Category Archives: Music Hall songs

I’m an old hand at love

0FD29E9F-BBD6-42EC-A545-1BD413C1468AMinnie Cunningham was a music hall singer and dancer, best remembered for featuring in a painting by Walter Sickert. She was born in Birmingham in 1870, the daughter of music hall comic singer Ned Cunningham. He was well-loved and successful, being described by the Birmingham Gazette as the ‘greatest comic singer in the world.’ His daughter started her music hall career after his death when she was ten years old. Minnie Cunningham tells us she began as a male impersonator and sang her father’s songs, although reviews of the time don’t mention male impersonation, only her singing and dancing. She moved from the provincial halls to London where she performed at the principal halls of the day.

It was during her London success that Minnie Cunningham was introduced to the 31A333B7-D7C4-4610-B0B0-EAC59D94897Epainter Walter Sickert by the poet and music hall critic Arthur Symons. Both men were smitten by the popular artiste and Sickert arranged to paint her portrait. The figure of Minnie Cunningham was painted from life in Sickert’s studio in Chelsea in 1892. For this painting she stood on a raised stand as if she were on stage but when asking her to pose for a later painting Sickert writes that he had built a proper stage  ‘six foot square, with steps up to it.’ The background is thought to be the Tivoli on the Strand in London where Sickert had seen her perform. The painting was originally entitled, Miss Minnie Cunningham ‘I’m an old hand at love, though I’m young in years.’ This was one of her popular songs at the time and while singing it she dressed as a young girl which made the performance more daring. The painting became known as Minnie Cunningham at the Old Bedford. It was exhibited for the first time at the New English Art Club in 1892 to a mixed reception, with a reviewer in the Pall Mall Gazette writing ‘The red dress of Minnie Cunningham glows with refined richness in its setting, but the proportions of the figure and the feet and hands seem altogether absurd.’ The subject and setting were just too shocking for many at the time and it was said by some to represent degradation and vulgarity.

Minnie Cunningham remained popular for some years, performing, writing songs for herself and others and appearing in pantomime. She maintained it was very difficult to gauge the public taste in choosing a song but her compositions ‘The hen that cackles the most’ and ‘Give us a wag of your tail, old dog’ seem to have hit the mark. Minnie spent time in Ireland, calling herself ‘the Little Irish Gem’ and a tale is told of male admirers turning up with glass bottles to throw at the performer who replaced her at the top of the bill, giving us an idea of her popularity.

While in Ireland she claimed £500 through a court case for alleged breach of 9D63B80C-0979-452C-A9E1-EBFD29E749B3contract in which she was engaged as principal girl in the Jack and Jill pantomime at £30 a week. She refused to wear the costume for her part saying it was too short and offended her standards of decency. Discussions with management were unsuccessful, often ending in tears. Eventually another performer, Edith Fink, was appointed to the role and had no complaints about the length of the costume. At one point in the court proceedings the two performers removed their hats and boots and stood back to back on a table to see who was the taller of the two. Minnie Cunningham was undoubtedly the taller and was asked to put on the costume for the jury’s eyes only. There were rumours that she was worried that Dorothy Ward playing the part of Jack, an extremely well-known and talented performer, would outshine her. The jury could not agree on a verdict and were discharged.

53156582-82D5-4CA2-AD2E-7C908FC11B21

Dorothy Ward

Minnie Cunningham lived with her mother in Southgate Road, Hackney. Her mother died in 1916 and Minnie seems to have retired shortly after this. She died in 1954 at the age of eighty-four and her later life is a mystery. She remained in Southgate Road, but her obituary tells us only of Minnie’s performing life taken from her own words.

