today, was I Love a Piano, reportedly his favorite tune of all time.
After a rather uneventful, and somewhat less prolific year in 1916, Berlin contributed to another show in 1917, Dance and Grow Thin, and tackled the latest musical craze - jazz - with some supposed jazz of his own. The word, which had proliferated into popular usage from late 1916 on, was new, but many song titles started featuring it, including Berlin's own Mister Jazz, Himself. He then did a rare collaboration with the other more established big fish in the Broadway pond, George M. Cohan, and their co-written The Cohan Revue of 1918 previewed on New Year's Eve and ran for 96 performances. Berlin also published the bulk of Cohan's pieces from this period.
Some time before that, not yet a U.S. Citizen, Irving was drafted into the United States Army late in 1917, and assigned to Camp Upton at Fort Yiphank. He very quickly took advantage of this situation by writing about it, one of the earliest pieces being a protest song (especially for the musician's lifestyle), Oh, How I Hate to Get Up in the Morning. In an effort to keep to his true talent, he persuaded the brass to let him stage an Army-based show utilizing enlisted men, and they agreed. Now not having to keep to regulation hours, Berlin completed Yip Yip Yiphank and staged 32 performances of it utilizing 350 troops. While there was no Over There embedded in the work, two of the songs went on to become big standards, one of them held back for two decades. Mandy, which many associate with the Ziegfeld Follies of 1919, was actually first heard in the Army show, but retooled a year later.
However, a more somber tune which was prepared for the Army show ended up being pulled, perhaps even before the first performance. It would not be until 1938 that Berlin would pull out the everlasting God Bless America for its first public performance by singer Kate Smith on Armistice Day of that year. It has since become the most revered and most sung tune in America composed by a Russian Jew simply trying to survive the army. The publications of Yip Yip Yiphank were printed with his promotion clearly shown, composed by Sergeant Irving Berlin. On February 6, 1918, Irving Berlin became a naturalized citizen of his adopted country.
Since Irving ended up not actually going into combat he was able to maintain a good songwriting pace, and soon after the war he increased the scope of his own firm, taking on works by other composers as well, finally leaving Waterson, Berlin & Snyder at the end of 1918. In 1919 Florenz Ziegfeld, no stranger to Berlin tunes, asked him to contribute as much as he could to that year's Follies. Along with a revamped version of Mandy he came up with what would become the signature Ziegfeld anthem, A Pretty Girl is Like a Melody.
In the Jaunary 1920 Census he is shown as a widower living in Manhattan with a secretary and a housekeeper, his occupation as an author of songs. That same year, Berlin similarly contributed a bounty of tunes to Ziegfeld for the 1920 Follies, but he had something else in the works. Carefully using his considerable profits from his musical endeavors, Berlin decided to exercise more control over the environment that his musicals would be in, as well as the availability of a place to stage him, and along with his new partner Sam Harris financed the construction of his own 1025 seat Music Box Theater on 45th Street. The opening show there was his Music Box Revue of 1921 which ran for a rather astonishing (at that time) 440 performances. Three more similar revues were staged over the next four years, each with declining attendance and shorter runs, although still far from tepid. The last of these Music Box Revues in 1925 featured Fannie Brice, but ran for only 194 performances.
The Music Box Theater remained busy with other productions that leased it, and is still in business in the 21st century. In 2007 ownership passed from the Berlin estate to the Shubert Theater Organization.
In 1924 Irving started to date socialite Ellin Mackay, 15 years younger than himself, who would become his second wife. But there seemed to be many obstacles in the way of his convincing her to marry him. Among them, his Jewish heritage and upbringing in poverty, contrasted with the fact that she was a devout Irish-American Catholic and heiress to the Comstock Lode mining fortune. Some of his more stirring ballads came as a direct result of songs he wrote for Ellin, including All Alone, Remember, and the wistful weeper What'll I Do. Finally he won her with singing (a plot theme repeated in the movie Holiday Inn several years later), and just before they were married in January of 1926 he wrote the simple and elegant Always for her as well, assigning all of the (considerable) income from the song to Ellin. She was immediately disinherited by her father, and for a time they were snubbed by many members of society for the inter-faith marriage. Irving and Ellin had a daughter, Mary Ellin, within the year. Linda Emmett and Elizabeth Peters would follow, as would Irving Berlin Jr. who would sadly die in childbirth.
Following the traveling patterns of Berlin throughout the 1920s, particularly after marrying Ellin, becomes quite an endeavor, since he is listed on dozens of ship manifests going to Europe, the United Kingdom, the Bahamas, Hawaii, and other exotic ports of call. Berlin liked cruises, but when called upon to perform or accompany (as best he could) on these trips he was often stymied by his Gb playing. So he had either four or five special transposing pianos built for him which allowed the keys to slide back and forth underneath the action, facilitating his playing in a suitable key for any occasion. One of these usually accompanied him on a cruise ship, one in the theater, one at the office, one at home, and there may have been a spare. One of these unique pianos resides today in the American History collection of the Smithsonian Institution.
Irving's cleverness would pay off for both him and a group of brothers looking for a vehicle that would exploit their singularly unique talents. So in 1925, based on a book by playwright Irving Kaufman, he came up with a nearly schizophrenic set of songs for The Cocoanuts starring the Marx Brothers in their recently redefined personas as Groucho, Chico, Harpo, Zeppo and Gummo. The first incarnation would run 276 performances, with the brothers constantly adjusting the material to the point where it worked flawlessly. It was revived in 1927 with an additional tune for another healthy run, cementing their inevitable success.
Berlin's biggest song of 1926 would turn out to be Blue Skies, soon to become a standard through the voice of a new kid on the block, crooner Bing Crosby, who would be a great proponent of Berlin songs. His final contribution to the stage in the 1920s was for the 1927 Ziegfeld Follies, one of the most ambitious years of Ziegfeld's career in which the entrepreneur staged four shows at one time. That same year brought the beautiful instrumental Russian Lullaby. However, through Bing and the Max Brothers and other connections, a new medium was soon to call for the great Berlin.
Hollywood, Then Back to Broadway
While Berlin songs sold well throughout the country, they were mostly performed live in New York through the 1920s. However, in 1927, as synchronized sound film became a possibility, a Vitaphone short came out called The Little Princess of Song starring 13-year-old Sylvia Froos, singing Blue Skies. There was enough interest in the piece that Al Jolson, no stranger to Berlin songs by this time, used it for his pivotal "live dialog" scene in The Jazz Singer shortly thereafter, with Bert Fiske playing an offstage piano while Jolson mimed his own playing. The movie, that scene in particular, was a sensation, and Blue Skies certainly did not suffer. It went on to be heard on recordings and in movies a panoply of styles, including one 21st (or 24th) century rendition by singer/actor Brent Spiner as Data in the tenth Star Trek movie. But it also meant that Berlin songs could potentially be heard virtually anywhere as performed by stars of the screen. In the early days of sound when dialog was still difficult to capture, but music was much easier to record, many of the earliest sound films became musicals, and they drew on whatever they could find in order to both have new material and capitalize on the subsequent sales of sheet music or records. Berlin was happy to oblige this new trend, and stepped up to the plate.
The Cocoanuts finally made it to film via Paramount in 1929, but more than half the tunes were cut from the movies, because without intermissions like live stage shows, people seemed less likely to sit through a full two hour production. However, MGM and other studios would eventually find a way to pack almost as much music into a film as a stage production, often focusing on a single composer for those films. One Berlin song composed in 1929 for a film released in 1930 would actually have four more resurgences over the next few decades, and is clearly an exciting standard today. Written just ahead of the depression, Puttin' On the Ritz (for the film of the same name) combined ragtime and jazz with danceability in a song about snooty rich people. It was retooled in 1946 for Fred Astaire in the movie Blue Skies, becoming much more popular with the newer lyrics. Mel Brooks made it a centerpiece of his 1974 film Young Frankenstein, and later in 2007 as a huge production number for the stage version of the story. And in the early 1980s Danish singer called Taco Ockerse made it into a techno-pop retro-hit in Europe and the United States.
In 1929 ragtime veteran Al Jolson asked for more material for his new film career, and ended up with five new Berlin songs in My Mammy, released 1930. One more film keeping Irving busy was Hallelujah with another pair of songs. While traveling to Hollywood to facilitate the incorporation of his tunes into film from time to time, Berlin still stayed firmly based in Manhattan while not off on a cruise ship. He is shown there in the 1930 Census with Ellin and Mary Ellin, a self-employed composer of music.
Notable films over the next decade that would feature Berlin music include Top Hat (1935), featuring Cheek to Cheek; Follow the Fleet (1936), featuring Let's Face the Music and Dance; the all-Berlin film On the Avenue (1937); another Berlin song extravaganza filled with ragtime-era classics
Broadway took quite a hit during the Great Depression as it was much less expensive to create and distribute a film than it was to employ fifty or more people every night for a stage production. So some of them were scaled back or less performances held. Just the same, there were enough people in Manhattan well enough off and in need of entertainment that the producers pressed on, including Berlin and Harris. In 1932 he came out with the political satire Face the Music, and the following year with a play lauding the new president, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, in As Thousands Cheer, a play in which cast members played several different roles, perhaps a cost-cutting measure. This show ran more than a year, achieving 400 performances in the first run. It also had an embedded tune called Heat Wave which found plenty of favor in the 1950s when sexy new star Marilyn Monroe infused new meaning into it.
Another piece, which started out in 1917 as Smile and Show Your Dimples, was retooled with the same melody into the piece Her Easter Bonnet. It eventually found success when it was later retitled as Easter Parade, although it took five film appearances before the piece would take off. Berlin's publishing empire remained consistent and busy throughout the 1930s as well, and he had the good fortune to have been contracted by Walt Disney to put many of that studio's works into print, including all of the songs from the stellar hit, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, and later Pinnochio and Dumbo.
The face of Broadway would change in the wake of musicals such as Snow White and The Wizard of Oz where gradually the songs featured in these stories would actually be part of the story, forwarding the plot, rather than just assembled for the sake of putting a song at a certain point in the story. Many consider the dawn of the modern musical to be Rodgers and Hammerstein's Oklahoma in 1943, and it does contain the elements of character-based songs that have more context within the story than if sung alone. However, Berlin approached this concept fairly successfully in 1940, at age 52, with the satirical comedy Louisiana Purchase, a similar idea to that of Oklahoma. It ultimately ran a respectable 444 performances, and in 1941 was made into a less than successful Paramount film with Bob Hope in the lead. Given the tone of the musical and the story emphasis on the songs, it yielded no lasting hits. In the 1940 Census the Berlin family was living together in Manhattan, including Ellen, and their daughters Mary Ellen (13), Linda L. (8) and Elizabeth I. (3). They also had 1 live-in nurse and four servants. In spite of how well things were going for the other composer, there were other worries in the world at that time, and they came to a head in December of 1941 with the American entry into World War II. Again, Sergeant Irving Berlin would be there to rally for the cause.
The Berlin Renaissance
Patriotic was once again very much in vogue in 1942, and this time it was Uncle Sam that approached Berlin, asking him to repeat what he had done for morale in World War I with Yip Yip Yiphank. He quickly revived some of the old tunes, came up with new ones, and This Is the Army was born. It cleverly included the staging of Yip Yip Yiphank in the plot, spanning both of the wars. While the initial run was only 113 performances, as personnel were constantly being shipped off, but continued to tour the country and the world throughout the war. The unit formed to stage this and other shows for the military still exists into the 21st century. This Is the Army was made into a fairly successful movie in 1943 featuring future California politicians George Murphy and Ronald Reagan, with a cameo by Berlin himself singing Oh, How I Hate to Get Up in the Morning, which required some technical prowess by the sound crew to pull off since his voice recorded so softly. Berlin also toured extensively during the war, playing in the African, European and Pacific theaters, often shortly after a location had been liberated. After the war, President Harry Truman awarded him the American Medal of Merit for his contributions to troop morale.
His contributions to morale at home were also important, and again extended to film, with the big hit of 1942 yielding quite a surprise. Asked by Paramount to come up with pieces for a film based on American holidays, with a special song for most of them, Irving was sure that his Easter Parade would finally be the hit he had hoped for when featured in Holiday Inn with Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire. What he didn't see coming was that Bing would turn a simple Christmas tune written by a Russian Jewish immigrant into the biggest song hit in history, White Christmas. Except for the initial surge of Elton John's special recording of Candle in the Wind honoring the late Princess Diana of Wales, White Christmas has consistently been the top selling song on records, CD, and digital media combined, the standard to end all standards. Written in the summer of 1940 while he was in Los Angeles, but not released, Berlin found it difficult to capture the religious spirit of Christmas, so called upon the feeling of the season instead. He used the contrast of heat in Beverly Hills in the verse with the desire to be back in the North or Northeast, and seemed to tap that desire in everybody in the country during the difficult war. White Christmas handily won the Oscar for best song at the 1943 Academy Awards as well. There were only a few song releases over the next couple of years, but he did make a handful of contributions in 1945 to the film Blue Skies, again with Astaire and Crosby, released in 1946. Just the same, Berlin, now approaching 60, had something up his sleeve, and the best was yet to come.
Rodgers and Hammerstein, after successes with Oklahoma and Carousel, decided they wanted to produce as well, and hired the stalwart and similarly successful Jerome Kern to write a musical based on the life of Annie Oakley. However, he suddenly and literally dropped dead, leaving them with a project and no composer. They decided to take a chance on the aging Berlin, who even though he was getting on in years seemed to be able to turn out viable contemporary melodies. The end result was Annie Get Your Gun, which became a prime vehicle for an already seasoned Ethel Merman. Yet it could have been different, as Irving nearly pulled one of the songs from the production because he was under the impression that his musically-inclined producers did not like it. Fortunately, they kept it in and There's No Business Like Show Business proved to be the show stopper, and put another lasting Berlin hit into the American Songbook. Annie ultimately ran for an astonishing 1147 performances with the original cast, and was made into a similarly successful movie with a couple of new songs added in 1950.
In 1948 Berlin contributed new songs to the film which finally made a hit of the title song, Easter Parade. He then put his efforts into another stage musical called Miss Liberty which proved to be somewhat of a disappointment in the shadow of Annie Get Your Gun. Based on events around the Statue of Liberty, and starring Eddie Albert St., it somehow managed 308 performances in the first run, but very few since that time. Determined to score again, Berlin cast Merman in Call Me Madam in 1950, this time with a greater measure of success at 644 performances, and a movie version in 1953. Even more fine hits and recycled favorites appeared in the now-perennial hit White Christmas in 1954, again giving Crosby, this time teamed with Danny Kaye, Vera Ellen, and newcomer Rosemary Clooney, a chance to croon what was by now his most famous tune.
A conservative in his politics, Berlin took up the cause of General Dwight D. Eisenhower in the late 1940s, helping him in song as well during his two presidential campaigns with "I Like Ike" songs. In 1955 he was rewarded with a special gold medal for his efforts in contributing to American song. Except for some reprints of earlier material, 1955 appears to have been the first year in almost five decades in which no new Berlin songs materialized, an astonishing run. It appeared that the 67 year old composer was approaching retirement, and there was very little output over the next 6 years. However, at age 74, Berlin graced his Music Box Theater with one last production, Mr. President, starting Nanette Fabray and Robert Ryan. A fictional account of life in the White House, trying to capture the magic of the Camelot idyll of the Kennedy administration, it was not well received by critics or theater goers. After 265 performances it retired, and so did Irving Berlin.
In 1966 Berlin would add one final song to his extensive list, An Old-Fashioned Wedding for a revival of Annie Get Your Gun. As he was turning 78 that year, Berlin was interviewed by William Glover of the Associated Press about his possible retirement and lust for life:
"Doin' What Comes Natur'lly," Irving Berlin at 78 keeps on writing music and shunning retirement.
"I do it now because I'm a ham," observes the very chipper elder statesman of Tin Pan Alley. "You try to justify yourself to yourself.
"You don't quit working because you get old, but because you want to. Not that I've got anything against people who like to golf or fish. I just don't care for such things, so maybe I'm the one who is pathetic."
The first Berlin item just 60 years ago was a set of lyrics for "Marie From Sunny Italy," which earned him 37 cents. Since then there have been more than 900 melodies and the pay has gotten a lot better. The basic task of creativity, however, for such a top-echelon member of the American Soceity of Composers, Authors and Publishers is neither harder nor easier now than it was way back then.
"The only inspiration is having a job to do," he succinctly comments. "You start with a talent, but there's got to be a lot of energy and push."...
The dean of popular music regards recent trends in the area with equanimity.
"You can't judge show business today in terms of yesterday," he says of those who detect a decline in melodious entertainment. "I think it's doing damn good."
And although the rock 'n' roll fad has continued longer than he expected, Berlin tolerantly observes, "It's just the kids in revolt. This thing they call the beat - these songs can't possibly live because no one can whistle a beat." [Author: How does one explain Wipeout or My Sharona, much less rap?]...
"The days of plugging a song to success are gone," he says. "If you could pick a hit in advance there wouldn't be any failures."
Sometimes success is a matter of timing - "If I had published 'God Bless America' when I wrote it in 1918, it wouldn't have been nearly as big as it was in 1938 when Hitler was overrunning Europe.
Sometimes it's a matter of astute revision - "I wrote a bad song for Al Jolson in 1929, 'To My Mammy,' but I took a phrase out of it later to become 'How Deep Is the Ocean,' the best ballad I ever did." Then there was a 1917 item, "Smile and Show Your Dimples," which with new lyrics went on to fame as "Easter Parade."...
The man who has been called "the last of the troubadours" has a phrase of advice he likes to share. Looking down the years, Berlin repeats it again: "You've got to take your blessings as they come."
In spite of his talk of forging forward, Irving and Ellin started spending ever more time in their country home in the Catskill Mountains rather than their Beekman Place townhome in Manhattan. He would soon be relegated to the status of an American Icon who appeared on talk shows and the occasional tribute. One of these was the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1968. By the mid 1970s Berlin had all but disappeared from view. His final public appearance was at the 1986 Centennial Celebration of the Statue of Liberty, but due to the onset of health issues he was a no-show for his 100th birthday celebration held in 1988.
Ellin Berlin died in 1987 at age 85. Irving Berlin finally was taken by a heart attack at the remarkable age of 101, and this humble Russian Jew who honored his adoptive home by giving it lasting musical voice was interred in Woodlawn Cemetery in The Bronx, New York. He left behind his three daughters, nine grandchildren, six grandchildren, and a grateful public who still enjoy his creativity today.
Famed composer Jerome Kern, when asked about Berlin's place in American music, said that Irving Berlin has no place in it. "Irving Berlin is American Music." God Bless America and the memory of Irving Berlin.
Mike Bernard was a considerable talent in many fields, including inventing some of his own biography, which made research frustrating at times. Hopefully this biography will cover enough of the facts and anomalies to present a mostly accurate picture. While conventional sources show him as born in 1881 or 1884, his age in the 1880, 1900 and 1910 U.S. census records indicate a probable 1874 or 1875 birth year, and locating a draft record was difficult, so this is inconclusive. To further compound the issue, the 1900 census, which is usually fairly accurate, lists his birth month as May, not March. The March 17th date may have been a gimmick to give him more of a contrived Irish heritage (he was actually born to Polish parents). For consistency with the best verifiable information this essay will stick with 1875.
A revelation during a new look at Bernard's life in 2013 showed that most previous data on his origin was very likely incorrect. A marriage record led research in a different direction, and there is very high level of confidence with the following data. Michael was born in Manhattan, New York, as Michael Brown, to Julius S. Brown and Eva Eisenberg, both Prussian immigrants. It is probable that they had Anglicized their name from Braun. Michael had one older brother, Harry (3/1873), also born in New York. The 1880 census showed the family living in Manhattan with Julius listed as wallpaper dealer. He may also have been in the liquor business according to city directories of that time. Later editions are in line with the wallpaper and hangings business. An intriguing entry in a couple of pre-1880 directories also show a Julius Brown as a piano maker, although an absolute identity match was not made in this case.
Discovered to be both precocious and talented at an early age, Michael received good musical training in his youth in Manhattan. He eventually traveled to Germany around 1892 to study at either the Berlin Conservatory of Music or the Stern Conservatory (the former cannot confirm his attendance, and the latter has lost the records from that time). Brown reportedly played a performance in front of Kaiser Wilhelm II during this time. It is unclear when he adopted the Bernard name.
Once back in New York City in late 1895, Mike heard his first ragtime as played by white composer/performer Ben Harney (who claimed to have invented the ragtime genre in part) and decided he also wanted to play the music that Harney was doing; Ragtime. So he learned what he could from Harney, who was a couple of years older, while at the same time working up the prowess to challenge Harney's position in New York vaudeville. Before long either Bernard or his quickly accumulating fans dubbed him the "Rag-Time King of the World." This could have been prompted by his 1899 composition, The Rag-Time King: A Symphony In Rag-Time. The historically designated originator of the moniker was Richard K. Fox, owner of the famous pink National Police Gazette weekly newspaper that reported on entertainment and sporting and anything salacious in the city and beyond.
After spending a few months in the orchestra pit as music director for Tony Pastor's theater, the most popular vaudeville spot in New York through the 1880s and 1890s, Mike joined Harney on stage as a resident ragtime pianist. The first located public notice of him performing there in any capacity was in the New York Times of April 8, 1896. Bernard was among a list of performers listed at Pastor's for "the annual benefit of Harry S. Sanderson, including well established acts like Weber and Fields and Matthews and Bulger. There were several notices to follow in the weekly entertainment listings, and Bernard was soon engaged all about town.
While never a prolific composer, Mike did try his hand at a few pieces starting in 1896. His first, The Belle of Hogan's Alley with lyrics by James W. Blake, was based on an early comic in the New York Sunday World. It was dedicated to pioneer Sunday comics artist Richard Felton (R.F.) Outcault, whose most famous enduring character was The Yellow Kid, the likeness of which appears on the cover with other Outcault creations. A Times notice from March 19, 1899, notes that Mike was one of the few performers featured at the first of a series of Sunday evening concerts held at the Academy of Music.
The 1900 census shows Bernard living in New York City as a pianist, and married for at least a year or more to May Agnes Convery, who was 19 to his 25. As it turns out, this was the key to finding his identity. It appears that Michael first attempted to marry May on February 25, 1897, when she would have been just 16. Parental intervention evidently resulted in an annulment. Only slightly deterred, they were married again on June 7, 1898, presumably when May was closer to legal age (she was born in January of 1881), or when her parents finally consented. Both marriage certificates cite the first names of Bernard's parents, and the first one showed the alternate name of Brown. A son, Melvin Bernard, was born in 1899, but an actual date is unclear nor is the reason he was not found in the 1900 record. Melvin may have been with his grandparents, the Converys. Another curiosity is that Julius and Eva listed Mike in their residence 12 days before he was enumerated with his wife May, born in March, 1875, and working as a pianist. Whether he was actually present in their home when this was done is unclear.
There was a well-promoted and much-hyped ragtime piano competition on January 23, 1900, run by Fox and the Police Gazette. In the January 20 issue printed just prior to the contest, the following announcement appeared: "Many eyes are on the diamond-studded trophy... The ragtime contest will settle a much vexed question... since the coon melodies became popular... We assure our readers that in the first place the best man will win... an artist who belongs in an obscure country town has as much chance to win as anyone... Acknowledged leader of the ragtime players is Mr. Michael Bernard, leader of the orchestra at Pastor's and whose fame as a manipulator of the ivories has spread through the land. If ever there was a champ, he is one." It seemed that the fix was in, and indeed Bernard did secure his trophy and earned his title, with few if any complaints from those who participated.
There were a few dissenters from outside the Pastor's circle, however. As noted in the 1950 book They All Played Ragtime by Rudi Blesh and Harriet Janis, pianist Jake Schaefer, who was "persona non grata" at Pastor's theater, chimed in on Bernard's status with the Police Gazette, who printed his letter:
"I see where Mike Bernard is to give a ragtime contest and bills himself the champion of the world. I feel called upon out of duty to myself to respectfully dispute his claim to the title. I have played in contests all over the country and won first honors in every one in which I competed. I have played against the best of them and as I have never been defeated in open contest I was generally looked upon as the champion if there is such a thing among rag players. Has Mr. Bernard ever won any equitably conducted contests or has he competed against any of the leaders?
"I do not say I can defeat Bernard, but I would like a chance to prove whether I can or not. While I have had little trouble in defeating all my comptetitors of course there is no telling when you will rub up against your superior. If matters can be satifactorily arranged, I will play against Bernard but not on his terms. He suggests that the judges be selected from the audience. It is just like a boxer with a traveling combination who is meeting all comers. When an outsider comes on the stage he is handicapped in that he is a stranger; the boxer with the company is not out to get the worst of it and the managers do not as a rule try to give him the bad end...
"I would be glad to have a try at Bernard under the following conditions which all are bound to admit are fair: Each contestant to name two judges who can play ragtime music and have the four select a fifth; each one o the five to show his ability to judge by playing a number of selections. In that way both would get a fair show... As a gracefel suggestion, I might say that colored folk be selected as judges..."
The Police Gazette responded to Schaefer's call for a challenge to have him compete, but did not fully accept his terms. "In regard to the judge question, those selected from an audience are all right from any standpoint... One of the judges in this case will be a representative of the Police Gazette and he will not be biased in favor of of anyone." Whether Schaefer showed up for the competition on January 23 is unclear. That Bernard won by popular acclaim is very evident.
Mike became the talk of the town among pianists and ragtime fans. This win gave him great visibility, and soon his name was making headlines beyond the Police Gazette, getting more notice in the standard newspapers of New York, Chicago and Los Angeles. Occasionally the Gazette sponsored or promoted some of the many ragtime competitions in which Harney and Bernard participated, with Bernard usually coming out victorious, but these were found in a variety of theaters as well, in an environment not too dissimilar from today's wrestling matches. The Gazette in particular gave out a fabulous diamond medal and a trophy for their competitions, and similar prizes were handed out for contests held at Tammany Hall during that period in which Mike mostly, but not always, fared very well. In particular, Bernard was known for concert-grade arrangements of tunes complete with sound effects produced by the piano, and for his ability to also syncopate the left hand and pass melodic lines between hands.
It appears that for a short time he secured a position with well-known publisher E.T. Paull, as announced in The Music Trade Review of September 28, 1901.
One of the best known piano players in the country is Mike Bernard. He has won many contests for piano playing, and is well known throughout the continent. Mr. Bernard has joined the forces of the E. T. Paull Music Co., and will devote all his time to furthering the firm's interests and he will doubtless prove a valuable acquisition in every way. He has just written the music to a clever song entitled 'Since Sally's in the Ballet,' Vincent B. Bryan having written the words. Another good number by Mike Bernard is 'The Phantom Dance...' With Bert Morphy - the general manager, Mike Bernard and [manager] Harry Rogers, things should certainly hum at 46 West Twenty-eighth street, New York.
Another notice in the October 26 edition of the same journal noted that "Mike Bernard, well known as the champion long distance piano-player, and who 'banged the box' six seasons at Tony Pastor's, is now the manager of the professional bureau of the E.T. Paull Music Company... He informed The Review that he is going to spring a surprise on the public soon. What it is he will not say." Other than the two publications mentioned, nothing more of Bernard's appeared under the Paull logo, and perhaps the surprise turned out to be that their association was somewhat short-lived.
New Yorkers loved vaudeville, and they loved contests involving musical prowess, and Bernard regularly delivered in both. He appeared in nearly every major vaudeville house in the city, seen hopping theaters in the trade and public notices perhaps once a month at times, and appearing at many benefits as well. One New York Times notice of February 21, 1904 described one such event:
There were merry doings at the Stroller's Club in Madison Avenue last night. The twenty-third 'roister' was held amid general rejoicing and with a large attendance. The miniature theater up stairs was crowded. The entertainment was furnished by vaudeville 'doubles' and 'singles' for prizes... The 'singles" were George Wilson, George W. Bandy, Mike Bernard, Joh Hathaway, Hugh Flaherty, Fred Haywood and R. Barrow. At a late hour last night the judges were still undecided as to who had won.
During his rise to fame, and even after his death, Bernard was both regarded and reviled by many, not so much concerning his ego, which was backed up by his fine performances, but as a white pretender to a black music form. While this contention shows up in occasional articles mentioning Bernard or Harney in the early 1900s, as well as later interviews with some of his black peers, it appears in a much more prescient form in They All Played Ragtime. Blesh made his feelings clearly known about white musicians in ragtime and jazz in his 1943 lecture series at the San Francisco Museum of Art, so this negative representation was not unexpected. However, historically, it should be noted in spite of the advantage of having access to more privileges as a white player in society that Bernard's recordings on Columbia records, which were possibly started as early as 1909, speak volumes about his skill. He did not necessarily play "authentic negro ragtime," but he did play and compose ragtime in a style that was hard to surpass. It has been reported (hard to substantiate) that Eubie Blake once saw Bernard's name listed for a cutting contest, and Blake demurred from playing there in spite of his own considerable skill because he knew that Mike was clearly a public favorite. Even composer George Gershwin had mentioned Bernard as an early influence to which he was indebted for his playing style, particularly the left-hand passages.
Mike was touring on the West Coast and in the Midwest with a vaudeville troup from some time in 1907 to perhaps 1909. Also in this troupe for part of the time was singer Blossom Seeley, and she and Mike did a short act together as partners during that time. There is some evidence in a divorce suit filed by her first husband Patrick Curtin that she and Bernard were likely an item during part of that tour, suggesting at least a separation if not a divorce for Mike during that period. He also released a rag in 1908 which he was performing on stage, The Stinging Bee. It would be followed in 1910 by Lemon Drops. Mike is listed in 1910 as a single 36 year old theater pianist in Manhattan and staying at the Hotel Cadillac. May does not appear with him in that year's census, and Melvin was living with his grandparents, Joseph and Alice Convery, in Brooklyn.
An April 9, 1910 advertising notice in The Music Trade Review stated that:
"Mike Bernard, the celebrated ragtime pianist, who, some years ago, won the Richard K. Fox gold medal for ragtime piano playing against a number of the most skillful performers who could be brought together in New York, is again distinguishing himself in vaudeville. Mr. Bernard recently added to his already long repertoire 'Where the River Shannon Flows' and 'Temptation Rag' [Henry Lodge], two Witmark numbers which are cutting a very important figure in the popular music of the day. This remarkable pianist is more than pleased with the success which he is having with these two new acquisitions.
A notice in the New York Times of May 1, 1910, describes the short-run show Paris By Night at the Hammerstein Theater, in which he appears with Bert Williams among other notable vaudeville actors and singers.
A Music Trade Review article of July 23, 1910, noted another publisher association for the pianist:
Mike Bernard has formed a partnership with Karl Tausig, and they have entered the song writing field, Mr. Tausig writing the lyrics and Mr. Bernard the music. Charles K. Harris is their publisher and he will issue several of their songs in the near future. 'That Tickling Rag' instrumental by Mr. Bernard is out, and Mr. Tausig is writing words for it.
In spite of this buzz in the industry, it appears that the partnership did not work out as evidence of any Bernard and Tausig compositions is hard to come by. On August 23, 1910 the Review again gave Mike a couple of descriptive column inches:
The Chicago Daily Journal speaks as follows of Mike Bernard, the well-known ragtime pianist, who is playing the fascinating Witmark number 'Temptation Rag': 'Bernard gives a piano-playing exhibition that looks like an acrobatic sideshow and sounds like a speeding pianola. Bernard plays the 'Temptation Rag' and Paderewski's masterpiece [unspecified] with the same elemental motive of force.'
Another pair of Witmark Publications would come out in 1911, his last two authentic rags, The Race Horse Rag and Panama Pacific Rag. The latter was four year in advance of the 1915 Panama Pacific Exhibition in San Francisco, so the reference for the title is not clear.
It is known that around 1910, as Mike was beginning his brief recording career, that one of his most popular works was The Battle of San Juan Hill which evidently recalled the famed 1898 Cuban conflict with bugle calls, patriotic tunes, and various gunnery effects. These can also be heard on his Columbia recording of the piece. It has been reported that Bernard was paid as much as $10,000 for his early recording sessions, given the expected sales of those records based on his popularity. He made the bulk of his known records for Columbia in 1912, 1913 and 1918, having been one of the few ragtime pianists actually recorded during this period. Mike also toured during these years, appearing in notices all around the country from Chicago to Los Angeles, advertised with various vaudeville acts as the 'King of the Ragtime Pianists.' One of his frequent stage partners was fellow Willie Weston with whom Mike had co-composed a few works. Another partner was noted in a February 1, 1912, Los Angeles Times blurb: "Mike Bernard, Blossom Seeley's one-time partner, has hooked up professionally with Amy Butler, and the two are coming over the Orpheum circuit." Their association appears to have lasted two seasons. He also appeared on many bills with singer Jack Rose.
After Blossom, Mike became involved with singer and Ziegfeld Girl Dorothy Zuckerman, who went by Dolly. Whether they were actually married or not is still an unresolved matter. The couple had a child on January 22, 1914, Bertram Bernard. Within a couple of years Bertram was sent to live in Queens with his maternal grandfather, confectioner Benjamin Zuckerman, so Dolly and Mike could go their own ways and pursue their separate careers. Dolly died before she was forty. In 1918 after Original Dixieland Jazz Band pianist Henry Ragas died, Mike was afforded an opportunity to audition for that slot, although the job ultimately went to composer and pianist J. Russel Robinson.
Bernard left New York soon after the war, and spent a few years based in Chicago, also working on the Midwest and Western Vaudeville circuit. He is seen in regular notices of appearances as early as July 1918. It was most likely while in Chicago or on the road he met and married his third (or second, depending on Dorothy's status) wife Katherine (or Catherine) "Kitty" Bernard. She appears with him in the 1920 census as 18 years old and married to Mike, who is a bit vainly listed as 36. This may be an error on the part of the census taker, or a deliberate error of vanity on his part, being 46 and married to an 18-year-old. She also is listed as a vaudeville entertainer, possibly a singer. They had a son, Jules, in late 1921. As for Bert, Mike seldom saw his second son except for occasions when he would send a car to bring him to a performance. By 1922 Mike had returned to New York City to live. He saw Bert somewhat more often, reportedly keeping a piano at Zuckerman's candy shop to entertain the neighborhood. According to Mike's grandson, Bert was bitter towards his father as a result of the inattention. His relationship with Melvin, who was also a musician, was unknown.
The 1930 census shows Mike still married to Kitty, although there is a curious question as to their overall status in 1920 since she was now 29 and stated she married at age 26. Their son Jules also appears as 8 years old. Of further question is Bernard's own age, now listed as 50, which is inconsistent with previous census records and even with his generally accepted birth date of 1881. However, he is still shown as a professional musician, now living in Queens, not far from his first son who was in his mid teens. Bertram later went to Julliard for musical training, but it did not suit him and he ended up working as an immigration lawyer. In addition, Mike's first son Melvin was living with his own wife and two child in Brooklyn, and working as a musician.
Mike appeared at a Great Depression era actors aid benefit in April 1931. The event was hosted by the Friar's Club and Roxy's Gang, and included a wide variety of vaudeville entertainers old and new, with Mike being the last entertainer listed, part of the "Roxy contingent." An April 1935 luncheon was held to honor British music hall singer Vesta Victoria, who had made a splash in the 1890s and early 1900s. In the New York Times report on the event at which Mike was one of the entertainers, he was described as "while playing the piano at Tony Pastor's [he] introduced the jazz number, 'The Twelfth Street Rag.' " But Mike's big return to the news that month was during a Friar's Club event at which New York Mayor Fiorello H. LaGuardia spoke on relief efforts and the merits of entertainment. WIth Mike Bernard and songwriter Joe Howard (Hello Ma Baby and I Wonder Who's Kissing Her Now), he included some musical interpolations from the ragtime era. As noted in the April 9, 1935 New York Times, " 'Ragtime as originated by Mike Bernard is a permanent part of music in this country,' he asserted. 'It is always melodious, and its syncopated counterpoint follows established rules of harmony. Contrast it with the shrills of woods and the shrieks of brasses we hear today. I don't believe such stuff can possibly live.' " This was high praise and a pretty good grasp of musical jargon by His Honor.
Bernard spent his final years playing at a nostalgic joint in New York called Bill's Gay Nineties, drawing a crowd even during the depression. His last notice in the New York Times of June 13, 1936, noted that "Mike Bernard, ragtime pianist, has returned to Bill's Gay Nineties," which was following a short absence from that regular gig. Bernard died two weeks later at the age of around 61. The death certificate, which incorrectly states his age as 51, listed his cause of death as "cellulitis of pelvis caused by extravasation of urine behind an old gonorrheal stricture of the posterior urethra," essentially complications from a venereal disease, one of the hazards of the sporting life lived by many ragtime performers.
Kitty Bernard continued to recopyright her late husband’s works from after his death into the 1940s. For the 1940 census, Mary Convery was living with her divorced son in Brooklyn, showing as widowed, and Melvin was still working as a musician. Bernard's exploits and his contributions to the popularity of ragtime among all races still live on into the 21st century.
The Brown revalation is new as of January, 2013, inadvertantly found during a search on a female composer by the author. Newly uncovered information on Bernard was emerging in late 2010, thanks to the efforts of Elizabeth Bernard, wife of Mike's grandson, Robert Bernard. She has writing a novel on the eclectic family figure. You can keep track of her progress at The Ragtime King on ragtimeking.com. She was responsible for imparting the information on Mike's first child and possible second wife.
Leon M. Block did not leave much behind for us to learn about him. His Louisiana Rag remains fairly well known in the ragtime community a century after its composition, but details on Block himself have never been reported. What little was located is presented here. He was born to Bavarian immigrant Louis Block and his Illinois native wife Harriet "Hattie" (Cook) Block in New Madrid, Missouri. They had married in St. Louis in 1867. Leon had two older siblings, Rosena L. (2/1868) and Jacob S. (6/1872). As of the 1880 census Louis was listed as a retail merchant in New Madrid. By 1900 he had become a farmer, still based in New Madrid. Jacob was a salesman by this time, and Leon was still in school.
Nothing is known about Leon's musical education. However he was listed in various locations as a working musician by 1906. His first self-published composition, Theatorium Rag, was released in 1909, presumably printed in St. Louis or Chicago. In the 1910 census he is shown as on the move, boarding in Shreveport, Louisiana, and working as a musician for a local auditorium. It was here that he would compose his next and most famous work, Louisiana Rag, which was accepted by Chicago publisher Will Rossiter in 1911. It was a fairly brisk seller, in part due to the colorful cover of a beautiful little maid, and many copies of it still exist. The piece is dedicated to "Miss Irene Howley" who was a Chicago stenographer, who was around 18-years-old in 1911. Nothing more is known of her. One more self-published piece appeared in 1913, That Hypnotic Rag, under the imprint of Cahn & Block (not the same as the historical Kansas City mercantile) in Shreveport, Louisiana. The identification of Mr. Cahn has not been fully discovered.
Leon chose the lifestyle of an itinerant musician for much of his life. He traveled as a pianist in a tent show in the Southwest United States for part of the 1910s. At the time of the 1918 draft Leon was living at the YMCA in Memphis, Tennessee, working as an organist for the Majestic Theater on Main Street. There is no listing for him in the quickly taken January 1920 census, and there is none for Jacob as well. In 1924 he published another song with Leonard G. Harris under the imprint of Harris & Block, this time in Pine Bluff, Arkansas. Leon was still there in 1929 when he published a song with Ohren Smulian, son of a local merchant who had a few other compositions to his name. The following year, Smulian had opened his own department store in Tulsa, Oklahoma, but Block appears to have not followed him there.
In the 1930 census Jacob surfaces a bit to the northeast in Clarendon, Arkansas, working as a wholesale merchant of some kind. There are indications that Leon spent several years there living with his older brother. Leon is found in the 1942 draft listing his address as with his brother in Brinkley, Arkansas, where Jacob had moved, but working at the Evangeline Hotel in Alexandria, Louisiana.
Jacob died in the early 1950s, a bit after Leon had returned to Missouri for the remainder of his life. He was working as an organist and likely a pianist wherever he could find gigs. Leon was evidently based in or near the capitol, Jefferson City, first mentioned in notices as early as 1947 playing his Hammond organ. At least one article from 1965 mentions him as the organist for a wedding held at Memorial Baptist Church in Jefferson City. Leon died in nearby Waynesville, about 50 miles south of Jefferson City, in 1969 at age 84. If any family members or others who know anything else concerning the life of Leon Block we would be deeply appreciative for that information which will be acknowledged.
The legendary ragtime pioneer John William Boone was born to Rachel Boone in 1864. census records have indicated a range of birth years from 1862 to 1866, but 1864 is the most accurate year of birth according to the author's research. Rachel was an escaped slave from Kentucky who found a position as a "contraband cook" for the Union Army in Miami, Missouri. A mulatto, she claimed to be an indirect descendant of famed American Daniel Boone, a claim with some measure of credibility, and kept that name. John's father was a white bugler with the Union Army.
Given that information, the Union Army records show only one bugler in an applicable at that time period, Private William S. Belcher of Company F of the 3rd Regiment, Missouri State Militia Cavalary, then later with the 7th Regiment in the same capacity as bugler. Not only was he in the Miami area around the probable time of conception, but further investigation into Army records reveal that he was on a furlough to Miami about the time of John's birth in 1864. The furlough turned into an attempt to enlist with the 23rd Missouri Infantry the day after John's birth, which turned into a desertion charge from the Union Army and a conviction. After the war he married and became a farmer. It is unclear if he ever had more than peripheral contact with his son for whatever reasons.
Shortly after John's birth Rachel moved to Warrensburg, Missouri. She is shown there in 1870 working in washing and ironing, and was working for many prominent families in the area. Curiously, John, now called Willie, was shown as only 4 years old in that census, and he had another brother, Wyatt, father unknown, who is shown as 2 years old in 1870.
At age 7 he received a French harp as a gift, quickly learning to tune and play it. This allowed him to earn some extra income, even before he was 8, playing it at various functions or in people's homes. When he was eight, Rachel ended her life as a single mother by marrying Harrison Hendrix, and eventually the couple added five more siblings to Willie's family. They moved to a one room cabin, but by all reports it was a loving household, and Willie remained close to his step-siblings throughout his life.
In an effort to accommodate her son's needs, Rachel enrolled Willie at the Missouri School for the Blind in St. Louis, with the generous help of donations by neighbors and townspeople, both black and white. Some also funded the train trip, and made him clothes to take along. His blindness and pure joy in life helped make all of them color blind as well. He left Warrensburg in the fall of 1873. It was clear early on that Willie was not happy at the school, and instead of communing with his own classmates, he preferred to listen to older students practice in the music room. One of them, Enoch Donley, befriended Willie and taught him basics of technique, and also introduced him to a piano teacher at the school. After a year of work, Boone was able to play virtually anything he heard with commendable technique.
The situation at the school changed within a couple of years, and a new supervisor was put in place, changing the way black students were treated. Willie was removed from most of his musical access and taught to make broom instead. In order to play he escaped the school at night (presumably with some assistance) and started hanging around the nearby tenderloin district where early forms of what would become ragtime were being performed. While he was able to pick up a lot from listening to the brothel and bar pianists, he was eventually caught enough times that he was expelled from the school. Forced to live on the streets, he played where he could, often in churches, and even sang to people in public places like train depots for money. Nearly starving, a conductor found him and managed to get him back to Warrensburg and his mother.
Back home, Willie continued to play in homes, halls and churches. It was in a church where he was giving a small concert that John Lange, a local contractor and successful black businessman, first heard Boone play. He was substantially impressed, and after some time decided to expand his scope of business operations, becoming one of the first African American managers of a concert artist. In preparation for sending Willie out into the world, Lange sent him to Christian College in Columbia for advanced musical training with Anna Heuerman. It was here that he learned a great love for classical music, which he was quickly able to emulate, and even duplicate, sometimes on the first or second hearing. After sufficient training, Boone came home, and with Lange formed the Blind Boone Company, adopting the motto Merit, Not Sympathy, Wins. Based in Columbia, the pair set out to make Boone famous, with resounding results - albeit slowly resounding.
This was Boone's own pianistic representation of an F4 tornado that tore through Marshfield, Missouri on April 18, 1880, killing 99 people and injuring at least another 100. Descriptions of Boone's performance conjure up a tour de force of effects that potentially had a detrimental effect on the instrument, and it became his signature piece. Marshfield Tornado was never recorded or printed as Boone wanted it to be entirely his, each performance to be unique. In truth, it is questionable whether a player piano could have fared well with the onslaught of notes from Boone's hands. One newspaper described it as follows: The piece is a variation, beginning with the quiet of the Sabbath morning at church, the approaching storm and the roaring destruction as it sweeps over the town. The noise dies down and peace again reigns."
The early years of the show were difficult, but necessary to build Boone's reputation. Lange, Boone, and perhaps a couple of other, traveled the Midwest in a wagon carrying a piano with them, allowing them to set up wherever they needed and avoid the reservations some white piano owners might have about the boy's taking over of their instrument. However, this was hard on the instrument physically, and part of the budget from the income was set aside for replacement pianos every few months. As Boone's reputation grew, it seems that a good piano was more readily available at their destinations, and eventually they did not have to travel with one. They also often stayed with a local sponsor to avoid hotel expenses, but the home base was in Columbia.
In the June 1880 census, Boone is shown as one of many residents in the home of Columbia farmer Alfred Woods and his large family, although no profession is listed. As Boone and Lange grew their show, Lange would hire somebody to set out a week or more ahead of the troupe for public relation purposes, advertising the coming of Boone with posters and word of mouth. Notices in the paper comparing Boone with the already established "Blind" Wiggins didn't hurt either, such as this one with an off-handed sleight towards the older artist from the Gettysburg Compiler of June 9, 1885: "Poor Blind Tom, the alleged[!] pianist, is discovering that another black pianist, known as Blind Boone, but who Tom considers anything but a boon to him, is about to become a formidablee rival in concert business."
While Blind Tom had his own niche and a considerable lock on Midwest concert halls, the report was more or less predictive. By the end of five years, when Boone was approaching 21, the company had no problem getting booked in towns or cities of every size. The reviews were positive and more money was also coming in, so Boone and company were living well by the time the 1890s came around. In 1891, John married Eugenia Lange, his manager's youngest sister. They remained together for the rest of his life.
According to an article in a May 1893 edition of Kunkel's Musical Review, the Blind Boone Concert Company was in town for four weeks, and the star was greatly lauded. "His playing is remarkable, not because of his blindness, but because of his artistic excellence. John W. Boone is justly considered the successor of the celebrated [Louis Moreau] Gottschalk. He grasps with marvelous rapidity any composition played for him, and the most difficult pieces are played after single reading. His engagements here drew crowded houses nightly." The company also grew in size over the next decade, as Lange and Boone added vocalists to the show, including Emma Smith, Melissa Fuell, Marguerite Day, Stella May (just 16 when she was recruited) and Josephine Huggard. They also expanded their reach, performing at least 8,000 concerts in the United States between 1880 and 1895, along with performances in Canada, Mexico and Europe.
One of Boone's greatest joys was sharing his gifts and enthusiasm with children. He would openly promote his desire for parents to bring their children to his performances in order to bring them to music, and would sometimes bring large groups of them inside the performance hall for free, simply so he could encourage them to also learn the thrill of playing and sharing that gift. It evidently effected a great many youths who ended up working hard to learn to play, some actually becoming fine pianists in churches or theaters.
He often gave back to the church community that supported him, providing funds for a great many church and school building or repair projects wherever he went. According to the 1900 census, Boone was firmly ensconced in Columbia, and Eugenia was now the treasurer for the company. His mother Rachel died in January 1901. Throughout his career Boone had composed a number of number of songs, instrumentals and classically styled pieces, many that were eventually published, including some notable ones between 1900 and 1910. This included the beautiful Aurora Waltz of 1907, reportedly inspired by descriptions of the aurora borealis over the northern hemisphere. In 1908 and 1909 he contributed two medleys to the ragtime collective, largely made up of folk themes and some original derivatives. Blind Boone's Rag Medley Number One: "Strains from the Alleys", and Blind Boone's Rag Medley Number Two: "Strains from the Flat Branch", were not the same type of ragtime that many other composers had been writing by that time.
