Percy Wenrich

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As a boy, Wenrich played piano in a music store on Joplin's Main Street. Surrounded by sheet music in the shop, the young man decided to write his own musical composition. At the age of 17, he created…
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As a boy, Wenrich played piano in a music store on Joplin's Main Street. Surrounded by sheet music in the shop, the young man decided to write his own musical composition. At the age of 17, he created something entitled L'Inconnu, described as a two-step in 6/8 time, then arranged for a thousand copies to be printed and sold them in person, going from door to door. In 1901 he attended classes at the Chicago Musical College, an institution presided over by Flo Ziegfeld's father. Soon he'd squandered all of his funds while hanging out with the fast crowd in poorly lit saloons and had to borrow money for a return ticket to Joplin. But Chicago continued to exercise its magnetism upon him, and within a few weeks Wenrich had returned to the Windy City and was manhandling pianos in the back rooms of various bars, clubs, and cafes. It was during this time that he wrote "Wabash Avenue After Dark," destined to become enormously popular throughout Chicago without ever actually getting published. Wenrich's prelude to a subsequent career in Tin Pan Alley consisted of a large parcel of rags: "Ashy Africa--An African Rag" appeared in 1903, followed by "Peaches and Cream Rag" in 1905, then "Noodles" and "Chestnuts" in 1906. "Fun Bob," "Sweet Meats Rag," "Dixie Darlings," "Flower Girl," and "Bombay" were all eclipsed in 1907 by his first nationally successful rag, "The Smiles." 1908 was similarly productive, as Wenrich turned out "Memphis Rag," "Ragtime Ripples," "Crab Apples," and the highly regarded "Persian Lamb Rag." In order to pay the rent and save a little for later, Wenrich manufactured melodies at five dollars apiece -- "junk for the ten cent store counters," he later called them -- to bolster the lines of aspiring lyricists who sent their verses to Chicago's McKinley Music Company. Money resulting from this unflattering work did enable him to head east in 1908 to fill a position with the Jerome H. Remick company of New York. Joining him in this relocation was his wife, a vaudeville performer by the name of Dolly Connolly. Apparently the public was perfectly attuned to Wenrich's sensibilities, for 1909's "Put on Your Old Gray Bonnet" sold two million copies. He began to turn out rags and popular songs at a steady rate: "Alamo Rag" and "Silver Bell" appeared in 1910, "Ragtime Chimes," "Red Rose Rag," and "Sunflower Rag" in 1911. Wenrich formed a business partnership with Homer Howard in 1912, when they published "Kentucky Days" and "Moonlight Bay." "Whipped Cream Rag," "Snow Deer Rag," and "Ragtime Turkey Trot" came out in 1913. After a brief hiatus from publishing, during which Wenrich concentrated on composing while teaming up with his wife as a vaudeville duo, he hired in with the Leo Feist company. In 1914, in collaboration with lyricist Jack Mahoney, Wenrich brought out a wholesome number destined to become a standard in the traditional jazz repertoire: "When You Wore a Tulip and I Wore a Big Red Rose." Dolly Connolly, accompanied by Wenrich and drawing upon a repertoire consisting mostly of his songs, continued to perform live and enjoyed a certain amount of popularity on Columbia phonograph records. "Come Back, Dixie" was published in 1915, followed by "Sweet Cider Time, When You Were Mine" in 1916. The First World War seems to have inspired Wenrich to compose "Where Do We Go from Here?" in 1917, while 1922's "All Muddled Up" was a healthy response to the authentically charged atmosphere of jazz so prevalent at that time. Percy Wenrich's last memorable song was "Sail Along, Silv'ry Moon," published in 1937. He passed away March 17, 1952 in New York City.