Billy Murray: The Legendary Denver Nightingale










Sheet Music





For those who have never heard Murray before, below are fifteen selected samples exhibiting the many of his styles and interpretations. This will hopefully give you a better idea of the different imitations Murray possessed, and the content of his work.

I would offer full transfers of these recordings, but a lot of the labels he recorded for, such as Victor, Columbia, and Zon-o-phone, are still protected by Sony/BMG Entertainment. Since the corporation is aware of this website, I must comply with the copyright laws. However, there are plenty of other websites that offer full Murray recordings, such as the UCSB Cylinder Preservation and Digitization Project.

The average download time is two minutes for a 56k connection (downloads on cable or DSL connections are only a few seconds). When the file has completed downloading, you will need an audio program such as Music Match or Windows Media Player to listen to them.


Size 509 KB
Time 0:32

The Rambler Minstrel Company (Record H)
Arthur Collins, Byron G. Harlan, Billy Murray, and Steve Porter. Orch. acc.
Harmony A459 (Columbia matrix 3608-3, recorded 1907)

       The minstrel show was a dominant form of entertainment during the early twentieth century, and records by the Rambler Minstrel Company combined the essentials of a minstrel show on record with upbeat songs, claps and cheers, jokes, and solos. This clip demonstrates Murray's use of black dialect, with his play on the names "Bill" and "Will." Steve Porter, famous for his "Flanagan" sketches and other Irish comedy on record, is the interlocutor ("Why, she must be a wonder!"). Collins and Harlan are only supporting players on this clip, but Collins' distinctive laugh can be heard in the background.


Size 428 KB
Time 0:27

Always Leave Them Laughing When You Say Goodbye
(words and music by George M. Cohan)
Billy Murray. Orch. acc.
Victor 5296 (recorded 1907)

       Billy Murray was the leading interpreter of George M. Cohan compositions on record during the early twentieth century. He helped popularize many of Cohan's Broadway compositions, most notably "Yankee Doodle Boy," "Give My Regards to Broadway," and "The Grand Old Rag." This particular song, "Always Leave Them Laughing When You Say Goodbye," demonstrates the rapid-fire diction that Murray was famous for. His use of talk-singing ("Of course I played it on the bum") helped bring his songs to life by interpreting certain words and phrases so listeners would get a better picture of the comedy involved. This brief sound clip alone demonstrates why Murray was such a master at comedy and Cohan songs at the time.


Size 491 KB
Time 0:31

Sweet Italian Love (from "Up and Down Broadway")
(words and music by Irving Berlin)
Billy Murray. Orch. acc.
Victor 16790-A (recorded 1910)

       Another style of mimicry Murray was a master at was Italian. His Italian dialect records, such as "My Cousin Caruso," and "When Tony Goes Over the Top," proved to be bestsellers. In this particular clip, written by the famous songster Irving Berlin, he sings the lyrics slightly different than what was published in the sheet music, as "When you kiss-a your pet, and it-a tastes like spaghette…" ("Pet" is in reference to a girl, or girlfriend; the lyrics were originally "...and it's-a like-a spagette [sic]...")


Size 554 KB
Time 0:35

Moonlight Bay
(words by Edward Madden; music by Percy Wenrich)
American Quartet. Orch. acc.
Victor 17034-A (recorded 1911)

       The American Quartet, also known as the Premier Quartet for the Edison company, was one of the most successful male quartets of the acoustic recording era. Billy Murray sang the lead in the group, along with John Bieling as the first tenor, Steve Porter as the baritone, and William Hooley as the bass. "Moonlight Bay" was one of their greatest sellers, and their harmonization blends together very well, as you will notice in this segment.


Size 626 KB
Time 0:39

On a Beautiful Night with a Beautiful Girl
(words by Will D. Cobb; music by Gus Edwards)
Heidelberg Quintet. Orch. acc.
Victor 17152-A (recorded 1912)

       Future radio, night club operator, and television personality Will Oakland is added to the quartet of Murray, Bieling, Porter, and Hooley. As the Heidelberg Quintet, they churned out many great records of barbershop-style harmony, such as "Waiting for the Robert E. Lee," "I Want to Love You While the Music's Playing," and "You're a Great Big Blue-Eyed Baby." In the chorus of "On a Beautiful Night with a Beautiful Girl," Oakland's high counter-tenor voice is heard to advantage with Murray, "And your senses a-whirl…"


Size 528 KB
Time 0:33

On the Old Front Porch
(words by Bobby Heath; music by Arthur Lange)
Ada Jones and Billy Murray. Orch. acc.
Victor 17425-A (recorded 1913)

       Former vaudeville star Ada Jones began recording duets with Murray in 1907, and together they produced some of the most charming and clever duets as a couple. This particular record, "On the Old Front Porch," was a favorite of the future pop star Tiny Tim (Herbert Khaury, 1932—1996). He used the song on his first album God Bless Tiny Tim in 1968, and he imitated the exact style that Jones and Murray were famous for. "On the Old Front Porch" was one of the finest duets they ever produced.


Size 606 KB
Time 0:38

If War Is What Sherman Said It Was
(words by Andrew B. Sterling; music by Albert Gumble)
Billy Murray. Orch. acc.
Victor 17826-A (recorded 1915)

       If there was one style of comedy Murray was always best at, it was the miserable portrayal of married life. This particular song was influenced from Civil War General William Tecumseh Sherman's famous "War Is Hell" speech in 1879. In this clip, Murray plays Henry Jones—a drunk husband who is coming home after staying out all night. He complains to a police officer, "if war is what Sherman said it was, then tell me what is married life?" He whines that his wife throws things at him, and that if General Sherman were here, he would see more war "than he saw marching through Georgia."