During his years as a prominent performer, his endorsement was sought out by certain piano companies, and in the end the Chickering Piano Company of Boston, Massachusetts, would offer him the biggest incentive of all. Chickering, perhaps Steinway's biggest U.S. rival at that time, offered him a large oak nine foot concert grand in 1891 which he enjoyed enormously. (It is now kept in the Boone County Historical Society in Columbia, Missouri, and can still be played.) They made several others for him over the years which he routinely wore out. However, his name did show up in connection with other instruments from time to time. Among those were Steinway and Estey, the latter being a famous organ builder as well. In The Music Trade Review of July 6, 1901, a letter of endorsement to Bush and Gerts was quoted: "The Bush & Gerts piano is a fine instrument, possessing a pure sweet tone, and any dealer may well be proud to handle such a piano. It is bound to make friends wherever it is known and sold." One month later on August 3, 1901, the following was printed in the MTR:
Carl Hoffmann, of Kansas City, Mo., is, and long has been, a Chickering enthusiast. The new model Chickering baby grand which he received last week, has, however, compelled more than the ordinary number of adjectives to express his approbation of its musical merits.
While testing this instrument, "Blind" Boone, a negro musician widely known throughout that section, strolled in and became so enamored with the Chickering grand that he purchased it, notwithstanding the fact that he already has several Chickering pianos in his possession. He knows a "good thing" without seeing it. It is said there are few better judges of tone than "Blind" Boone, and it does his judgment credit when he selects a Chickering.
In the case of many concert pianists, the highly-regarded Boone in partiular, it seems that any company that could encourage him to wax poetic on their instrument would exploit those words in their favor, in spite of his association with other companies. Another example is found in the May 28, 1910 MTR concerning the R.A. Rodesch player piano: "Blind Boone, who is one of the celebrated pianists of the West, visited our factory just before [President R.A. Rodesch] left and he was so delighted with what he saw and heard that he left an order for one of the players to be installed in his own piano." Yet another Chickering endorsement was printed on October 9, 1915, and it outlines some of his technique for learning new pieces:
— Uses the Chickering Grand for Concerts
— Pianist Well Known in the West.
One of Boone's last endorsements was found in the February 1, 1919 MTR:
While at the Sonora music rooms he was furnished, at the request of the Plaza Theatre of that city, with a Kohler & Campbell piano, Style 8, to be used in conjunction with his program, before commencing which he paid the following tribute to the instrument:
"I want to thank Mr. Stephenson for the splendid piano which he has so kindly furnished me with that I might be able to render this program. It is one of a rare make, has a beautiful tone, and it has a splendid action. You will find the Kohler & Campbell a remarkable instrument for the price, the base is excellent and any piano that stands my 'Marshfield Storm' is a good one."
Boone entered his fourth decade of concertizing in 1910. In late 1912 John recorded Rag Medley Number Two and six other tunes from his repertoire to piano rolls for the QRS Piano Roll Company on their Autograph series, one of the first black artists to do so. It is said (hard to verify) that on his recording of When You and I Were Young Maggie that he actually jammed or overloaded the recording mechanism because of the number of notes he was playing in rapid succession at great velocity. One of his favorite concert segments was asking somebody from the audience to play a piece he didn't know (and that was a limited list), after which he would sit down and play it back for them, something that impressed even the highest ranking musicians. It was clear that not only could play virtually anything in the classical style, but that he could also make it his own, infusing Afro-American rhythms and other tricks into the performances. While he didn't quite "rag" the pieces, he did give them a kick that most performers at that time were perhaps not as adept as excecuting.
By 1916 it was estimated that the Boone Company had played over 26,000 concerts in 36 years, suggesting many days where three or four performances were held. But that was perhaps the peak of his career, and his long-time friend and manager John Lange died that same year. The novelty had started to wear off, particularly with a world that was progressing ahead, a world that was at war, and a world that was looking for change. While vaudeville was still thriving in 1920, the beginning of the "jazz age," and movies were coming into their own, Boone's act was old hat by now. Without Lange the bookings diminished greatly and Boone, once flush with money, found himself and Eugenia struggling to make ends meet.
In 1920 John and Eugenia are listed in Columbia with her as the head of household, and neither with an occupation listed. He continued to play sporadically over the next several years, but started to show signs of physical deterioration and other health issues. Yet the positive reviews kept appearing. One from September 8, 1924, from the Cape Girardeau Southeast Missourian stated that "Boone proved himself an artist of great versatality playing classical music with the grace and feeling of a true artist, interpreting folklore selections, and singing them with great drollness, and and whipping off ragtime selections with as much energy as would Paul Whiteman's best 'tickler over the ivories.'" In December 1925, the same paper reported Boone off on another seven month tour to "Illinois, Kansas, Oklahoma, Corlorado, New Mexico and California.
The end was become inevitable, however. His final public concert was held on May 31, 1927 in Virden, Illinois, during which he announced his plans to retire. Boone's statement found its way into the papers in short order, as partially quoted here:
Blind Boone, negro pianist... brought his colorful concert career of 47 years to a close recently...
After completing a program before a large crowd, the aged musician announced the concert was his final appearance on tour and perhaps his final appearance fo all time.
He will retire to Columbia, Mo., this summer and to recover his failing health. It is probable he will give further concerts on special occasions. Columbia was also the home of John [Lange], who for 36 years was Boone's manager. [Lange's] death is believed to have had a telling effect on Boone.
In his last concert he was assisted by his niece, Miss Margaret Day, who sang many of his compositions, including "Keep On Till the Judgement." He also played his famous "Marshfield Tornado."...
Blind Boone played many concerts in Kansas City, many of them in churches. Years ago one of his regular appearances here was at the old Lydia Avenue Christian church, Fifteenth st. and Lydia av. Always he impressed his audiences with his compositions, his technique, his remarkable memory and a huge watch...
[He] would have a "children's program," producing his huge watch. Asked what time it was, he would press a stem and the watch would chime the quarter, half and full hours, to the delight of his juvenile auditors.
It was [in Springfield, Illinois] in September, 1909, Boone first met Bert Williams, comedian. The musician called on the singer at the Shubert theater. Williams' dressing room is closed to many of his race, but he welcomed Blind Boone. Complements were mutual...
"I feel fully repaid for my so-called affliction," Boone says. "I have music, friends, and am happy."
Boone is a business man as well as a musician. His investments have been good. It is estimated his average annual income is about $17,000.
Another report the following week in The Afro American claimed he has earned some $350,000 during his career claiming he was worth that much, not accounting for the expenses of travel and life in general along the way. Even with such a high income his growing expenses and payment of debts kept the family from being flush. John W. Boone was felled by a fatal stroke and acute dilation of his heart while visiting his half-brother Harry in Warrensburg in October, 1927. In spite of the grand reports of his impressive income, Boone's estate was worth a mere $132.65. Eugenia was soon reportedly found to be insane, although any record of commitment is difficult to locate. There was not even enough money left to afford a proper marker for John's grave.
Fortunately the people of Columbia have since successfully resurrected the memory of Boone, forming the Blind Boone Memorial Foundation, Inc. in 1961. The Chickering oak grand was restored for a concert that same year by the Joplin Piano Company, and the first memorial concert was held using that instrument. They were responsible for marking his grave in 1971, and opening a museum dedicated to him and Missouri folk music. There is an annual ragtime festival held each June in Columbia, Missouri, named in Boones honor, in the grand Missouri theater. His last words speak well of his mission in life, which was most certainly accomplished wherever he went. "Blindness has not affected my disposition. Many times I regard it as a blessing, for had I not been blind, I would not have given the inspiration to the world that I have. I have shown that no matter how a person is afflicted, there is something that he can do that is worthwhile." He proved this beyond the shadow of any doubt, opening doors for a number of African-American artists and businessman through his generosity and extraordinary talent.
A great deal of this biography was extracted or assembled from public government records, school records, newspapers, periodicals and commonly known information about Boone. Some of the information was culled from Blind Boone: Missouri's Ragtime Pioneer by Jack A. Batterson with Rebecca B. Schroeder, available from many sellers including Amazon.com. Thanks also to the Blind Boone Ragtime Festival and Blind Boone Park in Warrensburg, Missouri, for their continuing efforts to keep Boone's memory and positive message of hope alive.
George Botsford was a man who knew how to write tunes the public liked. He was one of two songs born in Dakota Territory (South Dakota near present day Sioux Falls) to New York native miller James George Botsford and his bride Harriet M., the other one being Charles E. (1878). The 1880 census showed the family living in Sioux Falls, but by 1885 they were residing in Clermont, Iowa. George spent his formative years in the Midwest, specifically in Iowa. There was a great deal of pre-ragtime style and influence in this region, as evidenced by the amount and quality of ragtime that eventually emerged from Iowa and Nebraska, so it is likely he was exposed to some of it. He recieved a fair amount of formal musical training in his youth and proved to be a natural performer. George married singer Della Mae Wilson, the daughter of a music teacher with whom they lived for a time in Centerville, Iowa, later moving back to Clermont.
George was listed in the 1900 census as a "Theatrical Pianist" so was already likely expected to know some of the latest ragtime tunes and cakewalks. He and Della Mae set out on the road with the Hoyle Stock Company in Nashville, Tennessee, ultimately spending 34 weeks from 1900 to 1901 with the troupe. During that stint the Botsfords may have ventured to New York City in February 1901, as they placed an "At Liberty" ad in the New York Clipper: "George Botsford, Pianist, Director and Arranger, Della Mae Wilson, Comedy Parts, Character and Singing Specialties with Monologue. Address Geo. Botsford, Clermont, Iowa." They spent that summer in Champaign, Illinois, where George directed the orchestra at the Casino Theatre and Della Mae worked with the Bennett Stock Company. That fall they picked up with the Van Dyke & Eaton Company for another successful run on the road that ended in May 1902.
Taking the summer off, the Botsfords finally relocated their base to New York City in late 1902 where they would stay for the remainder of George's career. They appear to have done one more season with Van Dyke & Eaton before settling for good in the summer of 1903. While there may have been hopes of a career for Della Mae, ultimately it was George who became the entertainer of the family. One of the first mentions of him after they moved was as a pianist for events held by the Fort Greene Council in February and November 1904, then as an organist at the Brooklyn Lodge of Elks, of which he had become a member, for a large memorial service in December. He was next heard from in 1905 as a vocal director for a large politically based performance at the Monroe Club. George was able to establish a foothold as a composer in 1906 with a couple of pieces published by the New York firms of M. Witmark and Sons, and Tin Pan Alley giant Jerome H. Remick. Among his first published compositions was the song Traveling, the chorus of which was adapted in 1921 by another set of composers as the Iowa Corn Song.
George was found that years participating in a July 4 "Pop Concert" on Long Island, where he played along with several other entertainers, including the Edgemere Club Orchestra. This was around the time of his first minor hit, Pride of the Prairie (Mary). In the spring of 1907 he was part of a show called The Haymakers presented in various venues around the New York City area. Botsford soon secured steady work as an arranger and composer for Remick, who had already published some of his work, in late 1907. He would remain with the firm on and off for more than a decade. The following year would be a breakout one for the composer as he introduced his most famous and long-lived rag.
Of Botsford's many rags, primarily composed from 1908 to 1913, most contained at least some of the secondary rag pattern, or repeated three over four, of which Black and White Rag of 1908 and Grizzly Bear Rag of 1910 are prime examples. As a result of this pattern, Black and White Rag was easy and enjoyable to play for the average pianist, and it became a runaway hit in short order. It has remained his most enduring syncopated work, and was also one of the first piano rags ever recorded to cylinder, as well as being ubiquitously in use in early sound cartoons of the 1930s. The piece further enjoyed many recordings during the ragtime revival of the 1950s and 1960s.
Botsford's momentum clearly picked up in 1909 with a number of good instrumentals. However, that was what he was getting known for, and a change was in the works. Early in 1910 he joined the staff of the Ted Snyder Publishing Company. His subsequent hit, Grizzly Bear, began a dance craze during a time of animal dances, including the Turkey Trot and the Fox Trot, which prompted its publisher Ted Snyder to have his new protégé Irving Berlin fit some lyrics to it. In this way it counts less as a genuine popular song than it does a retrofit hit, but either way it swept the country. In spite of, perhaps because of his success, George ended up back at the house of Remick later in the year.
As noted in a November 1910 clipping in the Music Trade Review: "George Botsford is probably best known as a composer of the more difficult syncopated or ragtime instrumental successes, but with Alfred Bryan, he has turned out a new one in the popular song line that may put him in that class of song writers who write the 'Remick hits,' and a Remick hit means a lot to a song writer in monye and fame." The best was yet to come for Botsford in the song department. George and Della Mae were shown in Manhattan for the 1910 enumeration, where he was listed as a music composer. Della Mae also often made the society pages of the New York Times throughout the 1910s in various organizations or hosting public parties, particularly for the Iowa New Yorkers. She was not known to have further pursued her performing career, however, even though she headed the entertainment committe for many functions.
George often served as a choral arranger and conductor both on and off Broadway, working in genres such vaudeville, Broadway shows as a pianist, minstrel show revivals, and with the New York Police Department Glee Club. He also frequently advertised for amateur singers offering his services as a vocal coach. An active member of both the Elks and the Friars, he often headlined or even directed their shows on a regular basis. George also wrote the music for a few hit songs, typically with lyricist Jean Havez, of which Sailing Down The Chesapeake Bay of 1912 remains the biggest, and was also a great musical boost for the Baltimore/Washington D.C. area.
By this time George had gained a lot of traction and warranted a rather substantial writeup in the New York Clipper on February 15, 1913, clearly larger than all of the other composers profiled on that page, and perhaps a bit more effusive than a historical perspective might support:
George Botsford, known as the greatest exponent of technical ragtime music and the writer of some of the most popular "piano rags" was born In lowa, in the great farm section, "took" piano lessons from a teacher whose curriculum consisted of Bellak's and Czerny's studies, but who found in young George her most apt pupil, for before the year was out George could play a great deal better than his teacher, and appeared as a prodigy pianist at all the church and district school concerts. When George came to New York and joined the Remick forces only the words of encouragement from Messrs. [Jerome H.] Remick and [manager Fred] Belcher prevented him from going back to good old Iowa. To-day he ranks second to none as the arranger and instructor of trios, quartettes and choruses, and his ensemble chorus work is one of the features of the Remick house. He is really a self-made musician. As a composer he has met with great success, and his "Grizzly Bear" song was the forerunner of most of the ragtime songs so popular to-day. His big instrumental rags, such as "Black and White," "Chatterbox" and "Hyacinth," are novelties in syncopation that have been copied by most every other ragtime writer. The "Hyacinth Rag" is noted as being the most difficult rag for the piano ever written. Among his songs, "Pride of the Prairie, Mary." written for and sung to-day by Ethel Levey; "Denver Town," the original cowboy song, and "Maybe You Are Not the Only One Who Loves Me," have been big hits. His latest and greatest success is the rollicking Winter Song, "Oh, You Silvery Bells," a sleighing song which has superceded every sleigh bell song ever written. During the Winter Mr. Botsford coaches some of the most notable amateur minstrel shows, such as the Brooklyn Elks, the Harmomie Club, the Friendship Club, and his work in that line is without doubt equal to that of any professional stage director.
Soon after this George went to the American Piano Company (AMPICO) studios to record his only known piano rolls for the Rythmodik label. Only nine titles were known to have been performed by Botsford, all of them duets with Remick composer and arranger Albert Gumble. Some of them were later issued on the AMPICO label following the demise of Rythmodik. They remain the only audio documents of Botsford's fine playing, until perhaps a rare radio show transcription turns up.
In an article in the New York Times on July 24, 1913, it was stated that prima donna Cecil Cunningham would appear in vaudeville for the first time at Proctors, "using a singing sketch entitled 'The Married Ladies' Club,' by Jean C. Havez and George Botsford." Another article on March 8, 1915, highlighting an actor's fund benefit vaudeville entertinament, mentioned that it was directed by Botsford, and that he and his Harmonists took part by closing the program. George became one of the charter members of ASCAP in 1914.
In the mid 1910s Botsford experimented with the concept of miniature opera, a one-act opera staged with a minimal cast and a small instrumental ensemble. Among these was one presented in early 1914, The Dutch Courtship. It was followed another presentation in the summer of 1915 at the grandest of all the vaudeville theaters, The Palace, A Holland Romance, which was possibly a reworking of The Dutch Courship. Both were composed to lyrics by Jean Havez and featured some notable talent in the cast. In spite of the considerable effort, the miniature operas ultimately failed to take hold, and the music contained in them was difficult to market in sheet music form.
Botsford, the consumate music professional, clearly had a sense of humor to some extent, given the shenanigans in which he participated at various Elks and Friars functions. But as a professional he also had some frustrations which were cleverly channeled into a piece that appeared in the New York Clipper on June 6, 1917:
George Botsford, noted arranger, quartetter, producer, pea'nist, remover of harm from harmonies, and inserter of mellow in melodies, rises to the boiling point and wishes to be heard. George has been suffering long in silence, and at last wants it recorded that the following should be pasted on the walls of each piano room, and labelled "Goat Getters."
1 — The singer who starts talking just as you get through playing the vamp.
2 — The "friend" of the singer who carries on a conversation while you are demonstrating a song.
3 — The singer who says he can read notes and can't.
4 — The singer who asks you to play the introduction, when you have played the song, including the introduction, enough times to have taught a blind man the words.
5 — A quartette with only three people. Likewise a two-act with one missing.
6 — The vocalist who uses his own words and hates to be corrected.
7 — The wise one who says "I sing all my songs in 'B' flat."
Maintaining a position as a bandleader or conductor, Botsford managed to make inroads with some major publishers who kept his compositions in front of the public for many years. In his capacity as an arranger with Remick, George worked with manager Jens Bodewalt Lampe as part of one of the more efficient staffs in the industry, an organization with incredibly high standards for turning out socres without errata. He is shown on his 1918 draft record as employed by Remick in the capacity of musician, and not composer, doing much less of the latter by this time. Among his contributions to the Remick catalog were pieces in Bodewalt's Star Dance Folio series of the 1910s and 1920s. Botsford's composition and performance revenue was fairly substantial, and the Botsfords had a home address literally on Broadway by the mid 1910s. A passport issued in August 1918 indicates that he traveled to England, where many Broadway shows and American performers were finding success. He was also stationed for a time in France as part of the Over Seas Entertainment Unit towards the end of World War I, returning in late February 1919. One of the last public notices of him in the New York Times is on April 21, 1919, when he is mentioned as arranging a specialty number of a "Cycle of Songs from 1850-1919" in a program headlined by comedian Ed Wynn.
The Botsfords are shown still living in Manhattan on Broadway in 1920, but his profession is obscured on the records, presumably still as a pianist or composer. He seems to have pretty much retired from composing in the 1920s, except perhaps occasionally for special stage shows or radio appearances, as little else was published. Among these shows, perhaps an extension of his miniature opera idea, were single act pieces such as Courting Days in 1919 and The Volunteers, a singing quartette act that was staged several times in various rendition from 1915 to 1925. Another short act he put together was a "miniature musical satire" called The Owl in 1923. Botsford's Glee Club was heard frequently on the AT&T station WEAF in the early to mid 1920s.
In 1930 the Botsfords were still living in Manhattan, although they also had a Long Island residence. He was again listed as a pianist on Broadway. Interestingly, as with many ragtime composers when they grew older, George seems to have selectively trimmed a few years off his age, listing himself as 50 in 1930. Della had already trimmed her age somewhat in 1920. George added some solo appearances on the radio to his resumé, although it is unclear what radio stations or specific shows he may have played for. Some appearances were found in the early 1930s on WEAF and WPCH in New York. He evidently spent most of his last three decades playing rather than writing.
One of the last events he was known to be at was an old-timer's song fest at the storied Algonquin Hotel on January 28, 1934. The article noted that many distinguished survivors of Tin Pan Alley were present and in good form, and stated that "George Botsford, lean, tall and gray... sat at the piano when the cigar smoke began to thicken. He played 'Sweet Rosie O'Grady,' 'My Gal Sal' and 'Blue Bell,' and the evening got underway. The disappointment left behind from these years is that his many pieces composed for minstrel shows and vaudeville one acts, most of which were very well reviewed, were not collected for publication or submission to an archive.
As of the 1940 census George and Della Mae were living in the same place, with George listed as a creator of orchestrations, likely a musical arranger, as his own business. He retired from this at some point in the mid 1940s as he approached 70. Then George Botsford died early in 1949 just short of his 75th birthday. A notice published in the New York Times of February 3 was posted by Fred E. Ahlert, the president of ASCAP at that time. "We announce with profound sorrow the death of our beloved member and colleague, George Botsford, in New York City on Feb. 1, 1949." Within the next year, some of his rags would once again find their way into recordings with a renewed popularity, including his famous Black and White Rag interpreted by the "Hollywood Pianist," Ray Turner, on a Capitol Records single. It remains one of the single most performed rags into the 21st century.
Often associated with Kansas City (at least in composition), Euday Bowman was actually a native of Texas, and his pieces fall under the category of "Texas Ragtime", a unique style all to itself. He was born in Tarrant County near the Fort Worth area to Kentucky native carpenter George A. Bowman and his Dutch immigrant wife Olivia Marguerite Graham Estee (Lanbin De Eske) Bowman. Euday was the youngest of three siblings, including his sister Mary (5/1877) and brother Julius (9/1880). While his birth year has traditionally cited as 1887, it is listed specifically as 1886 in the 1900 Census and on his 1917 draft record, therefore 1886 will be assumed here as most correct. There have also been assertions that he was a light-skinned black. However, looking back into his lineage his mother is absolutely white, and his father is listed as such going back to the 1870s, so such speculation is false. Bowman was further listed as white in all Census and draft records in which he appears.
For part of his childhood Euday and his siblings lived with their paternal grandfather, Gatewood Bowman, near Mansfield, Texas. Gatewood also reportedly visited Kansas City from time to time with Euday in tow. His parents were divorced in 1905 when he was in his late teens, and Olivia moved in with Mary and Euday. Given that both his mother Olivia and sister Mary were music teachers, Mary working for the Fort Worth school system, it is likely they were both largely responsible for Euday's earliest exposure to piano and composition. Mary is listed as a music teacher at 23 in the 1900 Census.
Following a few attempts at writing in his teens and early twenties, Bowman struck out on his own as an itinerant pianist, playing largely in the prostitution districts of large towns and cities where the better bordellos were located. It was during this period that young Euday allegedly lost a leg while trying to hop a train. However, this story is contradicted by his 1917 draft record which showed no infirmities to prevent him from being enlisted, so this dismemberment would have happened later, if at all. In 1910 Bowman was still living in Fort Worth, at least part of the time, with Olivia (now showing as a widow) and older sister Mary, both working as music teachers. Euday was listed as a teamster.
After spending some time working and playing piano in the districts in both Fort Worth and Kansas City, Bowman composed the 12th Street Rag. He claims it was as early as 1905, but this is hard to confirm. It was melodically simple due to its secondary rag three over four pattern, which made it easy to play by ear and to improvise on, creating a durable hit once it was published many years later. However, when performed directly from the sheet music using the octaves in the original score, it becomes a bit more challenging. In fact, the first self-publication of this rag, submitted for copyright on January 2, 1915, was deemed nearly impossible to play, particularly the introduction and third strain. It was revamped for a second edition of around 500 to 1000 copies, signified by a hand-stamped copyright.
After limited success in trying to market the piece by himself, and looking to cover his costs, Bowman sold the rag to the Jenkins Publishing firm in Kansas City for a mere $300. They marketed it well and helped convert the rag into the popular version that is still available into the 21st century. Whether 12th Street Rag was named after 12th Street in Kansas City, or the same in either Dallas or Fort Worth, all of which had a 12th Street in the entertainment and red light district, is a question of where he was when he wrote it or where he was thinking of, and this is not entirely verified. However, the first of three sets of lyrics added at a later date start out "Down in Kansas City...", likely a choice of the rag's Kansas City publisher or the lyricist he chose. A further clue would be on the covers of both the 11th Street Rag and 12th Street Rag, which have drawings of downtown Kansas City, including the large F.W. Woolworth store, and his piece Petticoat Lane, which is clearly related to Kansas City.
Based on his post-sale success with 12th Street Rag Bowman wrote rags for Sixth Street, Tenth Street and Petticoat Lane, and had a minor success with the Eleventh Street Rag. Most of his compositions from this point were blues that were based in his Texas musical heritage, but also contained elements of good ragtime. They were initially published by a house he set up with a partner, Bowman and Ward. Unfortunately, once he sold 12th Street Rag and later some of the other Bowman and Ward scores to Jenkins, such as Kansas City Blues, for a relatively paltry sum, he did not see any more revenue from any of them in spite of the enormous national hit status of his most popular piece. For them it was just business, but it haunted Bowman for many years as he struggled to make a living. On his 1918 draft record he listed himself as a musician, but also as "not employed." Bowman was still living in Fort Worth in 1920 with his mother and sister, working as an equipment operator of some kind.
Euday again tried to strike out on his own, marrying Miss Geneva Morris on October 19, 1920, in Erath, Texas. However, the union was problematic and Geneva abandoned their home by mid 1921. Their divorce was finalized in 1926. In 1930 he was still living with his sister, their mother having died in 1922, but Euday now was shown as a pianist and jazz teacher, having gained some fame from his most famous work. During the 1920s and 1930s Bowman also submitted a number of other pieces to the Library of Congress, likely wary of repeating his 12th Street Rag experience, but they were not published, remaining in manuscript form. (Some of these works are now available at the Library of Congress web site for viewing.)
Finally in 1937, even before the original copyright renewal was available follwing the usual 26 year period, Euday was able to get the rights back to his beloved and now quite famous 12th Street Rag. However, he made little return from it during the war years and even soon after, in spite of reprints and promotion of the piece. It had been recorded by many prominent musicians over the past two decades, including Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, Fats Waller, arranger and bandleader Fletcher Henderson, Benny Goodman, Lionel Hampton, and many New Orleans traditional jazz musicians. Bowman eventually reassigned the copyright to publisher Shapiro-Bernstein. He also joined ASCAP in 1946 to assure even more protection for and revenue from his popular rag. He moved back in with his sister soon after that, and there are reports that he was engaged collecting and selling junk, although they are difficult to substantiate.
In early 1948, big band leader Pee Wee Hunt inadvertently recorded Bowman's most famous opus during a radio show transcription session in Nashville for Capitol Records, when the engineer informed him there was still a little space left on the disc. The arrangement was silly in places with a doo-wacka-doo chorus by the trumpets, and the questionably pitched piano used for a solo passage was at least a quarter step flat. Not intended for airplay, the recording was nonetheless broadcast by stations all over the country, ironically during a musician's strike when studio recordings other than for the radio were being boycotted. The public demand for the track was nearly immediate, and caught Capitol Records by surprise. They soon released it on a 78 RPM single, and as a result the 12th Street Rag once again became a nostalgic hit.
Bowman reportedly bought a very nice car with his first royalty check in early 1949, but it was the only such check for that piece he would ever see. He tried to capitalize on the success of Hunt's recording by promoting himself and his other works, including making his own record of the famous piece on a private label, allegedly recorded on the same piano on which he composed it.
Possibly newly confident that he could afford a better lifestyle, Euday married again, this time to Ruth Emma Thompson on February 6, 1949. However, he had a change of heart within a month, filing for divorce in mid-March on grounds of cruelty inflicted by his wife. To add to his troubles, Euday's health had deteriorated and the physical and financial strain proved to be too much for him. His good fortune was offset by over $2,000 in medical bills. Still, he attempted a trip to New York City to publicize his authorship and recent recording of the rag. Euday Bowman succumbed there at age 61 or 62 just as his star was rising again.
Mary Bowman inherited the rights to 12th Street Rag and Euday's other copyrights, supposedly assuring her comfort and to possibly acknowledge her help in either writing or at least notating some of them so many years before. However, his iconic piece would not die, and would even be embroiled in legal controversy due to its new-found popularity. Shapiro-Bernstein believed that as the copyright owner of Bowman's instrumental they also allegedly owned by proxy the song version by Sumner and all versions that used the famous melody. A 1949 lawsuit was filed by them against publisher Jerry Vogel as he had acquired the rights to Sumner's 1919 version of the song with lyrics in 1947, and started distributing it. Vogel countersued saying that Shapiro-Bernstein owed him money based on the Jenkins' acquisition of the tune since Bowman's copyright renewal did not include the lyrics. The first decision in 1950 found that it was a "composite work" and that Sumner's lyrics did not constitute a right to the instrumental version.
In 1954 an appeals court found that since Jenkins' intent was for the music and lyrics to be performed together, they were part of a cohesive single "joint work." This allowed Vogel to collect 50% of the profits from Shapiro-Bernstein for the instrumental version sales with the Sumner lyric. He then went after compensation based on sales of no less than 22 other versions of the work. The final verdict on what was or was not copyrightable in terms of changes to an original piece came in 1957, argued for Shapiro-Bernstein by music lawyer Lee Eastman (father of Linda Eastman-McCartney) and esteemed music critic Deems Taylor. Even though it was settled out of court the entire affair was considered to be precedent-setting case law by that time, and resulted in revisions to United States copyright law. Vogel gave up claim to his 50% of the royalties from 1941 to 1957 on the non-Sumner versions, but did manage to get 33% of all subsequent royalties and joint publication credit for all 12th Street Rag variations. A similar suit he had against ASCAP was also settled out of court on the same terms.
The lasting impact of this simple Texas musician's most famous work remains with us today. Even after Bowman died and while the song was tied up in a decade-long contentious court battle, artists as diverse as the Firehouse Five Plus Two and Liberace were keeping his memory alive through that one ubiquitous tune. It is also available on an endless array of CDs, and even DVDs of old Vitaphone shorts and Disney cartoons in which it was liberally featured. All this from a piece which had been born and raised in the brothels of Texas.
Thanks to Adam Swanson who has a rare copy of Bowman's 1948 record and gave the info on it, as well as relaying information from Mike Montgomery on the probable 1923 side for Gennett.
Brun Campbell and his personal ragtime history as narrated to the world have been at the center of everything from reverence to ridicule since after his death. Never having actually made a full living as a performer or composer, he nonetheless provided a somewhat credible link to Scott Joplin and his peers, one of the earliest or only non-Black pupils, or as often stated, disciples, of the famous composer of Maple Leaf Rag. This biography will not overtly attempt to either feed or assuage any controversy, but merely address some variances. It will try, as best as possible, to sort out the facts of Campbell's life, and be as clear as it is feasibly possible on what was relayed by Campbell as opposed to what was known about him. Note that much of what was relayed of his life exists in recordings and interviews made in the early 1940s, four decades after the fact, and that a number variances are found even between those declarations by Campbell, which can be attributed to either memory issues or some fanciful embellishment acquired over the years.
Sanford Brunson Campbell was born in early 1884 in Oberlin, Kansas to Luther E. Campbell of Wisconsin and Lulu (Emilie) A. [Bourquin] Campbell of Indiana. A brother, Harold A. Campbell, was born in Oberlin, Kansas on July 15 of 1891. Luther (sometimes later referred to as Lou or Lew) was only 17 when his first son was born, and he did not yet have a steady trade. Life was not always easy at that time on the northwest Kansas prairie, so diversions were welcome. The family also moved often, stopping for a time in St. Joseph, Missouri, after Harold was born. Possibly looking for adventure and opportunity, Luther was one of many who attempted to secure property when the Cherokee Strip Land Run commenced in September of 1893 in what would become a part of northern Oklahoma. While he failed to secure anything, Mr. Campbell settled the family near the starting point in Arkansas City, Kansas. Between 1893 and 1900, according to various city directories and records, the family was also in Guthrie in Oklahoma Territory, as well as Oklahoma City and El Reno, before returning to Kansas and Arkansas City.
During this time Luther tried his hand as a traveling salesman, often bringing goods into the newly settled territory. He eventually abandoned that for a steadier career, and became a barber. Luther played some guitar and appropriately sang in what would now be considered a barbershop quartet. Lulu picked at the banjo as well. It would seem obvious that during this period Sanford would develop an interest in the piano. By the mid 1890s he received some musical training, equipping him enough to grasp the fundamentals of performance and structure, and become a competent player and reader. The family is shown in both the 1895 Kansas census and the 1900 Federal census in Arkansas City, the latter with Luther employed as a barber, while Sanford and Luther were still in school. This is important because the data reported in the 1900 census is a bit at odds with Campbell's recorded recollections.
This is Brun's story as relayed in the 1940s. It was in 1898, when Campbell would have been around 14, that he said he ran off from southern Kansas, finding his way to Oklahoma City. He then played for a while for the Armstrong-Byrd Music Company. It was possibly in that capacity that he met Otis Saunders (possibly Sanders), one of Joplin's colleagues. Saunders reportedly handed him a manuscript of Maple Leaf Rag to read through, which depending on the exact time frame was either nearing publication or had just recently been published. A manuscript would have constituted a hand written copy of Joplin's original, and some minor doubts could be cast on this possibility. Just the same, Campbell played through the copy and quickly became enamored with the soon to be famous rag. After returning home he ventured to Sedalia and became friends with Joplin and Saunders while taking lessons from the former. At the end of his time there, Saunders, or in some accounts, Scott Joplin, was supposed to have handed the teenager an 1897 silver half dollar, telling him that this was the date that the composer wrote his first "original rag." Then he went back home to Kansas, musically changed forever.
That Sanford was listed as still in school in Kansas in early 1900 does not totally enforce the credibility of this tale, or even the less likely scenario that he returned home after this journey to Sedalia simply to attend high school. Also, if the year it happened was indeed 1898, there is the matter of a 14-year-old surviving on his own at that time, including provisions for lodging and food, although that was not unheard of. Just the same, here is a more likely scenario. Please note this is an educated opinion gathered from known facts and likely probabilities. That he traveled to Oklahoma in 1898 is likely, albeit for a short time. He and a friend of his, the son of a local doctor, went to Oklahoma City in 1898 (this was possibly the period in which the Campbell family was living there) for a celebration, probably for Oklahoma Day on September 16, 1898. He became separated from his friend and ended up at Armstrong-Byrd where he bided his time playing through music. Whether Saunders came by and heard him or not is still questionable, although he certainly may have received some complements and advice from others while he was there. It is likely that once reunited with his friend that the pair returned home.
Instead of going to Sedalia at that time, it is more plausible that Campbell left for Missouri in the summer of 1900 at age 16, after the family was back in Arkansas City, and once school was out. Then the story would have logically progressed from there. In his autobiography Brun states, "I had been taught how to play by Scott Joplin in 1898 when I was 15 years old." As he was not fifteen until at least 1899, and that Joplin was not at all well known until after Maple Leaf Rag was published, and then only gradually, this further amplifies the plausibility that Campbell instead studied with Joplin in 1900. Another possibility suggested by They All Played Ragtime is that he may have spent the summer of 1899 in Sedalia, since it mentions his returning to Kansas after his time with Saunders and Joplin, and then returned the following summer.
Otis Saunders/Sanders (whose true identity is currently a mystery since he does not appear in any census) was indeed involved with helping Joplin get Maple Leaf Rag heard, played and widely promoted. However, it may potentially be considered unusual, based on data from interviews and knowledge of the past, that a mulatto pianist who was at least a decade older, would approach a white youngster in a music store to have him read a manuscript. It is more likely that the interchange involved Saunders giving Campbell a published copy of the rag, hoping to have it played locally and promoted for sale. In a 1945 Record Changer article, Brun contradicts his earlier story, saying that he learned the rag personally from Joplin as it was first written, a tale which seems even less likely given other facts. To further confound things, the Maple Leaf Club for which the rag was named and dedicated would not open until late November of 1898, meaning that Saunders would have been carrying a manuscript that was either unnamed or had a working title. So we can't be sure what Campbell saw or heard.
This time line still works with the 1900 census findings, and with Saunders going to Sedalia in mid 1900 or even early 1901 when Joplin was still there, and following him to St. Louis in 1901 as well. A further reinforcement of this contention is that Campbell became a barber like his father, a trade better learned in his mid-teens rather than at age 12 or 13, just prior to when he allegedly left home. It also indicates that he maintained better family ties than the previous scenario might suggest. The element of Campbell having seen the rag in manuscript form before it was published would indeed make for a more colorful story, but it is hard to confirm, while other known facts appear to diminish (but not eliminate) this possibility.
There is evidence to support Campbell being in Sedalia around 1900. The extent of tutelage he received from Joplin of anybody else there is unknown. Sedalia was a fairly tolertant town in terms of race relations, so that the 16 year old might have been seen in a black neighborhood (and perhaps a bit less likely in one of the Negro clubs along the north side of Sedalia's Main Avenue near Ohio Street) would not necessarily have raised too many eyebrows. Campbell later claimed to have been Joplin's only white pupil, although there is little in the way of hard evidence to fully support even this. Given his playing style, what would he have learned from Joplin at that time? Perhaps it was the fundamentals of syncopation or composition, or even notation. Campbell's recordings reflect more of a folk ragtime style that would have been equally indigenous to central Missouri, convincingly suggesting that much of what he learned was influenced by a wide variety of players less skilled than Joplin. On Joplin's playing, he variously said that Joplin was a master at playing his own rags, which needed no embellishment, and that while Joplin was a competent pianist, his playing wasn't going to "set the world on fire."
While in St. Louis, and later in Kansas City, Campbell was able to pick up work in saloons and sporting houses. It was there that he became familiar with the playing of Arthur Marshall, Scott Hayden, Tom Turpin, Tony Williams, Melford Alexander, Jim and Ida Hastings, Louis Chauvin and Charley Thompson, claiming to also have taken lessons with at least some of them. This is what he said of their playing in general. “None of the original pianists played ragtime the way it was written. They played their own style. Some played march time, fast time, slow time and some played ragtime blues style. But none of them lost the melody and if you knew the player and heard him a block away you could name him by his ragtime style.” Of the St. Louis crowd he claimed that Thompson was the best of them, eclipsing even the short-lived Chauvin who was known for his pianistic prowess. Campbell eventually fulfilled some of his wanderlust by traveling as an itinerant pianist throughout Missouri, Kansas and Oklahoma, and points south and southwest of the region, allegedly billing himself as "The Ragtime Kid". Variations on that include "The Original Ragtime Kid," "The Dude," the curious "The Indian Kid," "Kid Campbell," and "Brunnie Campbell."
Brun played anywhere he could find, including honky-tonks, barrelhouses (which had tables made of beer barrels), white brothels, pool halls, and riverboats. This is most likely the time that he developed his unique playing style, absorbing the influences of other pianists he encountered, and the period in which he wrote the bulk of his compositions that were recorded in the early 1940s. But there is again some question about how long he was on the road, and whether or not he maintained a home base. Among those he claims to have met, and likely did at some point, include Tony Jackson and Ferdinand "Jelly Roll" Morton. Given that Morton was six years his junior, it was not so plausible that they met before even 1904 when Morton was fourteen and first ventured up to St. Louis. However, in the 1940s Campbell stated: “I would like to give the late 'Jelly Roll' Morton, of New Orleans, credit for his early contribution to ragtime, which was King Porter Stomp, of 1906. He named it after Porter King, a great Negro pianist of the Gulf Coast. Another great Negro pianist of New Orleans was Tony Jackson, and he could out-play the great 'Jelly Roll' Morton. The music these great Negro composers developed will live forever, and I am proud of the fact I was associated with them at the beginning.” It seems more probable that Campbell would have developed a relationship with Morton when they were both in Los Angeles in the early 1920s, but either scenario is possible.
During his time on the road he claims to have played for many luminaries from politicians to outlaws, of which some of the claims have been considered a stretch by other historians. Among those he claimed to have performed for include President Teddy Roosevelt, Buffalo Bill (William F. Cody), Governor Thompson B. Ferguson of what was then still Indian Territory before it was Oklahoma, minstrel leader Lew Dockstader, O.K. Corral veteran and lawman Bat Masterson, and famed outlaws Frank James (Jesse's brother), Cole Younger, Emmett Dalton and Henry Starr. He stated that his greatest thrill was playing Maple Leaf Rag at the Kerfoot Hotel in El Reno, Oklahoma for Bill Cody's friend and rival, Pawnee Bill (Gordon Lillie). He and his wife, May Manning, were the proprietors of the Pawnee Bill Historical Wild West Show, which was most often held at their ranch at Pawnee, Oklahoma. In They All Played Ragtime, Campbell said that “Twenty years later I met him in Tulsa and he asked me to play it again.”
The 1905 Kansas census showed Campbell (erroneously listed as Branson) once again living with his brother and parents in Arkansas City. It could be that he was discouraged during his travels either by a limited skill set or the popularity of the talented black performers that populated the region. There is less of a possibility that he just happened to be visiting the day that census was taken, given that he is shown to be working as a barber, not a musician. Some time around 1907 to 1908 Campbell claims he retired from the playing life (it was likely earlier), and was married to G. Ethel Campbell (little is known about her). He then settled in to his father's line of work, albeit now in Tulsa, Oklahoma where Luther and Lulu had also moved. Sanford (he was invariably listed in each Federal census as Sanford B.) and Ethel are shown there in the 1910 census living on Second Street, with Campbell working as a barber in his own shop. There is no indication that he was working as a musician by this time, although it remains a possibility.
Brun, as he was more often referred to by this time, continued to live in Tulsa for most of the decade. However, his first marriage broke up within a couple years. On May 14, 1913 he applied for a marriage license in Tulsa, this time with Lena Louise Burrough of Fort Smith, Arkansas. She was 18-years-old to his 29 (he claimed to be 27). It is assumed they were soon married as on his 1918 draft card he lists a "Mrs. Sanford B. Campbell," although living at a different address than his. He was at 111 E. Fourth and Lena was living at 110 E. Independence. Brun was working as a barber for Hodges and Clements. Under the claims for potential disqualification due to physical issues, he claimed he was "Shot through joint of big toe in right foot." The story behind this is unclear, but given his earlier life as an itinerant pianist, it is very plausible. They were likely divorced soon after this as Campbell is next seen in Venice, California in 1920. He was now living with his parents and brother again. Luther was the sales manager for a coffee company, Harold worked as what appears to be a traveling salesman in the grocery business, and Brun had opened his own barber shop in Venice. The community had been founded just west of Los Angeles on the shore a couple of decades prior, with the gimmick of having recreated the essence of Venice, Italy, complete with canals and gondolas. Only a couple of the canals exist today, but Venice Beach is still a popular destination for locals. Brun remained there for the rest of his life.
Campbell was married a third time, either in the mid to late 1920s to Marjorie (May) Campbell. According to the 1930 census they had three daughters, Dorothy (c.1919), Louise (c.1923) and Patricia (c.1925). Given that all three girls were born in Oklahoma where their mother was from, it is evident he had acquired them in the marriage.
Brun's shop was at 711 Venice Boulevard next to the Venice City Hall. In interviews in the 1940s when he was being "rediscovered," he claimed to have not touched a piano through the 1920s and 1930s. However, Norm Pierce, a barber supply salesman in during the depression who later owned a San Francisco record shop, said he visited Brun's shop frequently in the 1930s, and that there was a piano in the back room of the shop that Campbell played often. This kept his playing chops in good shape, which came in handy in the early 1940s. There was a revival of 1920s jazz in the works, led at this time by Lu Watters and Wally Rose in San Francisco. In 1942, just as World War Two was underway, they recorded several tracks as the Yerba Buena Jazz Band, reviving the works of Joseph "King" Oliver and others, throwing in a little ragtime for good measure. While the progression of this revival and the YBJB was interrupted by the war, jazz enthusiasts and writers started seeking out the originals from this era. Paul E. Affeldt started visiting Brun around this time, and said that when he'd visit the shop and ask the barber to tell him something about the ragtime years, the "Closed" sign would go up and the stories would come forth in great numbers. Campbell also had a number of home-recorded acetate records dating possibly back to the 1910s. Trombonist Turk Murphy, as quoted by pianist and historian Terry Waldo in This is Ragtime, said, "You could always tell the guys who were going to see him, because of their haircuts. He wasn't really that good of a barber, but he played good ragtime."
Hoping to do some good on this new interest in old music, Brun set out to do a favor for an old friend. A bit after he had helped to author a two part article in The Record Changer magazine in 1945, he had heard that Lottie Joplin, Scott Joplin's widow, was going through hard times. So Brun recorded Maple Leaf Rag in his shop on an old $50 upright he says he refurbished, simply so the royalties would go to help her out of her situation. He recorded for Ray Avery's Echoes record company, and also did some sides for Watters' own West Coast label (eventually acquired by Lester Koenig's Good Time Jazz and then Fantasy Records). Somewhere during this time period and prior to 1947, Campbell composed and recorded Chestnut Street in the 90's, which remains his best known and most often played rag. Many of the other pieces he ended up recording around 1947 had a similar and earthy style, but there were also quotes or paraphrases of well known rags of the past. In some cases, he recorded snippets of a minute or less that are considered potential fragments of a larger piece, or perhaps just a riff that inspired him. Each of the privately recorded discs that Brunson cut were initially released on one-sided records because, as Campbell later told writer Floyd Levin, "If they want to hear two tunes, let them buy two records."
Based on his growing fame among jazz fans and his links to Scott Joplin, it was inevitable that Campbell would be interviewed in 1949 by Rudi Blesh and Harriet Janis for their upcoming book They All Played Ragtime. Brun also penned his own autobiography which now resides at Fisk University, a largely black institution in Nashville, Tennessee. A release of his previous recordings as well as the publication of They All Played Ragtime in 1950 brought new found fame to many previously unsung composers and performers, ranging from Joseph F. Lamb and Charley Thompson to Brun Campbell. Another researcher and fan who exchanged mail with Campbell was then high school student, later historian (the late) Mike Montgomery. He was among the first of the ragtime revivalists to have learned and then spread Campbell's full name to other ragtime writers.
However, Campbell was not able to revel in his growing fame for long. Scott Joplin's only white student passed on in late 1952, leaving behind a legacy of unique views of the ragtime era, as well as a number of still unanswered questions. Affeldt eventually acquired many of the acetates cut by Campbell, and released a pair of records on his Euphonic label, named after Affeldt's favorite Joplin Rag. It became clear to those who listened to these tracks that while other players, at least those who continued working in that capacity into the 1920s and 1930s, changed their style to fit the times, Campbell retained what he had learned in those early days of ragtime. In that regard, his 1940s performances are perhaps among the most authentic of those done during that time, giving us a good view into what some saloon piano players may have sounded like during those glory days in St. Louis. For all of those questions left behind by Campbell, the answers that we know of, including his performances, are still a treasured look into a time long past.
In addition to the author's own research on Campbell, based largely on public records, his recorded comments and snippets of his autobiography, acknowledgement should be extended to other good sources of information on the composer. These included Richard Egan who transcribed 22 of Campbell's pieces and wrote a short biography to accompany them in Brun Campbell: The Music of the Ragtime Kid, which can still be found with a little effort. Further reviewed research was compiled by Peter Hanley, of which more can be read at Mike Meddings' extraordinary Doctor Jazz site.
Hughie Cannon represents a tragic story of tortured talent who, in the end, was not able to overcome his demons and let his potential be fully realized. Just the same, he did leave us with a few gems, and only a few clues on who he actually was or where he came from. Responsible for one of the most sung ragtime songs of the 20th Century, he was not only a friend of the prototype Bill Bailey, but shared some of his more unfortunate traits.
Hugo Cannon was born to actors John Cannon and May (Brown) Cannon in April 1878.
The boy likely spent a number of years living with his grandmother during the seasons that his mother and stepfather were touring the country in various troupes. His mother was rather petite and of direct Irish ancestry, so played the cute Irish lass on stage for as long as she could. In a notice from St. Paul, Minnesota, on November 12, 1892, it touted a "new face... Miss May Smith, a celebrated skipping rope song and dance lady, is another new arrival." That appears to have been her act for the next few years. William's role in the relationship is unclear, but he was likely a manager or stage hand, as his name does not appear in notices. Much of her work appears to have included long stints in St. Paul, particularly through the first few months of 1884 as well as 1885. It is possible that Hugo was able to visit her there at some point each year. However, notices including her appear in other Midwest cities as well during the 1880s. In 1887 May toured as the star of the four act comedy Fogg's Ferry, and the following year in The Waifs of New York.
In 1891 a play that would make her reputation was launched with a theater company managed by Mr. Fred Robbins. Little Trixie, starring May in the title role, would tour for several years. During the second season, when Hugo was 14, he was included in the company as per the standard notice of theatrical companies in the New York Dramatic Mirror on September 10, 1892:
LITTLE TRIXIE: Fred. Robbins, manager; M.F. Luce, business manager; Sanford H. Ricaby, advance; W. Morris Ellis, musical director. Nat Franklin. Harry Mitchell, Harry Beck, W.E. Owens, Master Hugo Cannon, May Smith, Ruth Craven, Gertie Williams, and Teddy Wesley.
