Gus Edwards

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After arriving in the U.S. with his family as a small child, Gus Edwards was raised in Brooklyn, New York. Attracted to the vaudeville theaters of Union Square, the boy spent a lot of his time there,…
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After arriving in the U.S. with his family as a small child, Gus Edwards was raised in Brooklyn, New York. Attracted to the vaudeville theaters of Union Square, the boy spent a lot of his time there, taking in the sights and sounds. He also began to sing, and soon people began to take notice. One day in 1893, a performer named Lottie Gilson heard his pretty voice and decided to put him to work. She incorporated little Gus into her own act, initiating a trend whereby during the second chorus of a song, a handsome youngster would suddenly appear and chime in with the star vocalist. After a very short while, Gus found himself performing in this manner with a number of female entertainers. Inevitably, a talent scout spotted the kid and set him up as part of a vaudeville act consisting of five singing lads dressed up as scruffy newsboys. Counseled by composer Paul Dresser, Gus was gradually introduced to the Tin Pan Alley publishing environment and given access to a piano in the offices of the firm of Howley, Haviland & Co. In 1898, Edwards' first song, "All I Want Is My Black Baby Back," was published by Mr. Howley. Soon, Edwards was performing it with the singing newsboy quintet. He concocted another minstrel show-styled number called "I Couldn't Stand to See My Baby Lose," then began to settle in as a composer of American popular songs for general use. In 1899, he wrote "The Singer and the Song." 1900 was the year of "All for a Man Whose God Was Gold," "I Just Can't Keep From Taking Hold of Things," and "I Can't Tell Why I Love You but I Do." In 1901, seeking to attract money, Edwards wrote a song called "I Don't Want Money." It wasn't until 1905 that money began to visit Gus Edwards after the publication of his first masterpiece of modern American culture, "In My Merry Oldsmobile." Now nationally famous and flushed with success, Edwards opened his own publishing house. Hit songs followed at a rate of about one per year. "I Just Can't Make My Eyes Behave" was very popular in 1906. "School Days" was a smash hit in 1907, and "Merry Go Round Rag" took advantage of the ragtime vogue in 1908. "School Days," selling three million copies of sheet music, also led to the creation of a vaudeville show called School Boys And Girls. Edwards played the Teacher, and many of the young performers who were cast as his students went on to become famous. Groucho Marx, Eddie Cantor, George Jessel, Walter Winchell, Ray Bolger, Larry Adler, and the Duncan Sisters all started out as participants in this pedagogic routine. Edwards' last big success was that archetypal apple pie melody, "By the Light of the Silvery Moon," published in 1909. After years of being alternately graced and abused by barbershop quartets across America, this song was truly immortalized for all of time by Fats Waller and His Deep Rhythm Boys in 1942. For many years, Gus Edwards continued to exert his influences in vaudeville, then in Hollywood. Poor health caused him to retire in 1939. That same year a movie was made based upon his life. The Star Maker had Bing Crosby cast as Edwards, and many of his old melodies were revived for use in the film. Gus himself lasted until November 7th, 1945. The Gus Edwards Music Hall used to stand at the corner of Broadway and West 60th Street in New York, but has since been pulled down.