After the Ball / words and music by Charles K. Harris (1892)
After Charles K. Harris received only 85¢ from a New York publisher for one of his songs, he vowed to set up his own company to publish the next one.
Harris did not know how to read and write musical notation. He had to pay someone $10 to write out each arrangement. The next song, as it turned out, was "After the Ball," based on a lovers' quarrel he had witnessed.
Harris enlisted a popular singer to introduce the song. John Philip Sousa heard it and liked it. His band had a six-week engagement at the World's Columbian Exposition (Chicago, 1893) and performed "After the Ball" every day. It became extremely popular as fair-goers bought sheet music and took it back home with them.
"After the Ball" became the first song in history to sell a million copies. Eventually it sold 5 million copies. Harris never wrote such a big hit again, but his publishing business was successful enough to persuade several other songwriters to open their own publishing companies. They all set up shop in a single New York neighborhood, which soon became known as Tin Pan Alley. After that, the music industry was never the same.
Ah! Sweet Mystery of Life / Victor Herbert, words by Rida Johnson Young (1910)
Born in Ireland and raised and educated in Germany, Victor Herbert became one of the most prominent American musicians of his generation. When his wife was offered a contract with the Metropolitan Opera Company in New York (1886), she stipulated that he be hired to play in the orchestra.
Herbert eventually became a leading exponent of American operetta. One of his finest creations, Naughty Marietta, concludes with the hit song "Ah! Sweet Mystery of Life."
In 1935, Naughty Marietta became a movie starring Nelson Eddy and Jeanette MacDonald. Their rendition of "Ah! Sweet Mystery of Life" remains the best known of more than a dozen recordings. Later, the song gave period color to the movie Thoroughly Modern Millie and became a bawdy recurring gag in Young Frankenstein.
The Band Played On / Charles B. Ward, words byJohn F. Palmer (1895)
London-born Charles B. Ward never became well known enough to attract the attention of online biographers, but his hit song "The Band Played On" became so immediately popular that it was recorded (by Dan W. Quinn) the same year it was first published. Besides numerous other recordings over the span of more than half a century, the song is heard in numerous films.
The chorus, which begins "Casey would waltz with a strawberry blond," is a well-known lilting waltz. The less well-known verses, which tell the story of Matt Casey's social club, are in march tempo, as befitting the grand march that began each night's session of dancing.
Beautiful Ohio / by Mary Earl, words by Ballard MacDonald (1918)
According to the cover Mary Earl composed the music, but Mary Earl was actually a pseudonym used by Robert A. "Bobo" King, who was born Robert Keiser. He used all three names for many songs each, and it might be impossible to compile a complete list of his music. By 1918 he was under contract to the firm of Shapiro-Bernstein to write four songs a month. His other hits include "Toot Toot Tootsie" (also as Mary Earl) and "I Scream, You Scream, We All Scream for Ice Cream."
The story of "Beautiful Ohio" may have the most curious story of all the songs on this album. Ballard MacDonald, a Tin Pan Alley lyricist, wrote a fairly standard love song, named "Beautiful Ohio" because the lovers drifted down the Ohio River in a canoe. MacDonald's other hits include "Second Hand Rose."
In 1969, the Ohio legislature designated "Beautiful Ohio" as the official state song, but twenty years later, Wilbert B. McBride wrote new lyrics. MacDonald's had only incidentally referred to the Ohio River. McBride's words omit the lovers and describe the state as a whole. It is his version that is now recognized as the official state song.
Come Josephine in My Flying Machine / Fred Fisher, words by Alfred Bryan (1911)
German-born Fred Fischer came to the US in 1900, started writing songs, and eventually founded his own publishing house. He dropped the "c" from his name during the First World War because German names carried a stigma. His best known song by far is "Chicago, That Toddlin' Town." His music shows well-developed comic gifts and the ability to match lyrics with quirky rhythms.
Song writers of the Tin Pan Alley era turned to anything that captured the popular imagination in seeking hit songs. In the decade after the Wright Brothers' historic flight, airplanes certainly qualified. "Come Josephine in My Flying Machine" is by no means the only airplane song of the time, but it was a huge hit. A young man offers a flight in his airplane to woo his young lady.
"Come Josephine in My Flying Machine" soon became a standard. Many artists have recorded it in both instrumental and vocal versions. Several movies have featured it, including It Happened One Night (1934) and Titanic (1997).
The Dying Californian / A. L. Lee, words adapted from the o poem by Kate Harris] (1854)
Kate Harris of Passcoag, Rhode Island, wrote a poem "Suggested on hearing read an extract of a letter from Captain Chase, containing the dying words of Brown Owen, who recently died on his passage to [Gold Rush] California." It was published in a periodical called The New England Diadem and Rhode Island Temperance Pledge, February 9, 1850.
The Flying Trapeze / Gaston Lyle, words by George Leybourne (1867)
The American sheet music industry throughout most of the 19th century was modeled on the British sheet music industry. Many songs popular in England also became popular here.
