Harry Carroll: Always Chasing Rainbows

Today is the birthday of Harry Carroll (1892-1962), one of the great Tin Pan Alley songwriters, author of several well-known hits including “By the Beautiful Sea”, “By the Trail of the Lonesome Pine” and “I’m Always Chasing Rainbows”. A native of Atlantic City, he started out playing piano in nickelodeons when still a child. Immediately after high school he moved to New York to try for the big time. Between 1910 and 1921 he contributed songs and complete scores for close to a dozen Broadway shows, including several editions of The Passing Show and the Zeigfeld Follies and Frolics. From 1914 to 1917 he was director of ASCAP. Throughout the 1920s he was a constant big time vaudeville act at the Palace and on the Keith circuit, sometimes accompanying a girl singer, sometimes as creator/director of his own tab shows. In the 30s, vaudeville dried up and Broadway took a hit but Carroll continued to perform his songs in nightclubs as late as the 1940s. He seems not to have gone to Hollywood in the 30s like many songwriters. The reason why not (and why he didn’t go back to Broadway) I think above all has to do with changing tastes. To give you a picture, here’s one of his biggest hits, a song I love, but it is very 1914…not the sort of thing the kids were dancing to in the big band era:

To find out more about the variety arts past and present, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold. And don’t miss Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, to be released by Bear Manor Media in 2013.

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