Hugo was a property person and stage hand, but appeared on stage briefly in a few different roles over the years. Little Trixie ran for seven years during the fall to winter season. By 1892, May had divorced William Smith, and as of the 1894 season she was married to the manager, Fred G. Robbins, going by May Smith Robbins so she could benefit from her previous fame. A typical review of the production was found in the Washington Evening Times of December 22, 1896.
May Smith Robbins, a song and dance edition of Lotta, is the star at the Bijou Family Theater this week. Her play of "Little Trixie" is an up-to-date edition of "the Little Detective," and with the assistance of a clever company, of which her husband, Fred Robbins, is the manager and leading comedian, she makes the piece a success... Eugene Millard plays a star villain part as the scoundrelly old lawyer, while Nat Franklin as the darkey, and Hugo Cannon, the boy drum-major, do good work and specialties.
After the last season of the Little Trixie ended in early 1898, Hugo decided to stay in show business, and managed to land a spot with Barlow's Minstrels as a song and dance man, also playing the piano for some acts. A self promotion for them was found in the New York Clipper of July 30, 1898:
NOTES FROM BARLOW'S MINSTRELS — We are now in the eighth week of our Summer season, and have met with success in each one of the parks we have played, breaking the records in all places. Our show has been pronounced by all the public press and managers as being the best and finest equipped minstrel show in the business... The laughing song of Lew Baldwin is hitting them hard, and the buck dancing of Hugo Cannon makes the audience yell...
Another glowing notice appeared in the Paducah [Kentucky] Daily Sun on September 29, 1898: "The solos by Messrs. Hood, James, Frank Holland, Lew Baldwin and Hugo Cannon, were up to the standard, while the comedy was new and clean. Briggs, as a trick rider, performed many marvelous feats, while Cannon and Russell, in their dance specialty, evoked great applause." Hugo remained with Barlows for the 1898 to 1899 season, then signed with Vogel's Minstrels for the 1899 to 1900 season. What was not known to the general public at this time, but was likely apparent to his colleagues, was Cannon's growing dependence on alcohol and other substances. In a later interview he claimed to have started in drinking at age ten, and in yet another he said it was sixteen. Even if either of these was an exaggeration, by his early twenties he was well on the way to his eventual demise, yet also just at the beginning of a career as a capable and popular songwriter. It is a little known assertion that Cannon was also an artist, and at one point had considered a career in cartooning, but ragtime had other plans for him.Bring me your rubber-tired hearses, bring me your rubber-tired hack;
As of the June 1900 census, May S. Robbins was still on the road, temporarily lodging with the Paulus family in Detroit, listed as an actress. Her son, Hugo, was also back in the Detroit area but living with his grandmother Rose (she vainly cited him as her nephew to the enumerator), and listed as an actor. But he was more than that by now. Influenced by his peers in the Minstrel companies, he had composed his first publishable piece, I Don't Want No Jonah Hanging 'Round. Emboldened by its minor success on stage and on the shelves, he penned the "coon song" Just Because She Made Dem Goo Goo Eyes with fellow actor John Queen, and after a few tries managed to sell it for a reported $25 (it was likely a bit more) to Howley, Haviland & Company. That company was managed in part at that time by composer Paul Dresser, and he soon became one of Hugo's champions. The cover showed Cannon and Queen as themselves on the minstrel stage, along with an image of Queen in blackface as he performed the piece "From Blitzen to Ninn."
Dresser may have also influenced or been partially responsible for the name change. Hugo was not a great show business name. To complicate things, there was a controversial leader of the Mormon Church, one that many considered to be somewhat of a public bully with dangerous ideas, named Hugh Cannon. Although he had made the news in Utah for various infractions and statements as early as the 1880s, Mr. Cannon was a regular item in the national news by 1900, much of it controversial, and he was hooked in with a questionable senator as well. Perhaps hoping to identify himself separately, Hugo became Hughey, then in short order Hughie, the name that stuck for his few remaining years.
Hughie continued to perform on the vaudeville stage with Queen for at least one season. He also continued to write music, getting two of his own published over the next year. You Needn't Come Home has been regarded by some historians as one of the first songs that could be considered part of the "commercial blues" genre, with its 12 bar construction for both verse and chorus. Cannon and Queen also turned out a couple of minor hits in 1901. I Hates to Get up Early in the Morn just slightly pre-dated, and may have even influenced Harry Von Tilzer's huge 1902 hit, Please Go 'Way and Let Me Sleep. Ultimately, it was another friend of Hughie that would wind up making him, well, in the end simply famous, but hardly rich.
After the 1901 season Hugh returned to Michigan, this time to Jackson, about 80 miles due west of downtown Detroit. There he quickly gained a reputation as a likable and stellar ragtime pianist. Jackson was considered to be a rather rough railroad town, and was sometimes referred to as “Little Chicago.” The Michigan Central Railroad kept one of their major satellite repair shops there, and an average of 3,000 railroad employees either lived or lodged around Jackson at any one time. The 1900 City Directory lists 75 saloons around the downtown area, so there were plenty of opportunities for Hughie to play, and to drink his wages.
There are many stories about how Cannon's famous song came about, and who it was about. One states that it was about half of the black vaudeville team of Bailey and Cowan. Cannon supposedly hosted Bailey at a local hotel that night, claiming that Mrs. Bailey might see the error of her ways the next day, which then did not transpire as planned. Given that the song was about a black couple, this would seem plausible. However, a more accurate accounting has emerged in recent years that can be told with some caution taken as to its authenticity.
Upon his settling in Jackson, Hughie became friends with a local musician and Jackson native, Willard Godfrey Bailey. His parents ran a photographic outfit in Jackson, and Willard, a.k.a. Bill, taught music by day and played trombone and some piano in the saloons by night. He married Sarah Siegrist around mid-1901. Their happy union seemed quite solid - for about a month. Bill enjoyed staying out often, and, as Sarah Siegrist Bailey Williams noted in 1973 at age 100, he "was my sweetheart, but he was everybody else's too. He lied to me all the time, but I was too young to understand much then. I was [just] a country girl." It was probably after Bill and Hughie had discussed enough incidents concerning his understandably indignant wife that Hughie used their situation as a template for his iconic Bill Bailey, Won't You Please Come Home. It was reportedly penned at one of Cannon's favorite New York City hangouts, one that many musicians frequented, Kid McCoy's Saloon at the corner of 40th street and Broadway. Cannon later maintained that the song was meant to be a joke, one that Sarah Bailey never quite grasped. She later acknowledged that the music was fine, but the words were what "lowered him."
There are two pieces of history involved with this famous song that are harder to substantiate, and some that are merely bunk. It was asserted in the 1920s that Howley, Haviland and Dresser locked Hughie in a room until he completed a new hit song with them, a story that was quickly denounced as false. Then there is a somewhat more credible claim that Dresser helped write the melody for the chorus, but took no credit. It is possible, but was never confirmed during his lifetime or after. The biggest stuff of legend is what the song yielded its composer. Figures from $25 to $350 have been cited, but in all cases it was an outright sale and forfeiture of any further revenue from publication. Cannon said in one interview that he pretty much gave it away. Considering how quickly Bill Bailey, Won't You Please Come Home took off and how rich it made the publishers, in perspective it pretty much was given away.
Where this story, while quite plausible, becomes suspect is when one takes into account that Howley, Haviland and Dresser had released a similar song a few months prior titled Ain't Dat a Shame composed by Hughie's stage partner John Queen with music by Walter Wilson. It tells the story of how Bill Bailey got locked out on that stormy night in the first place. Whether this was suggested or inspired by Cannon is unclear, as is the possibility that Cannon simply continued their story. As Queen and Cannon had been partners for a couple of years, it is probable that Mr. Bailey of Jackson came up in conversation. What is striking, however, is that the verse for both Ain't Dat a Shame and Bill Bailey, Won't You Please Come Home are similarly constructed with 12-bar strains, the same as his 1901 piece You Needn't Come Home, so the influence may have been aggregate in this instance.
Although Queen introduced the song on the vaudeville stage, and singer Arthur Collins cut it for the Edison company while the ink was still fresh, the character of Bill Bailey quickly became associated with Hughie as the originator, and from the time of his descent around 1908 to the current day he has often been mistakenly cited as the author of the first Bill Bailey piece Ain't Dat a Shame. Both were written as shameless "coon songs," establishing the main character in the songs as African American and a railroad worker for the Baltimore & Ohio line. There would be more Bill Bailey songs in short order, including I Wonder Why Bill Bailey Don't Come Home (1902 - Frank Fogerty, Matt C. Woodward and William Jerome), Since Bill Bailey Came Back Home (1902 - Billy Johnson and Seymour J. Furth), both published by Howley, Haviland and Dresser, followed by Bill Bailey's Left His Happy Home Again (1903 - Rozier Daughtry), Bill Bailey's Application (1910 - Edna Hooker Day), and When Old Bill Bailey Plays the Ukalele (1915 - Charles McCarron and Nat Vincent).
Cannon continued his haphazard existence through 1903 and 1904, usually working as an itinerant pianist, and bouncing into Manhattan now and then to deposit another song with his publisher friends. He continued to receive support - sometime through references or donations - from Dresser, who benefitted to some degree in the firm that he had recently joined by the continuing success of Cannon's songs and anything Bill Bailey. Hughie struck gold again in 1904, and created a song that is still considered to have set a historic precedent in some ways, but is also tinged with controversy in others.
Perhaps in the hope of ending the Bailey knock-offs, Cannon did just that, knocked off Bill Bailey. His 1904 work He Done Me Wrong (The Death of Bill Bailey) was a mournful lament, even for a major key, and was another of the early ragtime era publications that had a true 12 bar blues progression for the verse. Bill is working on the railroad and gets between two cars without the proper caution, then "cars bumped, Bill was no more." That simple. However, the melody for the verse was closely adapted from one that had been going around for (depending on which historian one follows) anywhere from five to fifty years. It was most likely ten years or less, given the authentic blues pattern. That tune making the rounds was known as Frankie and Albert, a song based on the real life murder of 17-year-old Al Britt in St. Louis by his 22-year-old prostitute girlfriend Frankie Baker. That, of course, is the basis for the song Frankie and Johnny, which would first be published in 1912. It is also questionable who stole from whom, since one of the verses in He Done Me Wrong was either already traditional, or became traditional as a result of its publication.
There's twelve men goin' to the graveyard, but eleven are comin' back.
Ooooh he was your man, but he done you wrong
Cannon's melody is a bit different in places from the one that would be published by the Leighton Brothers and Ren Shields in 1912, but both are recognizable as essentially the same, as were some of the lyrics. It appears that Cannon beat other composers to the punch in terms of getting this story published, and also infused some of his originality into it. Some accounts believe that Dresser once again had a hand in working it out. Yet there was also a challenge to this as even before they claimed Frankie and Johnny as their own, The Leighton Brothers released the same tune as Bill You Done Me Wrong with only slightly revised lyrics under their name in 1908, and didn't even bother to change Bill Bailey's name in those lyrics. No matter its origin, He Done Me Wrong remains as strong an entry as Bill Bailey, Won't You Please Come Home, even though it is infrequently performed today, likely due to its somber tone. Somber also describes the financial return that Cannon got from sales of the piece, although it appears that Dresser once again provided some assistance.
At the same time that Bill Bailey met his demise, Hughie Cannon was getting closer to his, as relayed in this article in the [New York] Sun of January 31, 1904:
SONG WRITER IN BELLEVUE."Bill Bailey's" Author Says He's Been Drinking Since He Was 10. Hugh Cannon, who wrote "Won't You Come Home, Bill Bailey?" and other popular airs, was taken to Bellevue Hospital yesterday afternoon in a cab from the Winsonia [Hotel]. He was accompanied by Paul Dresser, the composer, and another friend who told Dr. Coleman that Cannon has been drinking heavily of late and was on the verge of delirium. "How long have you been drinking?" asked Dr. Coleman of Cannon? I have been trying faithfully to decrease the visible supply of spirituous liquors for sixteen years," replied Cannon. He is 26 years old now.
A subsequent jail sentence some time during the next year helped to cure him of a drug addiction, and Hughie evidently did straighten out for a while in 1904 and 1905. One great boost to him was the interpolation of a song that was requested by stage singer May Irwin into her 1904 hit show Mrs. Black is Back. I Love the Two Steps (With My Man) reportedly yielded him a payment of $350, the largest he ever received for a single work. He also composed a piece with Irwin that may have been intended for but was not used in the full run of the show, Albany, or Dat's de Only Town Looks Good to Me. Several other songs were completed during his 1904 stay in New York, including a couple that were released in early 1905. These would be last known pieces of the Cannon canon. Then Hughie returned to Jackson a little better off, but not for long.
Once back in Michigan Hughie cleaned up at least temporarily, and played in some of the saloons there, more or less counting on his fame as a composer to obtain the work. He soon met Emma Dorson and the pair were married in Jackson, Michigan on September 30, 1906. He claimed to have been born in 1873 at the time, contrary to his actual age of 28. Their happy union was not so happy after even a few months, and she filed for legal separation on June 10, 1908, putting Cannon back on the street much like Mr. Bill Bailey had been dispatched. Emma clearly noted drunkenness as the sole reason for the separation and subsequent divorce, but she had some other things to say to the court as well. According to Emma, "For a period commencing about a month after our marriage and continuing to the time of our separation, defendant was drunk nearly every night; he seldom if ever remained at home to spend the evening but would consort with people of evil repute and would generally come home about 2 or 3 o’clock in the morning in a drunken condition." She also asserted that he "doesn't know a note of music" but simply dictated his songs.
Even before the separation, Cannon was a regular visitor to the Jackson County Jail on account of public drunkenness and other misdemeanors. Following his separation he returned to Detroit to try and make a living. A notice in the Music Trade Review of August 1, 1908, under "The Review Hears", said that "poor little Hugh Cannon, the writer of 'Bill Bailey,' 'Ain't Dat a Shame' [incorrect] and 'Just Because She Made Them Goo Goo Eyes,' is in Detroit sorely in need of assistance." Three weeks later a syndicated notice made the rounds, saying that "Hughie Cannon, the author of 'Goo-Goo Eyes' and many other coon songs, is playing the piano in Detroit saloons to keep body and soul together."
Hughie all but disappeared over the next year, drinking himself out of favor with the local drinking establishments that would no longer employ him, and becoming a regular in Detroit jails. This is also the period in which the Leighton Brothers started releasing what were essentially retooled versions of a couple of his compositions, possibly figuring that Hughie was no longer a legal threat to anybody. Cannon emerged once again in late January 1910, when he entered one of the state houses for the destitute, as more of a pathetic figure than anything, but also as a lesson of the ravages of living the "sporting life," in some surprisingly honest interviews with various journalists. One of the earliest appeared in the El Paso [Texas] Herald of January 26, 1910 in a clever format using the titles of his songs, but also as a lament:
"Just because she made them goo goo eyes," he soused in the wealthy water. He bathed in it.
"Ain't that a shame," but that couldn't be helped. He hit the coke for fair. But he quit it.
"Won't you come home, Bill Bailey," she said. But he was down in Chinatown with the rats, puffin' the pipe. He puffed with the best of pill cooks. And then he broke his yen.
"Ain't that a shame?" again he said. He broke away all right. But - you know old puffin' partner - he fell to the liquid ban-she. Soon he was on the gun. But he checked the morphine in the street, and then -
"Just because she made those goo goo eyes," he fell to the Tiffany water again. And then he fell to the suds, and then - "Gimme some o' th' nickle tea" - you know.
And so he broke his yen, soaked his gun, sprinkled the coke in his shoes. But he couldn't break the booze yen. He hit the mirror back joint every night, and packed a jug home every morning.
And now he has gone "over the road," not to the joint with more bars than glasses, but to the down and outers' bunk house. His name is Hugh Cannon, and he bought his booze sellin' coon songs. He's in a poorhouse up in Michigan, "Just because she made them goo goo eyes."
Bill Bailey's come back home, but not poor old Hughey Cannon. "Ain't that a shame?"
The more widely circulated story from early February was accompanied by the picture and cartoon reproduced here, and was written with a sadly predictive opening sentence:
The beginning of the end has come for Hughey Cannon, author of [list of his pieces], song hits that should have made him wealthy - and now he is in the local poorhouse at Eloise [Michigan]. He affixed a scrawly signature "Hugh Cannon" that has appeared in great, gawdy letters on sheets of music all over the world, to an application for admittance to the retreat a few days ago.
Drink, cigarets, opium, cigarets, morphine, cigarets, cocaine, cigarets, more drink, and more cigarets - and the night life of the tenderloin cafes, where Hughey has pounded out his life on the keys of tuneless pianos - that is the story.
The line is not very closely drawn in Detroit's lower tenderloin cafes, but Hughey had passed it. They wouldn't have him tickle the ivories anywhere any more. He had been on the toboggan here some time before he splashed into oblivion at the poorhouse.
Cannon should have made big money from his lyrics of the tenderloins that he pounded out, expressing the wild throbbing of his restless brain in the smoke-laden and beer-smelling atmosphere of the resorts - but he didn't. "'Goo-Goo Eyes,'" he said, "I sold for $25. 'Bill Bailey' I gave away. I pulled down $350 for one I wrote May Irwin - I fergit its name - but that the most. I ought to have stuck to my cartoonist work instead of going wild over ragtime."
Finally in March he revealed even more of his history, as noted in the Music Trade Review on March 12, and other papers during that month:
FORMER SONG WRITER NOW A WRECKSome Comments on Career of "Hughey" Cannon, Who Composed Successful Songs, and Whom the Night Life of Broadway Led to Ruin.
The downfall of Hugh Cannon, once a well-known figure in the night life of Broadway and a composer of successful songs, is no longer news to his former colleagues. He sought the shelter of an almshouse in Detroit some weeks ago. His former friends are inclined to blame him for his actions of the past, but although by his own admission he took to selling his compositions to several publishers simultaneously, thereby creating much confusion and the loss of money paid in good faith, his circumstances at least call for sympathy. "Hughey" will never again be in a position to write a "hit" for a publisher, nor to cause trouble for anyone.
"I started when I was sixteen," said Cannon, referring to the habit of drink which proved his ruin. "I'm thirty-six now [he was actually approaching 32], and except for seven months on the water wagon I've been intoxicated most of the time. It was twenty years—twenty black, sick, nasty years—with only a little brightness now and then when I made good with some song. I quit the cocaine easily. Fifteen days in jail cured me of that. I 'hit the pipe' In New York for a year and stopped that, too. I bucked against the morphine hard and quit that, but the red booze—that's what got me."
"Poor Hughey," said one of his more charitable friends. "He couldn't 'stand the gaff.' That's why he's in a poorhouse now, instead of living in one of these good hotels. He was too free with his money when he had it, and thought he could always write a song that would be a 'hit.'" And Broadway has had no trouble in forgetting about "Hughey" and "Bill Bailey," too...
By June, Hughie was nowhere to be seen, and could not be reliably located in the 1910 census. His mother, who had either washed her hands of him or all but forgotten her son by now, was no longer on the road and found living in Connellsville, Pennsylvania, where Fred was managing a local theater. A younger son, George S. Robbins (possibly by William Smith) and his bride were living with the couple, working as an actor and actress, probably for Fred. It is curious that in 1900 May listed that she had three children and all were living. As of 1910, however, she listed three out of six children surviving. Whether Hughie was one of those regarded as deceased by her at that time is unknown. She would soon know for certain.
Hughie went off the radar again from 1910 through early 1912, picking up playing here and there, and becoming increasingly ill from the ravages drink had wrought upon his beleaguered liver. He was in Toledo Ohio in June 1912 when he managed to make the news twice on the same day. Hughie had collapsed earlier in the month and was sent to the Lucas County [Ohio] Infirmary. He died there on June 17 as a result of cirrhosis of the liver. However, and Hollywood could not have written it with much more cruelty, the final crushing blow of his difficult life actually came, thankfully, within a few hours after the end of his life. That very same day, Emma Cannon was finally able to secure a divorce decree in Michigan, not knowing that, as one headline writer cleverly stated, a "Higher Court had interfered with the Cannon divorce case."
May Robbins had her son's body sent to her in Connellsville, where it remains interred. He remained there somewhat in obscurity for nearly a century. There was a feature story in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review in 2006 concerning efforts by historians to have the state put a historic marker at his grave in Connellsville. It was ultimately turned down since, as the state regarded the situation, Cannon's story was not particularly unique in spite of his hit song, and actually more typical of the time. Some efforts have continued into the 2010s, but it appears little will be done in regards to honoring Cannon in his final resting place.
Hughie's songs, or to be more specific, that particular song, will evidently never die. Bill Bailey has been in print one way or another since its first publication, including in song books, fake books, nostalgia books, band and orchestra arrangements, and even electronic download form. It has been recorded well over 1000 times by artists ranging from Louis Armstrong to Bobby Darin, and hardly a jazz or ragtime festival goes by without at least one or more renditions of Bill Bailey, Won't You Please Come Home. It is one of the most recognizable tunes of the ragtime era, even by the youth of the 21st century, and remains one of the top sellers from that decade.
And what of his most famous character? Willard Bailey managed a music store in Jackson through 1908 or so. At that point he abandoned Jackson for California and Sarah went with him, in spite of their now famous and questionable marriage. He played in orchestras and taught music for several more years, but also reportedly continued his philandering. Bill Bailey was finally kicked out for good in the mid-1910s when Sarah divorced him. She then returned to Jackson and eventually married a local farmer. In the 1920 census Willard Bailey is shown as a salesman for a music store in Los Angeles, California, living with his daughter Frances and an aunt, and in 1930 at age 60 he was working in advertising. The two Baileys still appear to have remained on friendly terms through his California death in April 1954. Sarah said she finally got used to the joking about her status as Mrs. Bailey, which apparently continued until she died in a nursing home at 104 in 1978. Both of them and their creator live on more than a century later thanks to that famous ragtime song.
Most of the information here was compiled from public records, newspapers and periodicals. Some of the information on Cannon's birth and divorce were obtained from Michigan state vital records. However, without the diligent work of the late Mike Montgomery, Detroit's number one ragtime and early jazz historian and collector, some of the information compiled here might have been difficult to confirm, as he had a couple of articles and inteviews which substantiated other materials located. We will miss your fine dedicated work Mike.
Axel W. Christensen was an important figure in ragtime, not so much as a composer but as a promoter, trying to get the concepts of the music into the hands of the average pianist while making a nice profit at the same time. He was born to Danish immigrants Charles C. Christensen and his bride Mary Mathiasen, in Chicago, Illinois, a decade after the great fire that had leveled the city. Axel was one of seven siblings, of which four other boys and one girl survived to adulthood. They included Otto R. (12/22/1882), Ingebord (3/18/1885), Charles W. (1/24/1887) and Norman V. (10/27/1891). Given that Charles and Mary were not married until August of 1881, there is the possibility that either Axel was born out of wedlock, or that Charles was not his biological father, a determination that was difficult to confirm.
Axel had a typical musical upbringing that included piano lessons and harmony and theory. Contemporary reports described him as only average in his ability. There was reportedly an incident in his mid teens in which after playing marches and some forms of classical music at a party he was shown up by a much better pianist playing early cakewalks or ragtime, something that the females reacted to in a very positive way. This evidently affected him deeply, and it was then that he became passionately interested in popular piano styles, including ragtime. By 1900 he was still only peripherally involved with music, as the census shows him working in mechanical engineering of some kind, the same field his father was in.
The young entrepreneur finally managed to compose and publish a rag in 1902, The Ragtime Wedding March (Apologies to Mendelssohn). The main point of this piece was to prove that virtually anything could be syncopated into a ragtime style, a catalyst for what was to come in his career. Determined to make good with his musical education and passion, Christensen opened his first ragtime instruction school in Chicago's Fine Arts building in 1903 with the promise of "Ragtime Taught in Ten Lessons." He had developed a curriculum that consisted of exercises in various syncopated patterns on easy melodies. His goal, although not overtly stated, was to teach the person not so much how to play a piano rag, but how to rag any music that they encountered or already knew. This was akin to turning around his own bad teenage experience into something positive - taking the 98 pound weakling pianist and making them popular with syncopated muscles. With good advertising and positive results, he was able to grow the business fairly steadily. Axel soon married Reine Annette Swanson in September of 1903, and she would eventually become materially involved in the burgeoning business. They soon established Christensen's headquarters in the Kimball Building.
Business reached a point of saturation in the Chicago area by 1908 with four school branches in various parts of the city. However, Christensen had been selling his books by mail order and in selected music stores in an effort to get to people outside of his Midwest radius. The first of these was published in 1906, Christensen's Instruction Book Number 1 for Rag-Time Piano Playing, the very title forecasting a series of such books. The basic course was updated at least five times during the ragtime era. Many of the exercises could be equated to a syncopated version of the famous Hanon exercises, repeating a syncopated pattern up and down the scale. Other focused courses also soon appeared in print, including a course on playing for vaudeville, a fairly lucrative profession at that time. Going beyond how to play, these books also outlined how to build up a well-paced set of anywhere from 20 minutes to an entire evening concert, important lessons for an entertainer to know in order to engage an audience.
Axel was finally confident enough in the strength of his teaching methodology, which was frequently updated to include new styles as they came along, and opened a branch of his school in San Francisco in late 1908. The results encouraged him to expand to Cincinnati by 1910, and even St. Louis, a hotbed of ragtime activity for a decade by that time. He also expanded his personal repertoire of compositions with a number of fine rags and songs over the next few years. In July, 1910 the Christensens were shown living in a fairly nice area of Chicago with their recently-arrived only son, Carle Alexander, born July 27, 1909. They also had a live-in servant, so the publishing and teaching enterprise was paying off fairly well by then. He listed himself as a proprietor of music schools.
By 1910 Christensen was truly the Czar of Ragtime, a title which would stay with him for many years and that he used often in Vaudeville. In 1915, utilizing his passion for rearranging older tunes with syncopation, Axel released a series of these arrangements that were included in some of his courses and sold separately as well. His educational reach would eventually extend to 25 different cities by 1918, near the end of the ragtime era. Axel's 1918 draft record shows him still in Chicago as the owner and manager of the Christensen School of Popular Music.
In May 1918 in Melody Magazine, Christensen wrote a provocative article titled Can Ragtime Be Suppressed which extolled the virtues of the genre, and made clear that those who would try to prevent its continuation would ultimately fail in their endeavors due to the public thirst for more ragtime. While its origin was only a mere two decades in the past, he postulated on the mystery of that very genesis:
Many writers have endeavoured to trace ragtime down to its origin, but there are almost as many opinions as to where ragtime had its source as there are writers on the subject. Ever since there has been such a thing as ragtime, there have been people who would tell you that ragtime was on the decline, and that it would soon be a thing of the past. Twelve or thirteen years ago a well-known music publisher told me in all seriousness to devote my efforts to something besides ragtime, because the knell of ragtime had been sounded; it had run itself to death and the publishers would soon stop printing it altogether. He sagely told me that if I had only gone into business a few years previous I might have made something out of it, but there was no longer any hope. That was twelve years ago and ragtime is now stronger than ever.
The truth is that it was on the way out, and the Christensen schools would have to adapt in order to follow the national musical trend to jazz.
It was reported in They All Played Ragtime that some 200,000 students had registered nationally with the schools by 1923. A 1923 edition of the Music Trade Review noted that Christensen had ninety-two branches around the country. Totals would eventually rise to 350,000 by the onset of the Great Depression, with another 200,000 by 1935, although the latter figure can likely be disputed given the economic climate. In any case, the school was likely responsible for a great many ragtime pianists that ranged from hobbyists to small town heroes, many of them perhaps playing either in vaudeville or for movie houses of the era.
Much of the success of his program, beyond the frequently updated exercises and examples, was his willingness to trust other teachers to follow the program and succeed as he had with it. Many of them also had careers as performers or composers. Among those who are known are Robert Marine from New York, Bernard Brin from Seattle, Marcella Henry from Chicago and Edward J. Mellinger from St. Louis. It has been noted that at times 500 or more students would attend recitals at Mellinger's St. Louis branch, and some of them became large celebrations of playing with student/teacher duets, trios, and perhaps even more, creating good press for Christensen.
In addition to running this enterprise, Axel continued to write rags at this time, sometimes published separately but more often included in the courses. While not quite of the same quality as some of the better selling pieces of the time, they were still carefully crafted and accessible to his students. In 1912 he reportedly became one of the first artists to record "hand-played" piano rolls for the QRS company, a claim later contradicted by ads for another company saying he had not recorded for anybody else before 1923. Nonetheless, the QRS rolls state that each piece was "Played by the Composer." Christensen also published selected rags by other composers, favoring those who taught for them.
Another great promotional tool was his monthly Ragtime Review magazine which ran from December 1914 to late 1918, and included tricks and tips, humorous stories, articles on performers, composition reviews and reprints of rags by many publishers who licensed the pieces to him, perhaps in exchange for advertising which was prominent in most editions. Among those was John S. Stark, who allowed one of his ragtime publications or articles to be published in the magazine each month during at least the first year, and sporadically from 1915 on. The bulk of pieces that appeared subsequently were by Christensen or others who taught at his various branches in the Midwest.
The Ragtime Review magazine's subscriber base was eventually bought by publisher Walter Jacobs around 1918, and he incorporated it into his own Melody Magazine, which was largely managed by composer George L. Cobb. The circumstances of this buyout are unclear, but it likely removed some competition for Jacobs as well as giving him a greatly increased circulation. It should also be noted that many others tried to emulate Christensen's publishing and teaching success, and some of the literature for smaller ragtime or piano schools are obviously directly derived, and in some cases plagiarized from the Czar's own work. However, his name dominated the field, particularly in cities where his schools continued to do good business. His Los Angeles branch even claimed a few movie stars in the late 1910s among their clientele.
As ragtime languished and jazz thrived with the approaching 1920s, Christensen quickly adapted, and soon his ragtime instruction books and schools became jazz-oriented. As novelty piano became popular in the early 1920s he added novelty riffs and licks to the course, as well as some novelty compositions of his own. There were even books on how to execute piano breaks in a variety of ways, an indispensable aid to the amateur jazz band pianist. On a few occasions in the 1920s Axel recorded some sides for the Okeh and Paramount record labels. In 1923 he signed a contract with the United States Music Company to record piano rolls of his own works, as well as instruction rolls of the Christensen system. That same year he opened a music store at 526 South Western Avenue in Chicago, featuring musical merchandise, Okeh records, music rolls and radio amplifiers.
The tour opened at the Circle Theatre in Indianapolis, Indiana, for a two week stay in January 1924. It was presented with the cooperation of and promotion by the U.S. Music Company. As might be expected, many of the pieces he played just happened to be available on rolls in the lobby. He gave his own shows around the country in both private and public venues, and occasionally with vaudeville troupes. Axel's shows were sort of a one-man vaudeville evening with music, singing and stories (no dancing was reported). Among the advertised treats were syncopated versions of classics like the ubiquitous Poet and Peasant Overture. This is in line with his comment that "classical music is one of the finest of arts and dwells briefly upon the original narratives of some of the best-known classics." In the act he also demonstrated how some of these classics were often used as the basis for a popular tune, including his own syncopated versions of the such works. Overall, the tour was a success for both the artist and the sponsor, who reported an increase in roll sales in each city Christensen appeared in.
The entertaining Mr. Christensen continued to tour for much of the rest of the decade. In 1925 and 1926 he was put on the popular Orpheum and Keith circuit of vaudeville theaters earning at least $1,000 per week. At that same time he appeared on many of the earliest radio stations in the country, including KYW (Philadelphia), WEBH, WGN, WMAQ, WQJ and WLS (all Chicago stations). He also recorded some of his ethnic comic monologues used on stage on the Broadway label, a subsidiary of Paramount. Axel attended or hosted many events in Chicago when he was in town. On December 7, 1926, a "stag dinner" was given in honor of the maestro by the Chicago Piano Club which he had joined several years prior. The affair was reportedly a great success, and Piano Club members awarded him with a solid gold pocket watch. In early 1927 Christensen started a series of programs on Chicago station WHT owned by the Wrigley corporation. One of the highlights of the first show was an imitation of the late Bert Williams singing Somebody Else, in addition to his usual comedy.
Axel's regular haunt in Chicago in 1926 and 1927 was the Palace Theater, a movie house which no longer required his services after their conversion to sound in 1928. Over the next three years he continued to regale audiences everywhere on radio and in person with his humorous anecdotes, which more and more took the balance of an evening with less piano playing. A book of many of these stories, Axel Grease for Your Funny Bone, was published in 1930. Also by 1930, his son Carle had joined the act, performing at the piano more frequently on stage with his famous father.
By the time the Great Depression set in around 1930, Axel's schools and even his publications were likely considered a frivolous expense by most consumers in light of the economic downturn, and he had to scale back the operation. It had clearly become a family business, as in 1930 Mr. Christensen, now living in the exclusive River Forest suburb of Chicago, listed himself as the proprietor of his small empire, with Reine as a manager and Carle, now 20, as an assistant manager. Many of the schools closed, although he still published courses in learning jazz, and later swing music, throughout the decade. Axel still managed to find performance work in the final days of Vaudeville and for many private functions and conventions. By this time he was promoting comedy, a much needed commodity, as a major part of his entertainments. This included promotional material with examples of his jokes and humorous stories.
Carle Christensen married Alyce Oglozinski in Chicago on April 20, 1931. The couple subsequently moved to California soon after, perhaps to manage a Christensen school there or even pursue an additional degree (the circumstances are still under investigation). Alyce gave birth to Carlos Christensen on March 15, 1933 with David G. Christensen following within a couple of years. However, the couple was back in Chicago at some point later in the decade with Axel and Reine, as Carlos was schooled in Illinois. In the mean time, the elder Christensen switched radio stations in 1934, now performing regularly in WJJD in Chicago. The schools there remained in business throughout the 1930s and into the 1940s. Indeed, an advertisment run in Chicago papers from the summer of 1945 through the following spring promoted the Christensen School of Popular Music, urging the reader to "Learn Swing Piano the Axel Christensen Way." The ads appear to cease around June, 1946.
At some after World War Two, the extended family relocated to Southern California. Carle and his brood returned there permanently around 1946 and Axel and Reine followed in late 1947 or early 1948. As related by Chris Christensen, Axel was a strong believer in the Baha'i faith, and there was a particularly notable temple and school in Ojai, just east of Santa Barbara. It does help to clarify why Carle had an Ojai address for many years, and indeed retired there. It also speaks clearly on the strong faith base for the Christensen family that kept them together.
According to his grandson David, Axel not only kept on performing in Los Angeles after his move, but made a rare television appearance. He was listed as appearing on KLAC 13, October 4, 1951, on the show You're Never Too Old. Christensen performed all over the Los Angeles area for a variety of functions nearly up to his death. Many were private functions for small civic organizations, and there is at least one notice published as late as April 3, 1955, in a Long Beach, California newspaper. The music school entrepreneur died months later in Los Angeles at age 74 leaving behind a wake of happy people who somehow had managed to learn the joy of ragtime through his methodologies. His wife survived him through 1962.
Carle continued to issue Christensen publications through the mid 1960s. He retired to Ojai and lived there until his death in 1996. Carlos, a music enthusiast by birthright who became a computer scientist in the 1960s, died in the spring of 2007 in Concord, Massachusetts, where he had been collecting memories of his youth with grandfather Axel. David G. Christensen is the sole remaining member of the family who knew Axel, and has followed the Christensen creative bent as producer of video and music projects, residing in Port Townsend, Washington.
Many thanks to Canadian Ragtime historian Ted Tjaden who provided some of the information here to supplement my research, as well as posting many Christensen items on his site, including the entire run of the Ragtime Review. Please visit his site at www.ragtimepiano.ca. Also, Robert Perry for providing the QRS piano roll information and Andrew Barrett on a couple of the recordings. Thanks also to Chris Christensen, the family of Carlos Christensen, and David G. Christensen for some additional clarifications.
Edward Claypoole was truly a court composer; literally. In spite of a pretty good legacy of great compositions, he spent his career working in the courts. Born in Baltimore to court clerk Captain James Yeardley Claypoole and his wife Mary (Molly) H. Green, both Maryland natives, Eddie was the youngest of five children, including Robert G. (3/31/1875), James Y. Jr. (6/4/1876), Genevieve W. (11/10/1879) and Martha Ann (10/31/1881). Captain Claypoole was also involved in politics in Baltimore, part of his circle of friends in his position as a clerk in the Court of Common Pleas. Edward would spend virtually all of his life in Baltimore.
Little Eddie was drawn to the piano at an early age, and in his formative years his abilities were demonstrated by his proud mother as he was propped up on cushions picking out tunes. There was a brief foray with formal lessons that did not work out, so they were soon abandoned. As a result, Eddie was mostly self-taught, focusing on popular music forms, and without harmony or theory training unable to notate. His high school music teacher helped him out with the latter when Eddie decided he wanted to submit pieces for publication. Some of the earliest were written for school or community theater presentations. But instrumentals were soon to follow.
The first of these was Prancin' Jimmy when he was just 16, which did fairly well for Baltimore publisher Cohen and Hughes. It also encouraged him to do more than just play in local venues, so he kept writing. His father died in the October 1895. As of the 1900 Census, Eddie's mother was shown as widowed, and Eddie was still in school. Curiously the enumerator caused some confusion by listing her name as Martin, and showing her as male, and a court clerk. But given confirmation of James' death and an apparent change on the record, this was a sloppy oversight as the other information matches.
One of Edward's big breaks came in 1903. Sort of. That was when he decided, in spite of some early musical successes, to get a real job. His older brothers Robert and James were also employed as clerks as their father had been, making it kind of a family affair. Whether older sisters Jessica and Martha followed is not clear. So he applied to the Baltimore courts and got a job as an apprentice court clerk. They were very forgiving of his performance habits, however, and Edward was one of their best representatives in that regard.
Having a few pieces under his belt and a reputation as a good pianist, Claypoole found his way to the 1904 Lewis and Clark Exposition in St. Louis where he performed, and also had his own contribution to the large catalog of "Pike" pieces published, the Pike being the strip just outside of the fairgrounds where most of the ongoing entertainments were housed. Hike to the Pike did well at the fair, but so many pieces like this were soon forgotten. It was touted in the July 9, 1904 edition of The Music Trade Review as "a ready and rapid seller, and bands and orchestras in and around St. Louis and the fair are playing it right along."
In his new position as a court clerk in training Edward was able to turn out just a few pieces a year, if that, but they were usually accepted for publication. Two breaks came on Broadway as three of his songs were interpolated into two stage shows. The first, Nearly a Hero of 1908, including I Don't Want to Marry You and My Sahara Belle, ran several months for a total of 116 performances. However, the show received tepid reviews at best, and producer Lee Shubert suggested it might be renamed Nearly a Zero. Claypoole is credited with perhaps also having added lyrics only to a couple of the Seymour Furth songs.
The second production, The Echo of 1910, included My Guiding Star and ran for a shorter period of 53 performances, but it helped cement his reputation as a solid composer. One other off-Broadway production of 1910, Theecho, yielded another two songs but no hits. But clearly by 1910 his footing was more solid in Baltimore. The census shows him with Adele "Addie" C. Spurrier, whom he married in 1908, and with a daughter, Audrey C. Claypoole, born in late 1909. He was listed as a Law Court Clerk, but not as a musician.
Mildly diminutive at 5'4", Eddie was a local celebrity in Baltimore in the 1910s, and in demand for a number of musical functions. It was also one of his more productive writing periods. Alabama Jigger became a popular band hit, and his Reuben Fox Trot a decent seller. Then he tipped the scales of justice in his favor with - the scale. The simple concept of applying syncopation to a scale - a scale played in five different tonalities no less - earned Claypoole a permanent place in the ragtime hit parade.
Appearing first in a beautiful but limited edition clown cover (inexplicably replaced by a fairly generic notated cover), Ragging the Scale was a sensation for Eddie, as well as for Will Von Tilzer's Broadway Music Corporation, where it landed following it's initial and more colorful printing issued by Von Tilzer's ArtMusic subsidiary. It sold well, was performed often around the country, and was one of the most cleverly simple pieces of the ragtime era. Within in year the piece had found its way to several different piano roll renditions. This sensation earned the erstwhile court clerk a total of $25.00, since he sold it outright rather than opt for royalties. Why take chances on a fad? But his tunes were still in demand. Ragging the Scale also made a comeback in a 1930s edition through ArtMusic However, shortly after this Claypoole took a break from writing. Again in 1920, the census shows the Claypoole family still in Baltimore, with Edward listed as a Court Clerk at the Court House.
In the early 1920s Edward decided to test the waters again, and came up with the clever Dusting the Keys which actually included a little gimmick where the player was to literally dust the keys with a cloth on their index finger in the trio. With lyrics added in short order to create a song edition of the piece, it was yet another hit, but now completely in the novelty genre. Encouraged, he wrote four piano novelties that were all readily printed up by Mills Music, a leader in that genre during the 1920s. He also joined ASCAP in 1929.
While very few pieces followed his Mills novelties into print, Claypoole became a popular fixture on the radio in the late 1920s and into the 1940s. His daughter Audrey, shown still living in the family home in 1930 (when he had graduated to his ultimate position as Deputy Clerk) sang with him as well both on the radio and at live venues. Both the 1940 Census and his 1942 draft card reinforce that he was still a court clerk, not a professional musician, something that may have given Addie some comfort.
Edwards eventually retired from music and in 1948, after a 45 year career, from the Baltimore City courts as well. One might imagine the sense of loss felt by the court when their finest musical representative left for retirement. A handful of pieces came out just after he left that job. Sadly Edward's retirement was a mere four years, but thankfully his many fine tunes have since come out of retirement to entertain us all. If it should please the court.
Some of the narrative of Claypoole's life was derived from the extraordinary efforts of Dave Jasen and Gene Jones in the book That American Rag published in 2000. It is a highly recommended source for a very different look at where ragtime came from and how it eventually reached the public. The rest was uncovered by the author in collective public records and articles from the ragtime era. The error in the 1900 Census was pointed out to the author by researcher Barry Champan who found the misalignment with the death of James five years prior.
A native of New York state born to Linus B. Cobb and Jeannette (Maine) Cobb (often called "Nettie"), George L. Cobb was a versatile composer who displayed inherent musical talent at a young age. He spent most of his early years in Mexico, New York. The son of a farmer, Linus started in the grocery business, but by the 1890s he was working as a merchant, real estate broker and entrepreneur. The senior Cobb also had a hand in organizing the Mexico Electric Light, Heat and Power Company in 1890 when electricity in the home was still a fairly new concept. Linus was also involved with the Mexico Military Academy from 1894 to 1895 as a trustee. For a time he even sold bicycles during the beginning of the cycling craze of the 1890s. A snippet from the Mexico Independent of April 26, 1893, reads as follows:
When in Syracuse the other day we went into the store of Reuben Wood's Sons, and were much surprised to see so many bicycles of the best makes. It is really a beautiful assortment, and it is no wonder that the firm is receiving orders for machines from various parts of the State. So well pleased were we with the wheels that, although owning a very handsome tricycle, we could not help buying one of them - the Queen City. Olin Wheeler, who was with us, got himself a Falcon - a beautiful machine. Carl Ballard and George L. Cobb have each a Falcon wheel, purchased of the same firm. L. B. Cobb of this village is agent for these and other wheels sold by the above-named firm.
After his traditional schooling George, received training from the School of Harmony and Composition at Syracuse University, attending there from 1904 to perhaps 1908. While in school he had one his first compositions, Dimples, locally published, and self-published Mr. Yankee, both at age 19. The following year Cobb started releasing pieces under the imprint of the H.C. Weasner & Company in Buffalo. One of them, Fleetfoot, was evidently a very good seller for the firm, and by 1907 Weasner claimed that over 100,000 copies were sold, a very high number for an instrumental by an unknown writer, so questionable at best.
The first mention of Cobb in the news was located in the Buffalo Morning Express on January 20, 1907, mentioning another publisher with which he would have a long relationship. "The Express has received a march and two-step, 'Western Life,' by George L. Cobb, published by Charles I. Davis, Detroit, Mich. It has been featured by Sousa's Band and it is sure to make a hit, for it has all the elements of success - pretty melodies, good harmonies and irresistible swing."
After graduation Cobb and his family moved to Buffalo, although his intended career track there was not readily discerned. It was most likely to work as a performer and perhaps an arranger or composer. His earlier compositions had helped him win some writing contests, and one in particular would emerge in his new locale. It was a promotional rag of sorts titled Buffalo Means Business, for which he won the prize of free publication of the promotional piece. At the very least it attracted the attention of his eventual frequent lyricist Jack Yellen (1892-1991), who was a reporter with the Buffalo Courier through at least 1914 (potentially a bit longer). They wrote their first song together in short order.
The subsequent submission of Cobb's Rubber Plant Rag to Walter Jacobs Publishers of Boston garnered him visibility and significant exposure in the East. Cobb would end up spending several fruitful years working with and for Jacobs. His earliest rags saw moderate success and distribution, and George started to compose pieces much more intricate in nature. Jacobs had hoped he had an exclusive arrangement with Cobb for his instrumental compositions, but later found out otherwise. A number of these compositions were released in packets in the early teens and beyond as orchestrations arranged for bands or movie theater ensembles.
As per a Music Trade Review notice from March 12, 1910, this practice was clearly already in process. Concerning an announcement by Jacobs of the premiere of his new magazine, Orchestra Monthly, they noted that "This [publication] is to be to the orchestra what his 'Cadenza' is to the banjo, mandolin and guitar fraternity. In this number [75,000 copies] is a new instrumental piece, 'The Aggravation Rag,' by George L. Cobb, composer of the popular 'Rubber Plant Rag.' This is given on orchestra-size plates for ten pieces and a similar new selection will be made a feature each month. These selections will not be printed or published in any other form and can be had only in the Orchestra Monthly." In spite of this proclamation, both pieces did appear as piano solos in short order.
In the 1910 Census (where the family name was erroneously notated as Coff), George was living in Buffalo with his parents and his maternal grandmother. He is listed as a composer of music and the occupation for Linus appears to be mines or miner, so he may have been invested in a mine of some kind as part of his real estate business. After a scant output of pieces in 1910, including one with Yellen, there was an unexplained dearth of Cobb compositions in 1911. George's sole 1911 composition with Yellen was a song of average quality. It is probable that Yellen was in Michigan by this time for further schooling. However, the output increased substantially in 1912. It is unclear what else George was doing for income, but living with his parents obviously eased that burden considerably.
Cobb was briefly married to Clara (or Claire) Bailey, the estimated marriage and subsequent divorce between mid-1912 and late 1915. A Clara Bailey of upstate New York was found in Census records, and was likely his first wife. She was shown to be single in 1910 and divorced in 1920, and was in the right area and time frame to have encountered Cobb.
Sometimes overlooked by pianists are the songs that Cobb wrote or co-wrote. They had the undercurrent of piano-based ragtime with the salability of popular songs. He also had some success at writing his own lyrics from time to time. Just the same, upon his graduation in 1913 from the University of Michigan, Jack Yellen came back to Buffalo to continue to write songs with the composer he so admired. Among the most frequently performed Cobb and Yellen songs are a number of "Dixie" tunes. These include Listen to That Dixie Band, See Dixie First and their first major tune about the storied south, All Aboard for Dixie Land.
As recounted by performer/historian Frederick Hodges, the pair had trouble selling the song during the difficult year of 1913 when publishers were fighting with discount houses, performers, and even composers wanting some equity. So they ended up selling the piece to the smaller publishing house of J. Fred Helf. In October a new show by composers Rudolf Friml and Otto Hauerbach titled High Jinks was receiving only tepid response in its trial run in upstate New York. Producer Arthur Hammerstein was looking for something to save it from total failure, making adjustments at every theater it was shown in. One of the problems was that there were no real "hit" tunes in the score for star Elizabeth Murray, a long-established energetic "coon shouter," to put over on the audience. In Chicago, Hammerstein decided to interpolate All Aboard for Dixie Land into the show, creating both a hit show and a hit song in an instant. By the time it got to Broadway in December 1913, the entire nature of the production had changed due to that piece. It helped codify Cobb and Yellen as very credible tunesmiths.
