Albert Von Tilzer, Tin Pan Alley Pioneer.
This month we look at the second of the greatest pair of song writing brothers who pioneered much of the music of Tin Pan Alley in it's early years; Albert Von Tilzer. Last month we presented older brother Harry's biography and a view of some of his music. Between them they produced some of the greatest music of the early twentieth century, much of which is still well known. Both also contributed to the growth of the music publishing business through the establishment of successful publishing houses. Both were born Gumm (some accounts further say that their birth name was Gummblinsky which was shortened to Gumm ) and when Brother Harry changed his name to "Von Tilzer" in 1884, brother Albert followed suit. Though both wrote songs with almost every major songwriter in Tin Pan Alley, they never wrote a song together (that I can find) and their personal and business ties remained seemingly estranged except for a very short period early in Albert's career when Harry helped him get started by hiring him and publishing some of his earliest songs.
Albert was born Albert Gumm (or Gummblinsky) in Indianapolis, Indiana on March 29, 1878. From a fairly large family, his five brothers all ended up in the music business, each making their own unique mark in Tin Pan Alley. Harry preceded all the brothers into show business and it was Harry who felt the name Gumm was simply too mundane and he chose his mother's maiden name, Tilzer and in his words, "gussied" it up with a leading "Von" and thus was born the name that would become one of Tin Pan Alley's greatest musical family names. So successful was Harry that his brothers Albert, Jack, Julie and Will all changed their name to Von Tilzer to capitalize on the Von Tilzer magic. Albert was raised in Indianapolis and attended elementary school there. When in high school, as with many children of those times, Albert abandoned school in favor of helping the family make a living. At that time, his father owned a shoe store and young Albert went to work there as a shoe salesman. By this time, his older brother Harry had begun his own life in the entertainment business and Albert began showing interest in music. He had a few lessons in music harmony (it is unknown, from who or where) and taught himself to play the piano by ear. Despite this rather thin musical education, Albert was hired as music director of a vaudeville troupe.
By 1899, brother Harry had become a popular songwriter and was a partner of Shapiro, Berstein and Von Tilzer and helped Albert land a job at the company's Chicago office. By this time of course, Albert Gumm had also assumed the Von Tilzer name his brother had concocted. Sometime in 1900, still unpublished as a songwriter, Albert moved to New York where he sold shoes in a Brooklyn store while still trying to learn how to compose and write songs. That same year, his brother gave him a boost by publishing his first song, The Absent-Minded Beggar Waltz which promptly went nowhere as far as popularity goes. Undaunted, Albert continued to compose and in 1902, he teamed up with a very well known lyricist, Arthur J. Lamb to publish his first well known song, Tell Me That Beautiful Story. Undoubtedly, brother Harry had much to do with the link to Lamb. Harry himself had several hits with Lamb, as did the great early composer Charles K. Harris ( in depth biography) . The song was published by brother Harry's publishing house. The cover artist is unknown but is graced by an inset photo of Albert. That photo, with the caption, "our trade mark," would become a hallmark on most of Von Tilzer's published songs. This song is quite impressive as an early effort by Von Tilzer. It is a classic tear-jerker (for which Lamb was one of the masters of lyric) and has a wonderful story. But, more importantly, it has a melody that is not only memorable, but touches the heart. The song overall is one of the best love songs to come out of the period. Though still grounded in the "gay nineties" period of song, it has a more forward looking melody and harmony. The song starts with a nice introductory verse in common (4/4) time and then at the chorus, moves into a wonderful waltz that gets to the heart of the "beautiful story," of love. Click the cover image or here to hear and see the Scorch version of the song (printable using the Scorch plug-in) or listen to the midi and see the Lyrics .
