Music by: Irving Berlin
Lyrics by: Berlin
Cover artist: E.
Fully twenty years after Harris' After the Ball, the tear jerker was
still a staple of the songwriter's bag of tricks. Though, by this time,
the nature of the songs had changed. Rather than being so fixated on death
and truly tragic circumstances, songs were more focused on relationships
and life's tribulations. Of course love is an emotional subject and the
loss of love is tragic when it happens to you so it is not surprising
that so many of the tear jerker songs written over the decades relate
to love and the twists and turns of love. Irving Berlin was a master of
the love and life tear jerker. In spite of Harris' extreme skill, Berlin
was perhaps the heir to the throne in writing songs of sadness, loneliness,
depression, misery and hopelessness. A review of his titles show us a
never ending list of titles that plumb the depths of emotions. His own
life and perhaps his personal sadness was shaped by his personal experiences
and this song is a reflection of a very real personal tragedy that he
faced. One of our parlor songs fans, Barry Bowen, of Canada pointed out
to us that "Irving Berlin wrote "When I Lost You" shortly
after the death of his very young first wife who died shortly after their
honeymoon in 1912. He was very depressed and put all of his personal feelings
into this song. When he married again in the mid 1920's he presented his
bride with "Always" as a wedding present." This again demonstrates
the power of song as an expression of emotion and the fact that songwriters
are often inspired by real events. Barry went on to tell us; "Although
the song fits the genre that you have so wonderfully given us this month
I think that perhaps the song was written as a release from some of his
grief rather than for the need for a melodramatic hit."
Irving Berlin. Born Isidore Baline in Temun, Russia, in 1888, Berlin
moved to New York City with his family in 1893. He published his first
work, Marie of Sunny Italy in 1907 at age 19 and immediately had
his first hit on his hands. In 1911 the publication of Alexander's
Ragtime Band established his reputation as a songwriter. He formed
his own music-publishing business in 1919, and in 1921 he became a partner
in the construction of the Music Box Theater in New York, staging his
own popular revues at the theater for several years. Berlin wrote about
Whether for Broadway musicals or films, for humorous songs or romantic
ballads, his compositions are celebrated for their appealing melodies
and memorable lyrics. Among the numerous musical comedies and revues for
which Berlin wrote music and lyrics were Annie Get Your Gun (1946),
and Mr. President (1962). His many popular songs include There's
No Business Like Show Business, God Bless America, and White
Christmas. In 1968 Berlin received a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.
On September 22nd 1989, at the age of 101, Berlin died in his sleep in
New York City.
It is almost impossible to provide a meaningful biographical sketch of
Berlin in only a few words, he is perhaps the most celebrated and successful
composer of American song from the Tin Pan Alley era. In November
of 1998 we did a feature
on Berlin's music, sometime in the future we will post a more comprehensive
biography and more of his songs. Of course many of his songs have been
published by us over the years.
Music by: Irving Berlin
Lyrics by: Berlin
Cover artist: Barbelle
Though the terribly tragic songs about death had faded away by this time
(1915), it does not mean the subject had completely vacated the songwriter's
world. It still was a subject for songs, only approached in different
ways. This song, also a Berlin work, speaks of a man facing the prospect
of his own mortality and the legacy that he would leave behind. Interestingly
the song is dedicated "to the memory of Charles Lounsbury, whose
legacy suggested this song." In 1915, a Charles Lounsbury, the
editor of The Yale Book of American Verse, passed away. Could this be
the man to whom Berlin dedicated this song? My guess is, he is the one.
In this song, Berlin speaks of millionaires who are concerned with their
wealth and its distribution after death and compares that to a simple
man, without wealth who simply wants to leave behind peace and beauty.
I think it is a touching song with deep meaning and a tear jerker of a
different sort than most we have seen in this feature.
Of course, the man on the cover, Al Jolson, was the number one performer
on the American song stage for many years. A song sung by Jolson was almost
guaranteed to be a hit. Jolson billed himself as The Worlds
Greatest Entertainer and who could argue? Working in blackface,
he sang songs about his southern Mammy with a passion that
endeared him to Broadway audiences. His voice, was probably the most imitated
and parodied in the world. As a musical comedy star, he belted out songs
like Swanee and Is It True What They Say About Dixie? with
flair and always demanding applause for his songs and jokes, he was rarely
disappointed. Electric, dynamic energy and like
a cyclone were some of the terms used to describe his performances
on stage; and after singing for three hours with incredible energy, he
could still call out: You aint heard nothin yet.
