Bert Williams: selected recordings, 1910-1920 + galleries: photos and sheet music
There is a sheet music and record label gallery at bottom of page, followed by suggested resources for study of the subject, and footnotes.
From Ziegfeld Follies of 1910:
I’ll Lend You Everything I’ve Got Except My Wife (m. Harry Von Tilzer, w. Jean C. Havez)
MP3 (2.5 MB) audio file, from the Collected Works of Bert Williams page at archive.org:
Constantly (m. Bert Williams, w. James Henry Burris and Chris Smith)
MP3 (2.8 MB) audio file, from archive.org:
You’re Gwine to Get Somethin’ What You Don’t Expect (m. Bert Williams, w. Vincent Bryan)
note: “Gwine” is an obsolete equivalent to the contemporary “gonna,” for “going to.” Stephen Foster’s song known as Camptown Races (published 1850) was originally titled Gwine Run All Night, or De Camptown Races, though the Levy Sheet Music Collection also has an 1850 edition of Foster’s Plantation Melodies with the title of melody #3 given as Camptown Races.
audio file presently unavailable from archive.org (3 May 2016)
That Minor Strain (m. Ford Dabney, w. Cecil Mack) — not found
From Ziegfeld Follies of 1911:
Dat’s Harmony (Bert Williams, Grant Clarke) — The song was recorded by Arthur Collins in 1911. However, the “Hold/destroy” status indicated, and the absence of an assigned label name and catalog number, at the Discography of American Historical Recordings, suggests that it wasn’t released. It’s unclear to me whether Bert Williams recorded it. I haven’t found any information regarding a Bert Williams recording.
Woodman, Woodman, Spare That Tree (m. Irving Berlin, w. Vincent Bryan) — Bryan’s lyric is based upon an 1830 poem The Oak by George Pope Morris which became the popular song Woodman, Spare That Tree! when set to music in 1837 by Henry Russell.
MP3 (2.9 MB) audio file, from archive.org:
From the Ziegfeld Follies of 1912:
My Landlady (m. Bert Williams, w. Ferd E. Mierisch & James T. Brymn) — recorded in 1913
Borrow From Me (m. Bert Williams, w. Jean Havez)
- Borrow From Me (VBR MP3)
Nobody (m. Bert A. Williams, w. Alex Rogers)
Wikipedia excerpts from articles on Bert Williams and the song which was considered his “signature theme”:
The song premiered in February 1906, in the Broadway production “Abyssinia.” The show, which included live camels, premiered at the Majestic Theater and continued the string of hits for the vaudeville team of Williams and Walker. “Nobody,” became Bert Walker’s signature theme, and the song he is best remembered for today. It is a doleful and ironic composition, replete with his dry observational wit, and is perfectly complemented by Williams’ intimate, half-spoken singing style.
In February 1906, Abyssinia, with a score co-written by Williams, premiered at the Majestic Theater. The show, which included live camels, was another smash. Williams committed many of its songs to disc and cylinder. One of them, “Nobody“, became his signature theme, and the song he is best remembered for today. It is a doleful and ironic composition, replete with his dry observational wit, and is perfectly complemented by Williams’ intimate, half-spoken singing style.
Bert Williams – 1913 recording. The song was later recorded by Bing Crosby and Johnny Cash among others.
The Darktown Poker Club (m. Bert Williams, Will Vodery, w. Jean C. Havez) – used in the Ziegfeld Follies of 1914; Phil Harris had a 1947 hit with his interpretation
Two numbers from the Ziegfeld Follies of 1915:
I’m Neutral (Gene Buck, George Hobart, Raymond Hubbell, Dave Stamper, and Bert Williams)
Indoor Sports (Seymour Furth)
The two numbers on the lone 78 produced by Bert Williams in 1916 were each performed by the artist in the Ziegfeld Follies of 1916. The Lee Family is a comic monologue. The sheet music cover of I’m Gone Before I Go, above, indicates that this song was a big hit. Jasobrecht.com notes that in keeping with the Shakespearean theme of this year’s show, Williams also performed a spoof on Othello (in a separate skit I believe).
The Lee Family (m. Will Vodery, w. Alex Rogers) — Bert Williams, 1916
Jasper Lee inherits a bundle of money, sells his farm and moves to the big city. The other premise of the joke of the monologue is that money changes people. Mr. Lee and his large family prove to be no exceptions to the rule. Upon moving to the city Lee decides that he, his wife, twelve children, and the rest of the extended family should all have names like those he sees around the city on streetcars, fences, and particularly on “electric signs.” A couple of the adopted names have both commercial and Scriptural origins: Hallud (as in “Hallud be thy name”) and Nero (as in “Nero, my God, to Thee”).
The new names given to or chosen by the Lee family members include the following:
Bull Durham (tobacco brand)
September Morn (scandalous 1912 painting later mass produced and frequently copied)
Tiffany (jewelry and glass designers)
Dandereen (shampoo brand)
Coca Cola (beverage co.)
Herpicide (hair tonic)
Gold Dust (soap brand)
White Rose Tea
Anheuser-Busch Green River Wilson (brewing co., cutlery mfg., US President)
Sure Cure (?)
