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Article

Dale Cockrell

(b Cleveland, OH, July 21, 1878; d Santa Ana, CA, May 3, 1927). American composer and singer. After studying music at the Cleveland Conservatory he went to New York, where he became a pianist in vaudeville theaters and a founding member of ASCAP. From 1907 to 1927 he was a staff pianist and composer at M. Witmark and Sons. His first success came with the ballad “Will you love me in December as you do in May?,” written in 1905 to lyrics by Jimmy Walker. Many of his most popular songs thereafter were composed for the Irish tenors John McCormack and Chauncey Olcott, with whom he also collaborated. Ball composed some 400 songs, including such standards as “Mother Machree” (1910), “When Irish Eyes are Smiling” (1913), and “A Little Bit of Heaven” (1914). Much of the last decade of his life was spent performing in vaudeville. His film biography, ...

Article

John Lilly

Country music recording artists, singers, musicians, and songwriters. Its original members were A.P. Carter (Alvin Pleasant Carter; b Maces Spring, VA, Dec 15, 1891; d Maces Spring, VA, Nov 7, 1960), his wife Sara Dougherty Carter [Bays] (née Sara Dougherty; later Sara Bays; b Flat Woods, VA, July 21, 1898; d Lodi, CA, Jan 8, 1979), and his sister-in-law Maybelle Addington Carter (b nr Nickelsville, Scott Co., VA, May 10, 1909; d Madison, TN, Oct 23, 1978). Considered the “first family” of country music, the Carters remain the most recognized family group in the genre, unmatched in terms of longevity, influence and popularity.

Born in southwest Virginia in the aptly named Poor Valley, A.P. Carter worked odd jobs for his first 35 years. Afflicted with a chronic tremor and a restless nature, A.P. was constantly on the move. His travels eventually led him to the home of Sara Dougherty, a talented young woman with a distinctive singing voice. The two wed on ...

Article

Dale Cockrell

(b New York, NY, May 14, 1840; d New York, NY, Sept 26, 1927). American lyricist. He studied law, but abandoned his career on account of the Civil War, in which he served briefly. His love of popular music led him to work with stephen c. Foster; the two eventually collaborated on more than 20 songs, mainly of a comic or war-related nature. Cooper came to be one of the composer’s closest friends. The text he wrote for Henry Tucker’s song, “Sweet Genevieve” (1869), has proved his most popular; other well-known songs for which he composed the lyrics are “Mother, kiss me in my dreams,” and “God bless the little church around the corner.” Cooper also worked with Tony Pastor and Lillian Russell. He published more than 200 song texts, and was one of the first Americans to make his living from this occupation alone.

National Cyclopedia of American Biography...

Article

Christopher A. Reynolds

[Vonderlieth, Leonore ]

(b Mount Pulaski, IL, Sept 26, 1894; d Buffalo, NY, May 28, 1943). American singer, songwriter, and entertainer. She was one of the first women to broadcast on radio (1920), to appear on television (1939), and to manage a radio station (WDT in New York, 1923). De Leath grew up in California. She attended schools in Pomona and Riverside before enrolling in Mills College where she began to compose.

De Leath is credited with developing the style of singing known as crooning, a style she employed on the radio as an alto, but also recorded as a powerful soprano. She made her first recording in 1920, issuing “I love the land of Old Black Joe” for Edison, the first of 44 recordings with this label. Among her most popular recordings was her rendition of Gershwin’s “The Man I Love” with Paul Whiteman and his orchestra (Col., ...

Article

Gerald Bordman

revised by Jonas Westover

(b New York, NY, Sept 8, 1896; d New York, NY, July 30, 1983). American lyricist and librettist. He studied at Columbia University, where he was a contemporary of Lorenz Hart and Oscar Hammerstein II, and served in the US Navy before becoming director of publicity and advertising in 1919 for the Goldwyn Pictures Corporation (from 1924 known as Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer or MGM). He wrote verse in his spare time, and was asked by Jerome Kern to supply the lyrics for Dear Sir (1924). He also worked with Vernon Duke, Jimmy McHugh, and Ralph Rainger. But he is best remembered for the numerous songs he wrote in collaboration with arthur Schwartz , beginning in 1929 with the revue The Little Show (with “I guess I’ll have to change my plan”). Other collaborations with Schwartz include Three’s a Crowd (1930) and The Band Wagon (1931, containing the hit “Dancing in the Dark”). Their professional relationship extended over a period of more than 30 years to the production of the musical ...

