Enduring American Popular Song Hits,
Part 1, page 2
Bailey Won't You Please Come Home
Music by: Hughie Cannon
Lyrics by: Cannon
Cover artist: Dewey and Black
This song was an instant hit when first introduced by John Queen, a minstrel.
Another song in the coon
song genre that has been in constant use since introduction, most
of us are only familiar with the chorus. Often recorded and in recent
years most often associated with the great Louis Armstrong, the song has
been somewhat "sanitized" as have other lasting hits from the
coon song era. A number of musical luminaries besides Armstrong kept this
work vibrant and alive over the last century. Among them are Ella Fitzgerald
and Della Reese, Jimmy Durante and Bobby Darin whose version was a million
seller. The 1959 film, The Five Pennies, featured Armstrong and
Danny Kaye performing the song. Though the chorus we are used to stands
well alone, the verses before the chorus are very unfamiliar but add a
dimension that makes the song make more sense overall. After all, with
this additional information (get
the scorch player to see the full lyrics and music) we can finally
learn why Bill Bailey was gone and why he needs to come home.
Supposedly, the song is based on a "real" Bill Bailey who was
a black vaudeville performer, member of the team of Bailey and Cowan.
One night he was locked out of his house by a wife who had reached her
limit of tolerance for his late night revelry with friends. It is said
that Cannon (the composer) was one of his friends who partook of these
nocturnal pleasures with him and Cannon paid for a room for Bailey at
a local hotel and assured him that a night away from home would surely
cause his wife to plead for his return. The song was so popular it inspired
a number of spin-off tunes including I Wonder Why Bill Bailey Won't
Come Home and Since Bill Bailey Came Back Home.
Hughie Cannon, an American composer from Detroit (b. Detroit,
1877 - d. Toledo, OH, 1912) was a pianist for many vaudeville performers.
Next to "Bill Baily", his other greatest hit was He Done
Me Wrong, written in 1904 for the musical Frankie and Johnny. Cannon
also wrote Just Because She Made Dem Goo-Goo Eyes with John Queen
in 1900 and I Hates To Get Up Early In The Morning in 1901 also
in collaboration with Queen.
Music by: Victor Herbert
Lyrics by: Glenn MacDonough
Cover artist: unknown
One of America's most lasting musical productions has been the great
Victor Herbert's Babes In Toyland, produced in 1903. Full of extremely
memorable and timeless music, it is as fresh today as it was almost 100
years ago. Of all the music from the show, none though has been as permanent
as Toy Land. A tender and haunting ballad, this song immediately
calls to one's heart and mind both joyous memories and melancholy nostalgia
for days gone by. First introduced by Bessie Wynn in the original production,
the song has been recorded numerous times and has appeared in two film
productions of the show in 1934 and 1961. This song may be most representative
of what makes a song an enduring hit; a very memorable melody with words
that are timeless and have meaning no matter what the era and that can
be related to by almost anyone.
In 1903, Herbert had returned to writing operettas after a three year
hiatus. He hoped to capture the same level of success as his prior work,
The Wizards Of Oz by writing music for a similar extravaganza. He chose
the book Babes In Toyland by Glenn MacDonough. Set in Mother Goose land,
the colorful characters were based on those found in fairy tales and nursery
rhymes. The production premiered on October 13, 1903 and became an instant
classic. Contemporary reviewers called it "brilliant", "ingenious"
and "amazing." The work has become Herbert's most lasting operetta
. I have found all of the music from this production particularly filled
with good humor and creativity. Though not an enduring hit, the song
I Can't Do The Sum is the one that has most captured my imagination.
An appealing tune, it's real attraction are the very funny lyrics. I'm
including a scorch version for your entertainment. See and hear the scorch
version of I Can't Do The Sum. ( midi
Victor Herbert (b. Dublin, 1859 - d. New York City, 1924) Herbert
was three when his father died and he and his mother went to live with
her father in a small town near London. Since his grandfather, Samuel
Lover was a man of letters and dramatist, the boy grew up in a cultured
atmosphere where he learned to appreciate the arts. At seven he began
studying piano with his mother. He showed such talent that his mother
and grandfather sent him to Germany for intensive music study. In Stuttgart
he studied music with a specialty in cello. He played with several orchestras
and was became first cellist at the Stuttgart Royal Orchestra. During
that time he began writing music and wrote a suite and a concerto for
cello and orchestra. Described as a commanding man, he was always well
tailored and showed wit and good manners. He married Theresa Förster
in 1886 and shortly thereafter they traveled to America where the good
Fräulein was engaged to perform with the Metropolitan Opera Company.
