Gene Buck

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The multi-talented Gene Buck was the overlord of many of his songwriting peers as the president of the performing rights society ASCAP in the early '30s. His long and distinguished career on Broadway…
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The multi-talented Gene Buck was the overlord of many of his songwriting peers as the president of the performing rights society ASCAP in the early '30s. His long and distinguished career on Broadway includes involvement with many of the original Ziegfeld Follies shows as well as several productions that he created completely on his own. He wrote songs in a variety of enduring partnerships, and via ASCAP, lobbied long and hard for the then newly developing industry of radio to embrace music wholeheartedly, if only to bolster sagging sales of sheet music. And the latter situation connects directly to what is surely the most endearing of Buck's many talents. He was a skilled graphic designer whose personal touch creating sheet music covers made every other artist have to buckle down in their studios just to keep up appearances.

Buck studied art at the Detroit Art Academy and went to work for the studio of Jerome Remick in New York City as a staff illustrator. In this capacity, he created some 5000 sheet music covers, according to legend, although some of these were basic photo layouts. Buck created a style of art deco lettering in an era when such an approach hadn't really been officially identified. He did much of his finest work between 1904 and 1914, prior to developing difficulties with his vision. Around 1910, he had begun branching out in songwriting, coming up with lyrics for tunes written by the talented Dave Stamper. Edison began releasing some of these ditties on its Diamond Discs series, and Buck stepped up his activity on the city's bustling music scene. He held the position with ASCAP through 1941, and his relations with songwriters seem to have their good and bad sides. He helped many young writers such as Billy Hill, creator of classic cowboy songs, with personal loans. But he also engineered several serious racial snubs of its black composers by ASCAP, and made a disgusting comment when some of them complained: "I'm surprised to hear there is some objection," Buck was quoted as saying when many famous black composers were not invited to an important ASCAP function.

The Broadway shows Yours Truly and Take the Air were his labors of love. The latter show was presented to the public in 1927, Buck directing from his own book and lyrics. He produced and directed Yours Truly the following year. As a songwriter, his subjects ranged from the maudlin "Daddy Has a Sweetheart, and Mother Is Her Name," one of his collaborations with Stamper to the frightening "The Vampire," co-written with Bert Williams and Earl Jones.