 

 

 

Thanks to britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk
                   monomania postcards (@monomaniablogs)
                   Walter Richard Sickert & the Theatre 1880-1940. PhD thesis submitted    University of St Andrews by William Rough 2010

 

Vaudeville’s happiest girl

Jen Latona, real name Emma Jane Letty Carter, was born in 1881 in Birmingham. By the age of sixteen she was appearing in music halls under the name of Jennie Gabrielle. In January 1896 the Hull Daily Mail commented on her appearance at Hengler’s describing her as ‘the child musician, who possesses a singularly sweet and mellow soprano voice’. We learn from a review of her performance at the Palace Theatre in Edinburgh that she sang humorous songs and accompanied herself on the piano and concertina.

Jennie married an American performer twenty-five years her senior, born Benjamin Franklyn Titus, whose stage name was Frank Latona. Jennie Gabrielle became Jen Latona. Frank performed as a tramp musician, playing the trombone and a one-stringed fiddle, and included various effects in his act which he constucted himself. In a handwritten pencil note on a scrap of paper Frank reminds himself to ‘make whiskers to blow out and curl up – air pumps and rubber tube’.

Frank Latona

Jen and Frank worked together as a double act with music, song, gags and repartee. In the archive of their work, presented to the Mayor of Lambeth by Jen Latona in her retirement, can be found handwritten sheets of ‘gags’, while jokes were often constructed from cut out newspaper articles. A handwritten notebook of sketches and gags contains this gem – ‘Why, that is the meanest man you ever saw. He is so mean he goes to the track and makes faces at the engineers so they will throw coal at him’. Newspaper personal ads were fair game too, with ‘Two girls want washing’ setting the standard. The couple performed extensively in New Zealand and the United States scribbling down material for their act on hotel notepaper and receiving offers of new songs from American songwriters.

Margaret Cooper

When Frank Latona retired, Jen became a successful solo performer. She was on the bill with Vesta Tilley at the opening of the Croydon Hippodrome and was described as an ‘entertainer of exceptional merit’ to be compared with Margaret Cooper, a classically trained pianist who moved over to the music hall. However the writer quickly explains that Miss Cooper’s songs are of quite a different nature but that Jen is ‘a turn quite above the ordinary found at the halls’. Jen composed much of her stage music and the sheet music of the day shows she had a prolific repertoire with such songs as I’m going to buy you the R.I.N.G. and You can’t blame a Suffragette for that.

Frank died in 1930 and Jen retired a few years later. She lived in Streatham in London and when she died in 1955 her home and possessions were put up for auction, including a Schrieber grand piano and a souvenir programme of Sarah Bernhardt at the London Coliseum in 1913. The proceeds of the sale went to the Variety Artists Benevolent Fund.

Frank had a genius for mechanical invention and invented and patented the Ednor Tank Washer. Of more interest to music hall fans here is a drawing in Frank’s hand of the workings of a dog to be used in an act with a mule.

We’ll leave the Latona’s with a final joke. ‘You are the most ignorant man I ever saw. Why, only yesterday I saw you giving hot water to the hens to make them lay hard-boiled eggs’. I hope you hear the echo of laughter.

Thanks to the British Newspaper Archive and Lambeth Archives. Images Monomania.

Jolly Katie Lawrence

Katie Lawrence

Katie Lawrence was born in 1868 and is first mentioned on the music hall stage in 1883 with first appearances at the South London Palace and the Windsor Castle Palace of Varieties in Woolwich. At the South London Palace punters could avoid the crush by entering through a newly available side door for only threepence extra per person! In November 1883 she appears in an advert in the Entr’acte as Jolly Katie Lawrence, a pupil of J W Cherry. The advert describes her as a dashing serio and dance artist who has enjoyed great success at the Middlesex every evening. J W Cherry was a composer and opened a ‘Music Hall Academy’ giving singing lessons to hopeful music hall artistes. Marie Kendal was also a pupil who went on to great success.

In an interview in the Era in 1893 Katie Lawrence talked of starting her career as a child actress and studying dance at the academy of Madame Katti Lanner, who was herself said to have trained at the ballet school of the Vienna Court Opera. In 1887 the Empire Theatre of Varieties opened in London’s Leicester Square and Katti Lanner became the ballet mistress working with the resident company which could have provided a connection between the two. We do not hear if Madame Lanner felt music hall life was a step down the ladder of success. Katie Lawrence was often praised for her dancing and during an extensive tour of Australia in 1889 her butterfly dance was encored again and again with her skirts taking the part of wings ‘so curiously do they seem to be part of herself’.