In New York, Herbert joined the Metropolitan Opera Company orchestra
and soon became an American citizen, never again to return to Ireland
or Germany. For a while Herbert performed as a soloist and formed and
conducted and orchestra. He also formed the New York String Quartet and
became a faculty member of the National Conservatory of Music. His compositional
efforts up till 1893 were focused entirely on concert works. Then Lillian
Russel commissioned him to write an operetta, La Vivandière,
which was never produced, supposedly because it was not up to her standards.
Undaunted, Herbert was taken by popular song and operetta and the next
year he wrote Prince Ananias and with it was launched the popular
and musical stage career of one of America's greatest song writers. A
number of stage productions culminating in what is arguably, his greatest
operetta, Babes In Toy Land.
In addition to his operettas, many of the songs from them became stand
alone hits (i.e. Toy Land) and he wrote a number of enduring hits
we still sometimes hear today. Among them are Ah! Sweet Mystery Of
Life, Gypsy Love Song, In Old New York, Tramp! Tramp! Tramp! and You
Belong To Me. His 1924 song and operetta of the same name My Dream
Girl were his last. Herbert died in New York City in 1924 of a heart attack.
Music by: George M. Cohan
Lyrics by: Cohan
Cover artist: Pfeiffer
This great favorite was introduced by Cohan himself in his production
of Little Johnny Jones, his very first musical play. Sung many
times over in film, on record and TV, the song is one of those enduring
favorites that never gets old or outdated. The music and melody seem to
fit any era and transcend fads and styles to stand as an example of the
permanence of a well written song. From its introduction, the song has
been heard almost continuously. On the silver screen, it first appeared
in the 1929 film version of Little Johnny Jones and was sung
by Eddie Buzzell. In 1941, Cagney defined our image of Cohan in the film
Yankee Doodle Dandy where he gave us his own staccato and breathy
version. Al Jolson's dubbed voice singing it was heard in the 1949 production
of Jolson Sings Again. In 1952, it was given as a chorus in With
A Song In My Heart and in 1948, it was used as the title song of
the movie Give My Regards To Broadway. In 1968 the Broadway play
George M! gave us Joel Grey playing the part of Cohan and belting out
this great song. Arguably, this may be the most memorable and greatest
hit from the 1900 - 1910 decade.
George M. Cohan was born in Providence, RI on either the 3rd or
4th of July 1878. Cohan always used the 4th as his birthday and it certainly
served him well to do so throughout his career and after as he became
our "Yankee Doodle Boy". From boyhood, he toured New England
and the Midwest with his parents and sister in an act called The Four
Cohans. By 1900, the Cohans were one of the leading acts in vaudeville.
He also played the violin, wrote sketches for the family show and started
writing songs by age 13. It was during these early years that he adopted
the swaggering and brash image that was so well portrayed by Jimmy Cagney
in the 1942 film biography of Cohan, Yankee Doodle Dandy. His first
original musical was Little Johnny Jones (1904), which he wrote
entirely himself and in which he starred as the lead. It was successful
and included the hit Yankee Doodle Boy and Give My Regards To
Broadway. In 1906, his reputation was improved more with the productions
George Washington Jr., and Forty-five Minutes From Broadway.
Cohan continued to write and star in musical comedies into the 1920's but at
the same time had formed a publishing house in collaboration with Sam Harris
with whom he also opened a number of playhouses and theaters including the George
M. Cohan Theater in New York. Cohan wrote over 500 songs and it is said that
Over There was the most popular morale song for BOTH world wars. Interestingly,
Cohan was untrained as a musician and he professed to write only simple songs
with simple harmonies and limited ranges. Regardless, his contribution to vaudeville,
musical theater and popular music is undeniable and profound. Cohan died in
New York on November 5, 1942.
Music by: Harry Von Tilzer
Lyrics by: Andrew B. Sterling
Cover artist: DeTakacs
Just a year after Cohan's blockbuster, the team of Von Tilzer and Sterling
hit paydirt with this delightful tune. Not quite as timeless as "Regards",
this song nonetheless has stood the test of time and has been called "one
of the biggest post turn of the century hits."¹ There are two
unconfirmed, but charming stories about the inspiration for this song.
