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 freely admit not finding a clearcut 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 Information and Issues for Further Research
Harry O. Sutton (1881-1911)
The 1892 New York State Census further places young Harry O. Sutton, then 11, in Naples, living with Frank and Mary Louise Pierce, who ran a music business. Examination of other census records reveals that Mary Louise was Harry's aunt, younger sister of O. E. Sutton, and that she had married a former neighbor, Frank Pierce.
In 1898, when 16-year-old Harry O. Sutton copyrighted Sweet Nancy Lee, he was living in Olean, NY, presumably with his mother; the 1900 U. S.Federal Census places 18-year-old Harry, "musician," in Olean with his mother, 38. Living with them are Harry's older brother Carl M, younger sister Gertrude L., his maternal grandmother, and his mother's sister.
The following year, young Harry copyrighted three instrumental pieces including those pictured below and a cakewalk, Aunt Jemima's Birthday Party. All were self-published.
In 1900, Harry and his father teamed up in Pennsylvania for a week-long series of concerts at a Wilkes-Barre department store, apparently given to promote and sell their music:
Although Harry would later become known as the pianist of Lenox and Sutton, the article indicates that the father-son duo may have sung some of their compositions although those I've found listed in various sources appear to be instrumental.
A couple years later, an item from the Olean Democrat attests to Harry O. Sutton's skill and reputation as a pianist:
A career change took Harry from Olean to Manhattan in early 1903:
According to the New York, New York Extracted Marriage Index, 1666-1937, Harry O. Sutton married Jean V. Lenox somewhere in Manhattan on September 22, 1903. Ancestry.com provides only this information and a certificate number: 18672. Unfortunately, the certificate is not available on the website as many are. This information would certainly help explain how Harry O. Sutton and Jean Lenox became a songwriting team in 1904, the year their first collaborations appeared in copyright records:
However, another marriage record raises unanswered questions. On January 15, 1905, Harry O. Sutton married Vera G. Pearing in Holyoke, Massachusetts. The couple's ages are given as 23 and 21, Harry's birthplace as Naples, New York, and Vera's as Charleston, South Carolina. Harry's father is listed as Owen E. Sutton and mother Alice E. Brewster, indicating that Alice French Sutton had also remarried by 1905. Vera's parents are listed as John Pearing and M. E. Ravenel.
The record identifies Harry Sutton's occupation as "Musician" and Vera's as "At home."
Harry had married into another musical family. A variety of military records on ancestry.com and fold3.com identify John Pearing, Vera's father, as a long-time U. S. Army band member.
The precise relationship between Jean and Harry becomes increasingly complicated as we look at other sources. Further discussion of this mystery will appear below as I discuss Harry's death and what I know of Jean Lenox' s life.
Oddly, I have not located any other public records for Vera Pearing although the I have located three other children for John and Mary E. Pearing, a daughter approximately six years older than Vera and two sons, both younger. Although the spelling varies, John and Mary E. Perring in the 1880 census are clearly the same people--John a soldier born in New York and Mary E. born in South Carolina:
Two-year-old daughter Jennie appears at the top of the next census page:
Vera and Harry O. Sutton's Deaths. We know that Harry O. Sutton married Vera Pearing in 1905, and the 1910 U.S. census lists Harry O. Sutton, 29, as manager of a music publishing house and as a widower living with his son Lloyd, 3, and a 56-year-old widow identified as his mother Mary E. Sutton. The census taker appears to have confused Vera's mother Mary E. Ravenel or Mary E. Ravenel Pearing with Harry's mother, whose name was Alice. Mary's birthplace, given in the census as South Carolina (also Vera's birthplace), further corroborates that census error.
Harry O. Sutton died on February 22, 1911. Although his cause of death was evidently not widely known, an Allentown [PA] Democrat article three days later fills in several pieces of information:
Jean's mother's South Carolina birth brings to mind Vera Pearing's Charleston, South Carolina birth on Vera Pearing and Harry Sutton's 1905 marriage record.