Not long after after the success of Tell Me That Beautiful Story, Albert wrote the words and music to a song titled That's What The Daisy Said and Harry's firm published it in 1903. That song was wildly popular and set Albert off on his own career separate from Harry but still tied to his family. In 1903, Albert formed his own publishing house, the York Music Company with his brother Jack, who like all the Gumm brothers, had also changed his name to Von Tilzer. The York publishing house then began what would be an outpouring of hit songs from the pen of Albert in collaboration with some of America's greatest lyricists. In 1904, Albert published Teasing with lyrics by Cecil Mack and Lonesome with Joe Rosey. The song was written for the stage production The School Girl which opened at the Herald Square Theater in New York on October 24, 1904 and closed 120 performances later. The show included music from a number of composers of the period, most of which were relatively unknown. The unattributed cover carries a photo of Edna May, one of the cast but not a headliner. May and her sister both starred in the show. May appeared in three musicals in New York from 1901 to 1905. Then after an unusually long absence, she appeared again in a 1927 play Babbling Brooks which closed after only three performances. May moved to Switzerland and died there in 1948. At this point, Von Tilzer was gaining popularity, but as evidenced by this music and his place in the show as well as the performer, he has not yet attained superstardom in Tin Pan Alley, but it will only be a few years before he does. The song is an upbeat one despite the title and the subject matter. It reminds me a great deal of some of George M. Cohan's songs, jaunty and melodic with a great deal of popular appeal. Click the cover image or here to hear and see the Scorch version of the song or listen to the midi and see the Lyrics .
By 1905 Von Tilzer had become well established and had a number of very popular hit songs to his credit. Among them were The Moon Has Eyes On You, with Billy Johnson and A Picnic For Two, with Arthur Lamb. By this time, Von Tilzer already had enough hits on his hands to publish a "dance folio" with the melodies of many of his songs for home play. In this folio we also have the opportunity to see and hear some of the very few piano only works by Von Tilzer. His brother published a similar folio in 1901 (see our full biography and review of Harry Von Tilzer's music for more information) and the "dance folio" had become a popular way for publishers and songwriters to disseminate their melodies at a very affordable price. All the music was published without lyrics so if a melody caught someone's ears, the folios would often help increase sales of the individual items. Among the fourteen titles included in this folio is a stunning march by Von Tilzer titled, Bunker Hill. We saw in last month's issue about brother Harry, that Harry's marches did not at all reach the same level of quality as his ballads. However, Albert clearly was comfortable in this genre for here he has created a march that is as entertaining melodically as any we've heard in our many years of publishing songs. This march became so popular that in 1906, Von Tilzer republished it with a set of lyrics and it reached a fairly high level of popularity. The music is really rather simple as marches go. The melody line is not complex and the accompaniment is also rather easy. Chances are, they were simplified for the folio, as was often the case but regardless, it is a pleasant experience that does not tax the mind or ears. Click the cover image or here to hear and see the Scorch version of the song (printable using the Scorch plug-in) or listen to the midi there are no Lyrics for this work.
The years from 1905 to '08 resulted in a number of popular hits for Albert and especially so when he teamed up with Jack Norworth ( Shine On Harvest Moon) for a number of great songs. Included during this period were, Honey Boy, a tribute to the minstrel George "Honey Boy" Evans, Good Evening Caroline and Smarty, both with Norworth. It was however, their 1908 song that captured the heart of the nation and established Von Tilzer as a superstar in the popular music realm. Though neither had supposedly ever attended a baseball game, they managed to create and publish a song that would forever be linked to the game, Take Me Out To The Ball Game. As any American knows, this song is in itself a national treasure. Sung at virtually every professional baseball game in the US for almost 100 years, the tune and words are known by almost every baseball fan in America. Though Von Tilzer wrote many, many other songs of equal or greater musical value several of which continue to be heard in the popular repertoire, none are probably as well known as this one. According to many sources, though none give an authoritative source, Norworth and Von Tilzer had never attended a baseball game until after their song had been published and received so much attention. Now, a seventh inning stretch requirement, the song and baseball could never be separated. The song may have overshadowed Von Tilzer's output so thoroughly that at least one uninformed and obviously poorly researched website has called them and the song a "one hit wonder." Nothing could be further from the truth when speaking of either Von Tilzer or Norworth. Click the cover image or here to hear and see the Scorch version of the song or listen to the midi or view the Lyrics for this work.
