Collection The Library of Congress Celebrates the Songs of America

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  • Henry Clay Work

    Biography. Henry Clay Work (1832-1884) was born in Middleton, CT to abolitionist parents. A printer by trade and self-taught song composer, Work was employed by the Root & Cady music publishing house in Chicago and published his first song in 1853. Known for his emotionally charged Civil War songs such as Marching Through Georgia (1865), he was one of the most popular songwriters of ...

  • Noble Sissle, 1889-1975

    Biography. Biography. Sissle also founded the Negro Actors Guild. Known as the unofficial mayor of Harlem, he died in December 1975.

  • "The Friends We Love" by Septimus Winner

    Article. Winner wrote many such ballads during the civil war years. They were perhaps even more popular than those of his contemporary, Stephen Foster. According to Charles Claghorn, author of The Mocking Bird: The Life and Diary of Its Author, Septimus Winner, President Abraham Lincoln's favorite song was Winner's Listen to the Mockingbird, another simple ballad. The appeal of these popular songs was not ...

  • Maurice Arnold, 1865-1937

    Biography. Biography. Maurice Arnold was one of many African-American students of Antonin Dvorak during Dvorak's 1894 stay in the United States. Arnold participated in Dvorak's famous January 23, 1894, concert at the National Conservatory of Music in New York City. Arnold's four "American Plantation Dances" were performed at the conservatory and garnered him a small measure of fame. He was also the author of ...

  • Chris Smith, 1879-1949

    Biography. Biography. Chris Smith "wrote songs that pointed to black folk styles," according to music historian Eileen Southern. One of his biggest hits, "Good Morning, Carrie," was recorded as early as 1901. Both black and white musicals of the first decade of the 20th century used many of his songs as "interpolations,"or extra songs not especially connected to the plot. Some interpolations were "He's ...

  • J. Tim Brymn, 1881-1946

    Biography. Biography. After the revival of black musicals in 1921, Brymn immediately returned to stage work, appearing in Put and Take and conducting the orchestra for Liza. In 1923 Brymn introduced the "Black Bottom" dance to the world at large as part of the musical Dinah. Brymn also wrote several blues songs during the 1920s blues craze. In the 1930s Brymn conducted American military ...

  • Eubie Blake, 1883-1983

    Biography. Biography. Blake was one of the principle figures of the ragtime and early jazz revival of the 1970s, giving talks and performances well into his nineties. In 1979 the musical Eubie was created from his work; Blake himself made several cameo appearances in performances. Eubie Blake passed away shortly after his 100th birthday.

  • J. Leubrie Hill (John Leubrie), d. 1916

    Biography. Biography. Florenz Ziegfeld, producer of the Ziegfeld Follies, was impressed enough to buy the rights for a few of the numbers from My Friend from Kentucky including "At the Ball, That's All" to use in his next Follies production. Parts of My Friend from Kentucky also were used in 1914's Darktown Follies, which played in a more conventional Broadway theater; this production was ...

  • William H. Tyers, 1876-1924

    Biography. Biography. One of the first black composers to join ASCAP, Tyers died in 1924.

  • Will Marion Cook (1869-1944)

    Biography. Biography. Biography. Cook also followed his own advice. Thomas Riis, in his study of early black musical theater, singles out Cook's remarkable harmonic skill and compositional sophistication. When the pursuit of his classical career was stymied, Cook brought his exceptional talent to bear on popular music, perhaps paving the way for the marriage of popular spirit and classical complexity which became jazz. Either ...

  • Billy Johnson, 1858-1916

    Biography. Biography. After a period in Chicago, where Johnson got married, dabbled in politics, wrote some songs, and appeared in the last Pekin Stock Company production, he returned to the New York stage around 1911. The last show he performed in was Twenty Miles from Home in 1914. Billy Johnson died in 1916 after a fall.

  • Band Stocks

    Article. Article. African-American Band Music and Recordings, 1883-1923, provides instrumental parts for a representative sampling of the enormous body of published stock arrangements. The 1920s marked the beginning of the great era of popular song and of stock arrangement publishing. However, works published in 1923 and beyond remain under copyright protection. The public domain publications included here provide a valuable foundation for appreciating the ...