Although I haven't located Vera Pearing in any public records other than the 1905 marriage record, I have located Vera's parents, an older sister, and two younger brothers. The 1880 census is most interesting, in part because it confirms that Vera's mother was born in South Carolina as Vera had been and just as Jean Lenox's mother had been.
The Pearing's 1880 census record is interesting for a second reason. It identifies the Pearing's first child as Jennie, who would have been roughly six years older than Vera's, according to the 1905 marriage record.
In the absence of records pre-1910 records for Jean Lenox, as well as other public record for Vera Pearing, might Jennie Pearing have been the birth name of Jean Lenox?
Although living alone in 1910, in 1912 Jean Lenox advertised for someone to care for a 5-year-old boy, a child the age Harry and Vera's son would have been:
A year later, Lenox sought someone older to fill a similar position:
Both advertisements indicate Lenox's marital status (MISS JEAN LENOX) and fail to identify her relationship to the boy.
Yet no corroboration for this possible scenario has turned up in my searches. Furthermore, since Jean Lenox and Vera appear to have been at least roughly the same age, Jean might most logically be considered Harry's sister or Vera, herself. An alternative possibility is even stranger; could Jennie Pearing have possibly been both Jean Lenox and Vera Pearing? Such a possibility, although it would seem less probable, would mean that Jennie Sutton was concealing her true age from Harry Sutton, now her junior by about three years, and/or from the public.
A brief article appearing in the town where young Harry O. Sutton lived with his aunt and uncle as a boy tells us that Harry left a widow, who was "formerly Miss Jean Lenox."
If Jean and Harry were husband and wife, why did they maintain separate residences? Why was Harry listed as a widower in 1910 if Jean and Vera were the same woman? Why did the 1915 New York State Census identify Lloyd as Jean's nephew if he was Jean and Harry's son?
And why, if Jean and Vera were one, was 13-year-old Lloyd living with his grandmother Mary E. Pearing and uncle Thomas Pearing in Washington, D.C in 1920?
If Jean Lenox and Vera Pearing were the same person and Lloyd Sutton's mother, she appears to have been conspicuously absent from his life in 1920.
Lloyd Sutton's 1943 Charlotte, North Carolina marriage certificate offers little help, listing his parents only as Harry O. Sutton and Vera Sutton, both deceased.
The Song Writing Team
Whatever the facts of Harry's marital history, Lenox and Sutton were a professional team if not a married couple.
In the March 14, 1908 issue of Music Trade Review, Jean Lenox wrote a brief account of her first meeting with Harry O. Sutton, at the same time filling in some background information about her earlier life, seeming to rule out the possibility that she was Harry's sister, and avoiding any mention of a relationship other than professional. If the pair had, indeed, married in 1903 as indicated on ancestry.com, we can't help wondering why Jean would now claim to have met Harry a year after that marriage.
In 1904, while engaged in writing short stories for the magazines, I chanced to meet Mr. Sutton, who sets music to most of my lyrics. We were both ambitious,and between us we came to the conclusion that song writing might be made profitable if we could solve the mighty problem of getting a singer of note to place our efforts before the public.
Early Song Successes
In keeping with a 1904 meeting, Lenox and Sutton's first collaborations are copyrighted late that year:
A First Show Hit
Lenox's account of meeting Sutton and searching for the right singer to make their work famous picks up again with an anecdote about writing a song for Eva Tanguay:
Our first opportunity came unexpectedly. I had been introduced to Miss Eva Tanguay, as a "writer," and with an air of polite boredom Miss Tanguay inquired what sort of writer I was. With my heart thumping at my audacity I murmured "song writer," and whether it was a desire to be polite or whether Miss Tanguay had a well defined sympathy for the song-writing craft, I have never since been able to discover. Still in quite a sociable way she asked me to write her something. A weak feeling came over me. In my vivid imagination I was already counting prospective royalties.