After the 1908 rush of hits, Von Tilzer began working with other notable lyricists. He had few hits that even came close to the prior ones and in 1910, he tried to recapture the feeling by publishing a musical sequel to Take Me Out To The Ball Game. That year he teamed up with Harry Breen to publish Back To The Bleachers For Mine. The song carried a terrific baseball oriented cover by an unknown artist and musically, the song inside shared a number of attributes with the 1908 hit but like many sequels, missed the mark and has been probably forgotten long since its publication. As with movie sequels, though the title and subject matter are promising, the material inside is not sufficiently different from the original and lacks any real exciting and new ideas. Though certainly worthy and a well written song, as with most sequels, it suffers by comparison to the original, a standard that still has not been even approached to this day, nearly a century later. Click the cover image or here to hear and see the Scorch version of the song or listen to the midi or view the Lyrics for this work.
Though Von Tilzer may have struck out with "Back To The Bleachers," 1910 was certainly not a wash for this same year he published another of his lasting hits with lyricist Junie Mc Cree, Put Your Arms Around Me Honey, (Scorch format) an incredible song and yet another that has stayed in the popular repertoire ever since publication. In 1912, Von Tilzer hooked up with Lew Brown, with whom he would write some of his greatest hits. This collaboration was Brown's first song writing partnership and he would go on to become one of America's greatest lyricists. Their first two songs were tepid hits that rode on Von Tilzer's fame, but did not go too far compared to many of his other works. They were; I'm The Lonesomest Gal In Town and Kentucky Sue. The partnership between Brown and Von Tilzer lasted several years and resulted in many hit songs and almost all of Von Tilzer's songs from 1912 on featured Brown as lyricist. Soon after the publication of Please Don't Take My Lovin' Man Away, also in 1912, the two wrote a follow-up novelty song that picked up right where "Please Don't" left off; Here Comes The Bride (The Girl Who Stole My Loving Man Away). Unfortunately for the heroine of the song, her earlier pleas were ignored and she found herself sitting in a church while that man stealing twit walked down the aisle to marry her man. The song does use the famed "here comes the bride" theme, the bridal chorus from Richard Wagner's opera Lohengrin to add that wedding sound and touch to the song. The song has a bluesy sort of jazzy sound to it and actually sounds much more like a song of the twenties rather than one of the early teens. Von Tilzer's music in my opinion tended to always be more forward looking than many of his contemporaries and in many respects, his music paved the way for many of the harmonic and rhythmic changes that would come in a few years. Whereas many composers of the era were grounded in tradition, Von Tilzer seemed to be setting future standards. Click the cover image or here to hear and see the Scorch version of the song or listen to the midi or view the Lyrics for this work.
Lew Brown (1893 - 1958) wrote lyrics for some of the most popular songs of the 1920s and 1930s as part of the song writing team of De Sylva, Brown, and Henderson including The Best Things in Life are Free, I Used to Love You But Its All Over Now, Life Is Just a Bowl of Cherries, Youre the Cream in My Coffee and Sunny Side Up. He was born Louis Brownstein in Odessa, Russia on December 10, 1893. His family brought him to America in 1898 at the age of five and he attended De Witt Clinton High School in the Bronx, New York. While still in his teens, he began writing parodies of popular songs of the day, and eventually began writing original lyrics. For more about Brown, see our composer biographies page. Several of Brown and Von Tilzer's most important songs will be featured as we continue this article. By 1915, Von Tilzer (and his brother as well) was established as one of Tin Pan Alley's top composers. Though his collaboration with Brown would produce the most hits, his popularity and place as a composer allowed him to work with just about anyone he pleased. Lyricists often submitted their work to famed composers in the hopes of making a name for themselves or in the case of well known established lyricists, to collaborate with the best. As a result, Von Tilzer continued to work with other lyricists. Such was the case with this 1915 work with two of America's most well known writers, Will Dillon and Sam M. Lewis, My Little Girl. It was also at this time that Von Tilzer changed the name of his publishing house from York Music to the Broadway Music Corporation and this song is one of the first published under that name. Graced with a cover by DeTakacs, the song is clever and creative in it's presentation and story. The beginning starts as a letter with a "handwritten" date and salutation, "Dear Mary." The lyrics are as though a beau was writing a letter to his love whom he misses and takes the form of him writing a song to her. I found the letter idea with a song inside a song a unique and creative approach. Be sure to view the Scorch format song to see the way the song was printed. It's a lovely tune as well. Click the cover image or here to hear and see the Scorch version of the song or listen to the midi or view the Lyrics for this work.
