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The Music of Percy Wenrich

This month we are featuring the work of one of American popular music's greatest song writer/composers of all time, Percy Wenrich. The array of talent displayed by all American popular music composers over the last century is awe inspiring. During the golden age of American popular song, thousands of composers emerged who wrote fantastic songs, many of which have remained popular to this day. Many of those composers established themselves as masters of certain song styles. Charles K. Harris gave us the "tear jerker", Scott Joplin refined the rag for us and Irving Berlin gave us ballads that will last forever. A few of the songwriters showed a versatility that went beyond any single style. Even fewer were successful in virtually any style. Percy Wenrich is among the fewest of the few. A composer of prodigious talent who was able to freely flow from genre to genre and write hit after hit in virtually every popular style, Wenrich deserves a special place in the history of American popular music.

We are featuring a number of Wenrich's greatest hits this month and in addition, have added an in-depth biography of Wenrich to our "In Search Of.." series of articles. After (or before) you have listened to his music this month, be sure to read our biography of Percy Wenrich, "The Joplin Kid."

As with most of our features, this month's is covered on two separate pages to speed your downloads and to avoid a mile-long page. Be sure to see them BOTH to fully enjoy all of this month's music!

The Music of Percy Wenrich, Part 1





The Smiler

1907


Music by: Percy Wenrich
Lyrics by: None, piano solo
Cover artist: Unknown

 

This work is the one that really propelled Percy Wenrich from obscurity to musical stardom. Though he had several songs published before this one, it was The Smiler that was his most popular rag and which gained him national and international attention. The piece was originally published by the Arnett-Delonais Company in Chicago. It was such a huge hit locally that Fred Forster publishing bought the copyright and plugged it nationally. Our copy is one of the original Arnett-Delonais issued sheets. Be sure you have the scorch player to fully enjoy this song and the others in this month's issue with lyrics.

 

Though we have featured this work a number of times on our site, it continues to be one of our favorites. As a ragtime work, it is a classic and continues to be played as a part of the standard repertoire of ragtime pianists.


Enjoy this early Wenrich work now (SCORCH format)

listen to MIDI version

 


Rainbow

1908


Music by: Percy Wenrich
Lyrics by: Alfred Bryan
Cover artist: De Takacs

 

As we learned in our biography of Percy Wenrich , this song was one of his earliest hits written prior to his move to New York, this song was one that demonstrated that he was more than a one hit wonder. It also showed his versatility early on. Even though he had established himself as a creditable ragtime composer in the same league as some of the greatest, Rainbow showed that he was capable of other musical styles and ideas that appealed to the masses.

 

Wenrich wrote several excellent "Indian" style songs and we featured what may be his most popular one in this genre, Silver Bell, in our April, '00 feature. Of course, as we have pointed out in our essay on "Indian songs", these songs did not at all reflect Native American musical styles nor did they accurately reflect the culture. They were however, quite popular. Wenrich's lyricist for this work, Alfred Bryan figured prominently as lyricist for a number of hit songs during the era, He teamed up with many talented composers and produced quite a few hit lyrics for them. Among his greatest lyric hits besides Rainbow, were Come Josephine In My Flying Machine (1910), Peg O' My Heart (1913) and Are You Sincere in 1908.


Listen to this fine work (scorch format only)

Listen to MIDI version

 

Put On Your Old Grey
Bonnet

1909


Music by: Percy Wenrich
Lyrics by: Stanley Murphy
Cover artist: De Takacs

 

With another fine cover by De Takacs, Wenrich teamed up with Stanley Murphy to write this lasting mega-hit. The sales and revenues from this hit song set Wenrich to be able to concentrate on his music composition and support of the career of his wife, vaudevillian Dolly Connolly. This is the same year he moved to New York with his bride Dolly and this is the song that was at first rejected by Remick as having "no popular appeal." Fortunately, Remick recanted and published the work.