Things were going well for Katie in 1887 as a notice in the Era states that she was taking a holiday in Paris and would not resume business until October 31st. This was probably placed by her agent, George Ware, who was known as an astute judge of talent. He also managed, among others, Nelly Power and Marie Lloyd. In 1892 Katie had her big success with a song ‘Daisy Bell’ written by Harry Dacre which touched on the new and modern topic of cycling. Those of us who know the song today think of it as ‘Daisy, Daisy’ or ‘A bicycle made for two’. It’s worth saying that in music hall days a catchy chorus and a simple melody was a must so that the audience could keep the tune in their heads as they left the theatre. The performers could only hope that their songs would become a hit which would secure future bookings.

Katie Lawrence Second turn at Gatti’s

Around 1903 Walter Sickert painted Katie Lawrence at Gatti’s, a music hall built under the arches of Charing Cross station, but she seems not to have been enamoured with the artist’s work. At one point Sickert offered her one of his music hall paintings but she said she wouldn’t have it – even to keep the draught out from under the scullery door.

‘Daisy Bell’ became a huge success in the States as well as this country and Colin MacInnes in his book Sweet Saturday Night tells us that Katie was able to build Bell House near London Zoo. This happy state of affairs did not last as gradually Katie Lawrence’s name dropped off the bill of the more prestigious music halls. She found work in smaller halls and remained popular in the Midlands but experienced hard times despite her previous popularity in London, New York and South Africa. There is mention of Marie Lloyd giving her a helping hand at this time and it could be true as they had shared an agent and had often been on the same bill. Katie Lawrence died in Birmingham in 1913 where a benefit concert had been arranged for her and her name was on the bills for an appearance at a local hall.

Thanks to British Newspaper Archive, Sweet Saturday Night- Colin MacInnes, Marie Lloyd, Queen of the Music Halls – Richard Anthony Baker

Molly O’Morgan

 

It all began when I bought a postcard of a young woman in rustic dress standing b410cc75-0878-4596-8c44-0b5abc0437eawith a barrel organ. The card on the barrel organ reads ‘Molly O’Morgan’. The young woman is staring out from the photograph as if she has a story to tell. There is a story of Molly O’Morgan, the daughter of an Irish mother and an Italian organ-grinder father, who had dark brown hair and laughing eyes. It is said her mother died when Molly was young and she and her father left Ireland with a barrel organ and monkey to take their chances in Europe. Molly would dance while her father played the barrel organ and the crowds were charmed into parting with their coins. They travelled from city to city and eventually arrived in Monte Carlo where Molly’s fortunes changed. She was noticed by Duke Medici-Sinelli, an elderly widower, who naturally enough was also rich and charming. The Duke arranged for Molly to appear at a theatre and in the way of fairy tales she immediately became a star. Molly and the Duke married and unkind rumours suggested she was a gold-digger although the couple seemed devoted to each other. When the Duke died Molly did not marry again but came to Monte Carlo every year and stayed in the same suite in which she and the Duke had spent their honeymoon. She was said to live in Hungary with a distant branch of the Duke’s family.

BCD533AA-EAAF-4AB7-BCD3-A7260E8B8C25

Ella Retford

In February 1929 the Nottingham Evening Post reported the death in Hungary of the Duchess Maria della Casa Medici-Sinelli, formerly Molly O’Morgan. The article recounts her story as true and as the inspiration for the music hall song Molly O’Morgan ‘with her little organ’. The song certainly existed, written in 1909 by Fred Godfrey and Will Letters, but Molly herself may have been part of a romantic myth. The Nottingham Evening Post article is the only reference I can find to a real Molly O’Morgan. Ella Retford had a great success with this song in the pantomime Jack and Jill and the Sheffield Evening Telegraph stated ‘Molly O’ Morgan goes with a swing that is irresistible and compelling. You positively must sing it’.