By the time the War came around, Tin Pan Alley rallied 'round the flag and most composers pitched in to win the war with patriotic songs to inspire the people at the home front. (For a look at the music of W.W.I, see our three part series about War music beginning with the first installment here. Next month (April, 2004, we will also feature an article about the use of music as wartime propaganda ). Von tilzer wrote several great war songs including Au Revoir But Not Good-Bye, Soldier Boy but his greatest was a beautiful march song with Lew Brown, I May Be Gone For A Long Long Time. Introduced by Grace La Rue in Hitchy Koo, the song became one of the war's favorites. A beautifully wistful cover by De Takacs adds to the sentimental theme of the song. Hitchy Koo was first premiered at the Cohan and Harris Theater (built: 1914 closed: 1933) at 226 W. 42nd St. in New York on June 7, 1917. The show ran for over 220 performances and was moved to two other theaters during that same year. Later variants of the show, with different music and performers were staged in 1918, 1919 and 1920. Grace La Rue was one of Broadway's most popular and successful performers. She starred in several versions of the Ziegfeld Follies and at least twelve other major Broadway plays up till her last, Sweet Adeline in 1929. The song is a very upbeat march song with the common "off to war" theme that was so prevalent when America entered the war. Full of hope, love and patriotic fervor and a terrific melody, it's no wonder this song was so popular. Click the cover image or here to hear and see the Scorch version of the song or listen to the midi or view the Lyrics for this work.
After the war, America's next great challenge was the 1919 enactment of prohibition. Tin Pan Alley jumped into this "war" with just as much frenzy as the war to end all wars. Von Tilzer wrote at least two songs related to prohibition but unlike most composer's songs that either were clearly against prohibition or made light of alcoholism, Von Tilzer's songs were just as clearly in support of prohibition. His first 1919 prohibition effort, with Edward Laska was The Alcoholic Blues, a very bluesy song indeed that though it seems to extoll the virtues of drink, really shows the down side and what it does to people. We featured the song way back in our September 1999 feature (see link in the list of Von Tilzer songs we've published). The second song, I Never Knew I Had A Wonderful Wife (Until The Town Went Dry) is a fun novelty song with a strong message that shows the value of family and staying home and enjoying your spouse as opposed to out carousing and drinking. The lyrics tell the story of a man who discovers the virtues of his wife after prohibition. He finds he sees things he'd never seen before and realizes what he had been missing. In many respects, the lyrics seem far too serious to be considered a novelty song and I believe that Von Tilzer and Brown must have both been advocates of prohibition. A great cover by E.E. Walton further illustrates the message with a supplicant and thankful husband with his coy and humble wife. What great stuff! Click the cover image or here to hear and see the Scorch version of the song (printable using the Scorch player) or listen to the midi or view the Lyrics for this work.
Also in 1919, Von Tilzer and Brown wrote one of their most creative and popular novelty songs, one that would appear in two movies decades after its first appearance. Betty Hutton sang it in Incendiary Blond in 1945 and Vivian Blaine in 1952's Skirts Ahoy. That song is of course, Oh By Jingo! Oh By Gee! This song is a rollicking and exciting "jungle" style song that was performed by Charlotte Greenwood (on the cover) in the musical production, Linger Longer Letty. The show opened at the Fulton Theater on November 20, 1919 and closed 69 performances later. Greenwood was quite popular and her career on Broadway spanned a 40 year period from her first appearance in The Passing Show of 1912 to the 1950 production, Out Of This World. This song has a fabulous melody and rhythm and a tongue twisting set of lyrics that are a joy to hear and even better to sing. So make sure you have your scorch player installed and enjoy see if you can sing along. I guarantee it will have you laughing and the melody will stick with you, perhaps longer than you'd like. Von Tilzer made liberal use of ornaments, staccato and harmonic progressions to make this song a definite stand out and by many accounts, one of his best songs. This song is another from the kind and generous donation of music to ParlorSongs by the Sylvia English family. Click the cover image or here to hear and see the Scorch version of the song or listen to the midi or view the Lyrics for this work.
