Burr, Henry (Harry H. McClaskey)

views updated

Burr, Henry (Harry H. McClaskey)

Burr, Henry (Harry H. McClaskey), popular Canadian ballad singer; b. St. Stephen, New Brunswick, Can., Jan. 15, 1882; d. Chicago, April 6, 1941. Burr is said to have appeared on upwards of 12, 000 recordings, making his tenor voice the most-recorded in history. He was second only to Billy Murray as the most successful recording artist of the first two decades of the 20th century in the U.S., reportedly selling ten million records

Burr made his debut in 1898 and moved to N.Y. to study voice after being discovered by Giuseppe Companari, formerly of the Metropolitan Opera. He turned to popular music when he began recording in 1903, assuming his stage name to do so. (In later years he sometimes recorded under his real name as well.) His solo hits included “Come Down, Ma Ev’ning Star” (1903), “In the Shade of the Old Apple Tree” (recorded under the pseudonym “Irving Gillette”) (1905), “Love Me and the World Is Mine” (1906), “To the End of the World with You” (1909), “I Wonder Who’s Kissing Her Now” (1909), “Meet Me To- Night in Dreamland” (1910), “When I Lost You” (1913), “Last Night Was the End of the World” (1913), “The Song That Stole My Heart Away” (1914), “M-O-T-H-E-R (A Word That Means the World to Me)” (1916), “Good-Bye, Good Luck, God Bless You (Is All That I Can Say)” (1916), “I’m Sorry I Made You Cry” (1918), “Beautiful Ohio” (1919), “Oh! What a Pal Was Mary” (1919), and “My Buddy” (1922). “Just a Baby’s Prayer at Twilight (For Her Daddy over There)” (1918) was his biggest solo hit, reportedly selling over a million copies.

In 1904, Burr formed the Columbia Male Quartet, subsequently called the Peerless Quartet, with Albert Campbell, Steve Porter, and Tom Daniels. The group’s major hits included “You’re the Flower of My Heart, Sweet Adeline” (1904), “Let Me Call You Sweetheart” (1911), “I Didn’t Raise My Boy to Be a Soldier” (1915), “My Bird of Paradise” (1915), “The Lights of My Home Town” (1916), George M. Cohan’s “Over There” (1917), and “I Don’t Know Where I’m Going but I’m on My Way” (1918). After Frank Stanley replaced Daniels in 1906, he and Burr made a series of duet records together until Stanley’s death in 1910. Burr then assumed leadership of the Peerless Quartet and sang lead on nearly all its records. He assembled a new edition of the group in 1925 and maintained it until 1928.

Burr and Campbell launched a series of successful duet recordings in 1911. Their major hits include “When I Was Twenty-One and You Were Sweet Sixteen” (1912), “The Trail of the Lonesome Pine” (1913), “I’m on My Way to Mandalay” (with Will Oakland; 1914), “Close to My Heart” (1915), “There’s a Quaker Down in Quaker Town” (1916), “Lookout Mountain” (1917), “Till We Meet Again” (1919), and “I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles” (1919). They also recorded with the Columbia Orch. Burr, Campbell, and John Meyer (who had replaced Stanley in the Peerless Quartet) recorded as the Sterling Trio starting in 1916. Burr also made successful records with Helen Clark, Frank Croxton (a replacement member of the Peerless Quartet), Marcia Freer (on Irving Berlin’s “What’ll I Do?” [1924]), Ada Jones, Roger Wolfe Kahn and His Orch., Art Landry and His Orch., Murray (their sole duet being “I Wonder Where My Baby Is To-Night?” [1926]), Lieutenant Gitz Rice of the First Canadians (on the World War I song “Life in a Trench in Belgium” [1918]), Andrea Sarto, Elizabeth Spencer, Elise Stevenson, and Caroline Vaughan.

From 1921 to 1925, Burr managed the Eight Popular (or Famous) Victor Artists, a touring package that included the Peerless Quartet and Murray and that played around the U.S. for 15 years. Though his recording career declined after the mid-1920s, Burr became a popular radio entertainer, appearing on NBC’s National Barn Dance for seven years, among other programs.

—William Ruhlmann