7359336A-DD60-477C-9215-3AC34C4F99E8

Alice Lloyd

In the same year, 1909, Alice Lloyd had a hit with the song in New York and determined to feature it throughout her American tour. It would be delightful to believe that Molly O’Morgan existed but I’ll leave that for you to decide. The young woman in the photograph is not named and I’ve come to the conclusion she is in fancy dress – an unromantic end to a romantic story. 

 

 

 

Thanks to the British Newspaper Archive and fredgodfreysongs.ca

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Behind the scenes

image

Waiting to go on at the Royal Music Hall

Music hall life was often far from the glamour and glitter we might imagine as this description of a dressing room by singer Lilian Warren shows. She is being interviewed for the trade Paper The Era in 1905 and remembers how artistes would apply their make-up by a ‘small piece of candle’ and a mirror which they supplied themselves. She tells of a music hall in Aberdare where thirteen performers shared one dressing-room where they clubbed together to make the room more acceptable. Lilian bought coal for the fire and the other girls provided the candles. By the time of her interview there had been a marked change with more comfortable, clean dressing-rooms provided.

 

 

 

Jenny Hill

Jenny Hill, ‘The Vital Spark’ became a successful and respected serio-comic but started life in poverty. At a young age she was articled for five years to the Bradford Tavern and her life was not her own. She started work cleaning the bars at a very early hour and then was expected to be changed and in the singing room by mid-day  to harmonise with the drinkers. She often worked until 2am and food was scarce. Jenny died in her late forties and her early life took a great toll.

 

 

8BA73A3D-4599-4B56-B59B-449637043563

Marie Lloyd

Marie Lloyd was known as being kind-hearted and was well aware of class distinction and the poverty of the working classes. One day she was leaving a music hall at the end of a performance when she found a group of children round the stage door. They had no shoes and generous Marie took them to a local shop and bought them boots. The next day they were at the stage door again but with no boots. This was recounted by another performer who was with Marie Lloyd at the time.

38655E50-E0D6-4931-9413-BA683B57E230

Vesta Tilley

 

Vesta Tilley encountered a different kind of behind the scenes experience when performing at a dinner for ‘the poor of London’ given by the King. She arrived at a large building in the city wearing her Eton schoolboy costume and found there were several rooms being used for the dinner. She was running up and down the stairs trying to find the right room passing various officials on the way. Vesta heard one of them indignantly comment that the problems were not helped by these boys getting in everyone’s way.

 

 

In her autobiography Vesta Tilley remarks on the rivalry that could exist between performers amid the desire to be top of the bill. There could be appropriation of a successful artiste’s songs or of part of their act and music hall managers were often unsympathetic as they could pay the imitator less money. Vesta felt that in some cases the audience wanted a particular song rather than a particular singer. She mentioned the case of mimics such as Cissie Loftus who was acknowledged as an excellent performer but would have songs lifted from her act by others who made little attempt to portray their subject in a way that was recognisable to the audience.

C62D0D76-95B2-4C49-AF61-02FB6E5D2F9F

Cissie Loftus

 

Music hall performers had their highs and lows on and off the stage but they understood their audiences and their audiences loved them for it.

 

 

Thanks to the British Newspaper Archive, Recollections of Vesta Tilley, The Early Doors – Harold Scott

 

 

 

 

 

 

Daisy Jerome

daisy-jerome-1Daisy Jerome was born in the States in 1888 but moved to England as a child when her father suffered a financial crisis. Money was needed and she followed her sister on to the stage. She was a small, dainty figure with bright red hair, compelling eyes and an expressive face. Her appearance belied her risqué performances and her hoarse, sensual voice. She was a toe-dancer and a wooden shoe dancer, but best known as a mimic and comic singer. Daisy married Frederick Fowler in 1906 but they lived together for less than a year with Fowler blaming the marriage breakdown on the constant presence of his mother-in-law. He filed for divorce on the grounds of Daisy’s misconduct. She was living with Mr Cecil Allen in Battersea by this time and claimed Allen would marry her if she was divorced. The decree nisi was granted with Fowler saying he would shoot Allen if he didn’t marry Daisy. She left for a three year tour of Australia shortly after accompanied only by her mother. She adopted the name ‘the electric spark‘ and seems to have lived up to this in her public and private life.

