Sunday, August 28, 2011

The Von Tilzers

        I'd wager a hefty sum that if I asked a dozen people at random if they ever heard of the Von Tilzers, they'd say "no". They were a family in the music business, composers, lyricists and music publishers starting with the oldest brother, Harry, around the turn of the last century. (Anyone named Harry cannot be all bad.) Actually, there were five brothers and their family surname originally was Gumm. It was Harry who used his mother's maiden name, Tilzer, and then added the Von in front of it because he liked the sound of it and thought it added an air of distinction. (Just as an aside, by the way, those who are trivia buffs may recall that Judy Garland's real name was Frances Gumm, but I don't know if she was kin to the Von Tilzers.) Anyway, Harry was a piano-playing composer and vaudeville singer in the `1890s and so good at it that he was offered a partnership in a music publishing firm. That firm published his hit "A Bird In a Gilded Cage" , lyrics by Arthur Lamb, which sold several million copies of the sheet music and put Harry's name on the map.

        In 1902, Harry went on to found the Harry Von Tilzer Music Company, which became one of the most important publishers in the history of American popular music. In addition to publishing Harry's songs, It also listed songs by George Gershwin and other composers. (We'll talk about Gershwin another time.) Among Harry's most successful songs, with sales in the millions, were "On a Sunday Afternoon", "Wait Till the Sun Shines, Nellie," and "I Want a Girl, Just Like the Girl, That Married Dear Old Dad." Four of Harry's brothers adopted the Von Tilzer name and also went into the music business. Jules became President of Harry's Company. Will Von Tilzer became head of the Broadway Music Company. Jack Von Tilzer co-counded and directed the York Music Company. And younger brother Albert Von Tilzer wrote some popular songs that swept the country.

        It was Albert who wrote the music to the most popular sports song ever written, "Take Me Out To the Ball Game" (lyrics by Jack Norworth in 1908) which everybody in America who has ever attended a major league baseball game has heard. It is usually played during the seventh inning stretch. In a story written about him in his later years he revealed that he had never been to a ball game until twenty years after he wrote that song. Among his other songs was "Put Your Arms Around Me, Honey" with lyrics by Junie McCree, in 1910. But the song we remember most fondly, the one that emerged as the most popular song of the WW II era, is "I'll Be With You in Apple Blossom Time", with lyrics by Neville Fleeson, written in 1920. Even today the fabulous recording by the Andrews Sisters, some 70 years since they recoded it, and more than 90 years since Albert composed it, is still in demand.

I'll be with you, in apple blossom time,
I'll be with you to change your name to mine,
One day in May, I'll come and say,
Happy the bride that the sun shines on today.
What a wonderful wedding there will be,
What a wonderful day for you and me.
Church bells will chime, you will be mine,
In apple blossom time.

Take me out to the ball game,
Take me out with the crowd,
Buy me some peanuts and Cracker Jack,
I don't care if I never get back.
Let me root, root, root for the home team,
If they don't win it's a shame,
For it's one, two, three strikes you're out,
At the old, ball game.


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