Helf could not handle the sudden demand for the Cobb/Yellen tune, so All Aboard for Dixie Land and some others from the show were sold to the dominant firm of Jerome H. Remick for around $2,500. The song became a greater hit 1914. The play, however, barely made it into the spring. Ironically it was silent film that saved the play and made the song an even bigger hit. The decision to include two of the song numbers, albeit without sound, in a Mabel Normand film titled Our Mutual Girl, benefitted both the play and composers, and by April it was back on track. Everybody involved with the show, including the composers, made out very well in the end. Miss Murray continued to favor Cobb and Yellen pieces for some time.
Another major Dixie song, Are You From Dixie?, became an early Al Jolson hit. It has since been frequently quoted in movies and for many years, thanks to composer Carl Stalling, had a heavy presence in Warner Brothers cartoons. One of their biggest successes was the now ubiquitous Alabama Jubilee, still a favorite of ragtime pianists and banjo players everywhere. The cover once again featured Murray, and was a blessing for her. After a contentious battle concerning issues with High Jinks she was enjoined from performing All Aboard for Dixie Land in public. Alabama Jubilee became an enormous hit for her and the composers in the fall of 1915. Yellen's down-home lyrics certainly contributed to the popularity of these songs, as they fit to Cobb's melodies so well. From that point on many of the pair's collective works became million-sellers in both printed and recorded form.
Noting that Cobb was submitting his works to many different New York firms, and even to Will Rossiter in Chicago who had taken on his hit Just For To-Night, Jacobs finally thought to offer Cobb steady work as a staff arranger, which George soon accepted. As announced in The Music Trade Review of September 30, 1916, "Walter Jacobs, whose establishment in Bosworth street, Boston, is a busy hive of industry, has now associated with him two able men who will prove without doubt of the most valuable assistance in his work. One of these is George L. Cobb, of Buffalo, who is widely known as a composer, and, who besides writing popular compositions, will do more or less traveling. Mr. Cobb is best known for his song, 'Are You from Dixie?' which is having an enormous vogue. Another of the Dixie numbers is entitled 'See Dixie First,' and this is being put out by Jacobs." (The other staff member mentioned was the largely unknown banjoist C.V. Butterman.) However, to Jacob's regret, he did not specify exclusivity as a composer for the firm in Cobb's contract, so his employee was free to shop around for the best deal for his songs and instrumentals. Cobb pieces still appeared under the Rossiter imprint as well.
Cobb moved to Cambridge, Massachusetts in late 1916 to facilitate this new position, bringing his parents with him. On November 20, 1916 he married his second wife, Mary Belle Barr, formerly of Buffalo and also Saxton, Pennsylvania, in Boston. As reported in The Music Trade Review of December 9, 1916: "The ceremony was performed at the parsonage of the Union Congregational Church by Rev. Ernest G. Guthrie, the pastor. Mr. Cobb and his wife are making their home in Allston, and will be at home to their friends after January 1."
One hit that Jacobs was able to get his hands on was the 1917 patriotic war booster song The Battle Song of Liberty by Cobb and Yellen. Cleverly adapted from F.E. Bigelow's famous march Our Director, it was one of many tunes that managed a swell of popularity until George M. Cohan's Over There swept the world. He also spent some time traveling in 1916 promoting his employer, with sightings in Chicago and Michigan. While still selling his tunes to Jacobs and other publishers, George was assigned to write for the Jacobs' company newest music trade magazine, The Tuneful Yankee. He held this post for a few years starting in January of 1917. Cobb's role there was as a music critic or commentator on compositions submitted by amateurs, which he handled quite deftly, but also with brutal honesty at times. In 1918 the magazine was recast as Melody, and his column was called "Just Between You and Me," which ironically was often a not-so-private venue for the occasional evisceration of amateur composers. If he thought something submitted to the magazine for analysis was tripe, he had little trouble saying so.
Many of Cobb's later compositions also appeared only in the magazine, and not as separate sheet music publications. There is speculation that pieces attributed to other composers might be by Cobb, with Leo Gordon being his primary pseudonym, and that some of the compositions from this time were simply not at the same level as his more notable sheet music pieces because of the rigors of contribution and editing deadlines.
Even though he worked for Jacobs during the teens and later, Cobb still published where he could get the best deals and distribution. One of his overall biggest successes, and personal favorites, was his Russian Rag, based on Sergei Rachmaninoff's famous C# minor prelude, released by Will Rossiter of Chicago. The esteemed contemporary classical composer was reportedly nonplussed by this adaptation, but it did provide him good exposure. Russian Rag was first featured in Chicago at the Majestic Theater by Mademoiselle Rhea who was a costume dancer in Vaudeville. Even though she was featured on some of the covers of the piece as well, her endorsement was less viable, based on reviews of her act. One reviewer noted that her accompanying violinist and pianist were only average which detracted from her dancing ability. So there was a slow start for sales of Russian Rag until 1919 when it was recorded and endorsed by the famous Six Brown Brothers ragtime saxophone sextet. They were also shown on the cover of subsequent editions of the piece. As quoted below, the group's leader said that Rachmaninoff actually enjoyed their rendition. The rag ultimately became so popular that a few years later it was re-written as The New Russian Rag to reflect Cobb's more advanced Novelty Ragtime compositional style.
Another 1918 piece of Cobb's that the Brown Brothers recorded created a stir in music circles in the United State,s and almost caused an international incident. Among those American critics was dissenter Gregor M. Mazer who in the September 1920 issue Melody magazine said: "[It is] disgraceful... the way beautiful music is being converted into vulgar, impossible jazz... When Grieg’s immortal 'Peer Gynt' is printed on a program 'Peter Gink' it is time for all music lovers to rebel against this outrageous profanity." Further criticism came from Grieg's homeland as reported in the November 24, 1920 New York Tribune:
Composers, singers and conductors in New York who expressed their views yesterday are inclined to think that Norway is right. Tom Brown, however, who transformed Shubert's "Serenade" and Rachmannioff's "Prelude" [Cobb's Russian Rag] into the raggiest of rags and whose company played the jazzed "Suite" for records, has a different opinion.
"Sergei Rachmaninoff heard us play the adaptation of his work." he said, "and liked it, considering this a method of popularizing real music. We play such adaptations to attract attention and we find that the public takes to adaptations better because familiar melodies appeal. That's reason enough."
Mme. Marie Sundelius, Enrico Caruso and Albert Spalding, an American violinist, were of the opinion that Norway has just cause for indignation. Norway, it seems, learned of the desecration when an assortment of American talking machine records reached that country recently. One record, entitled "Peter Gink." composed by George L. Cobb and played by the Six Brown Brothers, was heard by Norwegian music lovers. Shocked beyond words, they began preparation of the memorial and it was forwarded with haste to Washington.
Mme. Sundelius, soloist of the Metropolitan Opera Company, said that she had been reading of the "sacrilege" in Swedish papers. "A composer does not like people to use his melodies in that way," she said, "and it was not a nice thing to make ragtime out of Grieg. Surely there is enough popular music to adapt without going to the classics."
Caruso, whose voice is recorded by the company which first put out the Grieg ragtime, said: "There ought to be a law against it. It is a shame."
"An awful shame, outrageous." was the comment of Mischa Levitski, the pianist.
Arthur Bodanzky, conductor of the National Symphony Orchestra and also with the Metropolitan Opera Company, said he had no objection to jazz, but the jazz makers should at least be original about it and have enough invention to get along without robbing the classics.
Mr. Spalding, as an American violinist, expressed the opinion that the public, interested in good music, and also those jealous of the country's good name as to culture, should see to it that good music is not twisted into ragtime.
"There is an element of interest in ragtime," he said, "from a rhythmic standpoint, but certainly our fine melodies should not be dished out in that form. There should be legislation to prevent it."
It appears that Cobb, who surprisingly seems to have received very little blame, most certainly got away with the outrage, and since plagiarism was not at issue, no Federal laws were passed against such parodies. He followed Peter Gink by editing and publishing The Blacksmith Rag, a parody on the Anvil Chorus from Giuseppe Verdi's Il Trovatore, and a clever take on the Toreador Song from Georges Bizet's opera Carmen.
As of the 1920 Census, George was living in Cambridge, Massachusetts, with his wife and mother, with his father Linus listed as the head of the household. George was listed as a musical composer with his "own company," although the nature of that assertion is unclear. Linus was listed as a broker with his own office. Cobb continued his acerbic writings in Melody. Throughout the 1920s he also composed a number of great novelties both within and separate from Melody, such as Piano Salad, Snuggle Pup and Chromatic Capers. Given that only Cobb and British-born composer Richard E. Hildreth were permanent members of Jacobs' writing staff, it is likely that many of the pieces released in Melody and even as separate sheets were composed by one of them under a variety of pseudonyms. However, pinpointing which of these were used by Cobb would be a daunting forensic task, so other than the Leo Gordon pieces they are not included in his song list. He also advertised from time to time as a free-lance creator of melodies composed for lyrics, using his home address as this was evidently a moonlighting operation.
Linus Cobb died in Boston on January 24, 1925, and was buried in Mexico, New York. At some point in the late 1920s Cobb divorced Mary and moved to Somerville, then in the 1930s to Brookline, both suburbs of Boston, Massachusetts. The 1930 Census shows him as divorced and working as a publishing salesman, as he seems to have mostly retired from music composition by this time. It also shows that he his mother Jeannette was still living with him. From that point on little is known of his life in retirement. It appears, however, that he finally left the music business nearly altogether.
As of the 1940 Census George was lodging with Mabel Hayward and her son Clyde in Brookline, Massachusetts, shown as a salesman for local Chamber of Commerce memberships. Cobb's 1942 draft registration, perhaps the final official document of his life, has him again in Brookline, still working for the Chamber of Commerce, with his "person who will always know you" reference being one Evelyn F. Eaton (b.1894) in nearby Cambridge. We do not know the nature of their relationship. His final composition, written after an absence of more than a decade, appeared in 1942, the year he joined ASCAP. Spending his last days in a convalescent home in Brookline, Massachusetts, George Linus Cobb died of coronary thrombosis complicated by a duodenal ulcer at age 56 on Christmas Day 1942 [December 27 has also been cited]. Curiously, his first wife Claire is cited on his death certificate, which does show him as divorced. His gravesite is in his home town of Mexico, New York.
The instrumental compositions of George L. Cobb, which span over two decades, have generally been put into three categories of development. His earliest pieces are thought to be in the Popular vein, which was in part written as something for the sake of getting sold, although with a bit more aplomb in Cobb's case. By the mid 1910s he was getting much more adventurous and clever, so given the chord changes he was using and the complex trios, the rags and intermezzos from this period fall into the advanced ragtime category. Finally, he had little trouble adapting to the novelty style invented or adopted by many of his younger peers. While his novelty works never sold in large numbers, they were still very worthy entries into the collective. The strength of his many songs lies in memorably simple melodies with chord progressions that enhanced, but did not get in the way of those melodies.
Many thanks to Canadian Ragtime historian Ted Tjaden who provided some of the information here to supplement my research, as well as rediscovery of many of the previously unknown Cobb pieces. Visit his site at www.ragtimepiano.ca.
This was a tricky biography to research because there were no less than three musical Charles Cohens in the same general geographic area. With a little extra guidance and help from researcher Keith Emmons of hulapages.com, the author has settled on one, but will discuss the other two briefly and what they composed, or potentially composed. This is an unusual biography entry, but given that second and third Cohens both made contributions to music during the ragtime era their stories should be told.
The first target is Arthur Charles Cohen in Philadelphia born in Germany in 1875 and immigrated to the United States in 1892. He was a piano teacher and self-employed musician throughout his life. That there was little ragtime published in Philadelphia would suggest the possibility that this Cohen, who could have used his middle name to avoid being confused with Arthur M. Cohen of Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania, might have published primarily with Vandersloot Music Publishing Company in Williamsport, Pennsylvania. However, after information uncovered on two other Cohens and the presence of a couple of popular pieces published in Cleveland, Ohio, it seems likely, in the author's estimation that this Cohen was potentially responsible only for a series of five pieces released between 1932 and 1936 attributed to a Charles Cohen. There is some possibility that that it was also the second Charles Cohen discussed below. These were five songs composed to known stories or lyrics, somewhat in the matter of Texas composer David Guion who had been resurrecting old American tunes in new arrangements. The last of the five, Rivets, was a contemporary look at American workers. All five were released as a set in New York in 1936. No further information was available on the Philadelphia Charles Cohen.
The second Charles Cohen was born in rural Kansas to German (Prussian) immigrants Henry and Sarah Cohen. He was one of six children, four of which survived their childhood. Others include Lenah (c.1873), Ralph (c.1877), Mattie (c.1879 but deceased by 1900), and Hannah (c.1882). As of the 1880 census, the family was living in Saint Marys, Kansas, in Pottawatomie County, northwest of Topeka, with Henry working as a retail merchant in dry goods. While the family is difficult to track over the next decade, by 1894 they had moved to Cleveland, Ohio, where Henry was listed in the directories as a tailor or finisher. Charles had received some formal piano training during this period, perhaps at the fine conservatory in Cleveland. In the 1899 directory he is listed as a music teacher, living with the family on 251 Sawtell Avenue. By the following year the family had moved to 5 Ledge Avenue, where Charles was now listed as a musician. The same was true in the 1900 census, where he is shown to be a Musical Director, possibly in a theater or for a band.
Now to the Charles Cohen who was responsible for some of the better known rags published in Pennsylvania in the 1910s. While the expectation might be that he, like the other two Cohens, was of European or Russian Jewish heritage, this is not the case. This Charles Cohen was a black composer, born in Georgia (he cites the town of Cuba which may be in error) in 1878. He was the youngest of what appeared to be a mixed family of whites, blacks and mulattos, likely dating back to the time of slavery. The family was found in Rome, Georgia in 1880, with all of the non-white members shown as servants in a house run by tobacco merchants. This includes his mother, Susan Cohen, and at least three potential siblings who were also listed as black. They included Julius (1873), Elizabeth "Lizzie" (1870) and Jacob (1868), and perhaps two more listed as mulatto, Celia (1856) and Julia (1852).
Many thanks go to research Keith Emmons who helped to pinpoint the harder to find Cohen in Binghamton, the one who didn't initially pop to the top in the census searches. Once his identity was made clear the rest of his story was easy to construct. The information on the first two Cohens was compiled entirely by the author.
Glover Compton is one of those frustrating ragtime figures who is often mentioned and was everywhere playing with everyone, yet little concrete information can be found directly about him. His narrative was also part of the core of the 1950 book They All Played Ragtime, including parts of the extensive interviews of Glover taken by authors Rudi Blesh and Harriet Janis. Yet even that left holesracies in his story. This biography represents an attempt to fill in more than has often been seen on this beloved and often busy ragtime performer.
Glover's mother, Laura Compton, had her first child, Maud, at just 13 or 14 years old. She is listed in the 1880 Census in Bergin Knob, Kentucky, married to 22 year old farm laborer John Compton, and as 19 herself, with Maud as 1 year old. However, all subsequent records give her birth year as 1866 or 1867, so there may have been some obvious but understandable deception in this case. When she was around 17 to 18, Laura gave birth to Glover in Harrodsburg, Kentucky, about 50 miles north from Bergin Knob. The birth year is most consistently shown as 1884 on most documents, but on his draft record in 1918 it shows as 1883. His death record shows 1884, so that is the most consistent date. Laura is shown in Harrodsburg in 1900 working as a cook and as having been widowed. In that same Census, Glover is listed as a boot black, a common occupation for black teens at that time. They also had two lodgers in their home, possibly for income reasons. Note that while his name is often shown as J. Glover Compton, he was listed consistently as Glover Compton on Census records and travel manifests, and as Glover John Compton on his 1918 draft record. The origin of the J. Glover derivation of his name is unclear, but he may have originally been John Glover Compton after his father, having changed it by his teens.
Compton's name first appears as a pianist/entertainer in Louisville, Kentucky around 1904. The best-known pianist in town was "Piano Price" Davis, who fostered Compton to some extent and hooked him up with occasional jobs, sometimes by simply not showing up to his own gigs in favor of gambling instead. One venue mentioned was Jimmy Boyd's Cafe at 10th and Walnut where he played upstairs for $10.50 a week. Compton also says he visited the fair in St. Louis in 1904, but did not play in any venues there. It was during a 1904 musical tour to Louisville that a slightly disgruntled Tony Jackson, tired of the road, first met Compton. The two soon became friends, performing for a time at the Cosmopolitan Club. They also wrote a song together, which remains unpublished, but Compton recorded it in his later years. That piece, The Clock of Time, was reportedly repurposed in 1922 by composer J. Berni Barbour as the salacious My Daddy Rocks Me (With One Steady Roll), the song which ultimately provided the name for the genre of Rock and Roll. Jackson eventually went back to New Orleans for the next couple of years. It wasn't long before Glover was well regarded for his playing skills and reliability. But he didn't stay put for very long, choosing the life of an itinerant pianist for the next several years. In 1906 he spent time in Chicago playing at Elite Number 1 on State Street, run by Art Cardozo and Teenan Jones.
In spite of his travels, Glover remained based in Louisville, and is listed there in 1910 in both the Kentucky and Federal Census records with his mother Laura working as a laundress, and Glover as a dance hall musician. During his travels he spent time in Wyoming, Washington, New York and Chicago, the latter where he met up with one long-time partner and one partner from the past. The long-time partner was singer Nettie Lewis who he married around 1911. Chicago became Compton's new home base, and he moved his mother Laura there as well. One of his most frequent haunts when he wasn't on the road was the Elite Club on South State Street, which also featured notable musicians like Jelly Roll Morton and Earl Hines during its 18 year life. The other partner was Tony Jackson, who had come to Chicago from New Orleans for good, and the two quickly got back together. They worked as a dual piano act from time to time over the next several years. Glover and Jackson exchanged many ideas as well, expanding the scope of how each of them played. Another occasional playing partner and friend was composer Shelton Brooks, who in 1916 dedicated his piece Walkin' the Dog to Compton and local actor Bud Joyner.
In the mid 1910s wanderlust struck Compton again for a while. There is a story about Glover that comes from when he worked on the Barbary Coast in Northern California, as early as January of 1913 by his own reckoning. One of his favored venues there was the St. Francis club between Pacific and Broadway. According to West Coast pianist Sid Le Protti who he met there, Le Protti played one of his original tunes for Compton who quickly learned it. In 1915 Le Protti heard his tune played again, but this time it was named Canadian Capers. Evidently Compton had played it back in Chicago at the repeated request (with the lure of dollar tips) of pianist Henry Cohen, and Cohen collaborated with three of his friends to "compose" the piece Canadian Capers, which included Le Protti's melody in the B strain. At a later time when Le Protti asked Cohen about this, the latter pointed to Compton as the one who taught him the melody, and when asked if he could use it, Compton had no argument. Compton confirmed this story at some point as well.
It is known that Compton was on the road in the latter part of the 1910s, but work in playing ragtime was not always available. He says he "palled around with Jelly Roll Morton" during the latter's visit to the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition San Francisco. Most of the local performers played at the Exposition because the Barbary Coast clubs were temporarily shut down during the event. Then he went back to Chicago for part of late 1916 through early 1917, playing with Nettie at the Panama Café until it was shut down. Another act playing there, the Panama Trio which included Florence Mills and Ada "Bricktop" Smith, helped forge a friendship with the latter that would later provide him a great European connection.
From late 1917 to 1918 Glover and Nettie spent six months down in Los Angeles at the Waldorf Cafe while Jelly Roll played at the Cadillac.While they did perform along the Barbary Coast following that gig, Compton's September 1918 draft record shows him employed as a porter for the Southern Pacific Railroad, with the couple living in the Oakland/Alameda area.In 1919 they went up to Seattle, Washington for a while where he played at the Entertainer's Night Club on Main Street with a small combo. The Comptons are shown there as late as January of 1920 in the Census, sharing quarters with some of the other entertainers. Glover is listed as a "cabaret musician" and Nettie as a "cabaret actress." Curiously his birth state is listed there as Missouri, yet it is clearly the same person. Since the 1920 Census was not taken consistently at that same time across the country, they managed to show up in it again in February in Chicago, back with Laura, who was working as a cook, and now with Nettie's mother living there as well. It is also indicated that Glover owned his home, so it is probable Laura had been living in it while the couple had their adventures out west.
With the jazz age in full swing in Chicago, Glover readily adapted his style, and was soon playing with musicians such as jazz and blues singer Alberta Hunter, clarinetist Jimmie Noone, and drummer Ollie Powers, both of the latter disciples of leading jazz performer Joseph "King" Oliver. For the next few years he would travel back and forth between Chicago and Seattle with small bands. Compton recorded a couple of energetic sides in 1923 with Ollie Powers' Harmony Syncopators later known as J. Glover Compton and the Syncopators. Glover's group performed for some time at the Oriental Café on South State Street, in the former location of their old haunt, the Panama Café. There he worked with both Ms. Hunter and Nettie. Another mentioned venue was the Dreamland Café where Oliver would join Compoton's band on
Compton settled in at a cafe started by Chicago expatriate, Ada "Bricktop" Smith who he had reconnect with. It was the famous Chez Bricktop in Paris. Ada had first invited Compton over to France in 1926 after her pianist was killed by his girlfriend in a dare situation that he finally lost. Glover played there with the existing group, The Palm Beach Six. Compton is described during this period as an early version of Willie "The Lion" Smith, a consummate entertainer, complete with the cigar hanging out of his mouth, the large repertoire, and his direct engagement with the audience. Another place he frequented was the Royal Box in Paris owned by Joe Zelli. While in Paris seemed to be good for Glover's career and finances, it did not help his status in the U.S. as many simply forgot who he was. But the French knew who he was, particularly after the famous shooting incident of December 20, 1928. Many of the transplanted musicians were gathered at Bricktop's early that morning when an argument broke out between Sidney Bechet and banjoist Gilbert McKendrick. The cause was evidently a dispute about chord changes of all things, which Bechet found offensive to his musical intellect. Another story had to do with who had failed to buy a round of drinks. Whatever the cause, Compton, who already had an ambiguous relationship with Bechet going back several years, evidently tried to intervene. As McKendrick emerged from the bar, Bechet, who had gone to fetch his firearm, started shooting. McKendrick was completely missed, but two witnesses were wounded, and Compton was shot in the leg. Both men got 15 months but served a year. Compton spent several months in the hospital, and says that Bechet and McKendrick had promised to pay his bill, but they were never able to. When released in 1929, Bechet found out that Compton was planning on suing him for compensation for the wound. Bechet quickly got word to Compton to watch out for his other leg, and the suit idea quickly evaporated. Even though Bechet and McKendrick became friends to some degree, Compton remained on Bechet's bad side from that point on. Fortunately for Glover, Bechet and McKendrick were asked to depart France permanently soon after their sentence was served. Compton continued to play at Bricktop's, eventually favoring a long-term gig at Harry's New York Bar owned by jockey Ted Sloane, also in Paris.
Glover and his wife continued to cross the Atlantic into the late 1930s, with one final voyage documented in October of 1939. He came back to New York City this time, forced in part by the onset of war in Europe, playing in a jazz piano joint, reportedly the type where people are there to drink and talk, not to listen to music. Within a couple of years the Comptons returned to Chicago, and he reassociated himself with Noone for many years. Author Rudi Blesh found him there in 1949, and interviewed him at length for his upcoming book They All Played Ragtime, getting a wealth of information (although not entirely accurate) about various ragtime players in the Windy City. In the early 1950s he opened his own bar in Chicago, a place where he could have some control over the playing environment. It was here that he spent his last few years, and seems likely that it's where his 1956 taped interview set with archivist Birch Smith took place, Compton's only true recorded piano solos. Another artist that spent considerable time with Compton and befriended him was rising star Johnny Maddox from Gallatin, Tennessee. Johnny has a considerable number of memories and interesting stories about Compton from talking with him in Chicago.
Glover Compton suffered a debilitating stroke in 1957, and finally succumbed in 1964 at age 80. We have only one piano rag - which may or may not actually be his (he claimed he wrote the music to Chris Smith's Honky-Tonky Monkey Rag) - and a handful of recordings to remember him by, but we also have great stories and his evident influence on some of his peers as part of the makeup of the collective of ragtime performance.
Thanks to Adam Swanson who provided a couple of extra elements on Compton, and Australian historian Bill Egan who came up with more of his association with Ada Smith. Some of the narrative comes from They All Played Ragtime by Rudi Blesh and Harriet Janis, and from unpublished notes by Rudi Blesh, but the bulk was pieced together by the author from recordings and public and private archival records.
Thomas R. Confare was born to carpenter John M. Confare and his British wife Rosetta R. (Each) Confare in Union (possibly Debuque), Iowa, just a short while after the Civil War had ended. He was the middle child of three, including his older sister Kate (1865) and younger brother John (1870). How much musical training Tom had while in school is uncertain. He was still in school as of 1880, but also working in a railroad office in Sabula, Iowa. George was now a wagon maker during a time of great expansion in the area. As of the 1885 Iowa Census he appears in the family business as a carpenter, just short of 18 years old.
Cecil Duane Crabb, or "Cece" as some of his peers called him, was part of the Indianapolis group of young composer friends who contributed just a few but still significant pieces into the ragtime collective. He was the youngest of four childre born in Indiana to James Newton Crabb and his wife Sarah Elizabeth Myers, the others being Viola (1874), Nora (1875) and Earl (1/1884). After several years of struggling to get by in Centerville, the family had moved westward to Indianapolis by 1900 where Cecil's older brother Earl, now 16, worked as a clerk in a phonograph store, and their father was a canvasser or poll taker and a travel agent. James was also an inventor with several interesting patents issued to him dating back to the 1870s. By the age of 18 Cece was evidently not living with his parents in Indianapolis.
Ford T. Dabney was a naturally talented musician who was born and raised in Washington D.C. He was one of two boys born to James H. Dabney, a black Virginia-born undertaker and funeral director, and his young mulatto wife Lotta "Lottie" Snowden Ross, the other son being Ford's older brother, Edward (8/25/1878), born four months after the wedding. Edward died of tuberculosis in November of 1895. According to a May 24, 1894, item in the Washington Evening Star, Lottie appears to have bailed from the marriage shortly after Ford was born. More than a decade later James sued her for divorce based on abandonment. It is therefore possible that Ford was raised primarily by his father.
Over a year later James was remarried to Ruby H. Adams on December 18, 1895, a month after Edward's death. James had employed a servant as early as the 1880s, and the Dabneys owned their own home at 1132 Third Street NW as of 1900, which indicated that they were fairly well off for a black family of that time. He evidently also did some work as a barber, as some newspaper mentions referred to him as a "tonsorial artist." They might also be confusing him with his cousin John W. Dabney who lived with the family for a while. At one time around 1900 James had four different funeral parlors in operation in the District and Alexandria, Virginia. Ruby was the first and only trained female embalmer in the city, and both were highly regarded in the community. Ruby died in December of 1901 at the young age of 29.
As a youth, Ford got some of his education at the Armstrong Manual Training School in Washington, a black-oriented technical school. He also sang in the choir at St. Mary's Chapel at St. John's Parish. His primary musical training was through his father, his music educator uncle Wendell Phillips Dabney, and D.C. music teachers William Waldecker, Charles Donch and Samuel Fabian. Even at age 18 Ford was very highly regarded for his playing skills. A note in The Colored American, a Washington paper, on April 6, 1901, stated that: "Mr. Ford Dabney deserves especial commendation for his excellent piano solo, rendered last Saturday at the Congressional Library. The occasion was the regular concert given for the entertainment for the blind. Mr. Dabney's work was highly commended by the musical critics who attended in large numbers."
There were a number of positive notices about the "young colored genius" over the next year, including this one from November 23, 1901: "Mr. Ford Dabney, pianist, is doing Washington for a few days much to the great delight of his musical friends. He has a very brilliant future." Another notice from March 15, 1902, read: "A very promising glee club has been organized at the Manual Training School, under the direction of Mr. Ford Dabney. A well trained orchestra is also an attraction at this school. Both will make a public appearance soon." One of his early tours was announced on July 5, 1902: "Mr. Joseph H. Douglass [a singer] has returned from a highly successful tour of New England. He went out for a two week's jaunt, but so great was the demand for dates that he remained in the section two months. Upon his next tour he will be accompanied by Mr. Ford Dabney, an accomplished pianist." That tour extended from July through mid September 1902.
In late 1902 Ford was sent to New York for further studies in performance and composition, and ended up cultivating a great deal of interest among members of Manhattan society in his budding career. Some would later employ him in the following decade once he was established for good in New York City. The displays of Ford's musical talent through his father's prestigious connections brought him his first "court composer" position as the official musician to the President of Haiti in 1904, reportedly lasting through 1906 during his frequent travels. The exciting news was first relayed in the widely circulated Washington Times on December 31, 1903:
While in this country on a mission from his government Mr. Jefford heard Dabney play in New York, and was so impressed with the young pianist's work that he ventured the belief the President of Haiti would like to hear him play. Dabney expressed a desire to play for the President if it could be arranged, and his engagement for four months followed. At the expiration of that time young Dabney will go to France to play for President Loubet, and will then go to Germany to complete his musical studies. He contemplates a concert career.
Ford Dabney is twenty years old and graduated from the Washington High School in the class of 1901. He is a son of J.W. Dabney, of 1006 F Street northwest, who was the late President McKinley's barber and President Roosevelt's until a few months ago. While attending school in Washington Ford Dabney studied music with Charles Donch, William Waldecker, and S.M. Fabian, the latter a noted concert pianist.
Later the young man went to New York, where for the past year he has been a student at one of the conservatories. He has filled many drawing room engagements for the prominent society leaders of the metropolis. The Haitian consul, who is acting as sponsor for the young man, is said to have promised him $1,000 when he goes to France.
Ford was shown returning from his extended travels to the United States through New York from St. Marc on the Prinz Friedrich Wilhelm on May 18, 1906.
On his return to D.C. Ford traveled a bit in vaudeville, and even had an act titled Ford Dabney's Ginger Girls. He officially went into show business around 1909 as the co-owner of the Ford Dabney Theater located at Ninth and U Street in Northwest Washington. It was advertised as the home of "first class and polite vaudeville - the theatre the people attend." As motion pictures came into vogue Dabney made sure there was a new one shown every evening. Dabney's theater continued to operate in his name under the management of his partner James H. Hudnell through at least 1912, even after he was established in New York City. In the late summer of 1910 Dabney attempted to buy the nearby Howard Theater as well, but pulled back as he had "other big plans in view."
Following this venture Dabney went to New York in 1910 to pursue a career in composition and performance. There is a likely probability that he engaged in an alternate career as well. In what is most certainly his listing in the 1910 census, Dabney (as Thompson) is shown in Manhattan as a self-employed pharmacist. (The age, birth location and parent's birth locations match, so this fairly well confirms that it is indeed the same Ford Dabney.) It is possible that he learned this skill in technical school in DC or from one of his father's associates, and was applying it to earn some income until more music work started coming in. It is also more probable that the enumerator simply did not understand what was told to him. Dabney was still the proprietor of his theater in Washington, and added a second venue, The Red Moon on M Street, in 1911. He divided his time between the two cities until around 1914.
As early as 1910 Dabney did well enough to publish a few interesting piano rags, starting with the popular Haytian Rag, and in including Oh You Devil and Oh You Angel. Haytian Rag in particular quickly found itself onto at least two different piano roll renditions before the year was out. However, he first gained real fame as a vaudeville performer and writer with his initial hit, a song he co-wrote with New York composer R.C. McPherson (aka Cecil Mack), That's Why They Call Me Shine. It was reportedly based on a real person they both knew who went by that nickname. This wildly popular song opened more doors for him and Ford was soon one of the elite of black New York musicians.
Still living part-time in two cities, Ford returned to Washington for a time to marry widow Martha J. Davis Gans of Baltimore, Maryland, in March 1912. It was her second marriage following the death of her husband professional boxer Joseph Gans. Martha operated the Goldfield Hotel in Baltimore, and they resided there when Ford was in town. Joe built it with his winnings from a bout with Battling Nelson in Goldfield, Nevada. It was advertised that the Goldfield was equipped with every modern innovation, with exquisite furnishings and a telephone in every room. Martha continued to run the hotel while Ford bounced back and forth between the Washington/Baltimore area and Manhattan.
Back in New York, Dabney quickly became friends with famed bandleader and composer James Reese Europe. They both played for famed showman Florenz Ziegfeld in his secondary show, Ziegfeld's Midnight Frolic, staged on the roof of the New Amsterdam Theater in Manhattan. Dabney was an integral member of Europe's famous Clef Club which was made up of only the finest black musicians in the east. A band for any occasion could quickly be formed from its formidable membership. It was, in fact, Dabney who introduced blues composer W.C. Handy to the Clef Club and Europe, with whom he became fast friends. Ford also formed his own organization when he permanently settled in the New York in 1913. By 1914, Europe had left the Clef Club to form The Tempo Club and Europe's Society Orchestra, and Dabney soon joined him. He had also been coordinating and working performances and benefits at Ford's Grand Opera House in Baltimore since 1912.
Among the best of Dabney's pieces were a set of eight that were co-composed with Europe specifically for the famed husband and wife dance time of Vernon and Irene Castle. The Castles found Europe's Society Orchestra among the best they had worked with, and hired Europe as their band leader and Dabney as their arranger. One of these pieces, the Castle Half and Half, was written in 3/4+2/4, or actually 5/4 time, over four decades before that time signature would become popular through the efforts of Dave Brubeck and Paul Desmond. All of these were issued within a two month period in 1914, an extraordinary output for the quality of work the two invested into the project. Soon after this, Europe left the Tempo Club and Dabney took on some of his responsibilities until he formed his own orchestra, which was essentially from the remainders of The Tempo Club. In 1915 he released his final rag, actually a slow dance tune named The Georgia Grind. The grind in question and the music that accompanied it were not the same as the "dirty dancing" move of the 1950s, but a slow dance intended to give couples a bit of a rest while remaining on the dance floor. The tune had great success on piano rolls.
Dabney's orchestra had the opportunity to introduce many great songs of the late 1910s to the world by way of records. This also made him one of the earliest black pianists to record. He is shown on his 1917 draft card as employed by Florenz Ziegfeld, presenter of the famed Ziegfeld Follies in the New Amsterdam Theater. His role was as both pianist, arranger and director for the The Ziegfeld Midnight Frolics, a position that lasted for eight years. Likely due to his workload, there appear to be no published compositions from this period. Martha Dabney gave up her hotel in early 1915 to move to New York City with Ford. She gave birth to Ford Dabney Jr. in mid 1917. Since Ford Jr. was born in Washington D.C., it indicates that he still had ties with his home town, as this may have occurred during a family visit to the area.
From 1917 to early 1920, Dabney's band cut a number of sides for the Aeolian Company's Vocalion line. The progression of dates indicates that Ford was not drafted to fight in the war like his former partner Jim Europe had been. The recordings show less inspiration and excitement than Reese's recordings of a couple of years prior, but they were still fine examples of late ragtime era dance band performances. They also recorded a few sides as the accompaniment band for white singers Arthur Fields and the inimitable Billy Murray. After one early 1920 session the band simply recorded no more, even as they continued to perform live. A regrouped ensemble called Ford Dabney's Syncopators recorded two sides in 1922.
The Dabney family was shown in Manhattan in the 1920 census with Ford listed as a theater musician. There are some indications that Dabney also dabbled in real-estate investment following the war as there are several transactions shown in the New York Times during the 1920s. In August 1921 he sold off two three-story dwellings at 231 and 235 West 138th Street. In May 1921 he purchased a large five-story flat at 75 West 128th Street, and in July, a three story dwelling at 163 West 131st Street. Yet another purchase was reported in December 1922, a five-story tenement building at 807 West 146th Street facing Colonial Park. Similar notices appear in New York real-estate transactions through the early 1930s.
After the unfortunate death of his friend and musical partner Europe at the hands of one of Europe's own drummers in May of 1919, and that of Vernon Castle in a training plane accident in Texas, some of Dabney's arranging spark seemed to dissipate, as is demonstrated in subsequent recordings of his orchestra. Innovations that had existed in earlier tracks, including variances applied to repeated sections, all but disappeared from 1919 on.
The demand for his band steadily waned through the mid 1920s as Ford did not embrace jazz with the same vigor as younger bandleaders. His perennial gig with Ziegfeld became less steady when the Dabney band was replaced by Art Hickman's Orchestra for the 1920-1921 season. Dabney was retained for some rooftop shows and special events, however. One example of the type of events the band played outside of their Ziegfeld show was an August 1922 fashion show held at the 71st Regiment Armory and Grand Central Palace. This was actually a fairly prestigious event as according to the New York Times of August 7, 1922, "Ford Dabney's orchestra from Ziefgeld's Follies will furnish continuous music, while a special arrangement has been made with Florenz Ziegfeld whereby Sergei Pirnikoff, heading a company of artists, will put on the Lestwich ballet 'Le Sacrifice.'" Still, it was a step removed from playing for the Society 400. Ford even briefly opened his own entertainment bureau in 1923, but other pressing demands made it difficult to maintain on a full time basis.
Dabney remained in New York City until his death remaining mildly active with the music community from the 1930s on. In 1927 he contributed some music to the Broadway musical Rang-Tang, including the title tune, getting some notice in the New York papers for his efforts. Dabney appears in the 1930 census with his family, still in Manhattan, as an orchestra musician. One of his steadier gigs was at the Palais Royale in Atlantic City during peak season times. Branching out a little bit, he co-wrote one song for the film The Social Register in 1934. Dabney was finally able to join ASCAP in 1937, more than two decades after it was founded. He and his orchestra wintered in Florida during the late 1930s, as there are several notices in the Palm Beach Daily News and some Miami papers concerning gigs and house parties from 1935 to 1939.
Ford was still working in some capacity in the 1940s. The 1940 census shows him still living on West 139th Street in North Harlem with Martha and his son, working as an orchestra musician. His 1942 draft record indicates him simply as self-employed, living at the same address seen previously. By this time, his memory and musical skills were occasionally called upon by historians. He was a consultant for the 1943 all-black film Stormy Weather which chronicled black musicians of New York, including his contemporaries Europe and Handy, through the first decades of the 20th century. That same year, Ford Dabney Jr. enlisted into the military, his record showing that he had achieved a degree from a four-year college (NYU). The aging musician and composer finally retired fully by the late 1940s. Ford Dabney passed away at Sydenham Hospital at 75 in New York City in 1958 after a long illness. Martha Dabney died in December 1961 at the Rest Haven Nursing Home in the Bronx.
Charles Neil Daniels, born in Leavenworth, Kansas, to jeweler Alfred E. Daniels and Agnes E. Tholen. He was one of two surviving children of the couple, including Elizabeth "Bessie" (8/1884). Another sister, Mamie (1879), died during childhood. Charles actually spent most of his youth in St. Joseph, Missouri, and the family was found there by the time of the 1880 Census. The traditional year of birth for Charles has been 1878. However, since the 1880 enumeration shows him as three years-old, there is a probability that he was actually born in 1877.
Alfred moved the family to Kansas City, Missouri when Charles was 15, and entered the lucrative field of real-estate. There his son studied a panoply of musical disciplines, including piano, music theory, and musical calligraphy (a viable skill for prospective typesetters and arrangers). Charles also studied harmony and theory with Carl Preyer in Kansas City. Among his first positions were various gigs as a pianist in department stores, an accompanist at the Kronberg Concert Company, and demonstrator for the Carl Hoffman publishing house, which gave him his first break. They also published one of his first works, Imperial Courier Two-Step.
It was while working for Hoffman, in response to a competition, that Daniels composed his second published piece, a two-step called Margery. It won the $25 prize, and soon the attention of no less than bandleader John Philip Sousa, who put it in his repertoire and created a quick demand for it. Even though sales for Margery were brisk, going as high as 275,000 within a few years, Daniels saw nothing of it since the prize money also constituted ownership of the piece by Hoffman. Pressing onward, Charles composed the music for an even bigger hit the following year, You Tell Me Your Dream, I'll Tell You Mine, which soon became a standard in the American Song Book, but also caused a further rift with Hoffman who refused to offer royalties on this piece as well.
In December 1898 Daniels utilized his position to help another young composer, Scott Joplin, and arranged to have a rag of his published, the first one of many for Joplin. Titled Original Rags, the cover cites that it was "arranged" by Daniels. However, according to family history passed down to from his son to Charles' grand niece, the late Nan Bostick, Daniels did nothing more to the piece than help transcribe and typeset it directly from Joplin's performance of it, and apply his newly-famous name to it to help with sales in markets where he was known. Original Rags would be eclipsed by Maple Leaf Rag in short order, but it remained in print with Daniel's name on the cover for many years.
Bolstered with confidence, Charles next turned to writing an opera. In reality, it was a burlesque opera for a fireman's benefit, composed with St. Clair Hurd. It turned into an ambitious affair, complete with large choruses and the burning of a local building. The pending event was noted in the Kansas City Journal of November 9, 1899:
A burlesque entertainment will be given for the benefit of the firemen's Paris fund at Convention hall December 13 and 14. Last night at Music hall the first steps were taken to incorporate the company that will furnish the entertainment. A full chorus of bass and tenor singers was secured together with a number of minor performers in an opera written by Charles N. Daniels and St. Clair Hurd...
The opera, which will really be a burlesque on an opera, to be presented has been prepared by Charles N. Daniels and St. Clair Hurd, and will picture a scene in Madrid and representing the victorious Kansas City firemen returning from Paris, where they had won many prizes...
Two days later in the November 11, 1899 edition, and years before the celebrated Nordstrom Department Store started using pianists for atmosphere, there was an advertisement stating that "Mr. Charles N. Daniels is entertaining our [Doggett Dry Goods Company] customers in the Music Department. Be sure and hear him play 'The Bands of the Nation' march. Mr. Daniels uses the celebrated Crown piano." He was, of course, actually filling the role of a musical schiller and not so much of an entertainer. Music departments with song demonstrators were just starting to come into their own in many Midwest department stores. Daniels would not remain in this mode for long, however.
It may have been from the experience with Original Rags, plus the music scene in Kansas City, that Daniels caught the ragtime bug to some extent. Dissatisfied with the treatment he received from Hoffman, Charles formed the Western Music Publishing Company to release the tune on his own. This later became Daniels & Russell when another Hoffman refugee, Albert Russell, threw his hat in with Daniels. The 1900 Census shows Charles living with his parents and sister in Kansas City, Missouri, and listed as a music publisher. Charles and Albert headed for St. Louis around 1901 in anticipation of the coming Lewis and Clark Exposition/World's Fair, and reformed as Daniels, Russell & Boone with offices in the Benoist Building in that city, also working as music demonstrators at the Barr Dry Goods Company.
It was in late 1901 that by happenstance Daniels inadvertently created a new sub-genre of popular music. On a trip from Kansas City to Hiawatha, Kansas, he focused on the rhythm of the train wheels against the track joints, and came up with an intermezzo melody that he named after the destination, which itself was named for the Native American hero from the famous Longfellow poem Hiawatha. Originally subtitled A Summer Idyl (tone poem), this was also picked up by the Sousa, now his friend.
Sousa's exposure of the piece resulted in a sale of his catalog to Jerome H. Remick for the extraordinary sum of $10,000, just so Remick could obtain Hiawatha, such was the public's response to it.
One of the ironies is that Daniels brought Hiawatha out using a pseudonym, Neil Morét, which was derived in part from his middle name. Given the exposure of that name through his early hits, Daniels ended up using it more than his own name throughout his career, more so than any of his contemporaries who also used pseudonyms. He also used L'Albert on a few pieces, and infrequently attributed his own lyrics to Sidney Carter for variety. Charles followed Hiawatha in 1905 with an intentional Indian intermezzo and song titled Silverheels. He also started composing a number of Mexican or Spanish-tinged pieces, forecasting another craze among composers and the musical consumer. One of his mood intermezzos, Moonlight, was so appealing to Remick that he bought it from Charlie's firm for $20,000, double what was paid for Hiawatha and the earlier catalog. Under his own name he had the privilege of contributing the only "official" music composition of the 1904 St. Louis Louis and Clark Exhibition, a march titled A Deed of the Pen, which referred to the signing of the Louisiana Purchase in 1803.
Daniels traveled for Remick for some time, setting up music departments in stores around the East. While many towns had their own music shops, department stores in particular prided themselves on having a music department with a piaist demonstrator. Daniels took that one step further using new technology. One such description of his methods was found in the Music Trade Review of October 29, 1904: "The new music department inaugurated by the R. H. White Co., Boston, Mass., is under the management of Charles N. Daniels (Neil Moret) the composer of 'Hiawatha,' 'Moonlight' and the new song, 'Poppies.' Mr. Daniels has inaugurated many ideas of his own for the display of sheet music and is using the phonograph as an effective demonstrator." While people like Daniels "managed" these departments, it was usually on a rotating long-distance basis, making sure that the products for his company were properly represented through occasional visits or other supervision.
In 1904, it was announced that: "Albert H. Russell, of Detroit, has assigned all his interest in the music firm of Daniels & Russell, Wetherbee building, to his partner, Charles N. Daniels, and the latter has assigned it to Shapiro, Remick & Co., including all copyright music, plates and manuscript." It was not a permanent exit from the publishing business by any means. He had his eye elsewhere. In late 1904 Charles met Pearl Hamlin of St. Louis, Missouri, and they were soon engaged. Their friends turned out to be very surprised when Pearl went to visit Charles in Louisville, Kentucky in January 1906 and came back as his wife.
While working in Detroit in 1906 for Remick and Whitney Warner, and still writing for his own firm as well under the pseudonym of L'Albert (as in partner Albert Russell), Charlie opened a subsidiary shop in the old Barr's firm, now the Grand Leader Department Store, where future composer Irene Giblin worked as a demonstrator. Daniels acquired Dill Pickles from Hoffman, a rag composed by his friend Charles L. Johnson. It has been stated that the two Charlies may have extended the ragtime craze by as much as a decade with this single tune, because Johnson set a standard for easy to play rags that appealed to the average pianist, and Daniels promoted it well in markets nationwide, which included getting it played and recorded by many bands. His efforts helped make Remick one of the largest publishers of both piano rags and popular ragtime songs, and Daniels was perhaps as much a proponent of piano rags as classic ragtime magnate John Stark, one of it's biggest champions.
Two other pieces he picked up from Hoffman included Johnson's Iola, again named for a town in Kansas and not a particular Indian (although O'Dea also added lyrics to this one as well), and Peaceful Henry by Hoffman arranger E. Harry Kelly. These made plenty for Remick and their composers, but not so much for Hoffman, who may have been regretting his earlier fiscal treatment of Daniels by this time. It probably didn't help that the Kansas City branch of Daniels' company settled in right next door to Hoffman's office! While promoting ragtime heavily during this period, Charles wrote very few of his own pieces that were touted as rags, rather releasing them as intermezzos or similar genre titles. He was also concentrating on the more lucrative song business, eventually hooking up with lyricist Earle C. Jones who helped create even more best-sellers for Daniels, or more properly, Morét.
Charles' enthusiasm for making good music and the benefits that could be had from interpolation into popular music forms was made clear in an October 1910 article in The Music Trade Review:
Mr. Daniels is convinced that the popular taste is improving. Some of the means by which this desired end is being achieved may be such as to make the musically judicious grieve, but are none the less effective, he declares. '"The popular songs introducing strains of classical compositions are actually having the effect of creating the desire to know more of the music suggested," said he. "Thousands of people know the Mendelssohn 'Spring Song' to-day who had never heard it or heard of it before. Last year our house published 'That Loving Melody Rubinstein Wrote,' and I know it to be a fact that Rubinstein's 'Melody in F' came into great demand in Detroit as a consequence. People went into the music stores and asked what the 'Loving Melody' was and bought it. Of course, this is one factor working toward the creation of a taste for gcod music. Why, the other day in Detroit a vaudeville singer won tremendous applause from the gallery with an aria from 'Rigoletto.' Now, all this means that the people want good music. It doesn't mean that there will soon be no market except for the productions of long-dead composers, but it does mean a gradual raising of the standard all along the line."
