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Biography Gussie Lord Davis, 1863-1899

Image: Gussie Davis
Gussie Lord Davis [n.d.]. Performing Arts Reading Room, Library of Congress.

Gussie Lord Davis (1863-1899) was a celebrated composer of minstrels and the first Black songwriter to achieve major success in New York's commercial music district, Tin Pan Alley. Davis received his musical education at the Nelson Musical College in Cincinnati. Denied formal admission because of his race, he agreed to perform janitorial duties at the college for partial wages in return for private lessons. His first commercial success, "We Sat Beneath the Maple on the Hill" (1880) was written when he was only 18. He moved to New York in 1886, where his songs were published by some of the leading music companies of Tin Pan Alley. In 1895, his song "Send Back the Picture and the Ring" won second place in a songwriting contest sponsored by the New York World. His most popular songs were "In the Baggage Coach Ahead," "Down on Poverty Row," and "The Fatal Wedding." An extremely versatile composer and performer, Davis experimented with many musical forms, including sentimental ballads, comic minstrel songs, art songs, and choral music. His works were often featured in performances of his troupe, the Davis Operatic and Plantation Minstrels.