One could easily believe Lenox's story about meeting Tanguay and laboring into the night on the lyric suggested by Tanguay's words. Was it the truth or a good tale to attract public attention?
In 1925, while in his 70s, actor Frank Norcross related a different version of the writing of what would become Tanguay's signature song. Telling how he had conceived of The Sambo Girl and chosen Tanguay to star when she was still "only a 'song and dance girl' on the smaller vaudeville circuits," Norcross explained his memory of the day he invited two songwriters to meet Eva Tanguay:
A meeting was held in my office. There were four of us, Eva, Harry Sutton and Jean Lenox, song-writers, and myself. To the others I said, 'We've got to have a song that will fit Eva. She has an unusual personality and it will have to be about that.'
Whether Lenox and Sutton made Tanguay famous or Tanguay and Norcross made them famous, the right singer performed Lenox and Sutton's song and called attention to the fledgling songwriting team.
Every one in the audiences that go to see Raymond Hitchcock in Easy Dawson goes out humming "And the World Goes On." The true story of how that remarkable catchy and catch-ony song was written few persons believe, but they are persons who haven't met Jean Lenox. I have, and having met, believe.
Listen to And the World Goes On
Of questionable veracity, the story may have been good public relations. Appearing at a time when the pair might have been husband and wife, it portrays a professional distance. Stressing their mutual understanding of what might make a hit, it characterizes Jean Lenox as otherwise preoccupied with her beauty routine. Still early in their joint career, might this have been image-making at work--an effort to create public interest in two young single people thrown together in pop music world of their day? Retold by many newspapers over the next couple of years in varying degrees of detail, the story of the hit song written in minutes would have contributed to the pair's reputation.
Following Hitchcock's introduction of And the World Goes On, the Music Trade Review outlined Lenox and Sutton's noteworthy successes, ending with their contract with Joseph W. Stern:
Probably no artist has made arrangements to place more songs with prominent artists than Mr. Sutton, as the few examples mentioned below will indicate. Raymond Hitchcock, the well-known star, who is being featured this year in a comedy called Easy Dawson, is featuring with enormous success his song entitled And the World Goes On, of which the lyric is written by Jean Lenox, and the music by Mr. Sutton. Another of his songs is placed with the Shubert Bros' Babes in the Wood company, and is entitled In a Kiss. It is one of the daintiest and best things Mr. Sutton has done. Two other songs, Liz and In the Valley That the Sunshine Never Leaves, are being featured by the Primrose Minstrels, while a number of other songs are in preparation for different prominent musical comedy artists. Mr. Sutton and his partner, Miss Lenox, have signed a contract to write exclusively for Stern & Co. for a number of years, and he has also placed the sole agency for the Sutton catalogue with this house, who are making active preparations to push the same.
Even territorial Hawaii must have been interested in Lenox and Sutton. The Maui News soon carried an item about Liz:
It is really curious how certain songs seem to take hold of audiences and please them more than anything else they may hear in a long program of music. This is just the case with Liz, the clever darkey love song by Jean Lenox and Harry O. Sutton. It is being made a special feature by the Primrose Minstrels, and makes itself easily the greatest hit in the entire production.
Almost certainly, that popularity stemmed in part from the singer, George H. Primrose, who had chosen Liz as the only song he, himself, performed in the show.
Before the end of 1905, another popular performer promoted one of the songwriting team's songs:
Anna Laughlin, late of The Wizard of Oz and now in vaudeville, is singing Won't You Take Me Home with You, written by Jean Lenox and Harry Sutton. Miss Laughlin considers this song one of the daintiest songs of the season.
