After stumbling across a funny anecdote involving Jean Lenox and Harry O. Sutton's visit to an "Old Ladies Home," I originally intended to share that one item, which sounded like something that could happen where my mom lives.
However, one thing led to another. When I decided to see what else I might easily turn up about the song-writing team, I found other anecdotes. A few contradictory newspaper items led me on a quest to determine Lenox's relationship to Sutton.
How far should we trust the newspaper anecdotes? To what extent might they have served as good public relations, perhaps to enhance the song-writing team's reputation? Exactly who were Jean Lenox and Harry O. Sutton? What can we learn from newspapers and public records? I'll admit to not finding clear-cut answers to some of my questions but will offer several reasons for the remaining mysteries. Perhaps someone will have the curiosity and time to look for more.
Biographical Backgrounds and Mysteries
Harry O. Sutton (1881-1911)
During a Presbyterian social at their home in early April, 1893, 11-year-old Harry gave what may have been his first public performance when he and his aunt entertained guests with their unspecified piano duet.
The March 8, 1911 Naples Record mentions a march, Black Diamond Express, composed by 12-year-old Harry Sutton. I have not been able to verify this piece through newspapers or copyright records, but if Sutton composed it, he should have been older than reported. The Lehigh Valley Railroad line's Black Diamond Express made its first run on May 18, 1996 when Harry would have been 15.
In April 1898, a few months shy of 17, Harry Owen Sutton copyrighted his first song, Sweet Nancy Lee, with lyric by W. H. W. Leland. The July 13 Naples Record commented, "Harry O. Sutton, of Olean, formerly of Naples, has composed a beautiful waltz song entitled Sweet Nancy Lee. It has been published and has proven popular in the large theaters." The article does not specify theater names or locations although other articles mention the song. In February 1902, for example, Rochester's Democrat and Chronicle described the song as "simple and melodious" and "well suited to the sentiment."
At least a third-generation musician, Harry had begun early to carry on the Sutton tradition.
According to the 1865 New York State census for Naples and the 1870 U. S. Federal Census, his grandfather Myron Carl Sutton was a "farmer and music dealer." Well before Harry's birth, this cornetist/violinist future grandfather also led Sutton's Band. Naples took pride in its local music and in Sutton's music business as illustrated by the following excerpt from a lengthy poem published in the June 30, 1860 Naples Weekly Express:
A June 5, 1929 Naples Record article published on the occasion of the ninety-first birthday of Mrs. Olive Case Sutton, Myron Sutton's wife and Harry's grandmother, identified her as "a fine musician" who "brought to this town the first piano, a large square one." People were said to have come "many miles to hear Mr. and Mrs. Sutton play."
Among the more than two-dozen O. E. Sutton compositions located in copyright records and newspapers are Fireman's Parade March (during or before June 1882, Scott R. Sutton, publisher), Silver Star Polka (during or before 1888); Flour City, lancers, The Smuggler, march, and Polonaise (during or before 1889); Trolley Polka (1896); The Electric Wave March (1897); Post Express (during or before 1898); Young America, march and two-step (1898); Our Favorite, two-step (1898); Funeral March, The Golden Gates (1899); Salute to Sam Johnson, cakewalk & two-step (1899); The Darktown Swell, march in ragtime (1899); Magnolia, three-step (1900);The Honeymoon (1901); Brownies' Quickstep (1901) Colonel Henry's March (1902); Midnight Revelers (1903), Roosevelt and Fairbanks Campaign March (1904), The Newsboy's March (1905); and Solitaire, an Autumn Reverie (1905).
Around 16, Harry left his aunt and uncle, the Pierces, and went to live with his mother, two siblings, his maternal grandmother, and his mother's sister.
Before his 18th birthday, Harry copyrighted Cotton Pickers Rag, Bon Air Waltz, and Aunt Jemima's Birthday Party. Because he was living in Olean, these pieces were originally published there although Harry O. Sutton Co. or Sutton Music Publishing Co., both of New York City, later reissued them.
Harry knew his career path. Although he was not yet 20, the 1900 census listed his occupation as "musician."
No doubt, Harry Sutton's musical family helped shape his career. He would go on to compose an assortment of music ranging from cakewalk and coon songs to a comic operetta, many of the most successful pieces with lyricist Jean Lenox.
I am a retired community college professor and the great-granddaughter of composer, orchestrator, arranger, organist, and teacher William Christopher O'Hare.
Click the "Read More" link to see each full blog entry.