By late 1913, his primary lyricist partner, Earle Jones, had died at 35 of typhoid. Charles' young daughter had long been suffering from diabetes (misdiagnosed as lung disease), and hoping to save her life he gave up his position with Remick and relocated to a climate that was recommended as more conducive to her health, that of the desert around San Bernardino, California. Sadly, his daughter died of her ailment in 1915. However, by this time, he had started again on his own as a publisher, first founding his own self-named firm, then partnering with a younger graduate of Stanford University, Weston Wilson, to form Daniels & Wilson. Daniels also imported lyricist Harry William from Remick, and they continued to turn out hits in California. Among the pieces that he arranged for publication for Remick in 1914 and his own firm in 1916 were two works by Elizabeth Ogden, which was actually a pseudonym for his younger sister Elizabeth [Hawkins], who later worked as a piano teacher in Chicago and then Michigan. The alternate identity trait ran in the family.
Charles' reputation got him a turn at composing a title tune for a 1918 Mack Sennett film starring one of Hollywood's more popular actresses, Mabel Normand. Mickey worked well as a two-way promotion for both the film and the song, garnering Daniels and Williams a good-sized wartime hit. Many historians consider it the earliest popular song directly associated with a film title, and it did very well after being picked up by Waterson, Snyder and Berlin in New York. The following year Daniels and Williams turned out another nationwide hit, Peggy. However, the lucky streak was not to last. His young partner Wilson joined the military for the war, never to return to the firm but later to get into the oil business, which left Charles to run the company by himself. Then in 1922 Harry Williams died while visiting Daniels, sadly ending another successful partnership.
Daniels regrouped after these tragedies and worked for a time as a west-coast arranger for Waterson, Snyder and Berlin, but after getting back on his feet he founded the San Francisco firm of Villa Morét (House of Morét) in 1924. Now living across the Bay in Oakland, he partnered with bandleader Ben Black to compose one of Villa Morét's first issues. Adorned by a beautiful cover, it was a fox-trot version of organist Edwin Lemare's andantino Moonlight and Roses, which became a dance band hit in short order. This was the beginning of several years of big hits turned out by the successful firm, including some penned with now-famous lyricists Richard Whiting and Gus Kahn. The most famous of these pieces by Morét and Kahn was Chlo-E - Song of the Swamp of 1927, which featured a plaintive cry to the titled lady. Some will remember the famous parody of this work in the late 1940s by Spike Jones and his City Slickers, but it received serious attention at this time, and put him once again on a par with many contemporary East Coast composers like Duke Ellington. In 1928, with Richard Whiting, he turned out She's Funny That Way, which later became an early theme for crooner Frank Sinatra. By 1926 Villa Morét had an office at 1596 Broadway in New York City, and Daniels became a bi-coastal traveler between the two bases. Offices in ten other cities were opened by the end of the year, giving Daniels an excellent distribution and acquisition network.
Trends were changing in 1929 in advance of the Great Depression, and Daniels saw these coming. Many of the publishers were being bought up by film companies now looking for material for sound movies. Also, sheet music was losing its luster in light of phonograph records, talking pictures, and radio, all of which required little effort on the part of the listener to enjoy. Daniels moved to Los Angeles, but could not convince the company, of which he was president but not owner, to move their operations to Hollywood. Charles, his wife, daughter and mother-in-law are found in the Shelton Apartments in the heart of Hollywood, three blocks from Hollywood and Vine, for the 1930 Census, with Charles listed as a musician and composer/publisher. He wrote a few pieces as Jules LeMare while trying to legally separate from Villa Morét publications, and spent the 1930s working with younger lyricists, primarily for publisher Jack Robbins, who was associated with the MGM Studio. Many of these credited bandleader Gus Arnheim as co-composer, a courtesy title for the leader who introduced the pieces - including the big hit Sweet and Lovely - on his radio show, a common practice in the 1920s and 1930s. That courtesy also included 33% of the royalties.
Charles composed up until a few years before his death. In the 1940 Census he was shown living in Los Angeles on Olympic Blvd. with his sister and brother-in-law, Nellie and John C. Page, plus mother-in-law Sarah Hamlin and a maid. His occupation remained "music composer, own business." In mid 1942 he was diagnosed with a kidney ailment, and after eight months succumbed to it in Los Angeles at age 64. One final song was released just after his death. While Daniels is less remembered under his own name, Daniels had a fairly substantial role in both the style and the spread of music in the early 20th century, working from outside of Tin Pan Alley, and yet contributing to it in a big way. This includes ragtime music, early popular song, and well beyond.
I would like to add a personal note of thanks to my friend and ragtime performer Nan Bostick who was responsible for much of this research on her great uncle, as well as historian Phil Stewart whose research on Charles L. Johnson had useful cross references on Daniels. Nan sadly left us on March 26, 2012, and will be sorely missed. Much of the information here was retrieved from public records, trade perodicals, newspapers and other period publications.
Homer H. Denney was part of the group of Ohio Valley composers that produced compositions steeped with folk heritage. He would consider himself as much a river man as a musician right to the end, and history spans both ragtime and the last sement of the riverboat era in Ohio. Homer was born in Gallipolis, Ohio, on the border with West Virginia, to Zachariah Denney and Emma (Pauley) Denney. He also had a brother, Raymond Denney, born in January 1887.
Zachariah was listed as a house painter in 1900 and 1910. He was one of ten children of respected Gallipolis butcher and volunteer fireman Zachariah Denney Sr. and Mary M. (Cavin) Denney, residents of Ohio since the early 19th century. By 1900 the family had moved to Cincinnati, where Homer would spend most of his life. According to his family, one of his passions became bicycle racing, and he won several races over the years. But the two most enduring interests that would permeate his life were music and boats. That he was able to combine these was a true blessing.
As a child Homer took piano lessons and played for dances and parties. In the 1900 Census, at age 14, he was listed as a messenger. The lad had a fascination with the calliope and wanted very much to be given an opportunity to play one to prove himself. That opportunity presented itself when the player on the original paddlewheel steamer Island Queen fell ill in 1901. He did well on his first outing for a 16-year-old, and when the other player died shortly thereafter, he was offered the position.
The first verified fix on Denney as a musician is in 1905 when he self-published his first rag, No-Ze, in Cincinnati. By this time he was already making a name for himself as a calliope player on the Ohio River. His next piece, Coney Island Girl, refers to the Coney Island in the river at Cincinnati, which has had a long history of amusement parks and recreation since the late 19th century. The boat he spent most of his life working for during its first and second incarnations was the Island Queen. Built on the frame of the former Saint Joseph, the first Island Queen was launched in 1896, and improved in 1905. It held as many as 3,000 passengers, usually in service from the city to the amusement island, but sometimes for special excursions as far south as New Orleans during Mardi Gras. As a result of his employment on the ship, many of Denney's pieces were fairly simple yet innovative, making the best possible use of the limited yet demanding calliope keyboard. He also played piano on the ship in the interior dining area. His next composition, Water Queen was likely dedicated to the Island Queen.
Homer was married around 1905 to Bertha Kraft, and late in 1908 their daughter June D. Denney was born. One other child had not survived infancy. By 1907 he was starting to make somewhat of a name for himself on the river. That same year, one of Homer's more notable rags, Hot Cabbage, was self-published. He followed this up with the popular Cheese and Crackers.
Denney did not meet the same success with his next two rags, Monograms and Ham Bones as he had with Chimes. He also co-wrote an ethnic Jewish piece with comedian Ben Rafalo, but it had a limited shelf life. Ironically, one of the pieces most associated with him was Caliope Rag, actually composed by brothers Sylvester and Charles Hartlaub. Homer was known for his nightly performances of this popular piece, and its wide distribution helped make him somewhat famous. Another such piece was The Queen Rag by Floyd Willis.
In an article written later in his life, he clearly explained that it took more than musical acumen to play his chosen instrument. "A steam calliope is very hard to play. It takes strength to press the keys down. A calliope is a set of thirty-two [sometimes more] whistles tuned to a definte pitch. The ranges is from 'C' to 'F', a little over two octaves. There are 200 pounds of steam coming up through the valve which makes eight pounds of pressure on each note. Every finger has to push down eight pounds of steam to make a sound, and to keep the note on pitch the finger has to hold down the note with that eight pounds of steam pressure, otherwise it will be off pitch when even slightly released. Everyone cannot sustain notes against the steam pressure which accounts for its sound out of tune. I had strong fingers and it was not hard for me."
The Island Queen was a well-known ship, running between Cincinnati and Coney Island, with various entertainers on board, but Denney reportedly being the star. Given the sheer decibel volume of a typically steam calliope, he was hard to avoid in any event. The ship carried some 4,000 passengers at a time, and was covered with around 7,000 electric lights. For longer excursions there was a 20,000 square foot dance floor, for which Denney often led the ship's dance orchestra. Homer continued to work on it for some time, and in an additional capacity in 1914 as the tuner of new steam calliopes built at the Thomas J. Nichol factory,
By 1917 Denney had long since ceased composing, and his frequency on the ship is uncertain. He was instead primarily employed at the Universal Car Company as an inspector and motor tester, as listed on his draft record, and shows the same position as of the 1920 Census. On April 27, 1922, the roof and some of the decks collapsed on the Island Queen, putting it out of commission for a few months. After it was repaired, on November 4, 1922 the Island Queen burned along with other ships at the Cincinnati docks. As it turns out, the backup employment option was a good plan for the Denney family. During the gap and well beyond, Denney continued to play a Tangley air pressure calliope in the Shrine Circus, being an active member of the Shriners. In the interim the G.W. Hill was pressed into service, and Denney managed to get some work on it until the new ship was ready. He also kept busy with his own small orchestra that played both in town and later on the replacement sidewheeler.
The new oil powered steamer Island Queen built on a steel hull was launched in 1925, and with it, a resurrection of Denney's career as a dedicated calliope player. He was able to salvage the original calliope after the fire 1922, as it had miraculously stayed above the water line. Homer rebuilt it so it could be sold to the new ship. His newly resurrected instrument was made on a substantial iron frame, and the echoes of nostalgia for riverboats made them popular again, in part due to Edna Furber's novel Showboat, soon to become a Jerome Kern stage musical. Denney rode this wave for many more years, right on through the Great Depression. The 1930 Census lists him as a musician on the ship. As of the late 1930s he was an employee of the waterworks for City of Norwood where the family had moved years before.
Around that same time, after a bout with pneumonia, doctors had advised him to move out west to boost his survival chances. Denney responded by staying in Ohio, but taking a hiatus from the ship, and he took up farming for a while. He bought his own tractor and used it not only to work his farm properties, but by the early 1940s was also keeping the weeds and grass in check around Norwood. The 1940 Census lists him as an autombile inspector for the safety check lane for the county. Having obviously recovered from his illness, he continued to play on the Island Queen literally through the last gasp of its second life. Homer also built his own small boats and even a houseboat which he often resided in between trips on the Island Queen.
Many steamships during World War II had been retrofitted and repainted for military transport and war related purposes. After the war they were taken to the ship yards in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, for repainting and refitting back into their civilian functions. The Island Queen was moored at Pittsburgh on September 8, 1947, when a welder's torch set off fumes from a fuel tank, causing a major explosion. The crew and a number of passengers had come up to Pittsburgh where the work was being done, including Denney, and most of them had left the ship to go into town. Denney had literally just walked off the ship with his camera when the explosion occurred, and ended up taking most of the only photographs of his beloved second home on the water going up in flames, along with 19 remaining crew members. All that was left of his beloved calliope was the steel frame and four brass keys. Homer returned to Cincinnati in a pair of borrowed overalls, as all of his belongings, except his camera, had been destroyed. Having no instrument to play on, he was forced into retirement from his riverboat days.
In his following years Homer played his custom Tangley Calliope in parades, and electric organs in other venues. In fact, he had not played an organ before, but secured a gig only two weeks after purchasing a portable electric model. Among his regular organ haunts were the Cincinnati Gardens, home of many sporting events, and the Palace Gardens Skating Rink which had a very unique grand organ. He continued to supervise his farm properties and even dabbled in real estate. Still, Denney was ready at any time to lend his musical talents, often gratis, to the city of Cincinnati for parades, Shriners events, and even the Cincinnati Reds baseball team at Crosley Field starting in 1952. Homer said he enjoyed that venue the most since it was a place where he could "turn loose the volume, because the louder I play the better it sounds." He also took an interest in crank street organs (the type often associated with monkey grinders), not only restoring them but also creating rolls for them by hand. Denney did own one large instrument, a Wurlitzer 105. He wrote about his time on the river, and helped to leave a legacy about the golden days of steamships on the Ohio and the Mississippi.
Denney was a guest at the first St. Louis Ragtime Festival in the 1960s, according to coordinator Trebor Tichenor and performers Mike Montgomery and John Arpin, but he did not play, perhaps due to his hearing issues. It has been said that he never talked about the rags he had composed in earlier years. When his wife passed on in the late 1960s, Homer lived with his daughter June (Rotunno) in Madeira, Ohio. His last known gig was in 1971 when the Coney Island amusement park in Cincinnati was closed. In his last few months in 1975 he lived in the Ohio Masonic Home in Springfield. Homer Denney left us in September of that year, just as a new generation of ragtime fans started discovering some of the great folk rags of the ragtime era, including those of the well-known calliopist.
Thanks go to remaining members of the Denney family, including his granddaughter Judy Carr, who willingly provided a great deal of background information on the composer. This allowed the author to finally pinpoint his evasive and clearly misspelled 1900 Census entry. Also to performer and historian Fred Hoeptner who provided some additional information on Denney through a back issue of the Rag Times. More can be found on Denney and the Island Queen at the comprehensive www.steamboats.org. A fine series of pictures of the ship and its travails is available online from the Cincinnati Libray at wiki.cincinnatilibrary.org/index.php/Island_Queen. Also, thanks to Jeremy Stevenson who uncovered the rare Sammy's Wigglin' Dance.
Will Donaldson had a hand in the start of a career of one of the great American composers, but in the end did not do too badly for himself either. Born in New York to hotel keeper John H. Donaldson and his wife Rose T. Donaldson, Will was the youngest of their three surviving children out of five. He had two older sisters, Beatrice (6/1879) and Agnes (2/1883). An older brother, Edward (10/1880), died in his early twenties. By the time of the 1900 Census, John had become a shipping clerk, a position he would remain in for the rest of his life. Will's early musical training went beyond normal New York School System classes, as he attended the Pratt Institute, and was a part of the recently formed Art Students League.
Thanks go to New Zealand piano roll historian Robert Perry who contributed information on Donaldson's involvement with Rythmodik
Known in his youth as "The Boy Paderewski", Willie Eckstein would never let up from his enormous drive and amazing abilities, becoming Eastern Canada's premier pianist even before the death of fellow musician Jean-Baptiste Lafrenière in 1912. Short only in height, but not in talent, Willie's path was evident before he was even in school. He was the youngest of what was reportedly fourteen children (only nine were confirmed) born to Swedish immigrant George Hugo Eckstein (shows as Eckstine in 1881) and his German wife Wilhelmina (Hidebrandt) Eckstein in Pointe St. Charles, a mostly Irish district of Montréal, Quebec, where they were shown in the 1891 Census. His musically trained parents had come original from Sweden to New York City, then Hamilton, Ontario, and had moved to Montréal just a year before Willie's birth. Among his siblings were August (1872), George Hugo Jr. (1874), Wilhelmina (Mina) (1876), Henry (1878), Emily (1880 - died in childhood), Augusta Bianca (1882), Clara Henrietta (1883), John Ion Adolphe [or Jack] (1886) who would also enjoy a somewhat successful musical career. William was baptised in early December 1889 along with many of his siblings at the Presbytarian Church of Saint Mathew in Pointe St. Charles.
Willie must have known where his heart was early on, because it is said his first demonstration at the piano was at age three, when he plucked out the melody of Home Sweet Home just after a visitor had played the same piece a day before. Obviously the Ecksteins knew from their own musical passions that they should have the toddler trained to make the best use of his inherent abilities. The earliest lessons may have been given at home, but it was clear that a career teacher was necessary to handle the child prodigy. At some point in the mid 1890s the family moved to the Hochelaga area of Montréal where they were shown in the 1901 Census. George is listed as a furrier, George Jr. as a bookkeeper, Mina as a machine operator, Clara worked in a paper box factory, and John, only 15, was already a clerk.
Eventually Willie was put under the tutelage of music teacher Moretzky Upton of McGill University, along with assorted other instructors who taught him piano, theory and harmony. He studied constantly from late 1894 to around 1900. One issue that Eckstein had to overcome was a paralyzed finger, which was either a birth defect or became disabled at a very early age. Another was his diminutive size and therefore slightly smaller hands. As an adult he came in at only 4'10" (reports vary, but that is the average height), shorter even than famed American pianists Eubie Blake and Charles "Luckey" Roberts. It seems in the end that neither problem held him back, and perhaps encouraged him to achieve more. During these years Willie also worked to earn money for his training, dressed up to attract attention while playing at a store near his home. Billed as the "Swedish Boy Wonder," he was employed by the Bell Piano Company as a salesman for two years running at the Canadian National Exhibition.
Around 1900 the boy prodigy was offered a scholarship in music to attend a local conservatory (McGill Conservatory has been cited, but it was likely McGill University as the Conservatory did not open until 1904). He achieved this goal by memorizing 47 pages of Mendelssohn's Concerto in D Minor. But the money was not enough to address the concerns of his large family and keep him in school. He was heard by someone who was in effect a talent scout while playing in Montréal and offered a job playing in New York City for a time.
It is said he was performing in a storefront in New York when he was heard by yet another agent and quickly offered a $15,000 per year contract on the Keith/Albee, Proctor and Orpheum vaudeville circuits. Hoping to have obtained regular recitals for his living instead, Willie knew how much his family needed the funds, so reluctantly accepted with his father's prompting. Eckstein was billed as the "Boy Paderewski" and was routinely dressed in little boy's clothing, taking advantage of his diminutive height to make him appear much younger than his actual age. The great Paderewski came to see him as well, fully approving of the use of his name in regards to the talents of the amazing youth. Willie toured most of the population centers of the United States and Canada from coast to coast during his vaudeville tenure. While performing in Washington D.C. in 1905, he was offered a performance at the White House for President Theodore Roosevelt. He was often billed over other well known stars on the same program, including Harry Houdini and the husband and wife team of Nora Bayes and Jack Norworth. Around 1905 (some sources cite 1901, so this is uncertain) Willie traveled to hie parent's home country of Sweden, where he spent time there and in Germany receiving musical training while earning money performing, even giving a royal command performance along the way. Eckstein was on his way to the top, or so it seemed.
Nature can't be stopped, and neither could the onset of puberty. Willie's voice deepened and his facial hair growth accelerated to the point where he reportedly needed to shave twice daily in order to maintain the illusion of being a pre-teen. Suspicions grew, and eventually bookings started to diminish as he seemed more adult and less child-like. At the end of one of the tours Eckstein was back in New York City struggling to make ends meet while playing in storefronts and restaurants. So in late 1906 the 18-year-old boy wonder returned to Montréal to find steady work. This he did at the Lyric Music Hall on St. Catherine Street, similar to many of the vaudeville venues he had been through over the last several years. He spent much of the next six years there, evolving from a theater accompanist for live singers to an accompanist for actors on screen. It was said he was among the first accompanists for a teen-aged Beatrice Lillie who graced the stage there. It was also where he was working when he composed and published his first compositions in 1910, including his first piano rag, Some Rag: A Real Live One. He is shown living in St. Jacques, Montréal, still with his family in the 1911 Census, and listed as a musician.
By 1910 films started to draw audiences more so than live performers. So progress came to downtown Montréal in 1912 when the 1,000 seat Strand Theater, intended primarily for movie exhibition, was opened by George Ganetakos. Willie was offered a job there even as the theater was under construction and he was still plugging away at the Lyric. From opening day on it was evident that the former child prodigy had a gift for fitting the proper musical settings to otherwise silent films,
During his 18 year tenure at the Strand, Willie enjoyed great celebrity not only in Montréal but far outside of it as well. In his compositions and publicity he used many variations on his name, including Billy and Billie, and occasionally Wm. for William, but the theater publicity machine further dubbed "Mr. Fingers," and ultimately "The World's Foremost Motion Picture Interpreter," a claim that was likely very valid. In fact, it has been said that many who attended the Strand, including a bevy of musicians, paid more attention to Eckstein's varied scores for the film than they did to what was on the large screen. Among the notables who expressed amazement at the big sound coming from the little guy were Eubie Blake, Joseph Hoffman, Vladimir de Pachmann, and even the brilliant pianist and composer Sergei Rachmaninoff who reportedly expressed utter amazement at what he was hearing, stating "I don't believe it." For many years he worked with percussionist Armand Meerte, who provided both rhythm and some of the sound effects. One future starlet of note, Miss Norma Shearer, remembered attending matinees instead of high school in order to hear Willie play his own composition Beautiful Thoughts and other favorites. And while the stars of the pictures got their names on the marquee, Eckstein had a two-story wall all to himself with a painting depicting him at his craft.
Willie started putting more of his own works into print after a few years at the Strand, and even took on at least one young protégé during his tenure, someone who could fill in when the maestro wasn't around. He was Reginald Thomas Broughton, a British import, whot would soon take on the stage name of Harry Thomas. Harry had enough of a foundation as a performer to go to Chicago in 1916 and record two of their as yet unpublished collaborations, Delirious Rag and Perpetual Rag, to piano roll for QRS. He later went to New York City to record Delirious Rag and his own Classical Spasm for Victor, making him the first Canadian musician to record ragtime piano. In spite of their sometimes difficult but fruitful time together, Thomas ended up with little traction in the performance world beyond the mid 1920s, and tragically died from the ravages of alcoholism in 1941. But he did help to spread Willie's name further into the United States. One other young British protégé, Miss Vera Guillarof, would have much more success as his substitute and later as a replacement for Thomas. She would occasionally work with Eckstein on the radio, and in nightclubs in later years.
Willie continued to write, often providing lyrics for somebody else's tune, and working as his own lyricist as well. His command of most music forms was impressive, but his ragtime skills were stellar, in part because of the types of music that ragtime was culled from. However, even before the term was coined, Eckstein was adding tricks to his playing which equated to the genre of "Novelty Ragtime," something that would become very much in vogue by the 1920s. But in doing so his improvisation was more or less laid out rather than spur of the moment, which kept him perhaps an arms length from being a full-fledged jazz musician, even though he would embrace and play jazz well once it made the rounds in Quebec. During the First World War he collaborated on a couple of patriotic numbers. Due to his height he was excluded from serving in the Canadian Armed Forces, even though he did try to enlist. So he fought by playing at rallies to help sell war bonds. In 1919 Eckstein was teamed up for a one-shot song with American composer/artist Gene Buck. Goodbye Sunshine, Hello Moon was featured in the Ziegfeld Follies of that year as well as comedian Ed Wynn's Carnival, providing him with something of a hit. In the end, however, the demand for his tunes on Broadway never panned out. But it was also the same year he was first heard on radio station XWA (later CFCF), accompanying singer Gus Hill and playing some on his own, making him the first Canadian to play ragtime piano over the air, and history records that it was likely the first live broadcast ever in North America.
The next step starting around 1919 was to get Willie's playing archived on recordings. His first forays onto record were as part of the Strand Trio with his brother Jack on the violin and Armand Meerte (or so it seems likely) on the xylophone. These were released on the Canadian subsidiary of HMV (His Master's Voice) records, the British equivalent of the Victor label. Jack would also start his own jazz band, the first in Montréal, which often featured Willie at the piano both on records and for occasional live performances. Willie also recorded (often as Billy Eckstein) with the Melody Kings, of which another song collaborator, Billy Munro, was a member. They were more of an improvisational "hot jazz" group than Jack's band. Most of the tunes were covers of current popular jazz hits.
In 1923, Herbert Berliner, son of the pioneer phonograph inventor Emile Berliner, started the Compo company in Canada, being one of the first to use the electronic recording process in North America, a clear advantage over the acoustic horn recording that had been common at the time. Willie did his first solo recordings for Compo, choosing Scott Joplin's Maple Leaf Rag for his first cut. While it is not the first known recording of the piece, it is the oldest surviving acoustic recording of the well known rag. These early records saw good distribution on the Okeh, Apex and Starr labels of Compo in North America. Another notable recording done that same year was his A Musical Massacre, a ragtime take on Frederic Chopin's Revolutionary Etude. It would not be in print until the late 1990s when Canadian pianist Mimi Blais, one of the only other performers of the piece who could fully capture Eckstein's ferocity and whimsy, would supervise its publication. Willie would be very supportive of Berliner over the next several years, sometimes recording as Vi Palmer. He would later also record for the Victor label from around 1929-1932.
But after almost two decades as one of the biggest celebrities in Eastern Canada, Willie Eckstein was upstaged by no less than one of the top celebrities of the United States, Al Jolson. The arrival of The Jazz Singer signaled an obvious end to movies without sound, meaning movies that would no longer need accompaniment. When The Strand finally made the latent conversion in 1930 (most Montréal theaters had already been fitted for sound) there were very few movies coming in that required Eckstein's soundtrack. So he finally left the lucrative position and struck out for new venues.
It didn't take the popular pianist long to find new spots. Given how popular Canada had become over the previous decade for those south of the border who were suffering through a national prohibition, Toronto and Montréal were definitely hotspots for visitors looking for the nightlife and the alcohol that went with it. "Mr. Fingers" found work in The Clover Cafe and the Lido Club. However, once he reached the Château Ste. Rose in Laval, a northern suburb of Montréal, he found his new home. Along with pianist Robert Langlois, who he often played duets with, and Langlois' house orchestra, Willie started a two decade and more stint at the club. He also did regular performance with occasional radio and early television appearances during this time. He often performed broadcasts with Vera Guillarof, billed together as The Piano Ramblers. Willie continued to compose as well, writing To the King and Queen in honor of a 1939 visit from the residents of Buckingham Palace, who in turn sent him letters of appreciation.
As with World Was One, the Second World War was not a place for short soldiers. But Willie still did his bit for King and country, writing more patriotic tunes and performing to raise bond money, once even taking to the streets on the back of a flatbed truck. Remaining ever popular through the end of the decade, Eckstein started slowing down a bit as the 1950s approached. Still, he was able to reunite with Beatrice Lillie as her accompanist once again in a 1954 show honoring the singer. He also scored again with royalty in 1959 with Queen of Canada, composed for a visit by Queen Elizabeth II to open the St. Lawrence Seaway. But years of performance and moderate drinking took their toll, and before the decade was out, Eckstein had difficulty performing due to the pain of arthritis. He finally had to retire from even occasional performance in his early seventies after he broke an arm.
Willie Eckstein was not forgotten by his legions of fans and countrymen. On May 27th, 1963, a special Eckstein Night was held for the 74-year-old entertainer at His Majesty's Theater in Montréal. Unable to perform, he simply enjoyed the tribute and accepted an award, saying that the whole experience had given him the will to recover from his ailments to make a comeback. "I'll be back with bells on." Sadly, the bells never rang. The strain of the evening may have contributed to a major stroke the pianist suffered hours after the tribute. Eckstein reportedly remained in a coma over the next four months, finally losing the battle. One his favorite spots was Mount Royal, for which he wrote a song to benefit the Kiwanis Club day camp situated there. His ashes were spread there for him to enjoy the view perpetually. Through recordings by Willie and his protégés, as well as those he inspired, including (the late) Oscar Peterson, (the late) John Arpin, and the incomparable Mimi Blais, his music still lives on nearly a half century later.
Among those who have done the best research on Eckstein are Jack Hutton, who wrote an article in The Ragtimer (Nov/Dec 1986) and John Gilmore in Swinging in Paradise (1988). Additional information and music resources can be found on historian Ted Tjaden's site at www.ragtimepiano.ca, and another site run by Eckstein's family, williameckstein.com/. Additional information and Census data was researched by the author.
Hans Englemann provides a fascinating look, at least what we can see on the surface, at what could be considered somewhat of a musical enigma, given the time, place and volume of output from his hand as opposed to what we can actually find out about him. His is not another ragtime story, but a story of survival in the ragtime era when popular music was starting to make inroads into classical studies and composition. Virtually any pile of large format sheet music from the 1890s to the 1910s is sure to have some H. Engelmann compositions in there. While he was a household name in that regard, particularly among collectors who often encounter his pieces, finding out who he really was is quite a different matter. Here is the best information to date that the author has been able to assemble.
Composers, like poets, are born and not made. It is possible, of course, for a man to go through an elaborate course of harmony, counterpoint, musical form, etc., and at the end of the course to be able to write music that is "well constructed" and blameless from a theoretical point of view. There are thousands of Doctors of Music in the world to whom the writing of such music is a simple matter. But natural musicians are more rare. Natural musicians are those to whom music is as the breath of life. They think in tones as others think in words and can only find the true expression of their inmost thoughts in the language of music. A course in theory can only develop such gifts to a higher degree of technical perfection, it cannot supply them if they are missing.
Hans Engelmann was unquestionably a natural musician. From him melodies gushed like water from a spring. Engelmann's music possesses at least one quality which no critic can afford to decry. It possesses the quality of absolute sincerity. Engelmann entered into the life of the people around him and absorbed the life of the everyday world. This he gave out again in his music in good measure. He did what so many of us fail to do—the best he knew how under the circumstances in which he was placed. He interpreted the life he lived honestly into music, and in doing this he gave pleasure to hundreds of thousands —perhaps millions—of people, because he gave them tunes they could understand. Hans Engelmann is dead, and dead before his time, but some at least of his hundreds of melodies will live after him and serve to awaken in many a small heart the love of music which unites all Etude readers, however varied their tastes, in the bonds of true fellowship.
He was obviously quite highly regarded for his work, as a number of testimonials poured in to The Etude over the summer, some of them making it into the August issue (distilled for relevance here):
There never has been in America such a prolific and melodious composer as the late Hans Engelmann. some years past, when our native writers began to show what they could do, the first item they seemed studiously to avoid was melody. To speak from my personal experience I attended all the yearly meetings of the National and State Music Teachers' Associations to hear the works of American composers performed, the impression was that all the old forms should be thrown over board, and that no such commonplace as tune and rhythm should be employed. Those of us who have watched the outcome of the effort well know when it ended. Some composers have at once reached the hearts of the people by the simplicity of their melodies, others by the constant performance of them and the popularity of certain artists. In the last finality what one needs to express his deepest feelings is not technique, or scientific contrapuntal examples and exercises, written by learned doctors or professors of music, but real inspirational melody; no matter who wrote it, whether it be a Schubert, Schumann or Engelmann. I have used and played many of Hans Engelmann's writings. About two years ago I purchased several of them for a large publishing house, and one of the numbers being too difficult, we asked him for an easier arrangement, or something of a different style. It was only a few days until we received quite a bundle of new pieces and were requested to take our choice. The musical world has been uplifted and made to feel more keenly the tender and sympathetic qualities of the art in the works of Hans Engelmann. Time and use will put the stamp of approval on those writings of his which are to last, but among them will be "Melody of Love", and "When the Lights are Low". -- W. D. [composer William Dawson] Armstrong
I was very much grieved to learn of the death of Hans Engelmann. We will miss him and the hopes of anticipating his new compositions. We have scores of his beautiful melodies left us, and we should all dig into his extensive writings and find numerous gems that the public know little of. We all know him for his Melody of Love, little thinking that he has written dozens of "Melodies of Love". Let us do him honor and investigate his writings, as they are the living part of this beloved countryman. -- [popular composer] Thurlow Lieruance
Careful arranging, and grading the compositions of Hans Engelmann according to their difficulty of execution, their ever tuneful originality reminds me of the beautiful musical allegory of the Tiny Little Rill; "Trickling from the tip top of the tall mountain, it goes on its mission of mercy; joins in the merry song of the rivulet; dancing a duet over moss covered rocks; playing hide and seek among pretty white pebbles, till they reach the evergreen plain below; there a trio is sung with the voice of the brooklet, as it murmurs through the meadows where the wild flowers grow; thirsty cattle politely bow their heads in gratitude for the cool, freshing drink furnished them by the babbling brook, as it hurries on to the river and thence into the might choral ocean. The genial rays of the tropic sun kiss the waters up into fleecy clouds, which the south wind waft back up to the old mountain peak where they fall in gentle tear drops of rain, singing their song of Sweet Home Again."
True lovers of music, and lovers of true music will gratefully keep the memory of Hans Engelmann ever green. -- [composer] Frank L Bristow
Following his death it is possible that either Marie submitted his remaining manuscripts to one or more publishers, or those such as Witmark, who had put out much of his material, had a backlog of works to issue. Either way, previously unreleased H. Engelmann compositions came out somewhat regularly at first, then sporadically over the next several years. Marie's name also appeared on a veritable flood of copyright renewals in the 1930s, which showed her living in Burnholme, Pennsylvania for most of that decade.
Melody of Love stayed in continuous print for many years, and was a staple of piano roll companies through the 1920s. Around 1942 this piece was fitted with new lyrics and became a mild perennial favorite as Whisper That You Love Me. Another set of lyrics were added to it by Tom Glazer as Melody of Love in 1954 to create what became a Number One Billboard Magazine hit the following year. It was recorded at the very least by The Four Aces, The McGuire Sisters, Frank Sinatra, Tony Martin, and Billy Vaughn whose version put it on the top playlists in the United States, making this his longest surviving work.
Marie was shown as a widow living with her married daughter in the 1920 Census, still in Philadelphia. She was difficult to locate after that time except through copyright renewals. As Herr Engelmann appears to have been a corporate composer of sorts, that paradigm and a look at various copyrights indicates that he likely did not own much, if any of his music, leaving only his current estate behind and little future revenue. Marie's reacquisition and renewal of many his copyrights helped to rectify some of that, but Presser also renewed their own copyrights on his works.
What is interesting in this instance is that Englemann demonstrates something often overlooked in the ragtime era - somewhat of a dearth of ragtime compositions from the Philadelphia area. When Harry J. Lincoln moved there several years later he brought some ragtime with him, but much of his output was like Engelmann's in many ways. The closest Hans came to ragtime in a highly competitive music market was the occasional schottische or polka. While many other European immigrants like J. Bodewalt Lampe and John Zamecnik adapted their training to either arrange or compose American popular music forms, Engelmann seems to have held out to the very end, resisting ragtime and holding true to the fading forms of waltzes, reveries, caprices, and other time-worn genres. Virtually the last piece he wrote, released shortly after his death, was called Taps!, a march, not the familiar evening bugle call. His name will be forever embedded in numerous important music collections around the world, and what little is known of him personally will likely be best revealed through studied performances of that music.
Born in the deep south in Mobile, Alabama, James Reese Europe would eventually become a major influence on the role of black music in ragtime-era America through both his compositions and his efforts to bring respect to the race. He was one of six children of musical parents Henry and Lorraine Europe, including older sisters Minnie and Ida, older brother John, and younger sister, Mary L. Europe. While 1881 is often cited as his birth date, James appears quite clearly in the June, 1880 Census taken in Mobile, showing as 2 months old (only off a little bit), making his birth year clearly 1880.
Harry A. Fischler was born in Wellsboro, Pennsylvania to German immigrant parents Frank R. Fischler and Zwila Fischler, who were among many that had settled in central Pennsylvania during the mid 19th century. The year of birth varies between 1879 or 1880 depending on which records are accessed. The 1900 Census shows 1879 as his birth, as does his World War One draft record. However, records from the 1910s forward including his World War Two draft record indicate 1880. That he appears in the June, 1880 Census as 9 months in age confirms an 1879 birth year.
Tremendous thanks for additional information and verification go to historian Sue Attalla who cited many articles, and researcher Reginald Pitts. Without their efforts and inquiries made by myself and Harvey Kaplan who lived near Fischler while growing up, Harry Fischler may have been all but forgotten, or at least continue to be misrepresented as a pseudonym.
Malvin M. Franklin was born to German father Richard Franklin, a commercial salesman, and his Pennsylvania born wife Rosa (Pollock) Franklin in Atlanta, Georgia. A younger brother, Raymond, was born when Mal was four. The family moved to Anniston, Alabama where he had some of his primary schooling. His first piano teacher there was Carl Schmidt. The Franklins moved again to Cairo, Illinois, on the banks of the Mississippi River, in 1901. For many years his father worked in the mail order liquor business.
One of the first bands he played in was formed by a doppelganger of the mythical Professor Harold Hill of The Music Man fame. Fred Culver was a cigar maker who came to Cairo and offered to put together a boys band. According to Franklin, "Everybody wanted in. What a mad scramble to find instruments. Every hock shop and store as far as St. Louis was cleaned out. I beat the gang to Wunderlich's barber shop and for five bucks came up with a rusty cornet which hung on the wall. Our first practice session was held over Swoboda's saloon uptown and forty fellows attended. Many, of course, dropped out later. I believe I was the only one with a previous knowledge of music but in a short time Culver had whipped us into a pretty good band."
Already musically inclined and experienced, Malvin took up piano again in High School with Nellie Louvenia Hall, then in Chicago with Edna Gochel at the Ziegfeld College of Music run by the father of the famed New York theater entrepreneur. By 1908, Mal had moved in with his maternal grandparents, Henry and Angeline Pollack, in the Bronx where he would spend much of the rest of his life. His first piano rags were published that same year in New York by Jospeh W. Stern, including his popular Hot Chocolate Rag. Mal continued his education at the National Conservatory of Music on a scholarship, taking piano performance from Raphael Josephy and harmony and theory from Frank Sudler.
The 1910 Census is the first time Malvin lists himself as a pianist at age 21. However, he apparantly had already done some writing as well. According to an article on composer Anatol Friedland, just a couple of years older, in the The Music Trade Review of September 17, 1910: "Malvin Franklin, a former [and continuing] collaborator of Mr. Friedland's in the Trebuhs days, is at work on the music of the musical commedy in which Bud Fisher's 'Mutt and Jeff' will be represented." Along with Friedland and lyricists Edgar Allen Woolf and David Kempner, Franklin had contributed to the musical comedy The Wife Hunters, which was given a boost by it's dynamic star, singer Emma Carus. Malvin also started turning out ragtime compositions and popular songs at this time, including some fast-paced pieces like Hot Chocolate, the lumbering Elephant Rag and the peppy Lobster Glide, the latter being a popular dance number.
In 1913 Mal started recording and arranging a number of piano rolls, many for the Rythmodik Company, although several of them were never credited to him, as was often the case. A notice in the September 13, 1913 edition of The Music Trade Review read as follows: "The music roll department of the American Piano Co. has just issued a special folder to introduce six new Rythmodik record music rolls played by Malvin M. Franklin. These rolls will be ready for the trade on September 15, and judging from the advance orders already received from all parts of the country, these new Franklin rolls are destined to score a marked success." It was said in his obituary that he was responsible for producing "thousands of rolls," but perhaps a quantity in the hundreds would be more accurate. In 1914 Franklin self-published a small folio with dance tunes and specific instructions for certain steps, including the half and half (3/4-2/4) dance. That same year he became one of the 90 charter members of ASCAP. In 1964 Franklin would be honored again as one of the few surviving members of that original group in a ceremony in New York City.
Mal's inherent talents secured him a staff composer position with publisher Theodore Morse in 1914. The origin of one Franklin's pieces, and perhaps his acquisition of the position, made it into a column in The Music Trade News of April 11, 1914 as follows: "Some songs, especially those of the popular variety, have been written under particularly interesting and peculiar circumstances, and among them is to be included the new waltz song, 'Hesitate Me Around, Bill.' According to the story, William Jerome, the well-known and successful lyric writer, visited the offices of the Theodore Morse Music Co. for the purpose of keeping an appointment, and while there heard Malvin M. Franklin, a young musical comedy composer, playing over a waltz from one of his new scores. Mr. Jerome was impressed with the possibilities of the number, and although not acquainted with Mr. Franklin, persuaded the latter to permit him to collaborate in supplying the lyrics for the piece. The pair got together and the complete song is said to have been completed within ten minutes. William Schultz, the arranger, then took the number and had it ready for the hands of the printer the next day. Just a case of hitting while the iron is hot." A follow-up article noted that, "The Theodore Morse Music Co. feels that it has a real 'find' in Malvin Franklin, who recently joined the company's staff of composers and whose first effort under the Morse signature, 'Hesitate Me Around Bill,' has been particularly well received by the profession and the trade."
Oddly enough Franklin did appear to have an alternate line of work, and on his 1917 draft card (no mistake that it is his) he lists himself as a salesman for the Union Thermometer Company, selling surgical instruments to doctors and hospitals. This evidently did not interfere with his musical creativity, as Mal had already written one of the earliest music folios for film pianists and small ensembles. He additionally contributed to some musicals being put together by Anatol Friedland and L. Wolfe Gilbert, including The Wife Hunters, making him somewhat of a fixture on Broadway. Franklin co-wrote the musical comedy A Lonely Romeo in 1919 with Robert Hood Bowers, Robert B. Smith and Lew Fields, which also featured early work by Rodgers & Hart. It was well recieved by Theater Magazine in July, 1919, with special mention given to Franklin and his writing partner Robert Hood Bowers for the "simple and harmonious" score. Another Franklin success included songs composed with the famed vaudeville team of Gus Van and Joe Schenck who would later introduce Ain't We Got Fun. Franklin also started writing ad-hoc instrumental scores for silent films which were performed at select theaters.
Ever a busy performer in addition to his arranging and composition tasks, Mal also worked as an Artist and Repertoire (A&R) man for Columbia Records, recording some sides of his own playing as well, including A Bag of Rags with Wilbur C. Sweatman in 1916, and as an accompanist for all varieties of singers on various sized records of the Emerson label throughout the mid to late 1910s. Franklin is absent from the 1920 Census, perhaps overseas during the poll, or just on the move as he played with some bands from time to time. He was back in New York City by July 1920 when it was announced he had signed a new contract with M. Witmark and Sons as his exclusive publishing outlet. According to The Music Trade Review of July 3, 1920, "A big popular song-hit published a year or so ago was 'Shades of Night,' for which Mr. Franklin was partly responsible, and he has met with success in his compositions for many and varied vaudeville acts. It is not merely as a writer of music that he has made a name, for Mr. Franklin has a reputation not only as conductor in the making of phonograph records, but also as a maker of player piano rolls... He is a decided acquisition to the Witmark staff of versatile writers."
In 1921 Malvin was married to Caroline (Weinstein) Franklin, and their daughter Gloria arrived October 16, 1923. She inherited some of her father's talent, and by five was already playing several instruments. At age 12 in 1936, Gloria was part of the cast of Billy Rose's Jumbo on stage. She had later successes as well on Broadway and in assorted film musicals.
Mal published some books on songwriting around this time including Malvin M. Franklin's Magical Melody Charts (the Automatic Songwriter) in 1940 and Practical Song Writing (in two volumes) a year later, both of which sold well to composers of all abilities. In 1942, and likely before, Franklin was employed by ASCAP at 30 Rockefeller Plaza in Manhattan, but his address was in Culver City, California. His mother Rose died on August 21, 1943, then Caroline died in 1946 after which he returned to New York for a time. In the 1940s he was also employed regularly at Bill's Gay Nineties where pianist Mike Bernard had appeared in the previous decade, likely performing some of his own ragtime era rags and songs. Mal often accompanied Bill's wife, an opera singer, on radio broadcasts. He continued to compose as well, contributing background music for New York-based films and radio shows into the 1950s.
Never too far from musical activity, Franklin was inducted into the Songwriter's Hall of Fame in 1970. He also did work with charities and performed for parties throughout Manhattan, one of those being the West 75th Street Block Association that mentions him playing for some of their events. There is a high probability that he lived in Venice, California for a while, likely in the mid 1970s and as late as 1980, as he received some government benefits there. While in California he contributed one final song to his catalog included in a 1975 MGM promotional film, The Lion Roars Again (currently available on the extras disc in the That's Entertainment box set). It was The Baby Song performed by his friend, comedian George Burns, who was just starting a second career in movies after having taken time off following the death of his wife Gracie. The piece was very well received at the premiere. Malvin died back in New York City in July, 1981 at the age of nearly 92. Mr. Franklin left behind a vast legacy of music which will likely never all be accounted for, but affected many people with smiles or tears at some point.
Thanks go to performer Todd Robbins for additional information concerning Mal in the 1930s and 1940s.
Lucian Porter Gibson left us with only two known compositions, and a lot of question marks as to who he was. Very little is available, but the author has pieced together a probable narrative from what facts are accessible. He was a mulatto born in St. Louis in 1890 to William Henry Gibson and Nellie (Porter) Gibson. The disposition of his father is unknown, and a picture of him from this time suggests he was perhaps terminally ill and did not survive long after Lucian's birth. Both parents were teachers, working in the St. Louis School System. Nellie was a college graduate and a pioneer black educator as well as active contributor to the black community.
Following my initial research on Gibson, the first done to date, a very nice follow up on his family was completed by ragtime historian Reginald Pitts who filled in some of the blanks on his home environment, and found his date of death. Nothing else was found on Gibson himself, but the information on his mother and family do help give a better picture overall and make for a more accurate story with less speculation.
Richard G. Grady seems to have almost intentionally left mystery behind him in his life. He was one of those part-time musicians who was public when it mattered, but stayed out of virtually any kind of trouble, making it hard to track major events in his life. He was born in Newport, Rhode Island to Michael Grady and Anna (Marion) Grady. It appears that by 1900 he may have been orphaned, as he is found in a Connecticut school for boys, a likely place for him to have received basic musical training.
The next location we have for Grady is Chicago, Illinois, where he apparently lived from around 1905 to the mid 1910s. It was there he met his wife, Bessie McKeown, a native of of Kentucky. According to a later Census record they married in 1905 or so, and had one child, their daughter Helen Grady, in November 1906. Grady's first known song appeared around 1908, Don't Tell Lies, written with New York composer Bessie Boniel, who would go on to write some early movie scenarios. His first syncopated instrumental appeared a year later, Pin Cushion Rag.
The Grady family is virtually impossible to find in the 1910 Census enumeration, but given Richards output of that year, he probably listed himself as a musician. Among his more popular works was a set of ten Teddy Bear pieces, Musical Echoes from Teddy Bear Land, aimed at third or fourth grade piano students. Anything musical combined with Teddy Bears was a good seller, even though their namesake, President Theodore Roosevelt, was out of office by 1910. He also turned out a number of fairly ordinary but nicely written parlor pieces. Perhaps preparing for a more prolific career than he actually edned up having, Grady, working largely with McKinley Music in Chicago, actually adopted three pseudonyms in 1910. The first was a variation on his name, R.G. Gradi, used largely for classically oriented parlor pieces. The second and third were Harry Bartell and Violet Hudson, as verified during a period of re-copyrights of his works in the 1930s. In spite of all the identities, 1910 was ostensibly the peak of Grady's known output.
Richard managed to snag a good opportunity in 1911. He formed a band that traveled with the Cole and Rice Railroad Show, a combination vaudeville and circus outfit, through their spring and summer season. (The Coles would eventually split from Rice to form the Cole Brothers Railroad Circus.) His band got a mention in the news in the New York Clipper on April 1, 1911:
The Cole & Rice R. R. Shows will open Saturday, April 22. The opening town has not been selected, but it will be near the Geneva. Ohio. Winter quarters. J. D. Harrison is at headquarters now organizing the side show and concert. Bert Rickman handles the candy stands and lunch car; he is also at the quarters getting ready. R. G. Grady, of Chicago will furnish the big show band. The first consignment of animals have arrived. Prof. Berris has his ten trained animal acts all ready for the road. All new canvas will be shipped to Winter quarters April 3. Everything is lovely, and the goose hangs high.
Grady would turn out a rag in 1911 and two in 1912, plus a fairly popular number, That Devilish Glide, penned with future star lyricist Haven Gillespie. One other sentimental piece composed with Mrs. Grady also debuted. Richard's two most popular rags emerged in 1913, Happy Rag and the commonly found Old Swanee Rag. These works showed promise that would never really be cultivated. He had at least one more rag in him, however, Squirrel Food from 1916. His output having dropped, perhaps his muse had left him or he just wasn't making it in the highly competitive Chicago music world. By 1917 the Grady family had moved to Ohio, where he would spend the rest of his life.
In 1918 on his draft record, Richard was living in Dayton, Ohio, and working as a stock keeper for a local engineering lab company. There is no mention of his music career. He apparently was not called to serve in the last weeks of World War I. The last known Grady piece, Christmas Chimes, one of many chimes or bell pieces he had composed, was published in 1919, possibly a holdover from his time in Chicago. The 1920 Census has proved to be as evasive as the 1910, so while his whereabouts are assumed to have been western Ohio, his occupation was not known.