By early March 1906, the Music Trade Review announced that "the youngest team of songwriters known to the realm of popular music, at least so far as the length of their term of co-partnership" had signed a contract to write exclusively for M. Witmark & Sons:
An Uncharacteristic Project
Perhaps because Witmark published a large number of operettas and other musical theater works, Lenox and Sutton produced a one-act romantic operetta:
Although The Rose of Castile might have suited Witmark's catalog of short productions marketed for educational and other non-professional productions, Lenox and Sutton's popularity probably also resulted in its vaudeville debut at Union Square theater. Variety's "New Acts of the Week" column included the following mixed review:
Anecdotes Related to Lenox's Name
Harry Guilfoil, of much vaudeville fame, heard the song Let Good Enough Alone, by the author of As the World Goes On.
Minus Lenox's denial that she had a brother, a similar story appeared in the a Indianapolis Star:
Miss Jean Lenox, the versatile little woman song writer, newspaper woman and magazine contributor, whose songs, Won't You Take a Little Walk with Me, All the Boys Look Good to Me, Whistle If You Want Me, Dear, Acushla, Love Dreams, Let Good Enough Alone, and I'd Rather Be Like Paw, has a rather unique experience recently of being introduced to herself.
Already a song writing team, Lenox and Sutton launched a vaudeville career. On April 19,1908, Jean Lenox made her singing debut in Easton, Pennsylvania. Due to amusing stage mishaps, she and Harry Sutton were lucky to have had this relatively obscure debut before opening in New York:
With a bit of practice behind her, Lenox made her New York City performing debut at Keith & Proctor's 58th Street Theatre. According to the following article, which appeared in the Auburn Citizen on Saturday, May 16, the 58th Street Theatre debut must have occurred on Monday, May 10:
On June 20, Billboard announced that United Booking Offices had awarded the pair a thirty-five week contract on the Keith & Proctor Circuit and added, "The act which she and Mr. Sutton are putting on is filled with many novel surprises which, together with Miss Lenox's charming personality, should make it a winner everywhere it is played." Reports of their performances soon appeared in Harrisburg, Allentown, and Reading, Pennsylvania.
From Vaudeville to the Old Ladies Home
Another song was soon added to the Lenox and Sutton's vaudeville show and provided an entertaining story for Billboard's mid-December 1908 issue:
One of the songs they sang was In Grandmother's Day, which made a tremendous hit with the fifty old ladies present, and at the conclusion one of them asked who had written it. Miss Lenox modestly replied that she and Mr. Sutton were the authors.
Lenox, the Writer
I can't help wondering how Lenox, if she were 26 in 1910, had achieved a reputation as a reporter and fiction writer before teaming up with Sutton in 1904 at age 20. This professional experience would be somewhat more plausible if Lenox were Jennie Sutton, approximately 26 in 1904.
An End to Lenox & Sutton
Lenox and Sutton's vaudeville career seems to have ended shortly less than a year after it began. I have found no further mentions of such performances in 1909.
Their collaborations also quickly came to an end. Their time with Witmark, which began in early 1906, seems to have ended with that publisher's January 12, 1909 copyright on A Reckless Sort of Chap.
On October 21 and November 16, 1909, Remick copyrighted what appear to have been Lenox and Sutton's final joint projects, Little Lady and I Wonder. On October 23, Stern copyrighted Sutton's instrumental Sabbath Bells, a reverie.
For 1910, the year that Sutton reportedly became ill, I have found only one copyright--Sutton's vocal orchestra arrangement of their 1908 song My Dream of Long Ago.
One has to wonder whether Sutton's health began failing as early as 1909.
Jean Lenox After Harry O. Sutton
With Harry Sutton's illness and death, Jean Lenox's life changed again. At appears that she temporarily gave up performing to raise young Lloyd. Although she had turned down an editorship in 1908 to pursue a vaudeville career, we have already seen that the 1910 U.S. Federal Census and 1915 New York State Census indicate that she soon turned primarily to "literary" writing--although the nature and scope of that writing isn't entirely clear.
Copyright records and other sources yield a small number of collaborations with other composers, including one in 1911 with St. Louis-born Edna Williams, who composed briefly for Jos.Stern before starting a long-term business career in the film industry.