Orangine Vaseline (petroleum jelly)
BVD (undergarment mfg.)
Java Lax (herbal remedy)
Maltine (beverage laced with various nutritional or “medicinal” supplements)
Uneeda (cracker, Nabisco)
White Rock (beverage co. which for decades used images of the goddess Psyche, pictured as a nubile, topless, winged fairy, in its advertisements)
I’m Gone Before I Go (m. Harry Carroll, w. Ballard MacDonald)
From Ziegfeld Follies of 1917:
No Place Like Home (m. Ring Lardner) — The title of this talking song makes reference to the 1823 song Home! Sweet Home! A portion of the theme is stated in the conclusion.
- No Place Like Home (VBR MP3)
Williams did not appear in the Follies of 1918.
O Death Where Is Thy Sting (Clarence Stout) — recorded 26 August 1918, and released as the 78 rpm single Columbia A2652, b/w When I Return (Will Vodery)
From the Ziegfeld Follies of 1919:
- When the Moon Shines on the Moonshine
- Bring Back Those Wonderful Days
- It’s Nobody’s Business But My Own
- Somebody Else, Not Me
When the Moon Shines on the Moonshine (m. Robert Hood Bowers, w. Francis De Witt)
Bring Back Those Wonderful Days (m. Nat Vincent, w. Darl MacBoyle)
It’s Nobody’s Business But My Own (Will E. Skidmore & Marshall Walker) — As the sheet music cover indicates, this song was also performed in Ziegfeld’s Midnight Frolic of 1919 (later than the Follies).
Somebody Else, Not Me (m. James F. Hanley and Bert Williams, w. Ballard MacDonald)
Everybody Wants a Key to My Cellar (w.m. Ed Rose, Billy Baskette & Lew Pollace)
Ten Little Bottles (m. James Monaco, w. Ballard MacDonald*) — The label of the Williams issue credits only Monaco, while that of Jack Norworth’s recording credits [Ballard] MacDonald for the words. I don’t know if this indicates two distinct lyrics.
From the show Broadway Brevities (1920):
- You’ll Never Need a Doctor No More
- Eve Cost Adam Just One Bone
- I Makes Mine Myself
The song lists for the show at IBDb indicate that Williams also performed the new song I Want to Know Where Tosti Went, and two revivals from previous Follies: When the Moon Shines on the Moonshine, and Somebody Else, Not Me
You’ll Never Need a Doctor No More (Chris Smith)
Eve Cost Adam Just One Bone ( Charles A. Bayha) — recorded 12 November 1920
I Makes Mine Myself (m. Robert Hood Bowers, w. Francis De Witt)
I haven’t found any evidence of Bert Williams having recorded the song. However, that it was introduced by Williams in Broadway Brevities is proudly announced on the cover of the sheet music (above). The recording below, dated 1921, features an obvious impersonation of Williams by Ernest Hare.
Ernest “Ernie” Hare – 1921
Sheet music and record label gallery:
Suggested Resources for Study
- Encyclopedia of World Biography
- Black History Now (fixed 19 Sep 2013)
- Broadway: The American Musical (pbs.org)
- Bert Williams — King of Comedy (Yesterday’s Papers)
Williams & Walker:
- Jass.com: Bert Williams & George Walker
- Introducing Bert Williams: Burnt Cork, Broadway, and the Story of America’s First Black Star by Camille F. Forbes (2010), Chapter 2: The Williams and Walker Years, pp. 37-163 (Google eBooks preview is available, though some pages are presently missing.)
- Schomburg Exhibit on Williams, Walker and Walker — at a University of Michigan web address titled “Harlem 1900-1940, an African-American Community”
- Introducing Bert Williams: Burnt Cork, Broadway, and the Story of America’s First Black Star by Camille F. Forbes (2010) Google eBooks preview available
- Nobody: The Story of Bert Williams by Ann Charters (1970)
- The Last “Darky”: Bert Williams, Black-on-Black Minstrelsy, and the African Diaspora by Louis Chude-Sokei (2005) — Google eBooks
- “Bert Williams” by Booker T. Washington, in Interesting People column of American Magazine, Vol.70 (1910). pp. 600-601, 603-604 (Google eBooks)
- “The Comic Side of Trouble” by Bert Williams, American Magazine, Vol. 85 (1918), pp. 33-34, 58, 60-61 (Google eBooks)
Audio files of recordings:
- Collected Works of Bert Williams – Internet Archive
- Collected Works of Bert Williams & George Walker — Internet Archive
Songbook pages on Bert Williams, George Walker, and Aida Overton Walker:
- Bert Williams & George Walker: selections from their first Victor recording session, 11 October 1901
- Bert Williams and George Walker: selected sheet music slide show and gallery, 1896-1908
- Bert Williams and George Walker slide show and gallery, 1896-1909
- Aida Overton Walker slide show and gallery
Bert Williams solo:
- Bert Williams: selected recordings, 1910-1920 + photo and sheet music galleries
- Bert Williams photo gallery, 1910-1920
- Bert Williams: selected sheet music and record label gallery, 1910-1920