By 1930 Grady had brought the family into the act, suggesting perhaps that his wife Bessie had been a performer when he first met her. They were living in Cleveland in an apartment at 1924 Prospect Avenue, and three, including 23 year old daughter Helen, listed their profession as theater musicians. During the 1930s, Helen left the fold. As of the 1942 draft, Richard was living in Columbus, Ohio, lodging at the central YMCA on West Long Street, and working, presumably as a pianist, for the F&R Lazarus Company and the Town and High, both large department stores in Columbus. It is possible that Bessie was separated from her husband since she would not have also been living there. Richard Grady would pass away in Columbus in early 1944 at age 59, sadly having only achieved the mid level status that so many ragtime era musicians and composers would attain, but still having left a few assorted gems behind for us to enjoy today. Bessie, still evidently married to him, survived Richard until June 1972, also dying in Columbus.
As always, if anybody has any information on Mr. Grady or his family, and his whereabouts and musical career, please click on my head to email me. All verifiable contributions will be fully acknowledged.
Thanks to researcher Reginald Pitts who turned up a couple of helpful details on Richard Grady's wherabouts
Albert Gumble was born in North Vernon, Indiana a few years after his publisher brother Moses. The family of German immigrant Isaac Gumble and his French wife Rachel Gumble included Moses (9/1876), Lillian (7/1878), Albert and Walter (9/4/1883). Isaac owned a retail drug store in North Vernon, and the family was fairly well off as they also list a domestic in the house, Annie Shulpert. Some sources report Albert's birth year as 1883, but the 1900, 1910, and 1920 Census records clearly suggest 1881. His World War One draft record claims 1882 and a birth date of September 20th, while his 1942 draft record gives an even more incorrect 1883 birth year and a date of September 3rd. Since early records average out as more accurate for most composers, 1881 is in all probability the correct birth year. Given that brother Walter was born on September 4, close to the 3rd, and that Mose was born September 14th, September 20th would also seem like a more likely date for Albert.
Not much is known of his early years in Indiana and Ohio, where the family moved in the 1890s. His father died in the mid 1890s leaving Rachel as a widow. Albert and Mose both received some music education at the Auditorium School of Music with Herman Froehlich (nothing definitive found on Mr. Froehlich). Albert was also a student of Clarence Adler of Cincinnati, who also taught famed composers like Aaron Copland and Richard Rodgers. As of the 1900 Census the four siblings were still living in Cincinnati with Rachel. The oldest, Moses, did not list an occupation, even though he was already engaged in music performance in many locales, and Albert and Walter were still listed as in school.
While Mose was making a name for himself in Chicago and New York as a singer and song plugger, even publishing a few songs, Albert was working his way up the chain as a performer as well. Trying out Chicago for a while, his first publications appeared in 1904, two of them composed with words by C.P. McDonald, published by composer/publisher William C. Polla in Chicago. Genevieve was a good enough seller to generate interest in the young performer, but it would two years before he came up with anything new.
Albert moved to Manhattan, where brother Mose had relocated, to seek out opportunities with a variety of publishers as a song demonstrator. After a meager output in 1906, Jerome H. Remick published one of his marches, Double Trouble, which helped establish a relationship between Albert and the growing company. In late 1907 he composed perhaps his best known instrumental, Bolo Rag, and self published a version of it. The rag was soon picked up by Remick in early 1908 and was a very good seller for an instrumental piece. This also opened a door for Albert as a composer, and as a staff pianist and arranger for Remick as well. The Bolo Rag was recast as a song in 1909, selling even more copies.
One of his songs of this period became notorious for its sweetness factor, singability, and (thanks to Moses) ubiquitous presence throughout the East and Midwest. Gumble penned the syrupy waltz tune Are You Sincere with a young Alfred Bryan in 1908. Through the usual distribution methods of free "professional copies," budget orchestrations to members of Remick's Orchestra Club, and just sheer willpower, this song seemed to permeate the air and both engendered both fondness and nausea among the public, and particularly the critics. One in particular from the Music Trade Review had panned the piece when it came out, but soon found himself outnumbered by the general public. The unnamed writer (one of the editors) conceded as much in that paper in the October 10, 1908 edition:
The Man on the Street: Are You Sincere? Sure!
Not the least amusing incident of a somewhat broken vacation from which the writer recently returned was an episode in which one of the two reigning song successes of the hour played a prominent part. It may be remembered that when "Are You Sincere?" first made its appearance the writer spoke in no very complimentary terms of its merits, either poetically or musically. This may possibly be one of the reasons that it has since become one of the reigning popular successes of the day, a fact which was demonstrated to the writer in no uncertain manner while visiting one of the most secluded spots on the Rhode Island coast, which he had sought out in an heroic endeavor to forget sheet music, cut rates and, indeed, the entire music publishing world at large.
The writer, to his consternation found that at the hotel where he established his headquarters, "Are You Sincere?" was apparently given as a steady diet, it being played by an excellent little string orchestra for breakfast, lunch and dinner. In sheer desperation, therefore, he accepted the invitation of a friend to spend a few days on a small sloop anchored at Watch Hill, feeling sure that here at least he would be safe from the Remick nightmare. "Turning in," somewhat early, on the first night of his visit, he was awakened by the twang of a very much out-of-tune banjo, accompanying an equally out-of-tune voice, to the dreadful strains of this latest "song hit." Clambering on deck he observed on an adjacent boat a callow youth baying "Are You Sincere?" to a moon which resolutely and with some good reason refused to come out.
No doubt, therefore, Mr. Gumble will have no hard feelings toward the writer when his royalty check falls due, and in any case it becomes a pleasure to congratulate Jerome H. Remick upon securing as great a "popular" success as any in the history of the wonderful house, which, all said and done, is second to none in its own particular sphere.
The 1910 Census showed Albert living in Manhattan with his mother Rachel and sister Lillian, listed as a composer and music publisher, indicating he had acquired some level of responsibility in the Remick fold. By now he had assumed some notoriety among his peers as well as he was teamed up with a number of talented lyricists and composers, with himself in either role, to turn out a fair amount of songs that started getting noticed by the buying public and performers. In addition to Bryan this included such notables as the great ballad writer Arthur J. Lamb, the ever popular A. Seymour Brown, and even the team of Edward Madden and fellow composer Percy Wenrich. Even on his own Gumble fared well, producing The Georgia Rag and Chanticleer Rag in 1910, both of which were also made into songs by year's end.
In 1911 Gumble and Wenrich brought out a tongue-twisting hit that was both a rag and a song in one, the still-popular Red Rose Rag, a somewhat rare three-section song that was also a popular instrumental. There were fewer memorable hits in 1913, but Albert scored again in 1914 with a song based on the book Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm. His touch was felt on many other songs in his role as an arranger for other prominent composers, including Gus Kahn, Bud G. De Sylva, Jack Yellen, George Whiting, Benjamin Hapgood Burt and Black and White Rag composer George Botsford. Also in 1914, Albert Gumble became a charter member of ASCAP. The 1915 Census shows him residing with his mother and brother Walter in Manhattan, listed as a music publisher.
In mid 1910s, Gumble did a little bit of work arranging and cutting piano rolls for the Ampico Rythmodick line and the short-lived A.P.C. Company. Most of them were duet performances on the Aeolian and Duo-Art labels, including a series performed with George Botsford. There was a steady stream of fairly good musical entries from the house of Remick over the next several years with Albert as either lyricist or composer, including the occasional solo piano work, such as Red Fox Trot in 1917, and several patriotic numbers that same year. In his role as a pianist and singer, Albert entertained as debarkation centers for the soldiers going off to France, although he did not serve during World War One.
In mid 1915 Albert married his wife Florence (Simmons) Gumble. Their first son, Albert Gumble Jr., a real roustabout at nine-and-a-half pounds, was born on August 18, 1917.
In 1919 Gumble followed the lead of others who had capitalized on the Alexander character created in 1911 by Irving Berlin, co-composing Alexander's Band is Back in Dixieland with Yellen. Gumble did have a brief relationship with Broadway, first with George White's Scandals of 1919, the opening volley of that series. His song At the Old Drug Store was composed for the show, but ultimately not included. Then there was the tune Peachy used in the Frivolities of 1920. These efforts were followed by a more ambitious musical he co-composed with Howard E. Rogers and Owen Murphy in 1922, Red Pepper. After 1923 very little came from Al, who was doing more arranging than composing. On May 13, 1923, the Gumbles welcomed another son, Marvin Gumble, into the family.
As was true with his older brother Mose, Albert left his regular position at Remick in 1928 when Remick was purchased by manager Jerome Keit. He was soon a staff composer/arranger and pianist at the firm of Donaldson, Douglas and Gumble, which was started by composer Walter Donaldson, Walter Douglas, and Mose Gumble. The Remick firm was sold to the Warner Brothers in 1929, and therefore to Hollywood, but the Gumble brothers remained in New York as East Coast representatives contracting to them on a part-time basis. In 1930 Albert was one of the first to write a comic song that not only mentioned television, but combined it with the telephone, On Your Tel-tel-television Phone, somewhat accurately forecasting teleconferencing 60 years before it was viable. Only a handful of tunes were forthcoming after that as he was working more as a pianist now than as a songwriter or arranger.
Around 1938 after Mose left Donaldson, Douglas and Gumble to reconnect with Warner Brothers as a manager, Albert secured a position as a pianist in the luxurious Hotel Ansonia where he also lived, along with many other notable entertainers. Albert, Florence and Marvin are shown residing there in the 1940 Census, listing his occupation as composer of music with studios. They are also shown in the hotel on his 1942 draft record. (The Ansonia was converted to apartments in the 1950s, but in the 21st century many of them have been restored to the capacious suites of the 1930s and 1940s.) Albert Jr. joined the army, and PFC Gumble was married in the spring of 1944. Albert remained at the Ansonia for the remainder of his life, which ended near the end of 1946. Much of his legacy remains with us today, as he is remembered of one of the quieter but still significant contributors to the growth of American popular music in the early 20th century, along with his brother Mose.
Mose Gumble was born in North Vernon, Indiana (even though he or his siter later inexplicably claimed Ohio) a few years before his songwriting brother Albert. The family of German immigrant Isaac Gumble and his French wife Rachel Gumble included Moses, Lillian (7/1878), Albert and Walter (1/1883). Isaac owned a retail drug store in North Vernon, and the family was fairly well off as they also list a domestic in the house, Annie Shulpert. The 1920 Census suggested an 1879 birth date for Moses, but the 1880 and 1900 Census are both clear on 1876 being the correct year, so that was likely an error of vanity common among musicians of that era.
Not much is known of his early years in Indiana and Ohio, where the family moved in the 1890s. His father died in the mid 1890s leaving Rachel as a widow. Albert and Mose both received some music education at the Auditorium School of Music with Herman Froehlich (nothing definitive found on Mr. Froehlich). Mose, like his younger brother Albert, may have been a student of Clarence Adler of Cincinnatti, who also taught famed composers like Aaron Copland and Richard Rodgers, but the association between Mose and Adler is hard to confirm, even though he was attending the same school that Mr. Adler was teaching at. As of the 1900 Census the four siblings were still living in Cincinnati with Rachel. The oldest, Moses, did not list an occupation, and Albert and Walter were still listed as in school.
In an 1899 article in the Yale Literary Magazine about Gumble in the mid 1890s, Mose was lauded for his amazing interpretations of the new music, ragtime. It noted how he would usually appear after ten o'clock, a time after the proper and genteel people would have left the club-house at the college in Cincinnati where he was often heard. He was evidently reluctant to get started, but once at the piano would take over the room. "Mose could no more have kept away from a piano than a rabbit from a cabbage patch." The author called Gumble's repertoire "voluminous and vast," stating he seemed to know every "coon" song under the sun, and even noting that Mose played one or two of his own compositions, although none had been in print to that time. One incident was cited in which Professor Pützenjammer, a distinguished piano teacher, walked in one evening to play a few selections. Among them was Simple Aveu which was delicately rendered in a fine fashion. Mose walked in around this time, and after the professor left the bench, he sat down, fooled around for a moment, then launched into a ragtime version of the same piece. The article's author called on a number of wild superlatives to describe the bombastic performance. In spite of the tumultuous applause, it evidently left Herr Pützenjammer enraged, and he shouted at the crowd of ignorant "dumkopfs" as he exited the room. In general, he was known to be one of the most genial of people with a wonderful voice and affable sense of humor.
Strangely enough, Gumble's first induction into the published music world was a composition referring to him, but composed by his friend Philip Kussel. Happy Mose was a simple cakewalk that depicted a well-dressed black man on the cover, but was clearly dedicated to Mose on the inside. The title was a nickname he had picked up while at the music school. Mose was obviously interested in doing something more in music, and he made some attempts at composition, first seeing his name in print in 1901 on a quartet of pieces published in Cincinnati and Indianapolis. The most enduring of these was his Japanese Rag which eventually found its way to some piano roll recordings. The following year brought his most substantial hit in his short-lived composition career, The Pipe Dream. Published in Chicago by Shapiro, Bernstein, and arranged by the talented William Tyers, it saw distribution in New York City as well, selling fairly well.
When the initial opportunity for Mose to venture from Cincinnati to the professional ranks of a New York publisher was offered, he was reluctant to make the leap. As reported in The Music Trade Review of January 19, 1901: "Mose Gumble, of Cincinnati, O., who was engaged to go to New York and take charge of a branch of the music business of Monroe H. Rosenfeld, has decided not to leave that city." Later in 1901 he was based for a short time in Indianapolis, but soon spent some time in both Chicago and Manhattan. Mose quickly became fairly well known as a fine singer at many venues. When he decided to finally accept a position, there is early mention of one of his initial moves in The Music Trade Review of February 1, 1902: "Mose Gumble leaves New York for Chicago to-morrow morning, where he will assume the management of the Chicago branch of Shapiro, Bernstein & Von Tilzer. Mr. Gumble comes from Cincinnati and is an accomplished musician, well known and popular among performers. He will make a good man for that position."
In 1903 he composed another moderate hit, Minstrel Sam. Mose was given an opportunity to plug a new Jean Schwartz song in public, Bedelia, and it is said that his performances turned it into a big hit. Along the way he met singer Clara Etta Black (some sources cite Ella), later known as Clarice Vance, The Southern Nightingale or The Southern Singer. They were an interesting pair, as Clarice was over six feet tall to Mose's medium height. Clarice had already built a good reputation, performing "coon songs" since the early 1890s, and had been previously married two times. She divorced her second husband, John F. Blanchard, just months before she and Mose married on December 7, 1904 in Indianapolis. It would be some time before their marriage would be commonly acknowledged in public. Around that same time he was hired away from Shapiro, Bernstein by Jerome H. Remick, and at fifteen dollars per week he became one of the best paid song pluggers and professional managers of his age in the country. It was also in 1904 that younger brother Albert Gumble started his lengthy own career as a songwriter.
For the next several years, Mose was employed as both a manager and plugger with Remick. Among the pieces he helped turn into hits were Shine On, Harvest Moon, Put On Your Old Grey Bonnet, In the Shade of the Old Apple Tree, Smiles, and By the Light of the Silv'ry Moon. Mose would utilize many techniques to get a song instantly known at what seemed like an ad-hoc appearance at a rooftop garden show or vaudeville theaters. He would employ plants in the audience, stooges to make comedic entrances, even water boys. One early plant used by Mose was singer Al Jolson. There were times that Mose would sleep on the beach at Coney Island during multi-day sojourns through the many dance halls at Brighton Beach and westward, always with a bundle of demonstration sheets under his arm. He would make sure that audiences would quickly pick up the catchy refrains, and even have them or his plants insist on encores. He was often referred to as the Dean of song pluggers.
A typical report on the Remick firm intended for the trades was found in the December 29, 1906 issue of The Music Trade Review: "Mose Gumble, manager of the professional department, speaking for Jerome H. Remick & Co., said: "By George, we have not had a dull month - in fact, scarcely a day—throughout the year. Every month has shown an increase in business, and in talking the matter over with Mr. Belcher (the manager) relative to pushing sales,
A 1907 passport application lists Gumble as a manager in the music business. It was followed by a trip to Europe, reported in The Music Trade Review of May 11, 1907: "Mose Gumble, manager of the professional department of Jerome H. Remick & Co., New York, went abroad Wednesday on the steamer 'Baltic,' of the White Star line. He will be away several weeks. 'Clarice Vance,' the popular vaudeville singer, who is Mrs. Gumble in private life, accompanies her husband on this pleasure trip. Mose and his estimable wife have the good wishes of everybody on their journey—a perpetual honeymoon, as it were."
When Remick resituated to a larger building in 1908, the importance of the firm's professional department and the nature of their new digs was described in the March 28, 1908 Music Trade Review:: "The professional department is, of course, a model of comfort and luxury, as befits the ladies and gentlemen of the dramatic profession, who have long since regarded the music publishing industry as one run in their own special interests. This department takes up the entire third floor, which has been divided into eleven rooms, one of which will be devoted to the use of the popular Mose Gumble. The walls, however, have not been padded, and therefore professionals who have voices like the horns used on election night will be able to make themselves as objectionable to their neighbors as they please, without any serious interference. The fifth floor will no doubt be designated 'The Remick Club,' for here the social end of the Remick institution will be upheld. It is here that the Remick barber will shave the Remick employes while they wait, and here both Messrs. Williams and Van Alstyne may be induced to indulge in an occasional hair cut. Mose Gumble, however, will content himself with a hasty shampoo, and it is not unlikely that the sweet voiced little lady who attends to the telephone will take the opportunity of frequently having a marcel wave put in her raven hair."
The 1910 Census lists Mose as a publisher, although he was still in the same role in the Remick corporation. This is underscored in the February 19, 1910 issue of The Music Trade Review: "Mose Gumble, manager of the professional departments of Jerome H. Remick & Co., New York City, has spent this week in Chicago, and his visit marked both a new extension of the Remick policy and the enlargement of the activities of the genial and very energetic Gumble. Hereafter he will have entire charge of the professional work of the house of Remick. In other words, the professional departments in New York, Detroit, Chicago, and even the new branches in San Francisco and Los Angeles will be under one direction and will report to Mr. Gumble in New York. As a consequence, Chicago will see more of Mr. Gumble in the future than in the past. His visit here is a very satisfactory one. He is greatly pleased with the new offices in the Majestic building, which, in company with Billy Thompson, local professional manager, he selected. This is his first trip to Chicago, however, since the new quarters were occupied. He speaks very highly of the intelligent work done by Mr. Thompson and his efficient aids."
Happy Mose did have some unhappiness in his life. Clarice was becoming somewhat quirky in her behavior. She had also done some song plugging for him, but would refuse to take on anything even mildly suggestive, as many songs of the early teens clearly were. It was said she "gives those to her husband for cigar lighters." Just the same, she continued singing coon songs, and eventually recorded a number of sides for Victor in 1909. After that series she did not record any more, offering no explanation. With Clarice continuing to work on finding engagements, and Mose traveling around the country for Rmick, relations became strained. The couple finally divorced in 1914, and Clarice left the stage for the most part soon thereafer. She married at least one more time to a writer for Universal Pictures, but he committed suiced in 1928.
Mose continued on more in the capacity of a professional manager for Remick throughout the 1910s, and by 1917 he was reported as making "regular monthly tours through the Eastern territory." He was also in charge of the composers of the firm, and likely reviewing their work for sales potential. One of his more famous charges was George Gershwin, who was hired to the staff by Mose as a plugger on the piano when he was just 15. This lasted less than two years as the youngster was trying to prove himself as a composer, not just a boy wonder at the keys. Finally, Mose had dealt with enough of George's constant submissions, telling him to "leave the composing to the composers," and eventually firing the future American treasure, something he was often reminded of in later years. For the 1918 draft registration he was listed his employer as Jerome Remick, and in 1920 he was listed as a publisher of music, living in Manhattan with his mother, sister Lily, and brother-in-law Maxwell Moss.
Remick was continuing to open new branches, including Toronto, Canada, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and in Texas and California. The strain of this level of work keeping up with growth eventually got to Mose, and it was reported in Variety that he was hospitalized for a "complete nervous breakdown" in 1919. After a short rest he was back on the job for Remick. Even after 16 years with the firm, Gumble's first trip to the west did not occur until 1920 as reported in the trades in early December: "Mose Gumble, representative of the Jerome H. Remick Co., is on the Pacific Coast, looking over the territory for the first time. He has arranged to open several new Remick Song Shops in Texas and other Southern States." Gumble typically oversaw the opening of the new branches, and by now was Remick's most trusted traveling representative and manager.
Continuing in his position as a general manager for Remick through most of the 1920s, Mose abruptly resigned when the firm was sold to manager Jerome Keit in May 1928. He immediately teamed up with Walter Douglas and Walter Donaldson to form Donaldson, Douglas and Gumble, which debuted at 1595 Broadway, Manhattan, on June 1, 1928 with a well attended opening ceremony. As announced in The Music Trade Review of May 19, 1928: "Mose Gumble, who has been with the Remick firm for twenty-eight years, since its inception in 1900 [actually since 1904], is also a valuable member of the new firm, being well known to the leading vaudeville teams and orchestra leaders of the country." He was reportedly afforded $300 a week for his services. Composer Donaldson was considered the owner and Douglas and Gumble the employees, with Mose's official title being Professional Manager. Later in the year Gumble had some medical issues which required an unspecified surgery at Lenox Hill Hospital, but was he back at work by late October.
When the remains of the Remick firm were sold to Warner Brothers in 1929, Gumble was reacquired by the new Warner Music on a part time basis to assist with their catalog and be their East Coast representative. In 1930 he seems to have had another job as well, listed as a salesman in a music store. In 1938 he left Donaldson, Douglas and Gumble and went to Warner Brothers on a full time basis, his official title being the Manager of Exploitation Department of All Standard Songs. His former wife Clarice appeared as an extra in a 1937 Warner Brothers picture, which coincides with his first work for that company, but whether he secured her the position or not is speculation. She subsequently moved to San Francisco and died in a California state hospital of advanced dementia in 1961.
In the late 1930s Mose founded the Music Publishers Contact Men's Association, a relief organization for employees of publishing firms to help them through hard times. From the late 1930s into the 1940s Mose was somewhat of a celebrity among the many celebrities living in Manhattan, having a table reserved for him for lunchtime meetings for many years at either Martin's or Toots. Here he would spend hours talking about the early days of show business, something that may have held some fascination for younger composers and entertainers. This was also good public relations for Warner Brothers as his legacy lent credence to their music department. As of the 1940 Census, taken in Manhattan, he was still lodging with the Maxwells, listed as a "contact man" in music publishing.
Gumble remained with Warner Brother's music literally up until his death. In late September of 1947 Mose boarded the 20th Century limited from New York to Los Angeles, on the way to meet with singers Dinah Shore and Rudy Vallee and composer Harry Warren among others. He was found dead of a heart attack in his compartment around Elkton, Illinois, having recently turned 71-years-old. "Happy Mose" Gumble was mostly remembered by his friends in the music business, and not so much the public. Still, much of what he did shaped the musical tastes of much of the buying public in the early years of the 20th century.
Thanks go to the biographer of Clarice Vance, Sterling Morris of Seattle, Washington, for additional information on the eccentric Mrs. Gumble.
Harry P. Guy was born in Meigs, Ohio, about 70 miles south of Zanesville, home of the famous Y-shaped bridge over the Muskingum River and Licking Creek along the original toll road laid out by Col. Ebenezer Zane which is present-day Interstate 70 and US 40. His Ohio born father Samuel Guy was a shoemaker, and his Virginia born mother Lucy Ann Guy was a homemaker. Both were mulattos. The family moved to Zanesville shortly after Harry's birth. As a child Harry studied piano, violin and pipe organ. The family is shown in Zanesville in the 1880 Census. Harry worked as a newspaper boy for the Cleveland Gazette to earn extra for the family, along with his younger brother and sister, Erin and Ella. After his graduation from Hill High School, the family moved to Cincinnati, Ohio in 1886 or 1887. Guy continued his musical education there in public and private institutions and private instruction, sometimes working as an accompanist for local groups, including the Cincinnati Opera Club. It was there that he published his first work, The Floweret Waltz, in 1887.
Some of the information for Guy comes from music historian Arthur LaBrew, and examples of his works can be found at the Hackley Collection online.
Robert Hampton was born in Tuscumbia, Alabama. He was known to have spent most of the ragtime era and many years after in St. Louis, Missouri after many years in his youth in the Little Rock, Arkansas area. The 1900 Census lists him in Little Rock, living with his widowed mother Annie Hampton and his older brother William (Willie) Hampton. The birth date on the Census record is in question and inconsistent with his official date listed on his WWI draft card, showing September 1890 in the Census and July 1891 in the draft. Hampton was next shown in St. Louis in 1910 with his mother and Willie, now listed as a musician at 19 years old.
Ben Harney, sometimes called the "Father of Ragtime," was one of the first entertainers to put ragtime on the stage in legitimate theater and Vaudeville. Many also consider him the first to have corrupted either white music with a black form, or the black ragtime music in its adaptation into a white entertainment. Whichever may be true, he did introduce ragtime to a large segment of the white population, giving it the legs necessary to grow into a full-fledged genre sooner than it might have otherwise. He did not consider himself the genre's father, but rather its adoptive parent.
Harney was born to Benjamin Mills Harney and Margaret Wellington (Draffen) Harney in Kentucky. The exact location has been disputed, even in official records, because he was supposedly born aboard a steamer (as per his 1897 marriage license) on the Mississippi River. Picking the closest town of origin has resulted in guesses including Louisville, Middlesboro, and even Nashville and Memphis, Tennessee. Memphis is listed on his father's military pension form, accepted by the family as most likely. Wherever it was, likely a birth in transit, Louisville was considered to be his home town. The year of birth is commonly shown as 1872, but the 1880 Census, taken in June after his birthday, states that he is 9 years old, suggesting an 1871 date instead. To further reinforce this, there is no draft record in 1917 or 1918 for Harney, which would have been a requirement if he were born in 1872 or later. While neither of these are definitive proof of his year of birth, they are still consistent. In general, earlier census records on most composers have proven to be the most reliable in terms of an accurate year of birth, so 1871 is the more likely year in this case.
Harney's race has also been called into question, including the possibility of some mix. The family's own genealogical research indicates, however, that he was of white heritage for many generations. His last wife, Jessie, had written that Ben's great uncle, General Selby Harney, was of Louisiana Creole extraction, but again the Census records indicate otherwise. Eubie Blake's comments about him being a black passing for white were later negated when he admitted to historian Ed Berlin that he had not actually met Harney. Willie "The Lion" Smith had the same opinion. To the contrary, it was stage entertainer (not the Detroit ragtime composer) Fred Stone who commented in 1924 that Harney was "a white man who had a fine Negro shouting voice."
Ben's father, a Captain in the Civil War, was a civil engineer, so the family lived comfortably in Louisville during the Reconstruction era. He was also, according to notes left by Jessie, fairly proficient in both mathematics and music. It's not clear what happened in the next few years, but in the 1880 Census Margaret appears to have been divorced or divorcing from Benjamin as mother and son are living with her father, lawyer and state legislator John Draffen, in Anderson County, and she had retained her maiden name. Reports vary on whether Ben took some formal piano lessons over the next few years and learned the classics or whether his mother taught him the fundamentals by rote. Either way he did have some musical knowledge and experience at the keyboard.
It is possible, but not easily established or verified, that Harney was briefly married while in Middlesboro. Mention of his marriage to a young Kentucky girl named Jessie Boyce was made to historian Rudi Blesh by Bruner Greenup, a Harney acquaintance. Historian William Tallmadge postulates that since Harney was living for a time next door to his father that Greeenup's story may be true. Marriage and Census records have not turned up anything conclusive, and the closest match would be a Bessie Boyce, who would have been around 15 at the time of the alleged marriage in 1891. They would have split in 1893, but subsequent records of Bessie do not indicate a prior marriage. If true, this makes more sense than the possibility that his last wife, Jessie Haynes, was also named Jessie Boyce at some point.
In an April 1916 article about Harney in the Lynn, Massachusetts Evening News, it was written, "Instead of the negro for his pupils and audience, as the nature of the songs would rather make one think, Harney used to entertain the moonshiners with his rag-time music. When the makers of illicit whiskey were not busy killing off a Deputy Sheriff or getting their stills in working order, they would cluster around Harney in some popular place and listen to his rather musical selections. As these songs were just being created by Harney, they made a tremendous hit with the natives, and whenever he would start the piano, a thumping out of one of his go-band songs, business in the immediate vicinity would be suspended and Harney would own the place until he got tired." This is rather lavish, and possibly a planted publicity story, but it does at least give some idea of the environment in Middlesboro at that time.
In 1893 Harney quit his postal job and returned to Louisville to pursue music. There was also a lot more exposure at this time to developing black music styles in this more urban setting. Forming a group with some of his musician friends, he plied the venues in Louisville playing dance music, but always with an ear towards syncopation. It was said that the red-haired youth sang out with a husky voice, often in a pseudo-Negro dialect, tap danced both standing and sitting, and used a cane to supplement his rhythms, some saying it acted as a third leg in some ways. He still relied on a "day job" for a while, working as a lithographer for Macauley's Theater in Louisville. Harney became quite popular in Louisville and soon was able to get some of his work in print, including Good Old Wagon, with the help of a local businessman. In 1895 he hit the road and Ben concentrated in theaters in the East and Midwest, reportedly having little trouble getting work for a few weeks at a time.He finally tried for New York City in late 1895 or early 1896, with his growing reputation succeeding him. Ben also brought his latest "rag-time darkey" song with him, Mister Johnson. Some writers considered this to be the first piece published in the blues genre, but that point is debatable since it may reflect the feeling of the blues lyrically, but not musically.
The first mention of Harney in Manhattan is found in February, 1896 when he was playing at the famed 14th Street theater of Tony Pastor, the most prominent vaudeville venue at that time, which also took in a young Mike Bernard within a few months as a star attraction. The classically trained Bernard claimed he got his interest in ragtime from hearing Harney play, and quickly followed Harney's lead. Pastor was experimenting with the notion of "continuous Vaudeville," acts rotating at almost any hour of the day, a topic which made for a funny Vitaphone short in the 1920s. A February 1, 1896 review in the New York Clipper notes that his act was polished and well balanced, and that his dialect singing was "a worthy copy of the subject he mimics." A February 22, 1896 review in the same paper said that Harney "jumped into immediate favor through the medium of his genuinely clever plantation negro imitations and excellent piano playing." It wasn't long before Mister Johnson (Turn Me Loose) was published and being performed around town. He also soon teamed up with a black ragtime performer from Tennessee named Strap Hill, who worked with Harney on and off for several years. On New Years Day 1897, Harney married Canadian-born singer/actress Edyth Murray in Streator, Illinois. This was, of course, the year that ragtime - in both song and piano rag form - broke out across the country. Pastor and other Vaudeville bookers kept Harney very busy, and by the end of the year he was consistently billed as "The Inventor of Rag-Time." This claim was helped along to some extent by the release of Ben Harney's Ragtime Instructor, which was actually edited by composer/arranger Theodore Northrup, originator of what many consider to be the first true piano rag in February of 1897, Louisiana Rag: Pas Ma La.
By 1898, Harney had helped to make the word "rag-time" (not just "rag") well known not only in New York but beyond. He has sometimes in retrospect been one of many entertainers criticized by blacks for bastardizing what was considered to be their original music, although in fairness it appears to be more likely that he adapted what he had learned from both white and black musicians. However, many white musicians felt he was corrupting himself by performing "darkey toons" without the usual camouflage of burnt cork on his face. Rumors persisted, even beyond his death, that there was some Negro blood in him, or if he had not been seen in person, that he was likely black. Yet Harney persevered, and countered the establishment in one way by doing something very unlikely, and not widely practiced. He hired black musicians to work with him. Whether this was to authenticate his presentation or simply deflect some of the criticism is unclear. But it was a pioneering effort in any case. He still had to have white musicians with him in some venues as many places would refuse to hire any mixed groups. Harney was part of a benefit concert in the early 1900s at the Metropolitan Opera House in Manhattan, doing his now famous "stick dance" with the cane, on the same program as more serious stars like Lillian Russell. In a sense, even if tainted by racial bias, these types of appearances helped bring legitimacy to ragtime in white society more so than any black performer in that decade might have been able to do, including the highly talented Bert Williams during his time with the Ziegfeld Follies, simply because of the social climate of the age. He continued to get praise in the press as well, with one article in a New York paper citing that he could "sustain certain notes for special effect to extravagant, breathtaking lengths; others he would break in a way that he alone could manage."
Sometime around 1900 or 1901, Harney met the woman who would become his final wife, Jessie Haynes. The singer had been featured on the cover of one of his 1901 songs, which was dedicated to her. Ben and Jessie formed their own Vaudeville act with singing and dancing, often in blackface, and toured the U.S. on the Keith and Orpheum circuits, and the world on other tours over the next decade and more. One somewhat scandalous number performed by the white Jessie was Harney's I Love One Sweet Black Man, creating a stir from time to time when they toured. Harney also wrote and produced an all-black variety show called Ragtime Reception, although there was some attrition of his New York musicians once James Reese Europe and his Clef Club started dominating black-based entertainment in the city in the early 1910s.
Until Al Jolson's rise on the stage in the mid 1910s, Harney was possibly the highest-paid entertainer in show business. It is unclear when and if Harney divorced from Edyth, but it appears that he and Jessie married sometime from late 1915 to 1916. The couple appears to never have had any children. However it was also clear that the Harneys were often far from frugal, generous and capricious in their spending, and when work started to dry up this became an issue. His last composition in 1914, Cannon Ball Catcher, made it only into a vanity press, and did not see distribution. As the jazz age approached, the aging Harney was not able to adapt his singular style in a way that would readily fit into the styles of that new and progressive music.
The question of Harney's role in the origination of ragtime was noted in a 1916 snippet in the Music Trade Review. "The Review Hears: That the question as to who originated ragtime has again come to the fore with Ben Harney and McIntyre & Heath, as rival claimants. That Jim McIntyre claims his 'Rabbitt' [sic] song of 1897 was the first ragtime, while Harney has $100 which says that his 'Mister Johnson Turn Me Loose' was the first. That present day writers are not worrying so much about who originated ragtime as about to whom they are going to sell their latest number." This item clearly stated that any answer to this question was being couched with a "so what" attitude, another indication that ragtime was on the way out. In the end, it was clearly Harney that would be remembered.
Bookings declined rapidly in 1917 and 1918, and the Harneys had to scale back their lifestyle and their act. The couple continued to tour in Vaudeville and on their own in the 1920s, although his billing as the originator of ragtime carried almost no weight during this time. They were likely viewed as a quaint reminder of a different generation. His obituary in Variety suggests that they largely retired from touring on the Orphuem circuit in late 1923. Although Harney was largely ignored by commercial record companies, one archivist managed to get a few sides of his unique vocal stylings on disc in 1925. Of of the better venues for the couple, they were frequently in Indianapolis, Indiana, Chicago, Illinois and Detroit, Michigan, still performing on occasion, often in blackface. While it seems out of vogue for the 1920s, stage veterans Al Jolson, Eddie Cantor and George Jessel among others still donned burnt cork frequently as well.
Ben had a heart attack in 1928 and they had to greatly curtail any performance activities. They were found in Detroit in 1930 where the Census lists them as Mr. and Mrs. Ben R. Harney, actor and actress, temporarily lodging in a boarding house as the couple had likely settled in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania by this time. There were periods in the late 1920s and early 1930s when some nostalgia for ragtime emerged, particularly after the release of Warner Brothers sound film The Jazz Singer, and they found work billed as early jazz singers in some venues. Philadelphia was close enough to New York City for them to commute just in case they were called back into action during the era of sound films. But the Great Depression and his health issues all but removed their viability as performers. They lived simply on pensions from the Actor's Fund, and reportedly did not have a piano in the home. So it was in relative poverty in Philadelphia that the once highest-paid entertainer and "originator of ragtime" was felled by a heart attack four days short of his 67th birthday.
There was a small obituary in the New York Times in addition to the one in Variety, but he still remained all but forgotten. Jessie still talked proudly about her late husband in interviews for articles and eventually to Rudi Blesh for the first book on the era, They All Played Ragtime. Circumstances of her death, years later, were questionable. She was reportedly found slumped in a chair with a gas jet on in the room, which was officially deemed to be accidental, although the landlord had made some indication to Blesh that it may have been a suicide. In historical perspective Harney can once again be remembered, perhaps as the man who introduced ragtime music to much of white society, even if not quite its originator.
The Harney Family has done some great genealogy on their famous relative, from which part of this biography was compiled. In addition to efforts in finding early and later Census records (he appears to have been missed in 1900 and 1910) by this author, additional definitive work was also done by ragtime historian Dr. Edward Berlin and historian Lynn Abbott. There are still questions on aspects of Harney's life as conveyed in his own interviews, but this represents what is known to be the most accurate information, except where noted when called into question. Historian Fred Hoeptner made the connection with Bessie Boyce, who may yet be a person of interest in this story.
1. Ben Harney, The Middlesborough Years 1890-1893, William H. Tallmadge, American Music Journal, University of Illinois Press
Will Held was born to German immigrants Herman and Bertha Held in Philadelphia. He had six older siblings, including Bruno (3/1870), Emil (4/1874) and Elizabeth (6/1879) born in Germany before the family immigrated in 1880, and Ella (4/1884), Mildred (8/1886) and Clara who did not survive childhood.
Perhaps inspired by his brother Emil, or simply wanting to join in on the ragtime craze, Will had his first known ragtime work published in 1909 by Vandersloot Music in Williamsport, Pennsylvania; Sweet Ecstasy, which was a lightly syncopated novellete. As of the 1910 Census taken in Philadelphia at 2623 Germantown Avenue, Herman was now the proprietor of a downtown music store, Bruno was working as a dealer at the store, and Will was listed as a musician taking odd jobs. The following year he brought out two full-fledged rags, That Everlasting Rag and Fire Cracker Rag. That Everlasting Rag was published in Battle Creek, Michigan, indicating the probability that Will had become an itinerant by that time, perhaps traveling with a vaudeville troupe or chataqua. Fire Cracker Rag was distributed by Corry Publishing in Philadephia. In 1912 he released a relatively popular reverie, Golden Dream, and co-composed the songs Girl, Girl, Girl and Dorothy, Sweet Dorothy, the type of songs that further hint that he was involved with vaudeville. There was also the march Southern Land, and a couple of arrangements, indicating that he was potentially contracted now and then by other composers or publishers to do piano reductions or song arrangements.
Only two known pieces came out over the next three years. Then in 1916 Held had his finest rag published by the noted classic ragtime published John Stark in St. Louis. Chromatic Rag has become a classic unto itself over the past century, and is the piece that Will is most noted for. It would be his last known published composition. That same year found him married to Ella W. Douglas of Philadelphia, who was descended from a Scottish father and native Pennsylvania mother. As of the June 1917 draft taken in Philadelphia, Will was living at 2911 N. 26th Street, working as a musician (probably a film accompanist) for the Kensington Amusement Company. They had opened the Iris Theatre on Christmas day, 1916, and was one of the finer motion picture theaters in Philadelphia for the next several years.
In the 1920 Census Will is listed as a music teacher, living in Philadelphia with Ella, and likely playing local venues on the side. This is where he disappears. All that could be found in public records and periodicals was a notice of his death in mid 1923 at age 35. If anybody has more verifiable information on the Held Family and their musical life, it would be greatly appreciated and acknowledged here.
Fred Heltman is hard to categorize as either publisher or composer, since he remained active in both fields for many years and with lasting result. Information on him is scarce, but as much as is known is included here. An only child, he was born in Northern Ohio to grocer John Hall Heltman and Carrie B. (Dresskell) Heltman. Fred received at least the normal musical training given to young people of the time, but his early entry into the field of publishing as well as composing suggest some additional professional training beyond just piano lessons. He is listed in 1900 simply as "at school," so whether that was local or at a boarding school is difficult to ascertain. He was likely still in the family's home in Cleveland, however.
Abraham Holzmann was born in New York City in 1874 to Hungarian immigrant (interchangeable with German as many sources cite) Jacob Holzmann and his Louisiana born wife Isabella Holzmann. According to the 1880 Census the family was living in New York with Jacob working in wholesale tobacco, and Abraham's sister Charlotte had been added to the family. Sister Estelle was added the following year. They are next seen in official records taking a trip to Hamburg, and possibly on to Hungary, in August of 1889. What happened to the family in the 1890s is unclear, but it appears that Jacob father died, and his mother remarried to Aschel Worms, who was of German descent. This added 2 stepsisters and 3 stepbrothers into Abe's extended family, and an additional brother was born to the couple. During the mid part of the 1890s Abe received a fine music education, learning skills in notation, music theory and harmony, and piano performance. Some of this was evidently learned in Germany, but much of his education was received at the New York Conservatory of Music. And where did all this training lead him? Into the new genres of American popular music.
In 1899, with the popularity of cakewalks on the rise, Abe released two of his own into the wild - Smoky Mokes and Bunch O' Blackberries. They were published by Leopold Feist's firm of Feist and Frankenthaler, who had recently launched their publishing house in Manhattan. The covers, most likely chosen by Feist or his staff, showed different groups of little black boys, thus serving as visual puns for both of the titles but not necessarily intended as stereotyping. Smoky Mokes was dedicated to composer and journalist Monroe H. Rosenfeld, who may have helped Abe with connections in New York. Both pieces did well and were soon picked up by John Philip Sousa for his band. Reports suggest that Sousa himself rarely conducted the rags or cakewalks his band performed, usually delegating that responsibility to his assistant Arthur Pryor. Reception was evidently mixed at first, but the pieces ended up selling quite well during the Cakewalk craze of 1900-1904, and were often recorded as well. The following is an excerpt from the New York Herald of Sunday, January 13th, 1901, which was reprinted on the back of another Feist publication in promoting Hunky Dory, a 1900 entry by Holzmann that featured the same style cover as the previous cakewalks. It is a colorful combination of fact and hyperbole. Corrections or comments are [in brackets].
When John Philip Sousa [more likely Pryor] raised his baton to the opening measures of Composer Holzmann's famous "Smoky Mokes" last season, the noted bandmaster's audience was nonplussed. Then surprise gave way to delight and vociferous applause. Persons in the audience consulting their programmes discovered a new genius in their midst. From that hour the name of Holzmann was a byword for American cakewalks, and "Smoky Mokes" re-echoed upon the pianos of a million music lovers. Then followed "A Bunch of Blackberries" and other famous oddities in Southern music by the same composer.
An interesting idea of the American love for the Antonín Dvorák theme in the plantation melody is seen in Composer Holzmann's latest creation, "Hunky Dory". As can be gleaned from the accompanying extract of this quaint composition, the music is a happy combination of the cake walk and the two-step. the melody is rhythmical and full of jingling originality and tempts one's feet to impulsive action. The HERALD presents this unique creation to its readers from Composer Holzmann's original manuscript [more likely from one of the publisher's plates]. The dance will be simultaneously produced in England, France and Germany during the coming month, and is already in vogue with the leading orchestras and bands in this country.
As for the "classical music" that Holzmann was a "celebrated writer" of, searches through a number of fairly substantial databases have turned up nothing of note before his initial 1899 entries, which were popular. As with the mistaken identity of German origin, perhaps he was simply known for playing or arranging classical music, for if he was composing such works then it appears they were not being published, even if performed. Following his initial successes, which were considerable, Holzmann worked as an arranger and staff for Feist, and did come out with a few intermezzos and waltzes that were fairly well crafted in late 19th century style. But his major output followed popular trends, including more cakewalks, marches, songs, and even some American Indian lore music, prescient in the latter half of the 1901-1910 decade.
In 1901 one of Abe's best loved marches emerged. Title Blaze Away, it appears to be a tribute to Rough Rider turned President Theodore Roosevelt, who may be the figure depicted on the cover. As with many of Holzmann's other works, this was picked up by Sousa's band, and became popular with circus bands as well. It turned out to be his last substantial hit on piano rolls and early band records as well. Uncle Sammy, a 1904 patriotic march, also proved to be somewhat popular for more than a decade. Displaying a softer side, Abe composed Loveland Waltzes in 1905, which saw a number of piano roll and phonograph renditions for many years. He contributed to the growing cache of Native-American themed pieces with Flying Arrow in 1906. One curious entry in 1907 was his Cowperthwait Centennial March, celebrating the 100th anniversary of a Manhattan carpet and furniture department store, Cowperthwait & Sons. This one was distributed by the store, rather than by publisher Feist.
In 1908 Abe came out with three fine pieces, including one campaign song for William Howard Taft's Presidential run, The Whip which was essentially a train wreck march based on a popular melodrama, and Old Faithful, which was aimed at dog lovers and their trusted pets. Early that year Holzmann made a ten week promotional trip for Feist to most of the larger cities in the United States where they did direct business. As he told The Music Trade Review just prior to his mid January departure, "My trip has no actual business significance, inasmuch as my intention is to visit the trade socially, if only to express Mr. Feist's appreciation for their untiring efforts in pushing his publications... Another reason for my tour is that my new march 'Old Faithful' has already shown signs of popular approval, and of course I will endeavor to interest the retailer in this number, which I think is going to be an enormous seller." Also around 1908, Abe married Isabelle "Belle" Fishblatt, and their daughter Natalie Holzmann was born on June 2, 1909.
In the 1910 Census the Holzmanns are shown as living with her parents, and he is the manager of a music publisher, which was Leo Feist. However, in February 1912 Abe left Feist, and by March he had gone to work for the dominant New York and Detroit house of Jerome Remick & Company. He was hired by Remick to manage the Band and Orchestra department. They were responsible for creating and distributing complete orchestrations of current Remick tunes for orchestras and bands to perform. Around the same time he was appointed the bandmaster of the Mecca Shrine Band in New York. Holzmann's output had been consistently light, if significant, but was trimmed to only one piece annually from 1909 to 1916, albeit each piece saw a measure of success to go with its accompanying hype. In 1915 Feist capitalized on a resurgence of the cakewalk with a reissue of Smoky Mokes, bringing renewed exposure to Holzmann and fellow cakewalk composer Kerry Mills whose At a Georgia Campmeeting was also enjoying fresh sales 16 years after it release. One late march was the winner of a 1916 contest for the composition of a piece to open the new Rialto Theater in Manhattan. Holzmann's The Rialto won out over fifty other entries, and quickly found its way to a popular piano roll as well.
In 1916 Abe finally retired from composition in order to manage affairs on a larger scale at Remick. He made his mark on some retail and distribution practices within the company, and was featured in a Music Trade Review article of June 16, 1917 on this very topic, part of which is quoted here:
Abe Holzmann, Manager of the Band and Orchestra Department of Jerome H. Remick & Co., Tells Why the Sheet Music Dealer Should Be the Logical Distributor of Orchestrations
One of the problems of the sheet music trade has been that of deciding on the exact status of the retail dealer as an efficient distributor of band and orchestra music. During the past few years the dealer has had accorded more general recognition as a distributor of that class of music, although it has been maintained by some publishers that the most satisfactory method was that of direct distribution from the publisher to the band or orchestra leader.
...The Review interviewed Abe Holzmann, manager of the band and orchestra department of Jerome H. Remick & Co., who is known personally to practically every band and orchestra leader in the country, but in every case where it is possible he prefers the leader to deal directly with the dealer in his locality.
"It is with pleasure that the house of J. H. Remick & Co. sees the recognition which has been and is being given the sheet music dealer as a distributor of band and orchestra music," declared Mr. Holzmann, "and it is with considerable pride that we point to the fact that our house was one of the first to offer such recognition. We have found that the policy has proven most successful and it has paid to continue it.
"We not only cater to the dealer for the purpose of getting him to handle our publications, but we want him to feel that in handling them he is doing so at a liberal profit. We insure this profit by placing our band and orchestra publications in his hand at 15 cents each. He is expected to sell them at 25 cents and we stick to that price ourselves, to protect the dealer from being undersold. The dealer who handles orchestrations properly, and gives real attention to the department, will find that it attracts trade to his store and increases the sale of piano copies and other forms of music...
"Remick & Co. have evolved a special system for placing their band and orchestra publication on the market. In the first place, no such music is published unless it goes before what I term a 'board of censors' and this eliminates the chance of dead numbers being issued. All numbers are only selected after careful consideration and after the song or instrumental number has been demanded by orchestra leaders in various parts of the country..."
Another feature of the Remick publications and one in which Mr. Holzmann takes first prize is the care that is being given to the editing of every piece of music and for that matter to every detail of its production, plates, paper and printing being of first quality. Every proof must pass through three hands for correction as insurance against error.