 

As Remick discovered, and we have too, this song has an infectious tune that stays with you and lyrics that are memorable. It is amazing that this song has continued to be in the popular repertoire for almost 100 years now, The lyricist for this work was another who was quite successful in writing hit lyrics for a variety of composers. Some of his other hits are; Be My Little Baby Bumble Bee (1912), Oh How She Could Yacki, Hacki, Wicki, Wacki, Woo (1916) and Sugar Moon in 1910 ( also with Wenrich as composer).


Hear this lovely hit song (scorch format)
listen to MIDI version

 

Jungle Moon

1909


Music by: Percy Wenrich
Lyrics by: C.P. McDonald
Cover artist: unknown

 

The same year he penned "Bonnet", Wenrich teamed up with C.P.McDonald to write this song. This one was a follow-up to an earlier song, Under The Tropical Moon written ca 1907 while working as a song plugger in Milwaukee. That song enjoyed a moderate success and this one was designed to be a follow on hit. As we have seen time and again with songs and movies, composers and writers often try to duplicate prior success with a second try at the same theme. Sometimes it works, most times it doesn't. Though this is a very nice tune with cute lyrics, it did not quite measure up to the original. A novelty song that again demonstrates Wenrich's versatility, it has not lingered on as a classic. In some respects, it is just somewhat unremarkable which is remarkable for Wenrich; he wrote few duds and even fewer mediocre songs.

 

The lyricist, C.P. McDonald also teamed with Wenrich on the original "Tropical Moon" but seems to have no big hits to his credit. He also wrote In The Boughs Of The Banyan Tree in 1915 with Walter Thompson. Besides a penchant for "jungle" related songs, it seems little else about him has been passed down to us.


Hear this rediscovered beauty (scorch)
Listen to MIDI version

 



Roosevelt March

1910


Music by: Percy Wenrich
Lyrics by: none, piano solo
Cover artist: Unknown, Roosevelt photo by Clinedinst, Washington, DC

 

From The Smiler we already know that Wenrich was quite capable of writing tremendously challenging and musical works for piano solo. Here we see yet another side of his talent through a rousing political march about the 26th U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt. Roosevelt of course was famous as the "Rough Rider" at San Juan Hill during the Spanish American War and served as President from 1901 to 1909. This work, written in 1910 was clearly a tribute to him and his accomplishments by Wenrich.

 

In his earlier years as a young composer, Wenrich often wrote music for political rallies and conventions. That early experience translated to this mature march that shows a composer at ease in this style also.


Enjoy this great 1910 song (scorch)

Listen to MIDI version

 


In Old Ireland Where The River Kenmare Flows

1911


Music by: Percy Wenrich
Lyrics by: Frank W. Sterns
Cover artist: unknown

 

Ah, 'tis the wearin' o' the green we love, and this was not lost on Percy Wenrich. Irish songs and songs about Ireland enjoyed immense popularity during the 1910's. The US has always been a haven for immigrants from the Emerald Isle and as a result, there has been a significant positive influence on our society and culture. During this period, the great Chauncy Olcott ( My Wild Irish Rose, 1898) and the great Irish Tenor John McCormack (1884 - 1945) was at his peak and Irish music was an important part of the American popular music scene.

 

Once again, Wenrich shows his versatility in producing a great Irish style song that was very popular in its time. It is interesting that he uses a melodic quote from Believe Me, If All Those Endearing Young Charms published by Tomas Moore (1779-1852 ) in his Irish Melodies as the introduction to the piece and then later in the chorus. The cover photo is of Mae Curtis, "The Popular Girl With The Popular Hits". Unfortunately, I've been unable to unearth any information about her. Frank W. Sterns, the lyricist, appears to have had a limited published output and information on him is also quite scarce. In 1905, he penned the lyrics for I Wonder If You Know My Heart Is Breaking and Just a Little Empty Stocking. Beyond that, little can be found.

 

If you have not yet read our special biography on Percy Wenrich, be sure to do so before leaving today, just click here to be transported back to the life and times of "The Joplin Kid".


Listen to this 1911 Irish ballad(scorch format only)

Listen to MIDI version

 

WAIT! There are more Wenrich Song masterpieces to see and hear. The second part of this issue features more rare and different works.

More Wenrich music and Covers in this month's issue, go to part B.



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