Article

Ian Whitcomb

(b Hohensalza [now Inowrocław, Poland], Aug 18, 1879; d Los Angeles, CA, Nov 7, 1945). American singer, songwriter, and impresario. His family immigrated to the United States in the 1880s. By the age of 14 Edwards was working as a singer in Tony Pastor’s Music Hall in New York, and he subsequently appeared as a vaudeville performer with four other boys in an act called the Newsboy Quintet. In 1899 he began to write songs with the lyricist Will D. Cobb, beginning a partnership that lasted for several years. Their first hit was “I can’t tell why I love you, but I do” (1900), and they went on to establish their reputation with such songs as “Goodbye little girl, goodbye” (1904) and “School Days” (1907), a melodious waltz ballad with lyrics yearning for the simple days of small-town rural America. This last-named song was written for a revue in which Edwards appeared with a number of young actors; its success was such that he continued to present his “kiddie discovery shows” with new performers and material for the next 20 years. Among the juvenile actors he promoted were Eddie Cantor, George Jessel, Walter Winchell, and Ray Bolger. Many of Edwards’s best songs, including “Sunbonnet Sue” (...

Article

(b Louisville, KY, July 19, 1837; d Louisville, KY, July 23, 1907). American Composer. He spent his early adult years working on the riverboats of the Ohio and Mississippi, where he acquired some of the knowledge that served him when he came to write his long-running “River” column for the Louisville Courier-Journal. He wrote verse and often set it to his own music, although he had no formal training. He made free use of the important styles and genres of the day: his first ballad, the sentimental and extremely popular “Evangeline” (1857), for example, shows the strong influence of Italian opera; the Irish style is seen in songs like “Nora O’Neal” (1866), “Mollie Darling” (1873), and “Nora, the Pride of Kilkee” (1874). Hays’s famous song of the Civil War, “The Drummer Boy of Shiloh” (1862), was influenced by both styles. He also wrote call-and-response spirituals, such as “Keep in de Middle of the Road” (...

Article

Jonas Westover

(b New York, NY, Nov 28, 1887; d New York, NY, May 13, 1924). American composer. He was a highly regarded composer of Broadway musicals—especially revues—at the turn of the 20 century. He attended the City University of New York and studied piano at the Stern Conservatory in Berlin during his final year. After his return to New York in 1906, Hirsch found employment as a pianist for several music publishers. He composed original music for Lew Dockstader’s Minstrels but soon had songs interpolated into several shows produced by the Shuberts, including The Gay White Way (1907) and Up and Down Broadway (1910). This relationship was essential to Hirsch’s career, for the Shuberts eventually hired him as a staff composer. He wrote his first full score for them, He Came from Milwaukee, in 1910. The following year, several of his songs were included in ...

Article

Trebor Jay Tichenor

(b Columbia, TN, May 16, 1876; d St Louis, Jan 23, 1906). American ragtime composer. He was born almost totally blind, and learnt piano tuning at a school for the blind. He later worked as a tuner for the Jesse French Piano Co., and taught himself to play and compose ragtime. In 1902 the company transferred him to St Louis, where he played in various bordellos in Chestnut Valley and contracted the dissipated habits which, despite belated attempts to reform, hastened his early death from tuberculosis.

Hunter was a pioneer among white ragtime composers. His rags are syncopated country marches with a distinctive folk flair that seem to celebrate rural life, though tempered with the same touch of melancholy that characterizes country band breakdowns and fiddle tunes. Within the traditional march form he delightfully combined the more complex syncopations of sophisticated piano rags with the simpler rhythms of the cakewalk. Like most folk ragtime composers and performers who begin playing by ear, he had a predilection for the flat keys, especially A♭. His most popular rag, ...

Article

Brandi A. Neal

(bc1874; dc1932). American Stage performer and composer. He appeared on stage as a comic performer throughout his adult life, touring mainstream vaudeville and minstrel show circuits. His breakout performance occurred in 1890 during his tenure with Sam T. Jack’s Creole Burlesque Company. He later toured with such high-profile groups as the Black Patti Troubadours (1900) and the Famous Georgia Minstrels (1925). Jones’s early compositions, such as “Possumala Dance” (1894), emerged before the height of the Coon song craze on Tin Pan Alley and are notable for their use of ragtime’s rhythmic elements. “Home ain’t nothing like this” (1902) was also popular and was adopted by other well-known African American performers such as Ernest Hogan. Other songs including “My money never gives out” and “The Ragtime Millionaire” evoked the caricature of the black dandy common in the minstrel show; “The Ragtime Millionaire” was also one of the first to evoke “the blues,” linking Jones to the later style. Jones did not appear to take issue with the negative associations of the coon song. He occasionally used the genre to address political issues, as in “I want a Filipino man” (...