"Conditions affecting bands and orchestras throughout the country were never better," declared Mr. Holzmann, "and while there are still many old timers in the active ranks, a newer element has made its appearance and is steadily gaining in strength..."
"The publishers of New York," he continues, "have seen a change come over the methods of distributing band and orchestra music. In the past, the dealer only ordered such publications as were actually in demand and for which he had calls and made no effort to carry a stock of that sort of music. The dealer, however, is constantly being recognized to a greater degree and this fact has proven beneficial to both the retailer and the publisher. It would seem that even closer co-operation between these two important trade factors is to be looked for in the near future..."
As the war effort increased in Europe in 1916 and 1917, many of Holzmann's earlier marches, such as Uncle Sammy and The Winning Fight found new popularity on roll and record. On his 1918 draft record he and Isabelle are shown as living across the Hudson near Thomas Edison's haunt of East Orange, New Jersey. He also appears as a Remick manager in 1920 in the Census. In 1923 Holzmann finally joined ASCAP nearly a decade after it was formed.
Being a civic minded individual and somewhat of a community leader as well as one in publishing, Holzmann was active in a number of groups, including the Masonic Lodge, Elks Club, and the Knights of Pythias. It appears he continued in his capacity as a manager at Remick until around 1924 when he went to work as the band and orchestra department leader at rival Shapiro, Bernstein & Company. In the firms announcement of his acquisition, they noted that: "He has traveled at one time or another in practically every State in the Union and his first-hand knowledge of orchestra requirements in every part of the country stands him in good stead."
In the 1930 Census Abe still lists himself as a publisher of music, although the firm name is not shown. His daughter Natalie, now 20, was also contributing to the household, working as a secretary in a local brokerage. The following year, lyricist Jimmy Kennedy, who had made a hit out of John W. Bratton's Teddy Bear's Picnic by adding lyrics to it, did the same for Blaze Away. While not as popular as the Bratton piece, it did see renewed interest for a short time. The timing, however, coming out during the depths of the Great Depression, did not favor great success. Holzmann left music publishing in late 1933, and spent the remainder of his life working as the advertising manager for The International Musician, the paper for the International Federation of Musicians, based in Newark, New Jersey. He died in East Orange in January 1939 at age 64, just as prosperity was coming around the corner. Holzmann lives on, however, in the traditional jazz groups and ragtime bands that continue to perform his most popular pieces in their concerts.
Charles Humfeld was born in the same general vicinity as Scott Joplin, in Texarkana, Texas. His parents were German immigrant August Humfeld and his Indiana-born wife Mary Jane Humfeld. One older sister, Mary Ida Humfeld, was born in 1877. Some time in the mid 1890s the family moved to St. Louis, Missouri, which in the coming decade would become a hotbed of ragtime activity. As of the 1900 Census, the family was living on North 6th Street, just a few blocks from the river and in the heart of downtown. While it was not directly near some of the black entertainment districts, it is possible that Charles may have accompanied his father, a head cook at a local hotel, to his job where some live music was often performed. It also was not that much of a stretch in 1904 for the family to have ventured out on the trolley to the Lewis and Clark Exposition, where 12 year old Charles might have been drawn to the fair's Entertainment Pike, a location that featured all sorts of music, but largely ragtime. While it is not clear on just how much music education he received as a youth, at least some was likely given, including piano lessons.
Barely 17-years-old, Charles ventured into the music business both as a performer and composer with his first published piece, Red Moon. It was an Indian-themed intermezzo capitalizing on the successes of Charles Daniels' Hiawatha and Kerry Mills' more recent hit, Red Wing. Printed and distributed locally by Howard and Browne Publishing Company, this simple piece did well enough to warrant a song version the following year with lyrics by Edward Wilson "Eddie" Dustin, an employee of the publisher. Charlie's encore was the amusing and eclectic Who Let the Cows Out. Likely developed as a stage routine during his early years of performance, this interactive piece requires either the pianist or the audience to "make a noise like a cow" (and cows are certainly capable of creating many different types of noises), or say "Oh! You cow!," predicting some of the lingo style of the 1920s. Who Let the Cows Out, which also contained snippets of tunes in an odd interlude that indicated some of his performance style, became a moderately successful hit for Humfeld as well as Howard and Browne. In a time when many of the early ragtime musicians had left the city for Chicago or New York, he was ready to take over as one of the resident entertainers of St. Louis. The 1910 Census shows the family still living on North 6th Street downtown, with August as a cook and Charles as a musician working in local theaters.
Now performing in vaudeville houses and cinemas around the "Gateway to the West," Charles expanded his composition base in 1912 with That Left Hand Rag. While it contains some elements of Ted Snyder's Wild Cherries with its striking left hand patterns, many of them use unexpected notes and harmonics, making this a fairly original work. He acquired at least two nicknames during this time. The first one, based on his last name, was "Humpy." For this he composed the self-published Humpy's Buck in 1914. The other, a tribute to his musicality and ability to adapt tunes into his own unique style, was "The Musical Architect." In spite of his originality, and likely many other compositions that went unpublished, just one more piece would make it into print in 1915, the last for more than a decade. When You Buy Me a Ford (I'll Be Ready to Marry) with lyrics by local resident Lawrence Lewis, does not especially stand out among the flood of Model T songs that hit the market around that time, and was easily overwhelmed by Byron Gay's The Little Ford Rambled Right Along of the same year. The song was published by Syndicate Music, the alternate label for famed classic ragtime publisher John Stark
Humfeld continued to work in St. Louis venues for the next two decades and more. In 1917 he listed himself on his draft record as now living with his widowed mother on Arlington Street, and working for the New Grand Central Theater, a large movie house downtown on Grand Blvd. Interestingly in 1920, still with his mother, he listed himself as "professor of music." This was more likely a title in the colloquial sense, in which many piano players and orchestra directors were referred to as "professors" in respect of their musical leadership or abilities. In 1925 Charles married Corinne Humfeld, and Charles K. Humfeld was born to the couple in February 1927. By the late 1920s, work as a movie theater pianist had all but dried up. But Charles was already moving in a different direction. While he was still performing in local clubs and entertainment theaters, as well as events held by lodges and other organizations, he invested in real-estate just ahead of the great depression.
One new composition was released in 1930. His Majesty: Theme March was published by the King Institute of Music in St. Louis. While this conjecture has not yet been fully confirmed, it appears that Charles received a teaching certificate from this school and took up that occupation for many years, primarily at McKinley High School in St. Louis, There he directed the Boys Glee Club, Band, Musical Revue Club and Orchestra in addition to his other duties. One description in the 1935 McKinley yearbook states: "Dancers, boys and girls from the glee clubs and entertainers of every description are members of the Musical Revue Club. Under the personal direction of Mr. Charles Humfeld, this club presents a revue or an operetta each semester and promotes sociability among the students." Other comments in various yearbooks indicate that he was a relatively popular teacher.
Sightings of Charles in public venues were reported through the early 1940s, after which little is heard about him. Of interest is that his son, Charles K., was involved in a radio contest looking for the most representative "All American Boy" in early 1939. He came in second out of a field of thousands, including six finalists, a proud moment for the family indeed. Dad put his composer's cap back on for a World War II rallying song titled Let's Go, in which he provided both the music and lyrics. Self published, it did not make it far beyond St. Louis, but was heard on KMOX radio there at some point. Following his retirement in the mid 1940s, Humfeld died in 1967 at age 75 in St. Louis, followed by Corinne in 1976. Charles K. Humfeld passed on in 1995 at age 68, also in St. Louis. While Charlie's contributions to ragtime were likely more centered in St. Louis as a performer, his few lasting works in print are still a part of bovine providence, and udderly memorable, and his contributions to engendering musical interest in America's youth should not be underrated by any means.
Born in Columbia, Tennessee, Hunter was reportedly blind from birth. The 1880 Census confirms the young Hunter as living in Columbia with his mother's parents, James and Isabell Hackney, his father Jourdin, uncle William Hunter, and his older siblings Thomas, Blanch, James and Lena. The fate of his mother is not known, but given the situation she may have been deceased by this time. His blindness was not indicated on the Census form. Growing up in an area that was full of talented black musicians, there was no shortage of aural folk influence for Hunter's keen ear to pick up. As a youth he was sent to the Nashville School for the Blind where sight-impaired students were taught trades, and of course how to blend into society as best they could.
I would like to add a personal note of thanks to Barry Morgan who sent information on Hunter's marriage certificate and obituary. He also mentions the possibility of a song, Davy, composed for the St. Louis World's Fair in 1904. When this can be confirmed, the additional information will be incorporated.
Herbert Ingraham was born to Samuel and Ella Ingraham in Aurora, Illinois. He was the oldest of five, including Robert G. (1887), Solomon (1888), Myrtle (1892), and Edward Roy (1895). Both Robert and Roy would become composers as well. While Herbert's birth year is frequently shown as 1883, the 1900 Census was very clear that he was born in July of 1881. Comparing the records of his other siblings, including draft and other official listings, their birth years stay consistent, so it is likely that his age at the time of death was misreported. In addition, the Census taken in June of 1910 shows his age as 28, which is also consistent with 1881, so that is the most likely accurate year. The family remained in Illinois until the early 1890s when they moved southwest to Indiana where Myrtle and Roy were born.
Herbert was more or less a child prodigy, and he received musical training early in his life. While not much detail is available, he was listed in 1900 at age 18 as a professional musician in Hammond, Indiana. By 1902 he had moved to Chicago to pursue a career as a performer, and hopefully a composer. Ingraham formed and led an orchestra and a theatrical company in his early twenties, which appear on a few advertisements from 1904 to 1906. Nothing of his would be in print until 1905, but even at that his early songs show polish in both music and lyrics, and an ability to lean in both comic and sentimental directions.
It took only one good song, Because I'm Married Now, to propel Herbert to fame. When publisher Maurice Shapiro heard a performance of the piece by New York singer Mabel Hite, he sought out the composer. Shapiro had struck out on his own after a brief business relationship with Jerome H. Remick and had been on the lookout for good talent. Finding that Ingraham lived in Chicago, Maurice ventured to the windy city, and within three hours of meeting the composer signed him as a staff composer. After a period of only limited success there was suddenly enough promise for a career that in early 1907 Herbert married his sweetheart Francis (Frankie) S. Campbell, then took off for New York City where would spend the rest of his abbreviated life. Shapiro Music Publisher at 39th and Broadway would become the home for most of Herbert's remaining pieces
As a career booster his first year in town, Ingraham had the song Mother's the Boss at Our House interpolated into the first edition of the Ziegfeld Follies, a launching pad for many composers. Because I'm Married Now found its way into the short-lived Knight for a Day. In 1908 Herbert would have his most popular ragtime work published, Poison Ivy. It was one of several rags he wrote, but one of the only ones to be printed separately. There were several more interesting pieces in 1908 that all fared well, and even without a big hit Ingraham was viewed as a great asset to Shapiro.
Unfortunately, late in 1907 he was diagnosed with the beginnings of tuberculosis, "the white plague," and soon took steps to deal with the then fatal disease. The news of his affliction finally broke in the trades as reported in The Music Trade Review of March 21, 1908: "Our readers who are familiar with the songs of Herbert Ingraham will be sorry to learn that this talented young writer was last week seized with a sudden attack of lung trouble which necessitated his immediate departure for the mountains. Maurice Shapiro, under whose wing Mr. Ingraham did his best work, spoke hopefully of the young composer's speedy return to health and his duties, when needless to say he will receive a cordial welcome. Mr. Ingraham for some time past has been a popular figure in song writers' Bohemia, and his many friends will no doubt take the suggestion to write him a few lines regarding the doings of his immediate set, which will no doubt be greatly appreciated by him during his temporary banishment."
In a follow-up on Ingraham's situation, The Music Trade Review of May 16, 1908 said that "The many friends of Herbert Ingraham, the well-known song writer, will be glad to hear that his improvement in health is so pronounced that he can now do his composing at the piano. He has rented a cottage at 32 Helen street, Saranac Lake, N. Y., where he will of course be glad to hear from his friends. His numerous songs published by Shapiro are doing remarkably well." In fact, he did have one notable piece by the end of the year. The November 21, 1908 Music Trade Review noted that "...'Roses Bring Dreams of You' is meeting with such unprecedented success. Mr. Ingraham arrived from Saranac Lake, where he has been living for some time on account of poor health. Not only did he look particularly well, but he brought with him two new songs, which he played over to our 'Man on the Street.' ... Mr. Ingraham returned to Saranac on Saturday last, where he will remain throughout the winter."
In 1909, a very busy year, many of his other rags, some likely composed as early as 1907, were released as Herbert Ingraham's Classic Rags in one of the first Shapiro single composer folios in print, making it also one of the first true ragtime folios ever as well. Also in 1909, another important work, Amo, was released as both an intermezzo and a song. The Ingrahams also released a daughter in July, who was not coincidentally named Amo. In another brush with the New York theater, the beginnings of a promising career there, he had five more songs interpolated into the play In Africa, including In the Little Town Across from Jersey City and In My Little Hottentot Hut for Two. All included lyrics by E. Ray Goetz. Unfortunately the production closed before it officially hit Broadway. As part of his comic sense he contributed two follow-up songs to a hit Jimmy Lucas and Harry Von Tilzer. One was a direct answer to I Love, I Love, I Love My Wife, (But Oh You Kid!) titled (You Can Have Your "Oh You Kids," But) It's a Lovin' Wife for Mine. Another was the female take on the piece, I Love My Husband, But Oh, You Henry!.
Things were going well in 1910 when Herbert's most poignant ballad, composed with frequent contributor Edgar Selden, found its way into the stores. Actually, the melding of lyrics and music for All That I Ask of You is Love, which was a nearly immediate hit, was a story of serendipity. The story was told in The Music Trade Review of September 3, 1910:
About six years ago the young composer fixed in mind a melody which had been slowly completing itself there. Storing it away in some musical recess, he awaited a lyrical translation for it. Forgetting it as far as his conscious mentality was concerned, he finally prepared to die. Three years ago he knew he was stricken with the white plague, but even then the gift of melody occasionally expressed itself. He journeyed to New York one day, a few weeks ago, leaving his bed to bear with him the written transcript of one such expression.
While consulting his publisher about this, he chanced to pick up a sheet of manuscript which Edgar Selden, the publisher's manager, had set aside for private perusal after the first flush of inspiration had passed. Not often, we should say, does this business man in the publisher's office set on paper the crystallized result of the workings of his hidden thoughts. Something of which we know not, however, and into which we have no wish to pry, had impelled the dramatic up through the prosaic in his mind, and then evolved the dramatic into the poetic. The part of him farthest removed from the office world had given birth to a cry for love, as we read between the lines.
The dying composer, Ingraham, seemed fascinated on the instant. Growing visibly excited as he read the manuscript, he finally exclaimed: "For six years I have had in my mind the melody for which these are the words!" Protests were unavailing, and when Ingraham played the melody the result was that the mutual expression of the sentiment and music, of either by the other, was so evident to the listeners that diffidence was forgotten and protests withdrawn. It is not a "high class" ballad, as it has been designated by the publisher. It is a simple song of the heart, voicing the one human longing that is as pure as it is everlasting. We may forget harmonic science for a moment and dream of the Greatest Thing in the World.
All That I Ask of You is Love has since been covered by many artists through the decades, even in the movies.
The Ingrahams were shown in the June 1910 Census living in Manhattan in the Hotel Carlton, Herbert listed as a Music Composer. Curiously Amo was not there, but she may have been staying with a relative during the enumeration as Herbert was not at all well. The July 23 Music Trade Review noted that "Maurice Shapiro, the music publisher, paid a hurried visit to Highland Mills, N.Y., the other day in response to a message that Herbert Ingraham, the composer, was dangerously ill. The message was to the effect that if he wanted to see Mr. Ingraham alive he must make all haste. As Mr. Ingraham is a close friend of the publisher's, as well as being the composer of some of Shapiro's most successful songs, the latter was naturally much perturbed during the trip, but he found the composer in no immediate danger. Mr. Ingraham is seriously ill, however, although his friends hope to see him again restored to health.
In spite of great hopes and concerted efforts, the disease was far too advanced by that time. Herbert Ingraham passed on there in late August at age 29, depriving the music world of a composer and lyricist with great future promise. The Music Trade Review of September 3 laid out the sad news: "The world of popular music in general and music publishers in particular received with deep sadness last week the news that Herbert Ingraham, one of the youngest and most successful composers of the day in his sphere, had died at Saranac, N. Y. It was known some three years ago that he was afflicted with tuberculosis, and for the last two years he has been an invalid. Most of this summer he spent at Highland Mills, N. Y., as he had done in former years. On Sunday of last week he went to Saranac, hoping that the change would be beneficial. Instead, he lived only three days." The funeral was held at Mr. Ingraham's old home in Whitney, Illinois. Shortly after this that the grief-stricken Frankie gave birth to their son, Herbert A. Ingraham. But the story does not end here.
The year after he died Selden published a couple of songs finished after Herbert's death, and teamed up with Melville J. Gideon for a follow up to their big hit titled I Give You All You Ask (Answer to All that I Ask). Maurice Shapiro also included many of his pieces in his famous series of Gem Dance Folios, plus more runs of his most popular material, giving glowing descriptions of his late employee's work in advertisements. Then in 1913, Frankie, as Mrs. Herbert Ingraham, composed a beautiful tribute to Herbert. My Chain of Memories was "Dedicated to my beloved husband." The chorus lyrics are as follows:
My Chain of Memories of You, I'll Cherish Dear, my whole life thru;
A Rosary to me it seems, your face I'll always see in dreams.
My Love for You, 'twill always be, to last until eternity.
Each vow I hear, each promise dear, in my chain of memories.
In 1914, Herbert's younger brother Robert had his Mando Rag published by John Stark in St. Louis. Around 1916, the youngest brother Roy took up the family business and started in vaudeville, launching a long and successful career as a composer of popular songs and film music in his own right. In 1920, Frankie was living in Minneapolis with Herbert (Amo curiously does not appear in this Census either) and her mother Lydia Campbell. She lists herself as a "writer of songs," but to date no other piece has surfaced with her name, unless she was using a pseudonym. At some point in the late 1920s, Amo H. Ingraham moved to Hollywood and got into motion pictures. In 1930 she is living there with Frankie and Lydia, listing herself as an Actress in Motion Pictures. While in Hollywood in 1936, Amo took the time to renew many of her father's 1909 and 1910 copyrights in her name. She died in 1983 after a fairly steady career in show business. Roy died in 1988 after a similarly successful run.
Perhaps one of the most fitting tributes to his memory was that published by his peers in The Music Trade Review, September 3, 1910:
Noting an exception here and there, as just mentioned, we are sadly reminded that one such composer will write no more songs. The recent death of Herbert Ingraham is a loss to the world of popular music that will not soon have its compensation. Pure melody that stirs the heartstrings of the unthinking and also produces emotion in trained minds is rare indeed outside the limits of standard works which have unshakenly stood the test of time and constant repetition because of certain qualities of universal appeal. Ingraham had the gift of melody. Argument over what constitutes real music and carping over his possible lack of musicianly science are futile. The gift was there and was expressed in a few simple melodies of the kind that there is no resisting.
His last song, so called, was of this order, and by virtue of a happy chain of circumstances the melody is inseparable from the words, so that each seems one with the other, not to recur to mind as a thing apart. "All that I ask of you is love" haunts the mind—the human mind of infinite desire for the ideal, but of limited capacity when possessing it—even in the scant possibility of achieving it. The strain sounds the very keynote of longing. You find one expressing the other; the music seems the only possible vehicle for the thought. Strain, longing—melody, lyric. One and inseparable, the sentiment and its musical mate, thus wedded, were joined through no cool, calculating, business intent of composer and author, but through the inscrutable workings of the harmony of things for which the universe was meant, but which is too often jangled out of tune.
For all of us, Herbert lives on in his piano rags and touching ballads which are still performed over a century later.
Among the legendary performers of New Orleans or Chicago ragtime, the name of Tony Jackson usually rises to the top when the discussion turns to piano players - even above his highly self-esteemed colleague Ferdinand "Jelly Roll" Morton. Morton himself claimed that he learned much about performance from Jackson, and held him always in the highest regard, even almost two decades after Jackson's premature death. But as with many legends, there are some mysteries left behind, and many untold stories as well. Some of the mysteries or misconceptions will be challenged here, but even at that, some of the more salacious or curious stories will have to remain untold.
The first mystery goes to a topic that was a wider variable among ragtime musicians who were primarily performers that it was among those who were primarily composers. That is the issue of age accuracy at any given point in their life. A number of noted pianists tended to stretch reports of their longevity, or aged in reverse from year to year at times. In the case of the Jackson family, the entire lot appears to have inherited the rare gene that allowed them to grow older at a much slower rate than most ordinary people. Therefore the dates reported here are mostly derived from the earliest possible Census records in each case, providing a higher level of probable accuracy than the later ones.
Antony (or Antonio) Jackson Sr. was born in South Carolina in March of 1843 into slavery. He was a fisherman for many years, but after the Civil War moved to Louisiana where he was listed as a laborer, potentially still fishing for a living. It was there he met and married Rachel (Dennis) Jackson, sometimes thought to have been born in Virginia. However, her records back to 1860 indicate her to be a Louisiana native born around 1849. The pair are listed as Toney and Rachael in the 1870 Census, their race shown as mulatto. Subsequent Census records showed the family as black. Starting around 1870 the couple routinely added to the family. First along was Andrew in June of 1870, then Sarah around 1872, Maria (or Mariah) around 1874, Ida in June 1876, and Louvina in October 1878. As of 1880, Toney (as he appeared through the 1910 Census) had not yet been born, discounting the misquoted 1876 date that his sister Ida stated in an interview, which was actually the year of her own birth. (Note that in 1910 Ida was already stated as six years younger as was Louvina, and that Marie states that she only aged one year between 1910 and 1920, showing as 35 and 36 respectively. Ida had subtracted a full decade from her actual age in 1920.)
Toney and Prince Albert were evidently the last children born to Antonio and Rachel. It is unclear if he was born as Antony or Antonio, but he and his family spelled the name as Toney through most or all of his stay in New Orleans up through 1912, and even some advertisements in New Orleans used the same spelling. It appears he started using the more traditional Tony once he moved to Chicago around 1914. This biography will use Tony from this point for better continuity.
Jackson was born in uptown New Orleans, a town known to be the home of some of the most famous brothels and least effective law enforcement in the entire South. Living originally on First Street between Annunciation and Rousseau, then Amelia Street near Tchopitoulas, and by 1900 on Magazine Street near the edge of the Treme and the French Quarter, the family was located in the area where least some of the prostitution was centered in the 1880s and 1890s. Tony and his sibling were certainly aware of it, as many children were introduced to brothels and bars at a young age through earning money doing deliveries of documents or contraband. The problem was so rampant and seemingly unenforceable that in 1897 New Orleans Alderman Sidney Story, who was opposed to the vice, but who recognized that it had to be controlled somehow, came up with an ordinance that set aside a district outside of which prostitution and vagrancy, or the residency of "abandoned or sinful women" was made illegal. Given that it did not specifically legalize prostitution or drug use, etc., inside the noted boundaries of the district, it actually was upheld as Constitutional when challenged, thus creating the only area in the United States were such behaviors were more or less allowed. Much to the chagrin of the otherwise staid and churchgoing Mr. Story, those outside of New Orleans named "The District" Storyville after his legislation. Jackson was there for much of the existence of the District (1898 to 1917), which after it was shut down left no clear home for "legal" prostitution until Nevada voted to allow it decades later.
Tony was said to have been a lonely child, but also one with a great desire to make music. His sisters kept a close watch on him and tried to keep him from going into the rougher areas of their neighborhood. As it was, he was rarely allowed outside of his small yard. However, he evidently had some exposure to pianos or some keyboard instrument, and tunable instruments like banjos as well. Reportedly at the age of seven (although this may be at slight variance to fact), he managed to piece together the guts of a piano or similar keyboard instrument with some sort of tunable string system, creating a giant harpsichord of sorts. On this he gave concerts of the music he knew, which was church music and hymns for the most part. His first full performance was allegedly of How Sweet To Have a Home in Heaven.
The lad's contraption was obviously not good enough to render any serious music education, so within a short time an arrangement was worked out with a neighbor exchanging dishwashing duties for time on the neighbor's old reed organ. Even this had limitations, but Tony had little choice at that time. By age thirteen he was finally allowed regular contact with an actual piano. Through the efforts of the corner barber and orchestra leader Adam Olivier, Jackson was allowed to use the piano in the saloon next door to the barber shop in the mornings before daily business commenced.
He obviously had been well-prepared after six or so years of warm-up to dig right in and learn all he could about upright pianos. Before long he was asked to play in the saloon at various times, and by age fifteen he was reportedly considered to be among the best pianists in that part of New Orleans. Among his first semi-regular gigs was playing with Olivier's band, which included Bunk Johnson at that time. The next obvious step was to move north into the Treme and the District, playing at saloons and brothels. This transition was evidently easy, and his role there uncontested, as many testimonials after the fact will assert. By the time of the 1900 Census at age eighteen, Tony Jackson ruled the roost in Storyville,
Tony Jackson played at Gypsy Schaeffer's, one of the most notoriety women I have ever seen in a high-class way. She was the notoriety kind that everybody liked. She didn't mind spending her money, and her main drink was champagne, and, if you couldn't buy it, she'd buy it for you in abundance. Walk into Gypsy Schaeffer's and, right away, the bell would ring upstairs and all the girls would walk into the parlor, dressed in their fine evening gowns and ask the customer if he would care to drink wine. They would call for the "professor" and while champagne was being served all around, Tony would play a couple of numbers.
If a naked dance was desired, Tony would dig up one of his fast speed tunes and one of the girls would dance on a little narrow stage, completely nude. Yes, they danced absolutely stripped, but in New Orleans the naked dance was a real art.
Following this narrative Morton played his own recollection of Jackson's Naked Dance which has since become a favorite of many ragtime and stride pianists. How authentic the Morton recording is in relation to Jackson's original is anybody's guess. At the very least he captured the essence of Tony's flashy style.
The pianists of Storyville knew that they could often convince the "clients" of a parlor that their playing had something to do with the client's success. They also knew that those fresh off the train at the Basin Street station who had been lured in by schillers handing out cards on the street would also want to show off their generous nature in order to impress the girls, so they would often tip the pianists excessively. Making $100 or more in a night was hardly unheard of in any of the brothels. What was surprisingly hard to find, however, was a white pianist. One named "Kid Ross" was the exception, not the rule, as Jackson, Morton, and many of their Creole or Negro colleagues were most highly regarded in the district.
While they weren't playing the brothels, or taking advantage of the free services offered to them there, performers like Jackson also played in some the saloons along Bienville or St. Louis streets. Frank Early's My Place saloon at the corner of Franklin and Bienville was where Jackson often held court, singing songs like "I've got Elgin movements in my hips with twenty year's guarantee." As he lived above the saloon for a while, it was supposedly here that he wrote the piece Pretty Baby (a notion that remains unconfirmed), which would not gain much notoriety until he moved to Chicago years later. Jackson was said to have fitted dozens of different lyrics to the tune, most of them bawdy, and usually tailored to the joint he was in and the present company. Morton, again through Lomax, recalled those times as well as if setting a scene in a dime novel:
Those days I hung out at Eloise Blankenstein and Louis Aberdeen's place [actually Abadie's Café which was often mispronounced as Aberdeen's] - the rendezvous for all the big sports like Pensacola Kid, who later came to be the champion pool shooter of the world. Bob Rowe, the man who didn't know how many suits he had, and his wife, Reday Money, were regulars, also the Suicide Queen, who used to take poison all the time. Tony Jackson also hung out there and was the cause of me not playing much piano.
The favorite of most pianists, gamblers and millionaires was The Frenchman's Saloon at the corner of Bienville and Villere streets. Morton recalled that this was the place to hang out at 4:00 AM after most of the night's activity was over, and that there was virtually no discrimination there. Indeed, until legislation was passed in the 1890s distinguishing Creoles from Creoles of Color, they were often regarded as equals. While now considered legally to be Negros, even with 1/8 black blood, in Storyville they were considered to be just people, especially the ones who provided entertainment. Jackson was more black than Morton, but he was usually treated with the same respect. Even Morton, who was very reluctant to say too much about the talents of many other musicians, was very forthcoming with his obvious praise and respect for Jackson, even if a bit exaggerated over time:
All these men [the pianists who frequented late nights at the Frenchman's Café] were hard to beat, but when Tony Jackson walked in, any one of them would get up from the piano stool. If he didn't, somebody was liable to say, "Get up from that piano. You hurting its feelings. Let Tony play." Tony was real dark, and not a bit good-looking, but he had a beautiful disposition. He was the outstanding favorite of New Orleans, and I have never known any pianists to come from any section of the world that could leave New Orleans victorious...
There was no tune that come up from any opera or any show of any kind or anything that was wrote on paper that Tony couldn't play. He had such a beautiful voice and a marvelous range. His voice on an opera tune was exactly as an opera singer. His range on a blues would be just exactly like a blues singer...
Tony happened to be one of those gentlemens that a lot of people call them a lady or sissy... and that was the cause of him going to Chicago about 1906 [actually 1912]. He liked the freedom there... Tony was the favorite of all who knew him, but the poor fellow drank himself to death.
As Morton succinctly pointed out, Jackson was indeed known to be homosexual. He also suffered from epilepsy. A hard life mixed in with those other factors may have also spurred on alcoholic tendencies acquired while in his teens. They did not, however, affect his overall popularity, and certainly the madames and their girls felt quite comfortable with Tony. However, there were some, even in Storyville, who were less than tolerant or understanding about what they considered to be an aberrant behavior or lifestyle, so he had to keep some facets of his life under wraps while living in the South.
There were a number of other similar remembrances of Tony's talent recounted by musicians to author Nat Shapiro for his book Hear Me Talkin' To Ya published in 1966. Among them, the great composer Clarence Williams who said "at that time everybody followed the great Tony Jackson. We all copied him. He was so original and a great instrumentalist. I know I copied Tony... About Tony, you know he was an effeminate man - you know... He was of a brown complexion, with very thick lips." Another admirer was trumpeter Bunk Johnson who said that "Tony was dicty," a term often applied to well-dressed gentlemen of color. Clarinetist George Baguet further recalled: "He'd start playin' a Cakewalk, then he'd kick over the piano stool and dance a Cakewalk - and never stop playin' the piano - and playin', man! Nobody played like him!"
Singers loved him as well. In Hear Me Talkin' To Ya blues pioneer Alberta Hunter had only fond memories of him:
Everybody would go to hear Tony Jackson after hours. Tony was just marvelous - a fine musician, spectacular, but still soft. He could write a song in two minutes and was one of the greatest accompanist I've every listened to... He had mixed hair and always had a drink on the piano - always!... Yes, Tony Jackson was a prince of a fellow, and he would always pack them in. There would be so many people around the piano trying to learn his style that sometimes he could hardly move his hands - and he never played any song the same way twice.
Jackson's philosophy was fairly simple. In order to be successful a pianist should be able to try and please every customer. This means learning every style and every melody, including the latest popular tunes, opera airs, coon songs, rags, and all the blues imaginable. His ability to sing as well put him over the top in this regard. As quoted or paraphrased in Storyville by Al Rose, he believed, "What's the man gonna think he comes in here slaps a twenty on the box and says 'Poets and Peasants Overture' I got to tell him I can't play it? Hell, I learn all them things, mister. All of 'em!"
Writer and amateur pianist Roy Carew, who was a year younger than Jackson, was transported from his native Michigan to Gulfport, Mississippi in 1904, and ended up pursuing a job as a bookkeeper in nearby New Orleans. It did not take him long to discover the enchanting sounds of Jackson, and as a result became a life-long admirer and sometimes documentarian of not only Jackson but "Jelly Roll" Morton. In 1943 he recalled his time in New Orleans from nearly four decades earlier in an article published in the Record Changer magazine in February 1943:
In the early days of the present century, there stood, at the downtown corner of Villere and Iberville Streets, in that part of New Orleans known as Storyville, a frame dwelling of the type descriptively called "Camel-Back." This name was applied to houses which had a single story in front but were two stories in back. The house rested on a brick foundation a few feet high, and four or five wooden steps led up to the front door which faced on Iberville Street. On the glass portion of the door was painted the inscription, "Gonzales, FEMALE CORNETIST." There was no yard in front, nor at the side, and the brick banquettes [porches or raised sidewalks] extended right up the side of the house, but a few passengers got on or off in that neighborhood; the dance halls and flashy places were two or three block toward the river, nearer Basin Street.
One evening during the winter of 1904-1905, I was strolling aimlessly about downtown New Orleans, and in the course of time I found myself approaching the corner I have described. As I neared the front of the [Antonia] Gonzales establishment. I could hear the sound of piano playing with someone singing, which my ears told me was coming from the Villere side of the house. Always found of popular music; I immediately walked to the side of the house and got as close to the music as possible with the banquette going right up to the side of the house. I found myself standing under one of the windows of what probably was Madam Gonzales’ parlor, listening to the "professor" playing and singing. That night was thirty-eight years past now, but it is almost as clear in my memory as if it were last night. It was the most remarkable playing and singing I had ever heard the songs were just some of the popular songs of that day and time, but the beat of the bass and the embellished treble of the piano told me that here was something new to me in playing. And the singing was just as distinctive. It was a man’s voice that had at times a sort of wild earnestness to it. High notes, low notes, fast or slow, the singer executed them all perfectly, blending them into the perfect performance with the remarkable piano style. As I stood there, I noticed another listener standing on the edge of the sidewalk a little ways away. I did not know who he was, but afterwards found out that he was another local piano player, Kid Ross. I think. I never got to know the man, but I will never forget our short conversation.
"Who in the worlds is that?" I asked, indicating the unseen player as I steeped over to him. "Ton Jackson," he replied. "He knows a thousand songs."
After having been confined to his back yard in his early years, then to New Orleans and District through his teens, it is no wonder that Tony developed some wanderlust. So he went was offered an opportunity to hit the road in 1904 he readily accepted. In the summer of 1904, he made what was probably the only tour of the vaudeville theatres in his career. Toney was engaged as a featured entertainer with the Whitman Sisters’ New Orleans Troubadours, in a troupe that included fellow Storyville pianist Albert Carroll, was acting as the musical director. It didn't take long for Jackson to tire of the constant travel required in vaudeville, and having become a bit disgruntled he left the troupe when they reached Louisville, Kentucky.
It was there that Jackson met local performer Glover Compton and the acknowledged top player in Louisville, "Piano" Price Davis. Davis was already earning a reputation as a gambler and an unreliable performer in spite of his talent, so Compton was rising in stature while taking over many of Davis' gigs when he was a no-show. While much of this part of the story is based on Compton's memories as related to writer Rudi Blesh in 1949, most of it has turned out to be fairly accurate, so it is plausible. Jackson was evidently a bit tired of being on the road and was hankering to get back to New Orleans. Compton and Jackson soon became friends, performing for a time at the Cosmopolitan Club. They also wrote a song together, which remains unpublished, but Compton recorded it in his later years. That piece, The Clock of Time, was reportedly repurposed in 1922 by composer J. Berni Barbour as the salacious My Daddy Rocks Me (With One Steady Roll), the song which ultimately provided the name for the genre of Rock and Roll.
The question would remain as to how Barbour got hold of that piece, which given Compton's scant compositional history was most likely driven by Jackson. A Kentucky native, Barbour was in Chicago by the late 1890s for schooling, and in 1903 co-founded with Nathaniel Clark Smith what is considered to be the first Black-owned and operated music publisher in America. He was certainly in Chicago when Compton ventured up there in 1906, followed shortly by Jackson over the next couple of years. So there were many opportunities for Barbour to have heard the piece, and perhaps even purchased it from Jackson. In any case, it provides another relatively direct tie between ragtime and its distant offspring rock and roll.
After earning enough for his return trip, Jackson retreated back to New Orleans for a while. He once again reigned over Storyville and was sought out by virtually every musician who came into town. It is very plausible that those from St. Louis, New York or Chicago continually suggested how well he would do in any of those cities, but Tony was comfortable being the musical ruler of his musical kingdom, and resisted for some time. His favorite haunt during these years was Frank Early's Café.
The exact time line is uncertain, but Jackson evidently divided his time between Chicago and New Orleans from around 1905 to 1909. In 1905, Tony reportedly made his first trip to Chicago with fellow pianist Bob Caldwell, whose playing paled in comparison to Jackson's. He made yet another trip to Chicago during the winter of 1907-1908, playing at [Bob] Russell and [Sidney] Dago’s Café on the Southside. Compton remembers seeing him in town a couple of times during his sporadic travels between Louisville and Chicago, but with no definitive dates. Roy Carew, on the other hand, distinctly remembers visiting Jackson in Chicago while he was on his way to family visit to Michigan in early 1909.
By the time of the 1910 Census Tony was back in New Orleans living with his parents and sisters at 3928 Laurel, listed as a musician. He was also playing at spots outside of the District, and expanding his fan base. Exactly when he permanently moved to Chicago for certain is unclear. There are many reports that it was around 1912. If he did move then, Tony returned to New Orleans in 1913 upon the death of his mother. His absence in Chicago directories, presence in New Orleans papers, and a 1914 song publication suggests a more probable year of a northward migration as late 1913 or 1914 for the legendary pianist.
Once in Chicago Jackson realized some freedoms that he did not have in the South. While it is not known if medical care there was much better in terms of treatment for his epilepsy, it was easier for him to be openly gay among his circle of musical friends without ridicule or scorn. Tony worked in a variety of establishments, including some associated with brothels. However, he was also more accessible in a sense for the general public to come and hear him perform in more traditional venues, which they did. Before long Tony hooked up once again with Glover Compton. They worked as a dual piano act from time to time over the next several years. According to Glover, he and Jackson exchanged many ideas as well, expanding the scope of how each of them played, although this point may be merely academic. Another occasional playing partner and friend was composer Shelton Brooks who was becoming known as a notable composer as well.
Jackson's first gigs in Chicago were most frequently on State Street at Teenan Jones’ Elite No. 1 and Elite No. 2. His sister, Ida, and brother-in-law and second oldest sister, David and Maria Sutton, moved up to Chicago from New Orleans around 1915, and they moved in with Tony in his apartment at 4111 South Wabash Avenue where all of them lived for the brief remainder of his life. He also returned from time to time to Russell and Dago's place, as advertised on the card reproduced here. Around 1916 Jackson was heard playing in the Pekin Café, which had long been associated with Chicago composer and performer Joe Jordan, who he also became friends with. He spent much of his last few years there and at the DeLuxe as an occasional resident pianist.
Original composition was an area in which Jackson was not lacking, but in which he did not have the same opportunity to exploit in print in New Orleans as he now did in Chicago. Compton recalled one 1915 number titled You're Such a Pretty Thing written for Glover's wife, Nettie Lewis. While it was not published it did become known by a few in Chicago. Compton recorded it during an interview in Chicago in 1956. But there was that one song of Tony's that kept making the rounds, and for which he was becoming increasingly famous. How it immortalized him is yet another fortuitous if contentious part of his story.
As of 1915, composer Egbert Van Alstyne and Gustave Kahn were writing partners, and Van Alstyne was well known for a number of hits dating back to the turn of the century. Egbert was promoted to the position of Chicago manager of the publishing giant, Jerome H. Remick Company. Among the team's duties for Remick was to scout out new songwriting talent, or at least procure good tunes. The tune they discovered Jackson performing became one of the most unnecessarily controversial subjects of Van Alstyne's life, largely because of misunderstandings on multiple levels, most of which have now been cleared up thanks to the efforts of diligent Van Alstyne historian, Tracy Doyle.
As it turns out, the two heard Tony Jackson performing his ditty Pretty Baby during one of their evening scouting missions in 1916, most likely to the Pekin or the DeLuxe. The melody was very charming and instantly attractive to Bert and Gus. However, since the current incarnation of the lyrics were written for Jackson's boyfriend, it obviously needed some major modifications to the text in order to be palatable for the Remick catalog. According to Morton in this LoC recordings, the supposed lyrics for the chorus ending went:
You can talk about your jelly rolls, but none of them compare,
With my baby, pretty baby of mine, pretty baby of mine.
The Jelly Roll reference, which Morton was not shy about using in his own name, generally referred to male genitalia. So once a deal was struck, Kahn necessarily set to work on cleaning up the piece a bit, and Van Alstyne added a verse that was adapted from a previous song he had composed that had fallen flat. As a result, the original edition offended Jackson supporters since it gave both Kahn and Van Alstyne co-composer credit, which was just the same quite appropriate, given their considerable input into the song. This regrettable miscasting of the situation actually made some musicians hostile to Van Alstyne for most of the rest of his life, something he found to be hurtful. Never mind that subsequent stage performances of the piece made it a big hit for all of the composers, and for Ziegfeld Follies star Fanny Brice, or that Jackson's name appeared above Van Alstyne's on the cover. And while many say that both the composer and his lyrics were compromised, it would be clear now that some of the original lines would have been unsuitable for mass publication. It is clear, however, that Jackson may not have got his share of royalties, having been paid $250 outright for the rights to the tune. In any case, Bert's daughter stated that this misunderstanding haunted him until his death in 1951.
This song led to nine others that would be published or recorded by other artists over the next five or more years. Among the standouts are Miss Samantha's Wedding Day, Waiting at the Old Church Door, and Some Sweet Day composed with Abe Olman and Ed Rose. Additional songs have been mentioned in various sources, but no manuscripts have surfaced for them. Jackson never made much from his composition sales, but he continued to gain increased notoriety in Chicago and beyond. There was potential for even more, but for the time being he was reportedly satisfied with being a lounge pianist - the best in Chicago. On this point Morton was quite clear in his interviews with Lomax. He claimed to have finally won a playing contest over Jackson, but the exact year or location is unclear, with "Jelly Roll" seeming to imply it was in Chicago. Morton was not, however, convinced he should have won. "I won a contest over Tony Jackson. That threw me in first line. I never believed that the contest was given to the right party, even though I was the winner. I always thought Tony Jackson should have had, I’m saying, the emblem as, as, the winner." As of the fall of 1918 Tony was living with his sister, Maria, and her husband, now at 4045 S. State Street, first flat in the rear. On his draft record filled out on September 12, he listed himself working as a pianist at the Pekin Theatre at 2700 State Street, and noted that he had weak eyes.
Ada "Bricktop" Smith had been part of the Panama Trio in 1916, along with singers Cora Green and Florence Mills. The group broke up in 1917, but was re-formed in 1918 with Carolyn Williams in place of Bricktop. Smith would later reign over the black American nightclub scene in Paris in the 1920s. For one special engagement in 1918 the trio hired Tony to help them launch a tour of Canada and the West. So for a short while he was a member of the Panama Four. Tony declined to go on tour with them, however, perhaps remembering life on the road during his vaudeville days in 1904.
Staying behind in Chicago he became acquainted with Joseph "King" Oliver and his band, but whether he sat in with that group is difficult to ascertain. In his one big brush with the law, Tony was arrested in August 1919 in connection with recent murders in the South Side, but was soon found to be innocent with a proper alibi, and quickly released. As of the January 1920 Census Tony was shown as the head of his household, and was listed as a musician working in (rough translation from the handwriting) a cabaret. Living with him was his sister Ida working as a house cleaner, sister Maria and her husband David Sutton working in the stock yards, and the Sutton's three children, Eloise, William and Rachel.
Old habits die hard, and one that he cultivated in his teens caused him to die hard as well. Jackson, by the sum of many accounts, was an unapologetic alcoholic. He carried this trait with him from New Orleans to Chicago, and playing six to eight hours each night meant drinking eight to twelve hours each night, simply due to the nature of the work environment. The onset of prohibition in 1920 likely did little to slake his thirst for booze, and if it was available anywhere during the 1920s it was in Chicago. The quality and controlled potency of some of the alcohol during the beginning of prohibition after the stockpiles were used up has been called into question. Morton insisted that Jackson did not use "any dope" or narcotics of any kind.
No matter the situation, the damage to Jackson's liver had been done years before. There was also the onset of other maladies, of which syphilis has been suggested, but many of these symptoms may have been exacerbated his epileptic issues. The onset of physical problems started to affect his voice, and then his finger dexterity, resulting in a marked decrease in his performance skills by early 1921. Jackson was terribly afflicted by March, suffering from extreme cirrhosis of the liver which had been progressing for years. He finally succumbed to these in April, not yet 39 years old.
A notice of his funeral was found in the Black-published Chicago Defender of April 30th:
Funeral services for Tony Jackson, popular songwriter and pianist, who died last week, were held in the chapel of the Jackson Undertaking Parlors, 29th and State streets, on Saturday. Funeral services were conducted by Rev. H. E. Stewart, pastor of Quinn Chapel Church. Miss Lizzie Hart Dorsey sang “The Rosary.” Prominent among those present at the services were Lovey Joe (Joe Jordan), Lilly Smith, Teenan Jones, Clarence Williams, Glover Crump [probably Compton], Tom Lemonier and the members of the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra. Interment was made in Oakwoods Cemetery.
Nearly a century later, Pretty Baby remains as Tony Jackson's most popular and sung tune - that we know of at least. No matter the origin of the piece, good music is good music, and virtually nobody ever said anything about the inimitable Tony Jackson that did not also utter those words - "good music."
Before commencing with other research on Jackson, the life of which snippets or variably sized synopses appear in a number of sources concerning Morton, the author gathered as much as possible from public and government records, information gathered from papers and libraries during a post-Katrina trip to New Orleans, similar information gathered from a Chicago trip, and Carew's fine articles in The Record Changer. After the outline was completed the gaps were filled in from a few sources, including Morton's sometimes questionable but still valuable remembrances (1938), Al Rose's fine book Storyville, New Orleans (1973), Nat Shapiro's engaging book Hear Me Talkin' To Ya (1966), and the handwritten notes and text by Rudi Blesh for and in They All Played Ragtime (1950-1971), which included long interviews with Glover Compton.
Isadore Harold Jentes (some sources cite Isobel or Isidore) was born to a German father and American mother, Henry and Rebecca Jentes, in Manhattan. He was a life-long New York city resident. Isadore was the oldest of four boys in the family, including Jerome A., Alfred Russel and Herbert J. Jentes. His father, Henry Jentes was a furrier by trade. By the early 1900s, Isadore had dropped his first name and adopted Harry from his middle name. In 1909 he is listed on a passenger manifest for the Prinz August Wilhelm to Cologne (Colon), Germany. Whether this was to visit his father's homeland or receive further musical training is unclear. He may have been out of the country for a while since no definitive record is found for him in the 1910 Census.
By the time Harry returned to the US he had become a proficient enough performer in his twenties to work in vaudeville and do some arranging. His first rag was Rhapsody Rag, a worthy effort that is still heard today on occasion. Starting in 1912 Harry teamed up with a number of lyricists and turned out some fine songs as well. One of those, I'll Be Welcome in My Home Town, became a big hit for lyricist William Tracey who also published the piece. It was reported that publisher Leo Feist paid around $250,000 to acquire the song that year (this price likely included some other properties), but Harry did not benefit quite so much from this transaction as he might have hoped. Still, he was looking ahead stylistically as well, writing material that was out of the ordinary for popular ragtime. Among those pieces was his California Sunshine of 1913, forecasting elements of jazz in its unusual progressions and riffs. His eclectic Soup and Fish Rag was also quite unique, and a challenge to perform.
Jentes was also an early piano roll performer and one of the earliest ragtime recording artists on records, covering a great many tunes besides his own. Harry's works showed a leaning towards traditional jazz and beyond early on, incorporating advanced chords and rhythms into his rag and song performances, and when possible, in their published renditions. One of the earliest concerns he played for was the United States Music Company based in Chicago. When one analyzes his recorded performances in comparison with the printed score, it underscores his improvisational abilities, as well as those to create harmonies and progressions that composers like George Gershwin or Cole Porter would later include in their own works. Near the end of 1913 he secured a position on the staff of Broadway Music run by composer Will Von Tilzer, working as a composer and song plugger.