Though kind and sentimental, he left much to be desired as a human being.
His was an enormous ego. He could be arrogant, surly and a braggart and
many of his contemporaries disliked him. But he was a giant in the entertainment
world, a hit maker, and always last on the bill because no one could follow
him. Though four times married, the love of his life was an audience -
any audience. He needed applause the way a diabetic needs insulin.
Al Jolson did not just sing songs - he rattled your backbone and made
you want to get up and dance. He was probably the greatest entertainer
the world has ever known.
(From the Al Jolson site at: http://www.times1190.freeserve.co.uk/jolson.htm
Music by: Charles Coleman
Lyrics by: Coleman
Cover artist: unknown
Here is another of those tender and touching "mother" songs
that so often appear. Just as with The Picture Of My Mother On The
Wall,(see part one of this
feature) this song speaks to the value of mother. While "Picture"
spoke to the loss of a mother, this song speaks to the value of a mother's
advice and the love that she will always give to her children. Unlike
many people today, in 1915, parents were revered and honored almost universally.
Even when parents did not fit today's model of parenthood, back then,
mother and father were the king and queen of the home and children (generally)
honored and obeyed them. In most cases though, mothers set the example
for parenthood and the many, many thousands of mother songs written were
hard earned and richly deserved. The sentiments expressed by this song
are basic truths, no one does love you like your mother. Listen to this
song and call your mother and tell her thanks. If she is nearby, give
her a hug.
Charles Coleman may well have written only this song as I can find no
mention of him or any other song by him in any of my reference volumes.
(See our references list for a complete bibliography
of sources) I am wondering if this Charles Coleman is the same as
the Charles Coleman from Australia (born 1885) who was a very successful
silent movie star? Perhaps one of our Australian visitors can answer that
Music by: Carrie Jacobs-Bond
Lyrics by: Bond
Cover artist: unknown
Carrie Jacobs-Bond has a special place in my heart. Her music speaks
to me and others who are familiar with her music often say that it speaks
to their heart also. In terms of sadness and teary songs, Carrie Jacobs-Bond
is the greatest female composer to come out of the Tin Pan Alley era.
Exceptionally successful and an inspiration as far as one who overcame
adversity, her years of tragedy molded her talent and as a result, her
catalog has song after song in it that oozes tragedy, sadness and pain.
Of course she could also write delightfully upbeat songs too, but it seems
she was at her best when dealing with painful subjects. In June
of 2000 we featured a number of her songs and also published an in-depth
biography, see those
articles to learn more about her.
The loss of her husband to an accident and the later loss of her beloved
son to suicide caused Bond to often write songs that either referred to
spiritual contact or a desire to go back to happier times (can you blame
her?). This song talks of the twilight of one's life and the melancholy
that tugs at the heart to relive happier days. Friends lost, childhood
happiness, home and mother all figure prominently in this sad and somewhat
Music by: N. J. Clesi, arr. Theodore Morse
Lyrics by: Clesi
Cover artist: Rose Symbol
Our last offering for this feature is a WWI era song that though published
during the war and in the war edition small format, is not a song about
the war. We explored a wide range of the war related music in our three
part series about World War One music but it is important to remember
that not all music during that period was war related. Life did go on
and so too did love and the pain of hurting the one you love. Clesi managed
to create a touching and melodic ballad that expresses a sincere apology
to a lover who has been hurt.
The photo on the cover is of June Elvidge and John Bowers, both film
stars from World Film Corporation which might imply that the song was
used in a film starring them. I have been unable to make that connection
but have found that this song is still very much in play in the barbershop
That's it for this month's feature, as always, we hope you have enjoyed the
music and learned something from it. As for next month, we will have a new
feature about the music of Charles K. Harris, "the king of tear jerkers"
and a full biography of Harris will be added to our "In Search Of"
If you would like to return to part A of this month's issue, click
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