By 1920, Von Tilzer became more involved in writing for Broadway. Although he had written scores early on for The School Girl, 1904 and The Happiest Night Of His Life, in 1911 other than these two, his involvement was mainly incidental as the composer of a few songs. In 1920 he actually returned to writing full scores for Broadway productions and continued to do with some success 'til 1927. In 1920 he wrote Honey Girl with Edward Clark and Neville Fleeson. It premiered at the Cohan and Harris Theater on May 30, 1920 and in spite of a paltry 32 performances, is considered his most important works. In 1922, he teamed with Fleeson and Daniel Kusell to write The Gingham Girl, probably his most successful stage work with a run of well over a year at the Earl Carroll and Central Theaters. The following year, he wrote Adrienne which ran for 235 performances and then in 1925 Three Doors and his final stage work, Burlesque appeared in 1927.
As a part of the score for Honey Girl, two major hits appeared, the first an all time favorite ballad that is still sung regularly, I'll Be With You In Apple Blossom Time (see below link) and another upbeat "jungle style" song called Chili Bean, again with lyrics by Lew Brown and a wonderful "island" cover by "RS." In the style more or less as Oh By Jingo, the song has that mysterious beat and sound of a native song and is clearly somewhat of a follow on or sequel to "Jingo." The cover certainly send some mixed signals as to venue; the young lady is clearly Hawaiian in style and the men seem to represent several cultures. Of course the song explains all that. First, Chili Bean is the girl and she lives in the land of Eenie Meenie Minie Mo. The men are profiteers cum suitors who flock to her from around the globe to hear her um ta da played on her guitar. They also profess to love her ja DA, um TA DA DA and want to marry her and have lots of eenie meenies who get fed weenies. Got it? Easy as pie isn't it? Again, we have an absolute joy and fun filled song with a catchy melody that was one of Von Tilzer's best. The song was initially introduced by Aileen Stanley in the revue Silks and Satins and was later recorded on Columbia by Frank Crummit and the Paul Biese Trio. Click the cover image or here to hear and see the Scorch version of the song (printable using the Scorch player) or listen to the midi or view the Lyrics for this work.
Though Von Tilzer continued to write songs after 1920, the musical tastes of America had changed and he found his song style declining in popularity. Though he was still able to write excellent songs, he abandoned Tin Pan Alley and like many composers of the period after the introduction of sound in the movies, he moved to California to write songs for the movies. More on that later. One non movie song that was a hit was his 1921 effort with Lew Brown (one of their last together), Wait Until You See My Madeline, another of the donations to us from the Sylvia English collection. In some respects, the song is a return to earlier style and tastes, perhaps Von Tilzer and Brown were reminiscing about the "good old days." Done as a ballad in march style the song speaks of a man's search for the perfect girl and just when he is about to give up, he finds the perfect woman. It's a great song with a wonderful melody and some interesting harmonic progressions. Click the cover image or here to hear and see the Scorch version of the song (printable using the Scorch player) or listen to the midi or view the Lyrics for this work.
Very few individual songs were written after this time, Von Tilzer had moved on to movies and a few remaining stage shows. Von Tilzer's movie credits include the 1933 film, Rainbow Over Broadway and the 1935 film, Here Comes The Band. He retired sometime after 1935 and nothing came from his pen again save one last song written around 1950, I'm Praying To Saint Christopher. Albert Von Tilzer died in Los Angeles on October 1, 1956. Along with his brother Harry, he is an inductee of the Songwriter's Hall Of Fame, a place deserved for his tremendous contribution to America's music.
For biographical information about some of the collaborators and lyricists who assisted Albert Von Tilzer with the songs we've featured this month, see our composers biographies page.
Want to see and hear more Albert Von Tilzer songs? Explore our site's resources. Over the years we've published several of Albert Von Tilzer's songs. Here is a list of songs in addition to the songs featured in this article that have been published on our site and the monthly issue of ParlorSongs where they can be seen and heard.
This article published March, 2004 and is Copyright © 2004 by Richard A. Reublin and The Parlor Songs Academy. Text, images or music may not be reproduced in part or in total without express written permission of the author.
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