Size 512 KB
Time 0:32

Come on and Play with Me
(words by Bert Kalmar and Edgar Leslie; music by Harry Ruby)
Billy Murray. Orch. acc.
Columbia A2836 (recorded 1919)

       This clip demonstrates another aspect of Murray's mastery with dialects. "Come on and Play with Me" (also known as "Come on and Play wiz Me") is about Marcelle—a wild and flirtatious Parisian girl who arouses the boys. Murray sings the chorus in a French accent, displaying a vivid portrait of Marcelle's rowdiness.


Size 586 KB
Time 0:37

That's Worth While Waiting For
(words by Sam M. Lewis and Joe Young; music by Harry Ruby)
Billy Murray. Orch. acc.
Victor 18652-B (recorded 1919)

       Part of the reason why Murray's records are so fascinating is because he introduces current events at the time. These are known as "topical songs." In the last chorus of the romantic comedy song "That's Worth While Waiting For," he manages to squeeze in mention of prohibition, next year's election (1920), the rise of sugar prices, and the raising of women's skirts. This is only one of several Murray records giving references to dress styles, technology, historical events, and so forth.


Size 467 KB
Time 0:29

Hi Lee Hi Lo
(words by Eugene West; music by Ira Schuster)
Billy Murray and Ed Smalle. Orch. acc.
Victor 19095-B (recorded 1923)

       "Hi Lee Hi Lo" is a fictional story based on a German band that went to China. The German waltz song "Hi Lee, Hi Lo" becomes so popular with the Chinese that everyone begins singing it. Billy Murray and Ed Smalle display their stereotypical Chinese accents in this case, based on gibberish and even poking fun at the composers, "They ought to put the guys who wrote it in a padded cage."


Size 432 KB
Time 0:27

When June Comes Along with a Song—Fox Trot (from "The Rise of Rosie O'Reilly")
(words and music by George M. Cohan)
The Great White Way Orchestra; whistling by Billy Murray.
Victor 19091-A (recorded 1923)

       One part of Murray's talents that is often overlooked is his whistling abilities. This clip will demonstrate his melodic skill of whistling a chorus. Murray was also called on to whistle melodies in other recordings for Victor and Edison, most notably "The Whistler and His Dog," "The Blue Jay and the Thrush," and "Whistling Jim."


Size 425 KB
Time 0:26

Keep Your Skirts Down Mary Ann
(words by Andrew B. Sterling; music by Ray Henderson and Robert A. King)
Aileen Stanley and Billy Murray; Frank Banta at the piano.
Victor 19795-A (recorded 1925)

       "Keep Your Skirts Down Mary Ann" is yet another topical song in the Murray recorded legacy, and his use of Irish dialect is put to good use. Murray does a bit of role changing in this one, playing an old-fashioned Irish mother who complains to her flapper daughter (Stanley) that her dress is too short. Unlike the previous clips you've listened to, which were acoustic recordings, this one is electrical, and was made during the time when Murray was beginning to lose popularity as a recording artist.


Size 525 KB
Time 0:33

Roll 'Em Girls
(words and music by Archie Fletcher, Bobby Heath, and Mickey Marr)
Billy Murray. Orch. acc.
Victor 19838-B (recorded 1925)

       The art of "crooning" was now becoming a dominant form of vocalization. This is one of a few occasions when Murray was told to "croon" into a microphone. Compared to the sound clip of "Always Leave Them Laughing When You Say Goodbye" recorded almost twenty years earlier, his voice seems rather deflated. He still had his signature style of talk-singing ("Don't wear things if you don't think you need 'em"), but his voice didn't posses the naturalness of "crooning" compared to Gene Austin, Art Gillham, and Joe White ("The Silver Masked Tenor"). Although this particular record sold very well, it certainly does not display Murray at his best.


Size 395 KB
Time 0:25

I'm the Medicine Man for the Blues—Fox Trot (from "Is Everybody Happy?")
(words by Grant Clarke; music by Harry Akst)
Dick Cherwin and His Orchestra; vocal refrain by Billy Murray (uncredited).
Cameo 9269 (Pathé matrix 108932-2, recorded 1929)

       It's interesting to note that a guy like Murray extended his career from the early wax cylinder records to the Jazz Age. He was no longer a popular solo artist at this time, and his output mostly consisted of duets and vocal refrains with dance bands, such as this one with Dick Cherwin. Murray cannot be considered an "authentic" jazz or blues singer, but he does add a little blues flavor in this classic Ted Lewis hit, along with a nice clarinet solo to back him up.


Size 392 KB
Time 0:24

It's the Same Old Shillelagh—March
(words and music by Pat White)
Harry's Tavern Band; vocal refrain by Billy Murray.
Bluebird B-10811-A (recorded 1940)

       After a few years of making records sporadically, Murray made a comeback for RCA's Bluebird label in 1940. This was one of six records (eleven sides) he released for Bluebird, mostly consisting of Irish songs such as this one. As one can tell, he still possessed that distinctive Irish accent he used over thirty years earlier. His Bluebird records prove that he was just as good in voice as he ever was, prior to his last recordings for Joe Davis' Beacon label in 1943.



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