George Botsford

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George Botsford was born in South Dakota and raised in Iowa, and his earliest compositions were pre-ragtime niceties. "Katy Flier," a cakewalk two-step, was published at Centerville in 1899. "Dance of…
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George Botsford was born in South Dakota and raised in Iowa, and his earliest compositions were pre-ragtime niceties. "Katy Flier," a cakewalk two-step, was published at Centerville in 1899. "Dance of the Water Nymphs" was colorfully marketed in 1906 as Hawaiian mood music. Several innocuous titles attempted to evoke the wide-open spaces: "In Dear Old Arizona" appeared in 1906 and "Pride of the Prairie" in 1907. Everything changed when the Midwesterner headed eastward. Electrified by the atmosphere in New York, Botsford at once began to write music that reflected the excitement of his surroundings. In 1908 he referenced the Alaskan gold rush with "Klondike Rag" and attracted a lot of attention with "Black and White Rag," commercially successful in its own time and still popular today among performers of old-fashioned music.

Botsford's growing reputation as a bandleader served him well as he began to strengthen his ties with the sheet-music publishing industry, and he was soon working as an arranger for the firm of Jerome Remick. But it was Botsford the composer who really made waves. Ragtime and rag-flavored novelties were almost too popular during the first decade of the 20th century, and Botsford cranked them out with a vengeance. He wrote "Old Crow Rag," "Wiggle Rag," "Texas Steer Rag," and "Pianophiends Rag" in 1909. The following year's "Chatterbox Rag" and "Lovey-Dovey Rag" were soon eclipsed by "The Grizzly Bear," also known as "Dance of the Grizzly Bear" and "Doin' the Grizzly Bear" with lyrics by Irving Berlin. This bestial number ignited a fad for dances named after animals, the most famous being the fox trot. The crop of Botsfordisms from 1911 included "Honeysuckle Rag," "Honey Girl," "Hyacinth," and "Royal Flush." He wrote "Eskimo Rag" in 1912. "Buck-Eye Rag," "Incandescent Rag," "Universal Rag," "Rag, Baby Mine," and the extraordinarily popular "Sailing Down the Chesapeake Bay" were all published in 1913.

Other songs appeared under Botsford's name, but it was obviously the rags that made money and enabled him to operate his own publishing company in 1914-1915. His last memorable compositions were "Boomerang Rag" and "On the Old Dominion Line," both dating from 1916. Botsford worked in vaudeville, had a hand in presenting reconstituted minstrel shows, led a glee club made up of members of the New York Police Department, conducted and arranged multiple parts for a number of choirs, and tried to develop his idea of presenting miniature operas for three or four singers and chamber ensemble, but this notion apparently didn't catch on. It was similar to the 19th century symphonic piano reduction, currently in quiet resurgence among those who care about such things. George Botsford passed away in New York City on the 11th of February in the year 1949.