Tell Taylor: Wrote “Down By the Old Mill Stream”

Songwriter and performer Tell Taylor (William Tell Taylor/Tell Roberts, 1876-1937) was born this day. Taylor was a farm kid from rural Ohio who sang with church choirs, studied music at Findlay College, and became a professional actor, touring in stock and vaudeville throughout the midwest by age 16. A successful performance at the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo in 1901 launched his career forward. In 1902 he appeared in the Broadway play Quincy Adams Sawyer. 1905-1906 he was in the show In New York Town (co-written by Loney Haskell, Albert Von Tilzer and others). At the same time, he was writing and publishing songs on Tin Pan Alley with Ernest R. Ball and Jimmy Walker (then still a State Senator).

In 1907 he moved his publishing business to Chicago, his base of operations until 1922. Taylor wrote or co-wrote scores of successful songs, but the biggest hit by far was “Down by the Old Mill Stream”, written in 1908, published in 1910. Originally popularized by the Orpheum Comedy Four in vaudeville, it became one of the very top songs associated with barbershop quartets, selling over four million copies by 1936. In 1937, Taylor was en route to Hollywood to discuss a bio-pic about his life when he had a heart attack and died.

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