One story says that Von Tilzer got the idea from a newspaper account of
a downtrodden family where the reporter commented that "the sun would
once again shine for them after the storm." The second story contends
that Von Tilzer heard a man say to a woman in a hotel lobby, "wait
till the sun shines Nellie." Whatever its true origin, it was a smash
selling well over a million copies after its introduction by Winona Winter
in vaudeville. Over the years, many stars have sung and recorded the song.
In 1941, Mary Martin and Bing Crosby sung it as a duet in the film, The
Birth Of The Blues. Gale Storm performed it in the 1942 film Rhythm
on Parade and in 1952 it was the title song for the movie Wait
Till The Sun Shines Nellie. Today, it is a staple of ensembles and
barbershop quartets or for sing alongs in schools and homes.
Harry Von Tilzer (b. July 8, 1872, Detroit, MI, d. Jan. 10. 1946,
NY nee: Harry Gumm.) Harry, one of five children, was to find a career
in music as did his younger brother Albert. When still a child, his family
moved to Indianapolis, Indiana, where his father acquired a shoe store.
A theatrical company gave performances in the loft above the store, and
that's where Harry learned to love show business. His career really started
in 1886 when, at age 14, he ran away from home and joined the Cole Brothers
Circus. By 1887, he was playing piano, composing songs, and acting in
a traveling repertory company. He changed his name at that time. His mother's
maiden name was Tilzer, and he 'gussied' it up by adding the 'Von'. Thereafter
he would be called Harry Von Tilzer, and later his younger brother Albert
would adopt the name also. Harry met Lottie Gilson when the burlesque
troupe with which he was working reached Chicago. The popular vaudevillian
took an interest, and induced him to go to New York. In 1892, Harry, working
as a groom on a trainload of horses, arrived in New York, with just $1.65
in his pocket. He rented a room near the Brooklyn Bridge and became a
$15.00 per week saloon pianist. He left New York briefly to work in a
traveling medicine show, but returned to again work in saloons and later
as a vaudevillian in a 'Dutch' act with George Sidney. At this time, Harry
was writing songs, literally hundreds of songs that were never published.
He would sell them outright to other entertainers for $2.00 each. But
the tide was about to turn for Harry. One of his songs was published,
My Old New Hampshire Home, lyric by Andrew B. Sterling. William
C. Dunn, owner of a small print shop, purchased it outright for $15.00,
and issued it in 1898. It was a hit that sold more than 2 million copies.
In 1899, three more of Von Tilzer's songs were published: I'd Leave
My Happy Home for You, lyric by Will A. Heelan I Wonder If She's
Waiting, lyric by Andrew B. Sterling Where The Sweet Magnolias
Grow.The success of My Old New Hampshire Home prompted
Maurice Shapiro of Shapiro-Bernstein Music Publishers to make Von Tilzer
a partner, and the firm was renamed 'Shapiro, Bernstein and Von Tilzer'.
Harry then wrote his next big hit in 1900, the present A Bird In A
Gilded Cage. In 1902, Von Tilzer quit the partnership and formed
his own firm 'Harry Von Tilzer Music Company'.
Andrew B. Sterling (b. 1874, New York City, d. 1955, Stamford,
CT) is perhaps one of the greatest American popular song writers from
the period. His most lasting partnership was with the great Harry Von
Tilzer but he wrote numerous songs in collaboration with other composers
such as Lange. Lange was a successful song composer for many years and
went on to write motion picture scores culminating in his Oscar nominations
in 1943 and 1944 for his songs "The Woman in the Window" and "Casanova
In spite of being more an "art" or "classical" song
than popular song as we know them, On The Road To Mandalay has
been a staple of the repertoire for almost 100 years. Still often sung
in concert, it is a showpiece for baritones that is equivalent to the
long standing Asleep In The Deep for bass singers. With words
from Rudyard Kipling's great Barrack Room Ballads, the work is not only
musically a classic but the lyrics have a pedigree matched by few other
popular songs. This original arrangement is musically complex and wonderful.
Speaks has crafted music that fits the words so well, one would think
the two were written at the same time. His creative use of a musical simile
for thunder and the dynamics of the work paint a musical picture that
few songs can match. This is one of my favorites.