In February 1910, before the divorce, Daisy took out a libel action against the Walsall Observer who had reported that ‘Daisy Jerome, without much provocation, is constrained to give three more than usual number of songs we get from one artist.’  The insinuation was that she gave encores when they were not required and this was a serious allegation with regard to future bookings. Daisy said she was not at all anxious to give encores but that she ‘made one of the hits of my life in Walsall.‘ The journalist replied that the house was a poor one on that night and that Miss Jerome received very little applause. He felt his article was a fair one. Daisy was awarded one farthing in damages.daisy-jerome-2

In Australia in 1923 Daisy, now married to Captain La Touche took her maid to court for stealing and pawning some of her clothes and jewellery. Her maid, Cecil Lightening, said she was innocent and had only followed Daisy’s instructions. The maid had been told on one occasion that her employers were hard up and that she, the maid, was there to bluff the public and to bluff them into giving Daisy a big salary. The maid was acquitted.

Daisy Jerome was capable of arousing strong feelings in her audience and one young man jumped on to the stage from a box two tiers above the dress circle breaking his legs and injuring his spine. He is reported to have said, ‘Tell her I had to do it to tell her what I felt.’ He eventually recovered. Her star waned when film became more popular and and she dropped into obscurity. To finish, a snatch of one of her songs, previously sung by Marie Lloyd.,

And the parrot sat there with a nonchalant air and a cynical smile on it’s beak

At last the young fellow exclaimed with a leer am I the first you have ever loved dear?

And the parrot said, YES THIS WEEK!

Thanks to britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk  &  Trove.nla.gov.au

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Yvette Guilbert

Yvette Guilbert was born in 1865 and lived her early life in poverty but became the toast of Paris, adored by everyone from the poor of the Marais to artists and the literati. She was tall and thin with hennaed red hair and wore a long dress and long black gloves on stage. Yvette Guilbert said of herself, ‘I was looking for an impression of extreme simplicity, which allied itself harmoniously with the lines of my slim body and my small head —in a repertoire that I had decided would be a ribald one. To assemble an exhibition of humorous sketches in song, depicting all the indecencies, all the excesses, all the vices of my contemporaries and to enable them to laugh at themselves — that was to be my innovation, my big idea.’ 

image

Yvette Guilbert

She was said to come on to the stage in a rather distracted manner with her shoulders drooping and her arms hanging limply by her sides and was termed a diseuse as she half sang, half spoke her songs. Yvette Guilbert sang earthy songs about characters polite society would rather forget and some were so filthy they were said to make a Sapper blush. She had perfect diction and not a word of the songs escaped the audience. However Yvette was not universally admired and one British newspaper report states that, ‘Mdlle Guilbert is not specially pretty, dresses very simply, and unlike the majority of her vocalising countrywomen, does not indulge in high kicking.’ Faint praise. The reviewer  was not impressed by the fact that Mdlle Guilbert had turned down an offer of several hundred pounds to sing at Marlborough House at a party for the Prince of Wales. She asked for a much higher amount but received no reply from the royal household.

image

Portrait by Toulouse Lautrec

When she first appeared in London in 1892 it was noted that she spoke fluent English but it was suggested she should be careful not to translate her songs too literally in case of action from the Lord Chamberlain and the London County Council. In 1894 she appeared on the same bill as Marie Lloyd which must have given the authorities sleepless nights. In London in 1909 she was appearing at the London Palace Theatre and remarked that the theatre  impresario Sir Alfred Butt ‘neglected my publicity for the sake of my fellow actor, Consul the chimpanzee.’  Consul appeared above her on the bill. Yvette was given the honour of an impersonation by the celebrated music hall mimic Cissie Loftus but Yvette sang one of Cissie’s songs, Linger Longer, Loo copying the mannerisms of it’s original singer.

