A Tribute Charles Gleason Kelley
(May 22, 1920 - July 29, 1994)
Part 1. Popular Songs
Every once in a while we need to step back and look at things with a different perspective. Here at ParlorSongs we tend to focus on the music and those who create it, every once in a while we need to remember that without the musicians, singers, and listeners there wouldn't be popular music. When I say musicians and singers I am not referring to the big time stars, but the rest of us. Those folks who play, teach and share these treasures with our families, friends and communities. One such individual was Charles Gleason Kelley. Mr. Kelly was a musician and educator who shared his passion for music with others throughout his life. Through the generosity of his great niece Linda Spromberg who donated his music collection to ParlorSongs, and his niece Donna [Kelley Rhodifer] Holcombe who contributed some biographical information on Charles we are able to bring you a little closer to a man who spent his life sharing the joy of music.
"Charles was a native of Dayton, Ohio. His vocal studies included work with Arthur Spessard, Theodore Heinmann (German), Ketty LaPeyrrette of the French National Conservatory of Music in Paris, France and Giacinto Gorno (Italian) at the College Conservatory of Music in Cincinnati, Ohio. His vocal career was quite varied and included opera, solo concert performances and numerous major oratorios. He was widely experienced as a conductor in both instrumental and vocal groups. When he was not singing he was quite often a member of a band, playing bass clarinet, just one of the many instruments he played.
As a church musician for over 35 years, Charles headed music programs at various churches and served thirteen years as Music Director of Otterbein United Methodist Church of Dayton, Ohio. While chairman of the music department of Northridge Public Schools in Ohio, Charles also appeared in concert as a featured soloist in various churches and with the Scottish Rite Choir. Charles always felt that his musical ability was a "gift from God" which was reflected in his presentation whether it be vocal or instrumental or as a director. Charles was always happiest when he was involved in some sort of musical endeavor."
I didn't know Mr. Kelly personally, nor do I know his family. In fact I didn't even have the brief biographical sketch presented above when I sat down to examine his collection. All I knew of the man was what I could guess from the music he owned and performed. My first task was to sort through the collection and separate it into two groupings, popular music, and everything else. ParlorSongs after all specializes in popular music of the 1800's and early 1900's. Only a very small portion of the collection was popular sheet music of the era, the rest was classical, opera, band methods and choir arrangements. First impression - educator. There were lots of method books for clarinet, trumpet and violin, and an instrument parts supply catalog. The picture came even clearer - band and choir, but probably not orchestra and not a piano teacher. There were a few other gems, but I will deal with them in part two of the story. As I sorted through his music I began to form a picture of who I thought Charles Kelly was. Then I found his "little black book" and that changed the picture a bit.
The black book wasn't an address book, rather it was a collection of lyrics from his favorite songs, some typed others written out in a very neat hand. Some have chord notation most don't indicating a very good memory indeed, and probably a vocalist. There were also a few scriptures from the bible and the poem "Trees" by Joyce Kilmer.
It seems there were two Charles Kelly's. Charles Kelly the Band Teacher (we now know he was much more than that, and Charles Kelly the Wedding Singer a man who could could keep a crowd happy and entertained with a broad selection of upbeat inspirational hits. So while popular music as we define it here at ParlorSongs wasn't a large part of his collection, it did play a larger part in his performance repertory as indicated by his song lists. What I learned from examining his collection and song lists was that Charles appeared to be a man of faith and inspiration, a patriot, a lover of light opera, and if his name wasn't clue enough, very Irish.
This first section of the tribute to Mr. Kelly will focus on his "little black book" and his popular sheet music collection. The second section which will appear in a couple of weeks will feature the more academic side of his collection. Just remember that we don't really know the man, just his music.
His little black book leads off with Shure They Call It Ireland", followed by Too-Ra-Lo-Ra-Loo-Ral, Danny Boy (Scorch) and Mother Machree. There are more Irish songs in the collection and I am going to start out with one not in the book.
My Wild Irish Rose
Going through much of Charles' popular music collection was like strolling down memory lane because we have either featured many of the songs already or songs of related genre. ParlorSongs has done at least three features on Irish music (see links at the bottom of the page for more info) and Charles had a copy of one of my favorites. So Lets start with My Wild Irish Rose by Chauncy Olcott. Olcott was one of America's most notable composers of "Irish" songs. Though he was of Irish extraction, he was actually born in the USA. For more about Olcott, see our composer biographies page.
This pleasant stately waltz makes me think not of Ireland but the Old West of the movies, as you listen to this song just tie off your horse and push your way through those bat-wing doors. Order up a beer sit down and relax. Again I didn't know Charles but I kind of like to think he would have been like me and skipped the beer and just sat back and listened for a while, probably leaving well before things got rowdy.
One of the things about music that I find interesting is the whole concept of style, what is it that makes one song "Country Western" another "Hawaiian" and yet another "Irish". Well whatever it is, this next piece has Irish written all over it, and it has a lot of markup written inside by Charles. He has also made more than one copy of the lyrics in the "book" so it was probably one of his favorites.
While I am not sure this really qualifies as a lullaby it certainly sounds Irish and it features one of the most sacred themes in early popular music, Mother. Check out the links at the bottom of the page for more songs about mom.