Harry married his wife Mae around 1915, and also joined ASCAP which had been founded by many of his peers in 1914. One of his more significant hits came in 1915, Put Me to Sleep with an Old-Fashioned Melody (Wake Me Up with a Rag). That song made him even more in demand as a composer. The following year would see the innovative Bantam Step, an adaptable rag that could be played in a variety of ways, as he later demonstrated on a piano roll. Harry appears to have also become involved with the Werblow-Fisher Corporation, a publisher jobber and syndicate that placed sheet music in ten cent stores such Woolworths, Kress and Kresge, and even some department stores. He was mentioned in an advertisment in advance of their IPO (Initial Public Offering) in 1915 as they were looking for investors.
His talent was enough to land him a position with Leo Feist, as announced in the December 9, 1916 Music Trade Review: "Harry Jentes, who has for the last two years been on the writing staff of the Broadway Music Corp., was recently added to the writing and professional staff of Leo Feist, Inc. Mr. Jentes has written two of the best novelty songs published this season. His first production for Leo Feist, Inc., was the fall novelty hit, 'He May Be Old, But He's Got Young Ideas,' which has been quickly followed with his latest Hebrew song, 'When Sara Saw Theda Bara,' a song which is predicted will be the season's sensation in its class. Mr. Jentes is best known by his 'Put Me to Sleep With an Old Fashioned Melody,' and the 'Fountain of Youth' song, and it is stated that he is working on ideas for several songs calculated to further his reputation."
In 1922 Harry became part of case law in a decision based on a lawsuit he had brought, as detailed in The Music Trade Review of April 1, 1922: "A recent decision by Judge Julian W. Mack in the United States District Court in the Southern District of New York is of much importance to songwriters and music publishers. The action was that of Harry Jentes against the music publishing firms of Jerome H. Remick & Co. and Irving Berlin, Inc., Jentes contending that he had placed a song called 'All By Myself' with Jerome H. Remick & Co., signing the usual contract and release. He further claimed that at a later date Irving Berlin, Inc., published a song called 'All by Myself' which he alleges was an infringement of his song placed with the Remick house. The court held that a songwriter, after having assigned a copyright of a number to a publisher, does not retain an equitable right to institute a suit for infringement. It therefore failed to see how Jentes was aggrieved insofar as he had assigned a song to Remick & Co., and if any suit was to be brought against Irving Berlin, Inc., Remick was the one to sue. The Remick Co. failing to bring such suit closes the case." Just the same, from around that time on Berlin would frequently use his name in the title to avoid further problems, such as Irving Berlin's Blue Skies.
Jentes was one of the earlier performers to take advantage of the new medium of radio, and radio certainly liked him. His unique piano style was heard often on AT&T owned WEAF from New York starting in 1923, and soon after on WJZ and WOR. His fingers flew across the airwaves throughout the mid 1920s, and some of the stations he was on reached halfway across the country. As novelty piano took hold in the 1920s, Harry managed a few hits, many of which he played on the air. They were largely more popular on rolls or records than in print, given their inhrent difficulty. Among them, The Cat's Pajamas and Juggling the Ivories were innovative, and stood up fairly well to the output of novelty composers like Roy Bargy and Zez Confrey. Many of these compositions ended up in folio of novelty pieces published in 1924. Harry then contributed some music to a 1925 production of Earl Carroll's Vanities on Broadway, and possibly had something to do with the staging or script as well. But his fortunes diminished as the Great Depression took hold. In the 1930 Census Harry and Mae were still living in Manhattan, but now he was listed simply as a music clerk in a publishing house. There was no indication that the couple ever had children.
A handful of pieces were composed by Jentes in the 1930s, but nothing significant. The 1940 Census shows that he and Mae had moved a few blocks to a Fort Washington Ave. apartment, and he was once again a composer of songs. His 1942 draft record shows no employer, and it was likely that he was either retired or self-employed. The last output from Harry was a 1946 tune co-written with Duke Leonard titled Lazy Mary. Little is known of his life beyond this point through his later years. Harry Jentes died of complications from pneumonia in 1958 at age 70. He was survived by his brothers and his wife.
Nathan Johnson was born in Boston, Massachusetts to Swedish parents Bernard Francis Johnson and Matilda (Kulberg) Johnson. His parents had both immigrated to the United States in the 1870s. The transcription of the birth record shows a year of 1883, but all subsequent records, including Nathan's draft card, seem to indicate an 1882 birth year. Little is known of his education, but much of it was likely in the school system, and perhaps he was either self-taught on piano or may have received lessons at some point. His father, listed in 1883 as a sextant, was working as a janitor within the next few years, so income for the family was low. To add to their difficulties, Matilda died in 1889. While Bernard appears in the 1900 Census in Everett, a northern suburb of Boston, efforts to find Nathan that year turned up nothing definitive, as he had likely struck out on his own after his mother's death.
In 1901 Bernard had remarried to Elsie B. Johnson, who like her predecessor was also a Swedish immigrant. Nathan was found living in nearby Beverly, Massachusetts that same year, still there in 1904. He eventually moved back in with his father and was living with the couple around 1910, was already working in a musical career, listed as a pianist for a theatrical company. It is known from later articles that he toured for a few years with various vaudeville companies. Starting in 1911 he had some of his music published, starting with Nat Johnson's Rag. The following year produced the dynamic Frisco Frazzle, and a year later he wrote what was essentially a syncopated advertisement for the famous Gold Dust brand of laundry soap which featured the Gold Dust Twins (two little black boys) on the box. They also appeared on the sheet music cover, making this one of the more unusual commercial jingles in American history. In his travels Nat went through and likely stayed in Chicago now and then. The fact that his pieces were primarily published by the Forster firm, which was based in Chicago, provides some information to that effect. However, one of his pieces published in 1913, O.P.H.S. Rag, was composed for with lyricist Will Mack, reportedly for or about Oak Park High School in Chicago. The school had been established in 1871 just after the great Chicago fire, and was relocated in 1907 to a better location. Andrew Barrett indicates that there was at least some possible motive, based on a competition called The National High School Football National Championship. It was not a real game, but a poll among sportswriters and other journalists. The song takes this competition with Everett High School in Johnson's native Massachusetts, and lyrically makes it into a real game. This self-published rag had very limited circulation.
Calico Rag from 1914 is perhaps the best known Nat Johnson piece. Made up largely of arpeggios, it still presents very well. There were three, or perhaps even four remaining pieces that were committed to piano rolls in the mid 1910s. One of them Helendoro: The Fox Trot Rag, is a fox trot that may have had an accompanying waltz associated with it. They are two separate works with some possible thematic tie-ins, but none that are overtly evident. Who or what Helendoro is remains a mystery. While Johnson likely wrote these pieces in addition to Georgia Sweets and Dorothy Rag, there is speculation on whether he actually played them, perhaps during one of his Chicago visits.
Johnson was next found in Prescott according to his 1918 draft record, listing himself as a musician playing for the grand 900 seat Elks Theater of Yavapai County, also in Prescott. It was one of the technological showplaces of the southwest, and run by the Prescott Benevolent Protected Order of Elks (BPOE). The 1920 Census shows Nat in Silver City in the neighboring state of New Mexico. Two pieces of music published there, including lyrics by Rene Taylor, also confirm his presence. He also had been involved in the production of some musical comedies in Silver City, including one titled Over the Top which reportedly incorporated some of his own compositions.
Johnson had contracted pulmonary tuberculosis somewhere along the way, and by mid 1920 he was staying at the Cottage Sanatorium in Silver City. Also with him was Miss Rene Taylor, with whom Nat wrote at least two songs. According to a letter discovered by researcher Mike Montgomery, in an effort to defer expenses at the sanatorium, Johnson wrote to the Edison Phonograph Company offering up his new song, If You'll Come Back, to them for recording. Nothing came from that effort, and the TB took his life within eighteen months. An obituary uncovered by Barrett lauded his performance skills, stating that "He seemed to be able to do anything with a piano but make it talk English." Nat Johnson currently occupies an unmarked grave in the Masonic Cemetery in Silver City. Mr. Barrett is working to rectify that by getting Nat proper recognition at his actual grave site.
Thanks go to Southern California ragtime/novelty performer Andrew Barrett who researched some of the details on Johnson, including his birth and death records, and the piano roll information. His input was invaluable for this account of Johson's life. He was helped by Susan Berry of the Silver City Museum in Silver City, New Mexico. Some additional bits of information came from researcher and author Trebor Tichenor. The remaining core of information was from the author's own research in music archives, newspapers and public records.
One of the lesser-regarded composers of the ragtime era by some historians, Joe Jordan may not have had the later prominence of Scott Joplin or Eubie Blake, but he still had the influence of them, and during his lifetime was certainly more successful in many regards than Joplin. In fact, some have equated Jordan's musical life as the one that Joplin should have had but was not able to achieve. While some of his efforts were actually made famous by other performers, he still needs to be regarded as both musician and entrepreneur, having lived a long and adventurous life full of notable milestones.
Born in Cincinnati, Ohio in 1882 to Zachariah Taylor Jordan and Josephine Jordan, Joseph was somewhat of a prodigy. He had one older sister, Clementine (6/1875). Zachariah (listed as Taylor in the 1880 Census) had been working as a cook for some time when his son was born. Joseph was surrounded by music at an early age as Cincinnati was full of bands, orchestras and choirs sponsored by all manners of organizations. In spite of considerable efforts by an early teacher, Joe seemed unable to pick up the ability to read music, learning primarily by rote but doing so with great facility. Around the mid-1890s the family moved to St. Louis where Joseph wandered around the town, perhaps listening to the earliest performances of ragtime performed by Tom Turpin or his contemporary Louis Chauvin.
In his teens he found his way to Jefferson City, the capitol of Missouri, to study music at the Lincoln Institute (current day Lincoln University). His minimal skills included some theory, harmony, composition, and possibly notation; but shining most in performance on both piano and violin. It appears that Joe may have also taken some time in 1899 to travel with a small band. It is more than likely the same Joe Jordan that is mentioned in a September 30, 1899 article in The Freeman:
Notes from A.G. Allen's New Orleans Minstrels: "We are still en route South and gathering in all the money. The Palmers, Ruby and Dan, have added new songs to their already hot act, the 'Black Eighth Regiment,' written by Mr. Palmer for his act is a hit nightly. Joe Jordan, leader of our orchestra is recovering from an attack of malaria fever. Moses Terry, our chef, sends regards to James Crosby. Grane, Hopkins, Isler, sends regards to all Cyclones and friends. The ghost still walks every Monday after dinner.
Joe's home in 1900, after he had completed his education, was supposedly St. Louis. The 1900 Census taken on June 5 shows him with his family in St. Louis. Zachariah was running his own restaurant at that time. Joe was listed as a musician with a birth year of 1880. That he does not show up in the 1880 Census with the family negates that as a potential possibility. Surprisingly, in the same Census taken three days later in Chicago on June 8th where he lists himself as a musician, this time questionably claiming to be 19. He was either there to perform or for a visit, as his home base was still St. Louis.
From 1900 to 1904, Joe spent a lot of time in St. Louis, now learning even more from the Turpin, a considerable force of nature, and performing regularly with Chauvin and Sam Patterson, and possibly Charles Thompson at times. Jordan, Chauvin, Patterson and Turpin formed a quartet that played everything from the St. Louis clubs to church socials, and anywhere that two to four pianos could be found. He also played violin and sometimes percussion with the ten-piece Taborin Band. Jordan was tall at nearly 6' and handsome, so he certainly had little trouble finding places to perform, from the brothels to the popular black entertainment venues.
In 1902 the youth is supposed to have made his first trip to New York City where he met and collaborated with "coon song" composer Ernest Hogan, who sometimes billed himself as the "unbleached American." The story is that Joe allegedly contributed to the score of Hogan's newest stage play, Rufus Rastus. It was Hogan's attempt to boost his name further following his success in Will Marion Cook's Clorindy a few years earlier. However, Joe's reported role in this in 1902 is doubtful, as the play did not open on the road until 1906. It is more likely that the single song of his in the production, Oh Say, Wouldn't It Be A Dream composed to lyrics by Earle C. Jones, was interpolated into the traveling version of the production during rehearsals in late 1905. Rufus Rastus lasted only eight performances on Broadway.
Once back in St. Louis Jordan, Patterson and Chauvin wrote an ambitious musical titled Dandy Coon in 1903, and they attempted to stage it in St. Louis and take it on the road. Featuring a cast of thirty and a "beautiful octoroon chorus," the show folded on the road in Des Moines, Iowa after just a few performances. Only scant remnants of the production remain. At this point Jordan departed for Chicago to seek out work.
Joe's efforts were validated when he got a job at the Pekin Beer Garden in Chicago at the corner of 27th and State Street. In mid 1904 Jordan briefly left that post to return to St. Louis where he reportedly played at the Louis and Clark Exposition on the pike at the Faust Restaurant. By late in the year Jordan was back in Chicago, where he would be theoretically based for at least the next three decades. His prowess at orchestral arrangements and music direction quickly found him hired by Robert T. Motts who owned the beer garden which had morphed into the influential and highly regarded Pekin Theater, one of the earliest African-American owned enterprises of its type in the United States. The Pekin Rag was written for the venue. During his tenure there, Jordan performed and composed many works for the productions staged by the Pekin Theater Stock Company, and gained the attention of black performers and writers in New York as well.
While still primarily based in Chicago, Joe made frequent trips to New York and collaborated with many of the notable writers there, including Will Cook who had followed Clorindy with the first truly successful black musical on early Broadway, In Dahomey. In 1905 Hogan asked him back there for another bold collaboration with rising star James Reese Europe, resulting in The Memphis Students, a group comprised of seventeen singers, dancers and musicians. This troupe was successful in both the United States and on a subsequent European tour (Jordan did not participate) Ford Dabney also became involved with the group, and their success eventually led to great opportunity for black musicians in New York City, encouraging many of them to form the famous Clef Club in 1910.
Back in Chicago by 1906, Jordan now graduated to the post of Musical Director for the Pekin. He briefly returned to New York again in 1907 to collaborate on his first major Broadway work with composer James T. Brymn and lyricists Aubrey Lyles and Flournoy Miller. Their production of The Husband which opened in August 1907 ran for only 8 performances, not the last time that Jordan would see such a disappointing end to his efforts.
Back in Chicago Joe went headlong into his work at the Pekin. While he turned out a number of good rag compositions during the next few years, such as his J.J.J. Rag and his famous That Teasin' Rag which would also be made into a song, Jordan also contributed waltzes, comic songs, and notable stage pieces into the musical world. One of these would secure his fame as well as its performer's launch.
Disregarding the myth perpetuated in the stage play/movie Funny Girl, comedienne Fannie Brice did not audition with Second Hand Rose (eleven years before it was composed!) and did not debut as a pregnant chorus girl. It was Jordan's newest song composed with Cook, Lovie Joe, that gave Fannie her first great success on the stage of the New Amsterdam Theater for the 1910 Ziegfeld Follies. Jelly Roll Morton claims that the title refers to a great lover (perhaps even implicating himself). Other sources claim he was a real person who owned a New York saloon in the years before the song debuted. Brice evidently worked very hard on rehearsals of the piece, but Florenz Ziegfeld's stage manager, Abe Erlanger, thought it to be a trifle, and Brice's blackface interpretation as even worse. She angrily retorted that she knew much more about negro dialects than he did as she lived on 128th Street which bordered Harlem. Both she and the song were quickly dropped from the Follies, but Ziegfeld insisted they both return over Erlanger's objections. It was launched on the road in Atlantic City with Brice in blackface, but wearing a very tight dress over her large figure instead of the one Ziegfeld had consigned for her. After a performance comprised of uncomfortable wiggling but stupendous singing, she pulled up the skirt, knocked her knees together, then ran off stage with a look of horror. The result was tumultuous applause and eight curtain calls. Jordan was outside the theater as blacks were not allowed in, but was so moved that he reportedly wept at the piece's reception. Once backstage, Erlanger conceded the moment by showing her his straw hat with a hole in it that he had broken while applauding her. Brice kept that hat as a poignant souvenir for the rest of her life.
Jordan obtained a passport in Hamburg in October 1910, having left on a tour in mid September. He is listed as a music composer and still a Chicago resident. Curiously the notation "Traveling in Russia" was also on the passport, but if he actually went there on this particular trip is hard to confirm. He spent many months abroad in Germany performing with King and Bailey's musical Chocolate Drops, and later in many of the music halls around the United Kingdom. By mid 1911 he was back in Chicago, staying at his post as the Pekin's musical director for at least two years with one more brief trip to England in the interim.
In June 1912, with business associate Tom Clark, Jordan opened The Mecca Buffet at 3334 State Street in Chicago.
It was reported that at some point in 1913 during a New York visit that Jordan played with both Charley Thompson and Eubie Blake for the first time, but not for the last. After involvement with other touring productions in 1914, his passport was renewed in 1915 for a trip to England and France, and perhaps Russia. Records indicate that this tour lasted form April of 1915 to May of 1916.
Once back from Europe, Joe parlayed his financial gain - some reports claim that he may have been approaching millionaire status - into an interesting enterprise - Real Estate. So it was in 1917 that he opened the three-story J. Jordan Building, an office building constructed with an investment of $220,000, at the corner of State Street and 36th in Chicago. It was in a predominantly black area of the city, but one that had some level of affluence just the same. The main entrance was topped by a name plaque with an elaborate lyre as an homage to the music which allowed him this indulgence. Black citizens were inspired by the effort, and many started in on enterprises of their own boosted by Jordan's success. Primarily an office building, Jordan never lived or worked there, and he didn't even own it for very long.
Jordan's 1918 draft card shows him not as a musician, but in the business of Real Estate and Safe Deposit. In an August 1, 1954, article in the Chicago Daily Tribune concerning the demolition of many south side buildings in the area of State and 35th, Abram Wilson who was known as Red Dick recalled the area at its peak, and Jordan's business in particular. "Not one place ever was closed. 'Nobody had a key in those days,' says Red Dick. But Negroes did discover that locks had to be placed on their valuables. And Joe Jordan, a well known band leader married to a Parisian woman, erected an office building and made a tidy profit renting safe deposit boxes." It also references his aforementioned wife named Nellie, who was a white French citizen. It is difficult to locate her in subsequent listings, but that is a part of Joe's continuing story as well.
It seems that Nellie somehow got Joe involved in an international smuggling scandal. An article in the Chicago Tribune of March 31, 1917, sheds a great deal of light on this first marriage and some of Jordan's travels at that time:
Note that in a follow-up article in late May that it was reported that all of the jewels were returned to Nellie without any apologies for the action.
Jordan, whom "black belt" authorities say is worth $250,000, said last night that the jewels were declared to customs inspectors in New York and that his wife was allowed to bring them in without duty as a British subject.
"I married Mrs. Jordan, whom I met in London in theatrical work, eighteen months ago [October 1915]," said Jordan. "We came to New York and the jewels were declared. Recently I had a chance to make a god real estate deal, and my wife consented to allow me to sell a $10,000 necklace. I took it to a loop jewelry firm and they notified the customs agents. They thought they had discovered an international smuggling plot and hurried to my safety vault. The cashier of the bank, John Hardle, called me up, and I came over and unlocked the vault. They took me to the federal building, questioned me, and let me go."
Mrs. Jordan's father, an East Indian merchant, now in New York, is a millionaire, according to those well acquainted with the Jordans. It is also said that Joe Jordan, the merchant's son-in-law, received $50,000 when he married the merchant's daughter. Jordan is now building a three story office building at Thirty-fifth and State streets.
...His father is the proprietor of a poolroom at 3232 South State street.
It was hard to keep Joe grounded in the business world for very long. In 1918 Jordan was lured back to New York by Cook to be not only the director of the New York Syncopated Orchestra but its financial manager as well. Spending time in both Chicago and New York for the next few years (1919 and 1920 passport issues show him still as a Chicago resident), Joe eventually moved to New York, selling his building to Louis B. Schmidt. (It would finally be torn down in 1986 in spite of valiant efforts to preserve it.) This allowed him more opportunities not just for stage performance, but to work on records as well. This put him near center stage at the beginning of the jazz era. In fact, he was actually heard ON the stage, just not as he had planned.
In 1917 the Original Dixieland Jass Band (later Jazz Band) fronted by trumpeter Nick LaRocca, clarinetist Larry Shields and pianist Henry Ragas started recording in New York. One of their first big hits was the Original Dixieland Jazz Band One Step which went by variously modified titles. "Original" was not entirely true, as the trio of the piece was also the verbatim trio of Jordan's That Teasin' Rag. Jordan heard this in 1918 and brought suit against LaRocca and the band, quickly winning a judgment that resulted in the records being recalled and subsequently labeled The Original Dixieland One Step: Introducing "That Teasin' Rag". The introducing part is obviously far from true, but it would make for a similar gag in 1937 when Benny Goodman released Sing Sing Sing (With a Swing): Introducing "Christopher Columbus". In any case, Jordan also received some financial compensation as well as composer credit, a deal which benefited him for many years.
At some point prior to 1920 Joe and Nellie were divorced, but the terms of any settlement were kept out of the press. Around 1920 he met his future and final wife, Illinois native Irene Hudlin. With Joe being on the move so much it is difficult to find him in the 1920 Census records, but other records such as his frequent passport renewals and newspaper mentions did help when tracing Jordan's private activities and whereabouts. Joe and Irene were married in 1922 and Lowell Henry Jordan was born the following year in Chicago and Marie Jordan would follow in 1924. However, the Jordans would soon be settled in Harlem, New York City, at one point living at 47 W. 127th Street.
The composer finally was heard on disc, as he recorded four sides in 1926 with a newly formed group called The Ten Sharps and Flats. Two were on the prestigious Columbia Records label, among the earliest electronic recordings by a black group, and two others were released under the lesser known Banner Records imprint. Joe released additional sides under other names as well. The group performed well into 1927, and were featured in the traveling company of the show Rarin' to Go playing interstitial jazz tunes and the intermission.
In 1928 pioneering stride pianist and composer James P. Johnson composed his answer to Sissle and Blake's show Shuffle Along, calling it Keep Shufflin'. He hired Jordan as conductor and perhaps arranger, leading a group that included Johnson, his protégé Fats Waller, Jabbo Smith and other prominent jazz musicians. After a successful run, Jordan took some of the band on tour as a new formation of The Ten Sharps and Flats. Back in New York just ahead of the start of the Great Depression, steady stage work was getting harder to find. However, Joe still had kept some of his investments outside the stock market so he would not lose it all when the financial structure finally collapsed.
Some of that capital was invested into a new show called Deep Harlem which opened in January 1929 at the Biltmore Theater. With a book by Salem Whitney and Homer Tutt, and lyrics by Tutt and veteran Henry Creamer, there was a lot of hope for this all black production. However it was pulled after only eight performances. During the year and into the early 1930s Jordan and his band were heard over the airwaves in New York from time to time, plus many appearances with him as an accompanist to an instrumentalist or singer.
In the 1930 Census the family is found living in Manhattan on West 112th Street, with Joe listed as a band musician. They also had one boarder living with them, a Manhattan elevator operator. Evidently eager to still have a go at Broadway he engaged in a new show, Brown Buddies, a "Musical Comedy in Sepia." The core of the music was composed with Millard Thomas, but it also featured tunes by his colleagues Shelton Brooks, Ned Reed, Porter Grainger, J.C. Johnson, J. Rosamund Johnson, George A. Little, Arthur Sizemore and Edward G. Nelson. Opening at the Liberty Theatre in October it ran a fairly solid 111 performances into January 1931. The show didn't hurt for star power either, with dancer Bill "Bojangles" Robinson and singers Ada Brown and Adelaide Hall commanding the stage.
In the summer of 1931 Joe was asked to help orchestrate some of the numbers for the somewhat depleted Ziegfeld Follies of that year. Things were tough for musicians and the American people in general over the next couple of years, but with the election of Franklin Delano Roosevelt in late 1932, opportunities for enterprising Americans were clearly around the corner, and Joe was most certainly one of them.
Starting in 1933 Jordan led the WPA-sponsored Federal Theater Project's Negro Unit Orchestra throughout the 1930s. In 1935 he assisted with orchestrations for the Broadway revue Smile at Me which lasted nearly a month at the Fulton Theatre. For one production in 1936 which included James P. Johnson, Asadata Dafora and Porter Grainger, the Negro Unit Orchestra provided music for a production of William Shakespeare's Macbeth as staged by a young Orson Welles.
A great triumph came in 1939 when Jordan at last performed in Carnegie Hall, leading a 75 piece symphony orchestra and 350 voice choir for the ASCAP Silver Jubilee Festival. He had finally joined ASCAP just in advance of the event. The group opened the week of celebration with Left Every Voice and Sing by Rosamond and H. Weldon Johnson. In November 1939 it was announced that Joe had been hired by the (W.C.) Handy Brothers' Music Company to work in the arranging department, and as a liaison with broadcasting and recording concerns. In the 1940 Census, taken in Manhattan, Joe, Irene, Lowell, Marie and Irene's mother were all living together, Joe listed simply as "musician."
After the Jubilee groups disbanded, Jordan once again found relevance and fulfilling work with many black Army bands and USO groups during World War II. He also did some benefits for the Red Cross. His 1942 Draft record shows him living at 188 W. 135th Street in Harlem, and employed by the Rubsam and Horrmann Brewery Company in Stapleton, Staten Island. Whether this was just a stop-gap job or if he was working as an investor or similar capacity is not clear. Part of the war was spent by Captain Joe Jordan posted at Fort Huachuca in Arizona to oversee the morale boosting needs of the Army's black soldiers. While there he organized bands and orchestra, wrote and arranged shows, staged dances, and formed a vocal group called the Deep River Boys. At one point racial tensions were running high on the base, and Jordan diffused them by distraction, starting a new show that involved everybody and kept them quite busy. He was forced to retire from his post in 1944 due to a proclamation from President Franklin Delano Roosevelt requiring personnel to step down at age 60, and he was 62 at the time. Still, he stayed on for another year in Arizona, and some copyrights and copyright renewals appear from that location in the 1945 Library of Congress records, including one written for the fort.
After the war was over Joe was still musically viable, but in the changing musical world of New York City, less relevant in many respects. So it was that in the late 1940s Jordan sought out change again, migrating to Tacoma Washington where he would spend the rest of his life. In 1955 he surfaced as a lounge attendant for the state senate in Olympia. A picture of him playing during a break was accompanied by a statement that, "Once bitter about the 'color barrier,' Joe now feels prejudice is waning because of 'something changing in people's hearts.' This was right on the cusp of the Civil Rights movement in the Southeast United States, so he was definitely in touch with the pending change.
Joe soon became involved with real estate once again in the late 1950s, and with great success, but he also continued to compose and publish songs. Among his final compositions was one crafted, perhaps commissioned, for the 100th anniversary of the founding of Tacoma. Historian Johnny Maddox also befriended Jordan during this period, and eventually came into a large number of his musical scores and private acetate recordings. The number of pieces he wrote varies, depending on source, from over 600 to perhaps 2000, most of them unpublished yet many of them still copyrighted with the Library of Congress.
Another emerging ragtime figure to seek out Jordan was Robert Darch, who after working diligently to mine Jordan for information on his life story made a bold effort to secure his place in ragtime history via a recording. In 1962, Bob arranged a Florida recording session for Joe along with his two long-ago friends from New York and St. Louis, Charley Thompson and Eubie Blake. The resulting session, one of the first of its kind in glorious stereo, was issued as a special broadcast set and edited down to the Golden Reunion in Ragtime record on the Stereoddities label. It was reportedly one of the most joyous occasions of his later life, as well as Thompson's, and some of his great history is revealed through anecdotes along with solo and group performances.
Jordan also found renewed fame with later editions of the pioneering book They All Played Ragtime by jazz historian Rudi Blesh and his friend Harriet Janis. In spite of all this, Joe stuck mostly to real estate and political involvement in Tacoma, performing only from time to time. Graduating from the position of senate lounge attendant, Jordan became the first black to serve in the Washington State Attorney General's office. His wife Irene passed on in the mid 1960s.
Since the early 1960s Joe had known Tacoma pianist Lois Delano with whom he had done some mentoring and writing. She, in turn, recorded an album of Joe Jordan's pieces, The Music of Joe Jordan (Arpeggio Records No. 1205), two years ahead of Joshua Rifkin's famous record of Joplin piano rags. According to the press concerning the album, "Miss Delano studied for several years with Jordan who was 86 when this recording was made in 1968. She draws on his work from 1902 to 1920, concentrating on his rags, but including some songs and instrumental compositions. Jordan had a pleasant melodic flair and Miss Delano gives his pieces a lively treatment. On most of the selections she uses a strong, positive attack that eventually produces a sense of sameness, but she gives an appropriately sensitive interpretation to the gently glimmering 'Whippoorwill Rag.'" Few copies of this rare disc are in circulation today, but it has been featured on St. Louis station KDHX.
There are three late events in his life that featured his playing. One was a 1970 concert with composer Shelton Brooks at the Wilshire Ebell Theater in Southern California arranged by historian Richard Zimmerman. Next was a Jazz and Ragtime Festival at the Nicholson Pavillion in Ellensburg, Washington on November 7, 1970, featuring Jordan, Eubie Blake, Bob Darch, guitarist John Lee Hooker, and the Ramsey Lewis Trio. Jordan's final performance was in Omaha, Nebraska on May 3, 1971 at Bill Bailey's Bar hosted by John and Janice Cleary.
Joe Jordan finally left us on September 11, 1971, survived by his son, daughter and five grandchildren. He left behind a great legacy of important musical contributions and positive racial advances in his wake. While Jordan is still not in the same category as Scott Joplin in terms of piano rags, he certainly achieved considerably more over a much broader range of disciplines, and should continue to be recognized for those achievements as a musician and a person, not just as a black citizen. And that remains as one of his finest crowning achievements.
Recognition should be given to young ragtime performer and historian Adam Swanson, who as a teenager had already compiled impressive amounts of musical data on many composers, and some of the most comprehensive song lists available for those composers, Jordan being but one of them. He was also assisted by the legendary Johnny Maddox who knew Jordan well. Thanks to both for their contributions to this biography. Other considerable research on Jordan's life which added to this entry was done by Rick Benjamin of the Paragon Ragtime Orchestra, who have collectively produced a great CD of Jordan's work.
Mel B. Kaufman (sometimes Kaufmann on sheet music covers) had one of the more unusual sidelines, or actually primary job, for a musician of his time - that of undergarment salesman. Born in New Jersey to a Canadian father, cigar wholesaler Jacob M. Kaufman, and a Louisiana born mother, Ida (Bernd) Kaufman, Mel was the oldest of six siblings, including Ferdman (12/1881), Jesse (12/1884), Arthur (12/1886), Elisa (4/1889) and Oscar (9/1891). He spent the first part of his life growing up in New Jersey before the family moved to Manhattan in the early 1890s.
Even at age 21, still living with the family, Mel was already apprenticing in the retail end of clothing for a local factory. His father was listed as a commercial traveling salesman, The clothing business must have been somewhat lucrative, as in 1910 before he started having his compositions published he is shown to share his Bronx residence with his wife May (Zenn) Kaufmann, also a musician, son Max Zenn Kaufmann, and brother-in-law and sister-in-law, in addition to a servant. At that time he was listed as selling kimonos on the road. His 1918 draft card also shows clothing as his primary occupation, although he now lived in Manhattan proper. According to the 1920 census he had not dropped out from his primary line of work - selling undergarments - a musician who kept his day job - but now only with his wife and son to care for.
There is a case to be made for Mister Kaufman's body of work. While he composed only one piece that could be termed an authentic rag, Muslin Rag, in a large body of his work he was able to capture the essence of the one-step, elements of ragtime, and even some novelty ideas, and simplify them to the point where the average pianist could catch on very quickly. The clever titles which begat simple covers also added to his marketability, at least in the 1910s, as he did not sell so well after that time. While not as full sounding as instrumentals by some of his peers, particularly in the left hand, Kaufman still allowed access to the joys of playing dance music to a lot of people who were being faced with increasingly difficult ragtime, and now jazz and novelty piano arrangements. He also actually composed into many of the themes represented in the titles and on the covers, such as the popular Me-Ow which yowled out for, and eventually got, lyrics. One of his more popular pieces, Stop It, has been a circus standard for decades.
Kaufman started out self-publishing his works and advertising them in trade papers. Some made it into print under the logo of established publishers, such ash Shapiro Music Publishing in New York who put out his first known piece, Big Ben. By 1918 he had been picked up by publisher Sam Fox in Cleveland, Ohio, and late in 1919 signed an exclusive agreement with that firm. It may have been due to that cat piece of his. On the unexpected hit status of Me-Ow, there was some buzz on that as printed in The Music Trade Review of February 22, 1919: "Sam Fox, of the Sam Fox Pub. Co., who has been spending the last two weeks in New York, in a recent talk with The Review stated that the success of "Me-ow," one of the featured instrumental one-steps from his catalog, was an accident. Now everyone in the trade is familiar with accidental hits, but once a number is a success there are few publishers who will admit that the merit of the piece was not clearly foreseen before its publication. Mel Kaufman is the composer of the number and its almost instantaneous popularity is due to a great extent to the novelty of the melody. The orchestras take particularly to it and as a dance number it is much in demand."
Similar praise was accorded to Stop It in the July 31, 1920 edition of The Music Trade Review: "Mel B. Kaufman, the well-known composer and writer of popular songs, whose work has recently been made conspicuous by his 'Me-ow' and 'Taxi,' which were among the biggest of the past season's popular numbers, has just written a new musical novelty. His latest number, which is a song and one-step, is entitled 'Stop It,' which is said to be one of the cleverest things he has ever written. The words of the song are by Harry D. Kerr, who has been responsible for the lyrics of many other numbers in the Fox catalog. It is being published by the Sam Fox Publishing Co., Cleveland, O. Although 'Stop It' is quite new, it has already been hailed as a big favorite by professional musicians, particularly the orchestras, and by not a few singers... It promises to be one of the favorites of the Fall season."
There is one confusing case concerning a piece that was likely Mel's, but only through a sideways attribution. Joseph C. Smith's Orchestra recorded a piece titled Who Did It on 25 June, 1919. In the Victor ledger there is a note that "Kaufman's name is not to appear as composer." Other mentions make it clear this is Mel Kaufman, so this may have been a ghost-written work for Smith's group, accompanied by a payoff in order to give Smith credit, not an uncommon practice around this time. The recorded piece certainly resembles similar works by Kaufman from that time, so is likely his only unattributed composition.
May Kaufman showed up often in the 1920s as an accompanist or performer in New York City and as far off as Albany. She also was heard on early radio broadcasts starting in 1922. Whether she worked with Mel directly in public remains somewhat of a mystery, however as he often sang in public it is a possibility. May was often introduced as "Mrs. Mel Kaufman, accompanist, wife of the great composer." In 1921 or so, Kaufman's exclusive contract with Fox either ended or was broken, as his works appeared under the monikers of some New York publishers.
There is a dearth of compositions from mid 1921 through 1924, which might be explained in part by a letter written by Kaufman and published in the Christian Science Monitor of September 3, 1927. In this article, which was obtained by musician and historian Andrew Greene, Mel indicates that he had been suffering from maladies of the heart and gall bladder, and had also been a long time addict of cigarettes and gambling. These problems had kept him largely bedridden for several months prior to July of 1922. As doctors seemed to be making no headway concerning the gall bladder and chronic tonsilitis, among other ailments, he turned to the Christian Science Church for faith healing. As relayed by Kaufman in the letter:
By March, 1923, I was healed of the smoking habit and of gambling, which were an obsession with me for thirty years; chronic tonsillitis, colds, and headaches were also healed.
Through an incorrect application of Christian Science a sense of separation occurred between myself and my wife in June, 1923, but by careful examination of my own thought, looking within myself for the trouble, and by refusing to accept material sense testimony as real, this situation was healed in January, 1925. The moral and spiritual uplift is most wonderful, and I rejoice to know a little of this truth.
As a contributing member of ASCAP, which he joined in in 1924, one could imagine that Kafuman might have given up garment sales for composing and/or arranging, but that fact can't be established for certain. There was a surge of works in 1929 that indicate either he may have tried going into music full time after retirement, or perhaps just submitted a number of pieces that had been sitting around for a while, possibly composed during his earlier medical trials. Few of these saw more than minimal circulation, particularly in relation to his late 1910s hits.
Kaufman died relatively young at 53 of causes potentially related to his heart and gall bladder. He was survived by his wife May, son, siblings and father. A rather substantial quantity of his songs lead sheets, one steps and a few orchestrations were copyrighted by May in 1934, with some in 1935 and 1941. A couple of his works were even published posthumously. Many more probably did not make it that far, so we may never know the full extent of his musical talent. Nearly a century after his initial pieces started making the rounds, Greene and his Maryland-based Peacherine Orchestra are featuring them in concert with original and new orchestrations, and Stop It remains in the repertoire of circus bands everywhere.
Thanks to Andrew Greene of the Peacherine Ragtime Orchestra for locating and confirming dates of a few of the pieces listed here. He also managed to obtain a copy of Kaufman's testimonial from the Christian Science Monitor of September 3, 1927.
Frank C. Keithley represents one of those frustrating cases in ragtime where somebody with a clear inherent musical talent suddenly disappears from view, whether from a change of fortune or attitude. He left behind only a few rags and a few clues. Frank was born in the frontier town of Madison, Iowa to farmer James Montgomery Keithley and his wife Florence A. (French) Keithley. He was the oldest of three boys including brothers Fred F. Keithley (1879) and James G. Keithley (1882). No direct relationship was found with the well known Kentucky composer E. Clinton Keithley.
Information on Keithley was derived from public records, periodicals, newspapers and other scattered sources, as very little was available in traditional texts. As always, if anybody has additional useful information on Keithley, please let us know so it can credited and be included.
Edward Harry Kelly was born right into the ragtime environment, literally, above the family-owned saloon in the Mechanic's Hotel at 1300 West 9th Street near Union Depot in Kansas City, Missouri in 1879 to Irish immigrants Edward and Frances Kelly. In the 1880 Census, the senior Kelly is listed as a hotel keeper, having bought the Mechanic's Hotel several years prior. His brother James and sister Mary also lived with them and worked as hotel staff. Harry (who curiously is shown as E. Henry in the 1880 Census) was the oldest in the family of two boys and two girls, including Mae E. (9/1880), Frances C. (4/1884) and Joseph A. (11/1889). Two other siblings had died in infancy. Edward was given the requisite piano lessons (usually reserved for non-farm family school children) early on, as well as standard music training in the public schools. When he was 11, the Kelly family moved out of the hotel and into a home at 14th and Park in Kansas City.
Some of the elements of Harry Kelly's life were obtained from the Kansas City Public Library which has some of his papers and other history, and the Kansas City Historical Society. The remaining information was researched by the author from public records, period texts and sheet music.
Edwin F. Kendall represents another case of a working musician/composer who had some moderate success, yet very little is known about him. There are still questions on his history and perhaps some more information to be discovered. This is what the author has uncovered as of 2009. Kendall was born in or near New York City to Martin and Rose Kendall, both immigrants from England. The most probable birth period for him is the first quarter of 1870 as he shows as 10 years old in June of 1880, 40 in April of 1910 and 49 in January of 1920. (Curiously, no date was listed in the usually accurate 1900 Census.) In the 1880 Census Edwin is shown as attending school, but also working in some capacity, although the occupation written down is difficult to discern.
Thanks go to roll collector and historian Robert Perry for information on Kendall's Connorized rolls.
There are instances where a ragtime composer is known largely for one piece, even if they composed a few others. In these cases, particularly when they lived apart from publishing centers or places where demographic records were not always properly kept, it becomes a frustrating journey to locate information of any substance on that composer, especially when they warrant a better accounting of their life. Still, it is sometimes worth the frustrating journey just to flesh them out. In this case, through the efforts of this author and the subject's great grandson Vann Chapman, at least some semblance of a biography has been assembled that gives a view into the life of such a composer.
Lloyd Kidwell was born to Albert Kidwell and Matilda "Tillie" A. Kidwell in Covington, Kentucky, just across the Ohio River from Cincinnati, Ohio. Albert was listed as a motorman in city directories, with the family living downtown first at 721 Main, then 607 Main by the mid 1890s. By the time of the 1900 Census, Lloyd had a younger brother and sister, Raymond (7/1891) and Doris (8/1898). Albert was by then working as a motorman, perhaps an engineer, for what appears to be the SF RR (not likely the Santa Fe, however). The level of musical training that Lloyd received is not known. Some may have been from the public schools, but whether there was any training in harmony or theory is uncertain. Ultimately it was known that he played piano, accordion and trumpet.
On August 6, 1908 Lloyd, then 19, was married to Charlotte "Lottie" Jacobs, daughter of James M. and Lizzie Jacobs, who was only 16. Their marriage is not listed in Kentucky, where consent for marriage of a minor was required, so there is a possibility of an elopement in Ohio, which would explain the lack of records, although this cannot be confirmed. Lloyd was working as a pianist by this time, likely for vaudeville theaters in Covington and Cincinnati. In the 1910 Census the couple is listed in Covington at 54 Russel Avenue with Lloyd as a theater musician.
In 1906 Lloyd had teamed up with fellow teenager Roy Steventon to compose The Powder Rag which they self-published in Cincinnati. However, in 1908 Charles L. Johnson released his own Powder Rag which given Johnson's stature saw much wider circulation than that of the youths. Finally, in 1911 they retooled and retitled the piece as Red Onion Rag. This is the first known piece of this title, with ironically another Red Onion Rag released the following year by composer Abe Olman. There is no known connection with the famous Red Onion Saloon in Skagway, Alaska, and it was more likely a nod to the current vogue of food-named pieces. Published in Cincinnati by Associated Music Publishers, this edition of the piece saw fairly good circulation for a number of years, and found its way to a few piano roll renditions, but was often confused with the more popular Olman work. Another piece from around that time, This Old Town, was his first with lyricist Haven Gillespie, but a surviving copy of this was difficult to locate. Gillespie would eventually co-write many songs with others, including Santa Claus is Coming to Town with J. Fred Coots in 1934.
The Kidwell's daughter Dorothy was born in 1911. Lloyd would release a couple more pieces over the next two years, including his only other syncopated instrumental, Hustling Rag composed with Steventon, which was also recorded on a piano roll. In 1914 he wrote three songs with Gillespie, then his published output suddenly ceased. This may have been due to the amount of work he was engaged in as a musician, as he started traveling the country with vaudeville troupes in 1916 or 1917. One of those was reportedly the curiously named Pansy Entertainers, which included some black-face routines, and in which Lloyd played the trumpet. Virtually nothing exists on them today. On his 1917 draft record, he and the family were living at 828 Stolman in Covington. Lloyd was described as medium height and stout with bad eyes and a weak heart, exempting him from service. He was working for a Cincinnati opera house, most likely a vaudeville theater. The Kidwells welcomed son Lloyd Wesley into the world in 1918. As of the 1920 Census they were living at 16 W. 12th Street, and Lloyd was still listed as a theater musician.
Another composition of Lloyd's, the aforementioned Japanese Lullaby, appeared in 1923, although it was not located in published form. That same year, he opened a store at what was also apparently his home address, 1912 Madison Avenue, in Covington. As noted in the trade magazine Presto on October 27, 1923: "Lloyd Kidwell, pianist and composer, recently opened a sheet music store on Madison Avenue, Covington, Ky. Mr. Kidwell is well-known to the public, as he has toured the country in vaudeville. As a composer, he has scored a big success with his new song, 'Japanese Lullaby.' " The song was also recorded on a Gennett disc by Justin Huber's Hotel Gibson Dance Orchestra, for which Lloyd was the pianist, on March 26, 1923.
During his tenure with the music store Kidwell wrote a number of other compositions which remained unpublished and uncopyrighted to his death. Four of them were committed to demo recordings done by Fidelity Records in Cincinnati, likely in 1923, and sung by Colorado born amateur singer John Grefer. Given the locale and that all four pieces were Kidwell's, he was likely the accompanist as well. Fidelity was possible a Wurlitzer enterprise, as they were located in the Wurlitzer building at 121 E. Fourth Street. Following the mid 1920s some of the trail on Kidwell grows cold, but there are a few snapshots of his later life.
The music store does not appear in city directories following 1923, so it was likely a short-lived enterprise. One final published composition, a light novelty titled Tickle 'Em, appeared in 1928 in Cincinnati from the Leffingwell Music Studio. Lloyd continued to play with various orchestras and traveling groups throughout the 1920s into the 1930s. In the early 1930s Lloyd had relocated for a time to the long-established Arlington Hotel in Hot Springs, Arkansas, reportedly a favorite destination of gangster Al Capone. While there Kidwell played with Paolo Grosso and His Orchestra,
Possibly due to travel, Lloyd cannot be located in Covington directories of the 1930s, nor does he register in the 1930 Census. The Kidwell's daughter Dorothy moved to the area of Manchester, Georgia, possibly in the late 1920s, and was married to Everett Montgomery soon after. Wesley was found to be on his own at age 19, residing with various people in Covington from 1937 to 1942, and living in the Suburban Federal Savings and Loan Building during the war. He later moved to Orlando Florida.
In the late 1930s Kidwell settled back down in Covington for a while. According to his obituary he became involved in civic affairs, and directed the first "playground orchestra" comprised of Covington youth. He was the chairman of the organization and steering committees of the Order of Covington Eagles, a local civic group, and became district director of the order as well. In the 1940 Census he was found still in Covington, with Charlotte, listed as an automobile salesman. Times were tough, as Charlotte was working as a waitress. Charlotte died, most likely in the early 1940s but the year is uncertain, during a visit to her daughter in Georgia, leaving Lloyd a widow. He eventually was remarried to Nora Kidwell.
Lloyd ran unsuccessfully for Covington city commissioner in 1943. The next that is heard of him is his death at his daughter's home in Manchester, Georgia, which as implied by his obituary is where he spent his final few years. It appears that his second wife, Nora, survived him by over two decades, dying in Cincinnati in February 1978. To this day the Red Onion Saloon in the gold rush town of Skagway, Alaska, enjoys ragtime performances of either version of their namesake rag, of which Lloyd's composition the author had the privilege of performing there in September 2009 just prior to compiling this biography.
Many of the elements of Lloyd Kidwell's life and the photographs were provided by great grandson Vann Chapman through family artifacts and remembrances. Also to collector Jeremy Stevenson who located Tickle 'Em, and Andrew Barrett who identified Lloyds rolls with the assistance of Mike Montgomery. The remainder was researched and/or confirmed by the author through public records, periodicals, publisher records and similar sources.
Frank Henri Klickmann spent much of the early part of his life where he originated, in Chicago, Illinois. Born to a German immigrant Rudolph Klickmann (frequently misspelled as Klickman) and his Illinois native wife Carolina (Laufer) Klickmann, he was the second of five children, including Emily (12/1881), Ida (6/1887), Robert (12/1890) and Florence (7/1899). Music was an important part of their family. His older sister Emily was listed as a Music Teacher at age 19, when Frank was still an errand boy at 15, yet he was playing and studying music at that time.
The McKinley Music Co., of Chicago, Ill., has taken quick advantage of the present international situation by publishing a new song by Caspar Nathan, music by Henri Klickman, entitled "Uncle Sam Won't Go to War." The new song has made quite an impression on the profession, many prominent singers having made arrangements to use it. The chorus, reproduced herewith, illustrates the real character of the piece:
Uncle Sam won't go to war,
That's not what the U. S. got united for;
Let all Europe fight, if they must,
But the Yankee motto is "In God we trust."
When war clouds roll by once more,
Things will he the same as before;
Our country's always free, No matter what may be -
Uncle Sam won't go to war.
It did not matter that the thrust of the song would prove to be incorrect in two years, as many in the country held that same anti-war stance even as "The Great War" was being won with American help. Klicmann's notable ragtime output in the mid 1910s included his High Yellow Cakewalk during a brief revival of that dance in 1915, and Smiles and Chuckles, a good seller in 1917.
The difficulties of working on the road, or even at home, and continuing to supply material for Biese's orchestra finally overcame Henri. In May 1917 it was announced in the trades that: "F. Henri Klickmann, the composer-arranger, has severed connections wit the Paul Biese orchestra in order to devote all of his time to arranging. He is making his headquarters with the McKinley Music Commpany." Henri had already worked for them for many years, but was now able to commit to a more stable contracting situation.
An article in The Music Trade Review of November 30, 1918, outlined an example of how a hit song, this one involving Klickmann, was made, and it was not too far off the mark from a historical perspective of Tin Pan Alley production:
It is decidedly interesting once in a while to discover just how and why a good thing is done. The revealing of the genesis of a good idea is always worth while. Out of the mire and mush of the popular music it is