  • J. Rosamond Johnson (John Rosamond), 1873-1954

    Biography. Biography. When World War I broke out, Johnson received a commission as a 2nd Lieutenant in the 15th Regiment. After the war, he toured with his own groups, and even sang and played the part of a lawyer in the original production of Porgy and Bess in 1935. J. Rosamond Johnson died in New York City on November 11, 1954.

  • African-American Band Stocks

    Article. Article. All of these composers wrote hit music, heard in hotel restaurants as well as in the small-town bandstands of America. This music still retains its ability to delight.

  • Bob Cole, 1868-1911

    Biography. Biography. James Weldon Johnson later referred to Cole as "the single greatest force in the middle period of the development of black theatricals in America." Although he is still not well known today, history bears out much of Johnson's claim. Cole was one of the handful of truly pioneering black composers and performers of his time.

  • James Reese Europe, 1881-1919

    Biography. Biography. The impact of James Reese Europe on American music cannot be overestimated. Perhaps even more than Will Marion Cook, he shaped not only the music of his own time, but of future generations as well. His organizational accomplishments, far exceeding Cook's, prefigured the black-owned, black-run musical organizations that have existed since his time and to this day.

  • African American Performers on Early Sound Recordings, 1892-1916

    Article. Article. Mainspring Press http://www.mainspringpress.com/victorsales.htmlExternal

  • Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, 1875-1912

    Biography. Biography. In England, Coleridge-Taylor continued an active life in music. He composed, taught at Trinity College of Music, conducted numerous choral societies, and even conducted in the famed Handel Society from 1904 until his death. Samuel Coleridge-Taylor died on September 1, 1912, of pneumonia contracted due to overwork.

  • Joe Jordan

    Biography. Biography. Around 1905, he began a long career as a conductor and composer, working with James Reese Europe on Ernest Hogan's Memphis Students performance troupe. In 1906 he became music director of Chicago's Pekin Theater Orchestra. Jordan also worked in Chicago as a composer and conductor for several musicals. He contributed songs such as "Lovey Joe" to Ziegfeld's 1910 Follies. In 1939 Jordan ...

  • Shepard N. Edmonds, 1876-1957

    Biography. Biography. Little is known of Shepard N. Edmonds, except that he published some music. He was part of a vaudeville team with J. Leubrie Hill which performed on the East Coast around 1898.

  • " Pretty to Me" by Septimus Winner

    Article. Pretty to Me is lyrical, gentle, soft, and sentimental. Its melody is limited to an octave and consists of four verses. The melody for the second two stanzas of the verse nearly mirrors that of the first two stanzas. Each verse is followed by a homophonic choral refrain on the words "pretty to me."

  • John Larkins

    Biography. Biography. John Larkins was a minor figure in black music in the early part of the 20th century. He ran "Jolly" John Larkin's Company and employed James Reese Europe as its musical director from 1906-07. In 1910 he produced and starred in A Trip to Africa. His other credits include Royal Sam (1911) and Deep Central (1932).

  • R. Nathaniel Dett (1882-1943)

    Biography. Dett was opposed to the style of "swinging the spirituals" that was becoming popular during the 1930s. He held a poll among his students at Bennett College regarding their opinions of the popular style. One of his students, reflecting Dett' s teaching, wrote: "I like the music, but I don't like the way it was sung. . . . I think it lowers ...

  • " Spelling Bee" by Septimus Winner

    Article. Though not originally considered one of Winner's more popular songs, Spelling Bee achieved immense popularity as Swinging the Alphabet, a novelty song sung by the Three Stooges in their 1938 film, Violent Is the Word for Curly. It was the only full-length song performed by the Three Stooges in their short films, and it marked the only time they mimed to their own ...

  • Bert Williams, 1874-1922

    Biography. Biography. Williams was also one of the most prolific black performers on recordings, making around 80 recordings from 1901-22. Indeed, his first recording sessions with George Walker for the Victor Company in 1901 are considered the first recordings by black performers for a major recording company. Williams signed with Columbia in 1906 and the majority of his recordings were with that company, including ...