Gussie Davis

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Gussie Lord Davis [n.d.]. Performing Arts Reading Room, Library of Congress.

Gussie Lord Davis (December 3, 1863 – December 18, 1899)[1] was an African-American songwriter born in Dayton, Ohio.[2] Davis was one of America's earliest successful African-American music artists, having been the first Black songwriter to acquire fame on Tin Pan Alley as a composer of popular music.

Early life[edit]

Gussie Davis received musical training at the Nelson Musical College in Cincinnati, OH, where his application was rejected due to his color. However, he agreed to give janitorial services at a low wage in exchange for private lessons. Written at the young age of eighteen, We Sat Beneath the Maple on the Hill became a hit which helped propagate his success.


Poster for one of Davis' songs

In 1886, Davis was brought to New York for Tin Pan Alley. He had climbed high on the ladder to success within a short time and many of his songs were being published. In 1895, he won second place in a contest sponsored by New York World to find the ten best songwriters in the nation. His song, Send Back the Picture and the Ring, won him nearly $500 in gold. Also a performer, he played the piano on Bergen Star Concerts and toured with his Davis Operatic and Plantation Minstrels.


At the time of his death in December 1899, Davis published more than two hundred songs and certainly left more in manuscript. He wrote a variety of musical forms, including sentimental ballads, comic minstrel songs, art songs, and choral music.[3] One of his musicals, A Hot Old Time in Dixie, was on the road when he died.[4]

Notable Songs[edit]

  • We Sat Beneath the Maple On The Hill
  • In The Baggage Coach Ahead
  • Little Footprints In The Snow (This is not the Bluegrass classic, but a different song).[5]
  • My Creole Sue
  • She Waited at the Altar in Vain
  • Why Does Papa Stay so Late?

Perhaps his most notable song, Irene, Good Night (1886), entered the folk song repertoire albeit significantly altered as Goodnight, Irene in Negro Folk Songs as Sung by Lead Belly (1936), edited by John Lomax and Alan Lomax.


  1. ^
  2. ^ International Dictionary of Black Composers, ed. Samuel A. Floyd, Jr., New York, 1999, p. 349
  3. ^
  4. ^ Southern, Eileen (1997). The Music of Black Americans. WW Norton & Company. pp. 242–244. 
  5. ^ "Songs that Aren't 'Footprints In The Snow'", Supplement to: Footprints in the Snow: The Intercontinental Journey of a Song by Julay Brooks" (PDF). 13, No. 4. December 2012. Retrieved March 2014. 

External links[edit]