"The Flying Trapeze," also known as "The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze," is one such import, published by C. H. Ditson in New York. The daring young man was a pioneering French trapeze artist named Jules Léotard, who also designed the one-piece garment known by his name.
George Leybourne was a popular music hall singer in London. Gaston Lyle, a very obscure songwriter, was probably also English. We have not located an English publication, but Léotard's international fame insured Ditson of at least local sales. The song became quite popular on vaudeville and retained its popularity among singers and recording artists for nearly a century.
Home Sweet Home / words by John Howard Payne, music adapted by Henry R. Bishop, from a "Sicilian Air" (1823)
"Home, Sweet Home" was probably the single most popular song of the entire 19th century, both in the United States and in England. Its success may owe more to the American poet who wrote the words than to the English composer of the tune.
John Howard Payne, the first American actor to try his hand at the British stage, wrote "Home, Sweet Home" when he was feeling the pain of separation from his homeland. The poem tapped into a universally understood pain of separation and loss that almost anyone could relate to.
Payne also wrote the text for an "opera" called Clari, or the Maid of Milan and decided to include "Home, Sweet Home." Henry Bishop, the most famous English musician of his time, provided the music. For "Home, Sweet Home," he used a "Sicilian Air" from a collection of National Songs he had edited two years earlier. Bishop wrote hundreds of songs before and after "Home, Sweet Home." All the others were well received for a while, but quickly forgotten.
I Love You Truly / Carrie Jacobs-Bond (1901)
See "Just Awearyin' for You."
Just Awearyin' For You / words and music by Carrie Jacobs-Bond (1901)
Young Carrie Jacobs could pick out tunes on the piano at age four and play one of Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsodies by ear when she was nine. Her second husband, Dr. Frank Lewis Bond, encouraged her to develop her musical gifts, and even allowed her to publish some of her songs when he lost his job—a most unusual concession for the time.
Dr. Bond hit his head in a fall and died in 1894. His widow, nearly crippled with rheumatoid arthritis, had to move into a smaller house and rent out rooms to support herself and her young son. Eventually she had to sell nearly all of her possessions except her piano.
Her fortune turned when a neighbor asked her to receive some callers until she returned home. They happened to be professional musicians, who noticed her song "I Love You Truly" on the piano, played it, liked it, and promised to help her sell her songs. Another singer urged her to publish a set. In 1901, Carrie Jacobs-Bond issued Seven Songs as Unpretentious as the Wild Rose. "Just Awearyin' for You" was another of that set. She also drew the artwork for the cover.
These seven songs became the backbone of her own publishing company, the first music publishing company owned by a woman. The set was successful enough, but two of them greatly outshone the rest. Jacobs-Bond issued "Just Awearyin' for You" and "I Love You Truly" as separate songs. Both of them remained popular long enough to join the repertoire of Sing Along with Mitch in the 1960s.
The Last Rose of Summer/Traditional, words by Thomas Moore (1805)
Thomas Moore, an Irish poet and friend of Shelley and Byron, wrote the poem "'Tis the Last Rose of Summer " in 1805. In collaboration with Sir John Stevenson, he issued eight volumes of Moore's Irish Melodies, beginning in 1808. After Stevenson died, Moore issued two more volumes with the help of Sir Henry Rowley Bishop in 1834. Moore and Stevenson found traditional Irish melodies and adapted them to Moore's poetry. Stevenson provided "symphonies and accompaniments. "'Tis the Last Rose of Summer" appeared in Vol. 5 to the tune of "The Groves of Blarney"
'Tis the last rose of summer,
Left blooming alone;
All her lovely companions
Are faded and gone;
No flower of her kindred,
No rosebud is nigh,
To reflect back her blushes,
Or give sigh for sigh.
The set became an international sensation, and its influence on American music is incalculable. "'Tis the Last Rose of Summer" appears to have sold a million and a half copies in the US alone over the course of the 19th century. Beethoven and Mendelssohn both used it, Beethoven for a set of variations and Mendelssohn for a fantasia. Friedrich von Flotow interpolated it into his opera Martha (Vienna, 1847). Some 19th century sheet music even identifies him as the composer!
Let Me Call You Sweetheart / Leo Friedman, words by Beth Slater Whitson (1910)
The partnership of Leo Friedman and Beth Slater Whitson produced numerous hits. Friedman studied composition both in Chicago, where he lived and worked most of his life, and Berlin. Whitson lived in Tennessee her entire life; her short stories and poems appeared in many leading national magazines.
One of their earlier collaborations, Let Me Call You Sweetheart, remains especially popular. Probably everyone reading this note can sing the chorus without trouble. As is often the case, however, the verse has long since been forgotten.
The Peerless Quartet made the first recording of Let Me Call You Sweetheart in 1910. It has remained popular with barbershop quartets ever since. It has also been sung and recorded by many important singers, including Bing Crosby, Bette Midler, and Neil Young.
Long Time Ago /Charles Horn, words by George Morris (1839)
"Long Time Ago" is a setting by Charles E. Horn of a poem by George Pope Morris. Morris, editor of several important American poetry journals, published early works by William Cullen Bryant and Edgar Allen Poe among others, as well as his own. A variant of the song has also been published under the title, "Near the Lake Where Drooped The Willow".