 

image

Cissie Loftus

In 1899 Yvette had an operation to have a kidney removed. She had been in great pain around the waist, said to be caused by excessively tight lacing. The road to recovery was long and she could not avoid thinking about the future. A highly intelligent woman, Yvette Guilbert realised that to remain popular she needed to move on from the crude songs which had made her name. She had researched old French chanson and sung them to small audiences on occasion. She determined this would be her new path. She was interested in mediaeval songs as well as those from later centuries and set about studying Latin grammar and collecting old manuscripts. For her first public performance after her illness she had Baudelaire’s poems set to music and sang dramatic songs by Maurice Rollinat. She did not wear the black gloves. It was a brilliant performance but in a small theatre with a high class clientele. It took longer to win round her previous audience who perhaps felt she was deserting them for a greater respectability.

Yvette Guilbert was admired by George Bernard Shaw, became a friend of Sigmund Freud and was painted by the leading artists of her time, although she rebuked Toulouse Lautrec for his depictions of her on stage. She wrote novels, lectured on chanson, appeared in  operetta, was a suffragette and was elected to the French Société des ancients textes. She died in Aix en Provence during the Second World War in 1944, having moved there from Paris with her husband Max Schiller who was Jewish.

Thanks to the britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk, and That was Yvette by Bettina Knapp and Myra Chipman

More about Florrie

Florrie Forde lived for a time in the music hall community on Shoreham Beach in West Sussex. She opened a dance hall called Flo’s Beach Club which had a dubious reputation among some local residents for scandalous behaviour. She lived in a house called Gull’s Nest and one of her enduring songs is I do like to be beside the seaside. Predictive text turns her name into Florid Forde which seems a little unfair. Here is a link to Florrie singing.

Florrie Forde I do like to be beside the seaside 1909

Spencer Gore painted Florrie Forde at the Old Bedford Music Hall on Camden High Street in London in 1912. She appears to be winking.

A singer at the Old Bedford Spencer Gore 1912

A singer at the Old Bedford
Spencer Gore 1912

Other music hall stars who liked to be beside the seaside were the already mentioned Marie and Cecilia Loftus, living at bungalows Pavlova and Cecilia and Vesta Tilley at The Bungalow. Marie Lloyd was reported to be the first woman to own a car on Shoreham Beach.

More pictures can be found in the publication HollywoodbySea by Edward and Alice Colquhoun.

Florrie Forde

Florrie Forde was an Australian with an attractive personality and a great stage presence. She was very astute in her choice of material and specialised in songs with rousing choruses which audiences joined in with gusto.

Florrie Forde

Florrie Forde

I remember some of the songs from family parties when everyone still sang the choruses and laughed and swayed back and forth in time to the music. My grandmother reminisced how she had found two of her sisters singing and dancing to one of the tunes from a barrel organ outside a pub. She’d dragged them away and they weren’t very happy about it. Down at the Old Bull and Bush,       Oh, oh, Antonio and Hold your hand out, you naughty boy were favourites.

At twenty-one, Florrie Forde was an immediate hit when she came to London. She appeared in three music halls on her first night – the South London Palace, the Pavilion and the Oxford. She went down so well she was offered a three year contract on one of the music hall circuits. During the First World War she sang some of the most popular songs of the day – Pack up your troubles, It’s a long way to Tipperary and Goodbyeee. Music hall stars often played principal boys in pantomime and Florrie Forde was no exception. She continued to perform until 1940 when she suffered a cerebral haemorrhage while entertaining the troops in World War 2.

The poet, Louis MacNeice, wrote of her in his poem Death of an Actress

With an elephantine shimmy and a sugared wink
She threw a trellis of Dorothy Perkins roses
Around an audience come from slum and suburb
And weary of the tealeaves in the sink.