Never again did Jean Lenox form a songwriting partnership such as she shared for a few years with Harry O. Sutton. A short list of her later songs will be found near the end of this page.
Lenox's later life is not easily documented. A March 1912 New York Daily Tribune item about a benefit for Washington Heights Hospital lists Lenox and a Mr. Spencer as among the performers currently in the Eddie Foy company. Mr. Spencer may have been composer Herbert Spencer or a later collaborator, Fred Spencer.
In 1914, she appears in Trow's Directory for Manhattan and the Bronx as Jean V. Lenox with the occupation "pictures." Since the 1910 U.S. and 1915 NY censuses list her as a "literary" writer, we can guess that at least part of that writing was for the film industry.
By late 1917, Norma Talmadge had cast Lenox in a supporting film role. Although I cannot rule out earlier Lenox film roles, this is the first role located.
Roughly a year later, Lenox spent six months in L.A. editing film scripts and performing in a few other films. Eight years after Harry O. Sutton's death, the New York Clipper claims a sibling relationship:
In 1940, a Mrs. Jean Lenox appears in the Los Angeles city directory with no stated occupation. So far, I have no evidence that Mrs. Jean Lenox and the woman who identified herself as Miss Jean Lenox were one and the same.
I have not found any record of Jean Lenox's death--no newspaper announcement or obituary, no death certificate. The best I can say is that if Jean Lenox and Vera Pearing Sutton were the same person, with all the unanswered questions that possibility would raise, she died sometime before Lloyd Sutton's 1943 marriage.
Information Found After the Original Blog Post
An item I found a day after first posting this blog entry increases the likelihood that Jean Lenox was Vera Pearing's stage name. It does not solve all the mysteries discussed above. Worse, however, it makes the sad story of Harry O. Sutton's untimely death of tuberculosis even sadder.
Somehow I missed Lloyd Sutton's death certificate on Find A Grave:
Whether his alcoholism contributed to his divorce, or stemmed from it, we will probably never know. We have to consider the possibility that a difficult and tragic childhood might have contributed to his problems.
For whatever reason, young Lloyd remained with his father and his grandmother during at least part of the year Sutton was battling TB. Meanwhile, Jean Lenox lived apart. One might guess that she moved out of the family home to avoid contracting her husband's illness, but why then would she leave her mother and son with her ailing husband? If Lloyd's mother, as his death certificate seems to indicate, how could Jean Lenox have later passed off her son as her nephew, at least as the 1915 New York State Census hints? Was this a lie growing out of an earlier coverup of Lenox and Sutton's marriage, perhaps to promote their career as two young single performers--one male, one female--involved in a partnership that might intrigue the public? Was it simply another of Jean Lenox's fictions?
How Lloyd got to North Carolina is irrelevant to the professional careers of Jean Lenox and Harry O. Sutton. With Harry Sutton's death and perhaps Jean Lenox's turning over his care to hired help as she pursued her career, whether out of necessity or ambition, we have already seen that 13-year-old Lloyd lived with his maternal grandmother and uncle in Washington, D.C in 1920. Whether he felt loved and wanted by them or unloved and abandoned by his mother, most likely no one will ever know.
According to Phillis Zegers, a researcher working to identify unclaimed cremated remains at Oregon State Hospital, Lloyd Sutton was forgotten in death. Only Zegers' Find A Grave memorial to Lloyd survives as testament to his life, his father listed on his death certificate, but largely unknown today, his mother even more of a mystery.
One other detail Zegers turned up might alter this story. She mentions that Lloyd's mother died in Washington, D.C. on August 23, 1919. I haven't succeeded in documenting this death although I have searched under a variety of names. Zegers quickly replied to my inquiry to say that she had not been able to relocate the death record in any of her usual sources when she tried after receiving my email inquiry.