Oley Speaks (b. June 28, 1874, Canal Winchester, OH, d. Aug. 27,
1948, New York, N.Y.) As a young man, Speaks was a railway clerk in the
Columbus, Ohio station. He then decided to follow a career in music and
took lessons from such teachers as W. MacFarlane; Karl Dufft; Emma Thursby;
Armour Galloway; and Max Spicker. He became a baritone soloist in a Columbus
church, but in 1898, he settled in New York City. He was the baritone
soloist at the Church of the Divine Paternity until 1901, and from 1901
until 1906, at the St. Thomas' Church. During this period, he also pursued
a successful career as a singer, touring the U.S. giving recitals and
also appearing in oratorios. He also wrote many 'art' songs, which for
many years, were unsuccessful. His first published song was Thou Gazest
at the Stars.
Speaks composed over 250 songs, among them; The Bells of Youth, Fuzzy
Wuzzy, When The Boys Come Home and Life's Twilight. His greatest successes,
each selling over a million copies of sheet music were On The Road To
Mandalay, Morning (1910) , lyric by Frank Stanton and his 1914 Sylvia,
with lyric Clinton Scollard. Speaks was one of those amazingly skilled
composers who often wrote tunes at a single sitting. His technique was
to fully memorize the lyric, then piece together a suitable melody while
sitting at the piano, improvising. From 1924 until 1943, he was the director
of ASCAP. He declined re-nomination due to ill health. Speaks died in
1948, age 74.
Music by: Gus Edwards
Lyrics by: Will D. Cobb
Cover artist: unknown
I wonder if there is anyone over the age of ten who has not heard or
sung this song? One of the blockbuster hits to come from this era, School
Days has been in the public mind ever since its introduction by Gus
Edwards as the title song for his vaudeville act. The act featured a number
of child stars including George Jessel, Eddie Cantor and Georgie Price.
Already a famous songwriter (My Merry Oldsmobile, Tammany), the
vaudeville act made Edwards a top vaudeville performer. The act was first
called School Boys and Girls, then later simply School Days.
Edwards act provided a perfect opportunity for budding talent and many
of the great entertainers of the later years can thank Edwards for their
careers. Edwards' focus on child talent inspired a remark often heard
on Broadway; "Pull in your kids, here comes Edwards." Selling
over three million copies, School Days qualifies as one of the
top selling hits of the early century. Bing Crosby sang the song in the
1939 film biography of Edwards, The Star Maker and Gale Storm
and Phil Regan sang it in Sunbonnet Sue (1945).
Gus Edwards (1879 - 1945) Was born in Hohensalza, Germany and at
the age of eight his family brought him to America. Considered by some to
be the most important songwriter to come out of vaudeville, as a boy he
worked as a tobacco stripper at an uncle's cigar store. Gus used to sneak
into theaters and somehow made friends with several vaudeville performers,
among them, Lottie Gibson who used the boy as a boy stooge in her act. Blessed
with a fine voice, Edwards soon was performing in an act, "The Newsboy
Quartet". During this period, Edwards met and received coaching from
some of the most prominent performers of the time including George Cohan,
Emma Carus and Imogene Comer. With Cohan's encouragement, Edwards began
writing songs and his first song was All I Want Is My Black Baby Back
in 1898 and performed as a part of the Newsboy act. Edwards did not know
how to read or write music so had to enlist someone else to notate the melody
for him. During the Spanish American war, Edwards was entertaining troops
bound for Cuba and met Will D. Cobb, at the time a department store
salesman who wrote songs as a hobby. The two hit it off and decided to work
together writing songs. From that collaboration came a long list of hit
songs including this featured song and Good-bye, Little Girl, Good-bye
in 1904. Edwards worked with other composers and with each, wrote other
hits. Among his greatest hits are In My Merry Oldsmobile (see our
2001 feature), By The Light Of The Silvery Moon in 1909 and
Tammany in 1905. Edwards continued to stay involved in vaudeville
till it finally died out in the late 30's. He retired in 1938 and lived
to see his life story made into a movie, Star Maker (1939), starring
Bing Crosby. Edwards died in Los Angeles in 1945.
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Be sure to come back next month for many more top hits from the past!
That's it for this month's feature, as always, we hope you have enjoyed the
music and learned something from it. Next month we will continue the "greatest
hits" of the golden age with songs from 1910 - 1920 and explore what
makes a song a hit in a unique essay from 1908.
¹ Lissauer's Encyclopedia of Popular Music In America, p.898
See our resources page
for a complete bibliography of publications used to research this and our
other features and articles.
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