Horn, a singer and composer who divided his time between New York and London, fitted Morris' poem to a slave melody and provided "symphonies" (instrumental interludes). Several publishers issued the song, some adding the subtitle "A Southern Refrain."
Describing an early performance, Morris noted, "They who have heard the exquisite manner in which Miss Horton renders Mr Horn's adaption of this plaintive and touching air, scarcely recognise a far-famed negro melody with which the hills, valleys and streams of the West have been vocal these many years."
Love's Old Sweet Song / James L. Molloy, words by G. Clifton Bingham (1884)
Graham Clifton Bingham (1859-1913) was a professional lyricist from Bristol, England who penned the words to "Love's Old Sweet Song" in 1882. Bingham was the son of a bookseller and he wrote stories, children's books, and lyrics to over 1600 songs. He claimed to have written "Love's Old Sweet Song" at four in the morning, and composers immediately fought for the right to use them. Molloy won by telegraphing his request.
James Lyman Molloy (1837-1909) was born in Cornalour, Rahan, Ireland to a wealthy family. He studied in Dublin, Paris and Bonn, but spent most of his life in England. Although he was called to the bar in 1872, he was never a practicing attorney. At the time of his death, it was written that every British home which had a piano had a copy of "Love's Old Sweet Song." The song was said to have the "right combination of melody and sentiment" and was easy enough to become a general favorite. "Love's Old Sweet Song" was very popular in the 1890s.
A Perfect Day / Carrie Jacobs-Bond (1910)
Although the other two songs recorded here are now better known, "A Perfect Day" was Carrie Jacob-Bond's biggest hit. She hastily wrote the words as a thank you poem for friends on a trip to California (while at the The Mission Inn, in Riverside), read it to them at supper, put the paper in her purse, and forgot about them. When she found them three months later, she started singing a new tune to them. One of the friends asked her if she had a new song, and she said, "Well, maybe I have."
It eventually sold five million copies—a hit as big as "After the Ball." Its success went a long way towards making Jacobs-Bond the first woman to earn a million dollars from music. Many singers recorded it. It became popular at both weddings and funerals. During the First World War, soldiers sang it to celebrate victories, especially the end of the war. Eventually, it became so popular that Jacobs-Bond actually got tired of hearing it!
The Rosary / Ethelbert Nevin, words by Robert Cameron Rogers (1898)
Like most serious American composers of the 19th century, Ethelbert Nevin studied in Germany. He made not one, but two trips there, becoming one of four students accepted for a special class given by the great pianist and conductor Hans von Bülow. As a composer, he specialized in short compositions, many for piano solo. At least two of his songs, "The Rosary" and "Mighty Lak a Rose" became popular hits.
Performances and recordings by such singers as John McCormack and Ernestine Schumann-Heinck won international success for "The Rosary." Nevin's music began to seem overly sentimental by the late 1920s, but "The Rosary," at least, never fell entirely out of favor.
Silver Dagger / Traditional , words adapted (1907)
The earliest publication of the song seems to have been as part of a 1907 collection by Cecil J. Sharp, English Folk Songs from the Southern Appalachians ("Silver Dagger" is a variant of the songs "Awake, Awake" and "Katy Dear" in that collection). It is clearly much older than that. Other versions can be found in other, later folk song compilations collected all over the country.
In the early years of the 20th century, record companies and scholarly field collectors issued numerous folk song recordings. The record industry apparently had little respect for them, dismissing them as "hillbilly music."
During the folk music revival of the folk music revival of the late 1950s and early 1960s, Joan Baez made it famous. Her 1960 recording, using only five of the original many verses, is still better known than any of the several subsequent recordings.
Somewhere A Voice Is Calling / Arthur F. Tate, words by Eileen Newton (1911)
Within a decade after the publication of "Somewhere a Voice is Calling," RCA Victor alone issued a dozen recordings, including those of such great artists as John McCormack and Luisa Tetrazzini. Frank Sinatra recorded it later, and so have many other artists since then. Yet no information about composer Arthur F. Tate or poet Eileen Newton is available anywhere online!
Till We Meet Again / Richard Whiting, words by Raymond Egan (1918)
As Whiting’s daughter Margaret tells it, the song was intended for a 1918 contest at a Detroit theatre. Dissatisfied with the results, Whiting threw the manuscript in the trash. His secretary retrieved it and showed it to their boss, publisher Jerome Remick, who submitted it in the contest, where it won top honors. In 1919, the song was the number one song of the year as recorded by Henry Burr and Albert Campbell.
Written during the World War One, the song tells of the parting of a soldier and his sweetheart. The title comes from the final line of the chorus:
Smile the while you kiss me sad adieu,
When the clouds roll by I'll come to you,
Then the skies will see more blue,
Down in lovers lane my dearie,
Wedding bells will ring so merrily,
Every tear will be a memory,
So wait and pray each night for me,
Till we meet again.
[Thanks to David M. Guion for compiling these notes]