With the specific death date she provided on Find A Grave, I believe she had found a record indicating that the family, minus Harry O. Sutton who had died in 1911, might have been together in D. C. in late summer 1919. If Vera and Jean were one, this would have been shortly after Jean returned from her six months editing film scenes and acting in L. A.
The Find A Grave memorial points out that divorce was sometimes treated as death, thus explaining why Harry might have been listed as a widower in the 1910 census when he was not. This would make even more sense in this case if Lloyd's mother Vera Pearing and Jean V. Lenox were the same person and if, for whatever reason, the marriage between Harry and his song- writing partner had been largely concealed and occasionally passed off as a sibling relationship.
Tangentially-Related Information Found Earlier But Added After Original Posting
I had mentioned earlier that John Pearing, Vera's father was an Army band member. Several records attest to that fact, and some place him in Washington, D. C. at the time of death, providing a reason for his wife and son Thomas to have relocated there. One such record on ancestry.com reveals that John Pearing was a patient at Walter Reed. Another, filed by his wife to claim his Civil War pension, lists his service record.
A 1950 copy of the original 1918 record reveals that John Pearing was buried in the Soldiers Home National Cemetery:
A few years after John Pearing's death of tuberculosis, his son Thomas also died of TB, this time at the veterans hospital in Greenville, South Carolina.
By age 17, Lloyd had lost his father, grandfather. and uncle to TB. I have not found his grandmother's death record, but the last I have seen of her was an entry in the 1921 Washington, D. C. directory from which Thomas had already vanished.
Thomas Pearing's 1924 death in Greenville helps fill in a gap in Lloyd Sutton's life between the 1920 census when he was living with his grandmother and uncle in Washington and his 1942 marriage in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Prior to locating Thomas' death certificate, it was impossible to tell if other records I had found helped to document the correct Lloyd Sutton although a Pearing family history in South Carolina made that seemed reasonable. From 1924 to 1938, several Greenville city directories list Lloyd Sutton as an employee in an optical company, as a lens grinder, and as an optician. From his teens to his early thirties, Lloyd appears to have been advancing in his career.
Mysteries Yet to Be Solved
Was Jean Lenox Lloyd Sutton's mother, Vera Pearing Sutton? When did she die and of what cause? At least two public documents need to be located: Jean Lenox and Harry Sutton's 1903 marriage certificate and Vera Pearing Sutton's 1919 death certificate, assuming her August 23 death date on Lloyd's Find A Grave memorial page is correct.
If Jean Lenox was a pseudonym, we won't find a death certificate for her. If it was not a pseudonym, perhaps we will. Whatever the case, we may find a death notice or obituary. I have tried to locate one in newspapers and trade publications, again without success. Such a notice in combination with the date of Vera's death would prove or disprove the guess that Jean Lenox may have been Vera Pearing Sutton's stage name. I will continue searching off and on.
Meanwhile, should anyone locate these documents, I would be happy to add them here or in a follow-up post with credit for sharing that information.
Works by Lenox and/or Sutton
Sutton without Lenox
Lenox after Sutton
June Rose, words Jean Lenox, music Edna Williams, Stern, 1911
I Want a Regular Gal for a Pal, words Jean Lenox, music George Christie, Witmark, 1911
Sweet Memories, words Jean Lenox, music Fred Spencer, Wenrich-Howard, 1913
Pierrot and Pierrette, words Jean Lenox and Ray Sterling, music L. Edwards, Stern, 1916
Lenox and Sutton Tunes Arranged by W. C. O'Hare
The Galloper, intermezzo, orchestra, 1906
Smile on Me, orchestra, band, song for cornet, song for trombone, 1906
Love Dreams, waltz, Intro. It Was Persuasion, orchestra, 1906
Smile on Me, female quartet, male quartet, 1908
Won't You Take a Little Walk with Me, barn dance, orchestra, 1908
In Grandma's Day, march and two-step, orchestra, 1908
Whistle If You Want Me, Dear, barn dance, orchestra, 1908
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.