Article

Edward A. Berlin

(b northeast TX, between July 19, 1867 and mid-Jan 1868; d New York, NY, April 1, 1917). American composer. He is regarded as ragtime’s greatest exponent. Census records of 1870 and 1880 and Joplin’s death certificate establish that the frequently cited birth date of 24 November 1868 is incorrect.

Joplin was the child of a former slave and a free-born black woman and grew up in the town of Texarkana on the Texas–Arkansas border. His mother took an active interest in his musical education, and most members of his family played musical instruments; a German immigrant musician (perhaps Julius Weiss) who taught the young Joplin also seems to have played a significant role in the formation of his artistic aspirations.

His activities during the 1880s are not documented, but anecdotal evidence suggests that he lived for a while in Sedalia, Missouri, a town later linked to his early fame. He also worked as a travelling musician and became a close associate of the ragtime pioneer Tom Turpin in St. Louis. In ...

Article

Article

Bryan S. Wright

(b Tamaqua, PA, May 1868; d Miami, FL, Sept 30, 1933). American Bandleader and composer. Born to a German immigrant cigar maker and his American-born wife, Krell began musical training as a child, studying both brass instruments and piano. In his teens he led local bands, writing arrangements for them. He moved to Chicago sometime around 1890, where he married and began leading a touring band professionally. His first published composition, “Our Carter: A Beautiful Ballad” (with Silas Leachman), appeared in 1893, dedicated to the recently assassinated Chicago mayor, Carter Harrison Sr. In the seven years that followed, Krell published an additional 16 pieces, mostly waltzes, marches, or cakewalks. He is best remembered for his “Mississippi Rag,” copyrighted 27 January 1897, which is the earliest copyrighted piece designated “Rag” in the title. The piece does not follow the classic AABBACCDD piano rag form, but like many early so-called rags, it strings together several lightly syncopated melodic strains in imitation of a “cakewalk patrol.” Krell evokes the sound of a passing parade band, beginning with a quiet, repetitive opening motive that crescendos to a boisterous middle section, concluding with a return to the opening motive that decrescendos to a quiet finish. Although Krell originally conceived of the piece for band, it became famous through a piano reduction arrangement. Although Krell published no new pieces after ...

Article

Jonas Westover

(b Stamford, CT, Dec 31, 1885; d New York, NY, Jan 22, 1976). American lyricist, publisher, and songwriter. He began his career in vaudeville, tailoring songs to individual singers, and working with a variety of composers. Leslie began to publish songs in 1909, when his lyrics and Irving Berlin’s music combined for “Sadie Salome.” That same year saw an early hit, “Lonesome.” Several of his songs were used on Broadway and vaudeville alike, including the huge hit “For Me and My Gal” (1917), which he co-wrote with George W. Meyer and E. Ray Goetz. His songs were recorded by a slew of popular stars, such as Guy Lombardo, Bing Crosby, and Connie Francis. In 1914, he became one of the founding members of ASCAP, later serving as president from 1931 to 1941. Leslie also created his own publishing company, where he worked primarily with Horatio Nicholls. Collaborations with Harry Warren (“Rose of the Rio Grande,” ...

Article

E. Lawrence Abel

(b England, 1834; d Oakland, CA, Nov 8, 1888). American Entertainer, songwriter, comedian, and impressionist of English birth. One of the most popular entertainers in the American South prior to, during, and after the Civil War. The author of many of the Confederacy’s best-loved songs, he crisscrossed the Confederacy entertaining civilians in cities and soldiers in camp, doing as much for Southern morale as Bob Hope’s shows did for Americans during World War II. Like many other of America’s 19th-century songwriters, he died penniless and alone.

Macarthy was born in England to Scotch-Irish parents. Nothing is known of his parents or his early life. At the age of 14 he worked as a minor actor on Broadway. In 1859 he began touring the South as a comedian specializing in impersonations, which he called “Personation Concerts.” In 1861 he was present at the Mississippi State convention when it voted to secede and was inspired to write the words for “The Bonnie Blue Flag,” the song that made him famous. Among his other wartime songs were “Missouri, Or a Voice from the South,” and “The Volunteer.”...

Article

Dale Cockrell

(b Stuttgart, Germany, Aug 24, 1826; d Philadelphia, PA, Jan 7, 1882). Composer of German birth. He came to the United States when he was five years old and received early musical training. By the age of 18 he was apparently blind, since he then entered Philadelphia’s Institute for the Blind. After a short period in New London, Connecticut, he returned to Philadelphia, where he may have become involved in music education and filled a post as an organist, in addition to his activities as a composer. Mack wrote a large number of simple, stylized dance pieces for the piano, many of them published by Philadelphia publisher, Lee & Walker. His marches, such as General Grant’s Grand March (1862) and a series (published in 1875) to commemorate the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia in 1876, were particularly popular. He also compiled instruction books for the piano, reed organ, and violin....