James Royce (J. R.) Shannon (1881 - 1946) Shannon, born James Royce in Adrian, Michigan became one of America's more prominent actor, composer/lyricists of the Tin Pan Alley era. Royce added Shannon to his name to create a pseudonym for his writing efforts. He organized his own theatrical company and toured the US and Europe. Shannon also was the drama critic for the Detroit Free Press for several years. His most famous song is Too-ra-loo-ra-loo-ral, written in 1913 for the musical production Shameen Dhu which was staged in New York in 1914. He also wrote the lyrics to The Missouri Waltz in 1916. That song had originally been published by the composer, Frederick Knight Logan in 1914 as a waltz without words. Shannon added the words and the song has since enjoyed the status of a lasting hit, becoming the state song of Missouri and also as a song regularly played by president Harry Truman in the White House.
Just A-Wearyin' For You
This next piece takes us on another stroll down ParlorSongs memory lane. "Just A-Wearyin' For You" by Carrie Jacobs-Bond from her first set of publications Seven Songs as unpretentious as the Wild Rose. The first women in America to break into popular music in a big way, for more of her music see the links at the bottom of the page. Charles' copy is in pretty good condition and it doesn't seem to appear in the "black book" so I am not sure it was one he sang often, but it brings back memories for us here at ParlorSongs.
Carrie Jacobs-Bond suffered many tragedies in her life but managed to overcome them all through courage and determination. Her life is inspirational and her ability to overcome the odds made her one of America's most loved composers. We've featured many of her works on ParlorSongs and still have many more to present. We recommend you spend the time to learn much more about this remarkable woman by visiting our in depth biography of her and our June, 2000 feature on her music. For even more of her songs we've published, use our search page and search for "Carrie Jacobs-Bond."
Sweet Miss Mary,
What do songs say about the singer, and the listener. We have done several issues in the past about race and music and if you wish you can look into the subject further by checking out the links at the bottom of the page. As with onions and ogres songs that target ethnic and religious minorities have layers. From the basest, cruelest hate filled songs of to the fairly innocuous. Of these layers the hate filled songs are the rarest and are not often seen. At the other end of the spectrum we have dialect songs. Usually slightly humorous and having a certain naivety or "innocence" about them. "Shortnin' Bread"(Mammies little babies love shortnin' bread) would fall into this category. In this sense "Sweet Miss Mary" is quite mystifying. The music doesn't have the feel of a typical dialect song, plus the words used to generate the dialect are laid on so heavily as to make the song nearly incomprehensible, yet they don't convince the listener that this is an ethnic song. It appears to me that "Sweet Miss Mary" was an unsold song that was "repurposed" by the composer or publisher. Was this one of Charles standards? Probably not, again it isn't particularly worn, and neither it nor other similar songs show up in the "book" or the collection. Somehow Charles just doesn't seem the type to be sitting around with the good-old-boys singin' about the darkies' down home.
William Harold Neidlinger (1863 - 1924) was born in Brooklyn, New York and was perhaps best known for his more lofty works as a composer. He also was a prominent conductor and respected teacher. Besides Sweet Miss Mary (1914) he also wrote The Birthday of a King (1890), Spirit of God and a cantata Prayer, Promise and Praise.
Only A Rose
Now comes my favorite of the popular pieces in Charles' collection. Only A Rose from the musical play The Vagabond King. With very few exceptions do the pieces that we feature on ParlorSongs get voiced with anything other than piano. And almost never do we try to emulate a voice part. Two reasons, the piano came to dominate the parlor as the instrument of choice, and creating convincing sounding instrumental parts other than keyboards and strings with midi is tough, voices nearly impossible. When editing the pieces however I do find that it helps me to pick out the melody/voice part if it is voiced with a woodwind. The first time I listened to this song after entering it I was blown away, I had to keep the wind sound, so I justified it thus, mom is playing the piano part (and mom is really good by the way, the actual notation looks to be a real bugger to play, what you see in the scorch version is considerable simplified) anyway virtuoso mom is playing the piano and little Suzie is playing the vocal on her brand new recorder. OK for you purists it is the midi voice for the ocarina, it sounds better than the recorder voice but I just couldn't picture little Suzie playing this on the potato whistle. Anyway this song is just down right spooky. Charles doesn't have it listed in the "little Black book" but it is the most thoroughly worn out piece in his popular collection, this is just one of those songs you have to play over and over.
Rudolf Friml (1879, Prague - 1972, Hollywood) Friml was a classically trained concert pianist and then a popular composer of songs in America. He studied at the Prague conservatory and was the pianist for the famed violinist Jan Kubelik, performing across Europe and in America. Friml settled in New York in 1906 and there he began composing scores for a number of popular stage shows and operettas. He continued writing scores for shows well into his eighties. Among his stage show scores are The Firefly (1912), Katinka (1915), Rose Marie (1924), The Vagabond King (1925) and The Three Musketeers (1930). His single works and songs that gained much fame include the Donkey Serenade and Indian Love Call. Several of these shows were made into motion pictures and Friml was instrumental in scoring the film versions as well. During his career he collaborated with most of the greatest of America's composers and lyricists including, Sigmund Romberg, Victor Herbert, P. G. Wodehouse and Oscar Hammerstein II. Friml appeared on several Merv Griffin shows during his latter years and was still playing the piano up till his death.
Well that just about wraps it up for the first section on the popular music in Charles G. Kelly's collection. I will observe that in his later years he seems to have added a number of popular inspirational pieces by John Denver, the Carpenters etc. to his repertoire. But I don't think they define the man, just the audience.
Stay tuned for the next section coming in two weeks, where we will look at the more serious aspects of Charles musical identity and we will even get into a little light opera. And I might even fix some of the current midi and scorch files.
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This article published August, 2004 and is Copyright © 2004 by Robert Maine. Text, images or music may not be reproduced in part or in total without express written permission of the author.
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