Article

Barry Jean Ancelet

(b Eunice, LA, Jan 26, 1893; d Eunice, LA, Oct 3, 1989). American fiddler, vocalist, and songwriter. When Cajun music was first recorded commercially in 1928, Dennis and his brother-in-law Sady Courville were already firmly established musicians in their community. Their first recordings, including “Ma chère bébé créole,” in 1928, were among the earliest of Cajun music. Dennis McGee was profoundly influenced by the black Creole accordion player and singer, Amédé Ardoin, with whom he played regularly for both black and white dances. McGee recorded old-time Cajun fiddle music with Sady Courville and with Ernest Frugé into the thirties, though, like most traditional Cajun musicians, he developed a trade to support his family—he became a barber. Dennis was the last bearer of his venerable tradition, a keeper of tunes that reached back into the 19th century and beyond. Because of his longevity, he influenced several generations of the fiddlers who have been active in Cajun music, including Dewey Balfa, Michael Doucet, David Greely, Kevin Wimmer, Mitchell Reed, and Chris Segura. He shared his knowledge of the old days and his talent at festivals and traditional music workshops across America and Canada, as well as at his home in Eunice. As a participant in Dewey Balfa’s Folk Music in the Schools project, funded by the National Endowment for the Arts, McGee developed a new role as teacher, bringing his venerable tradition into elementary school, high school, and university classrooms throughout his native South Louisiana. He was featured in a number of documentaries, including André Gladu’s ...

Article

Dale Cockrell

(b Philadelphia, PA, Oct 10, 1802; d New York, July 6, 1864). American poet and librettist. He was a well-known poet, important editor, social figure, and member of the “Knickerbocker” school of New York artists. The New-York Mirror and Ladies’ Literary Gazette and Home Journal, both of which Morris had a hand in founding and editing, were highly influential literary magazines. Among the composers who set his sentimental verse were Stephen Foster (“Open thy Lattice Love”), the Hutchinson Family Singers (“My Mother’s Bible” and other poems), Henry Russell (“Woodman, Spare that Tree,” which became enormously popular), and C.E. Horn (“Near the Lake, where Droop’d the Willow”). With Horn, Morris wrote the opera, The Maid of Saxony, which was produced at the Park Theatre in New York in 1842.

H.B. Wallace: “Memoir of George P. Morris,” in G.P. Morris: Poems (New York, 1860), 13–48 P. Barnard: “George Pope Morris,” ...

Article

Gerald Bordman

revised by Charles Garrett

[Knauff, John ]

(b Philadelphia, PA, Jan 5, 1879; d Laguna Beach, CA, Sept 1, 1959). American vaudeville performer and composer. After leaving home to join a minstrel show, he also tried his hand at vaudeville and straight drama. A man of small stature, he quickly became popular as a song-and-dance man, but he enjoyed his greatest success between 1907 and 1913, when he was partnered by his second wife, Nora Bayes; their celebrated billing read “Nora Bayes, Assisted and Admired by Jack Norworth.” They played together in vaudeville and on Broadway and introduced Norworth’s best-known song, “Shine on, Harvest Moon,” in Ziegfeld’s Follies of 1908. Among the other songs for which Norworth is remembered are “Take me out to the ball game” and Sister Susie’s sewing shirts for soldiers.” He spent most of World War I performing in London, and during the early 1920s played important roles for companies in Chicago. Although he continued to be a favorite in vaudeville, his popularity gradually lessened, and one of his last appearances was in ...

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Christopher A. Reynolds

(b Brazil, IN, Nov 1874; d New Haven, CT, Oct 25, 1932). American songwriter and publisher. She was among the most successful female songwriters of her generation. The daughter of John Dale Owen, a composer born in Wales, she was raised in Indiana and went to school near Terre Haute at St. Mary’s in the Woods. While there she sold her first song, evidently a setting of “Ave Maria.” Her obituary in the New York Times describes Owen as the composer of 200 works, yet it is unlikely that more than about half of those were ever published. In 1894 she composed and published her first and most enduring hit, the sentimental waltz song “Sweet Bunch of Daisies,” which sold a million copies. This song, the first of several about daisies, became a standard with country string bands and Appalachian fiddlers, and was also recorded by the blues harmonica player El Watson in ...