Bryan was born in Brantford. He worked as an arranger in New York and wrote lyrics for many Broadway shows in the late 1910s and early 1920s. In the 1920s he moved to Hollywood to write lyrics for screen musicals.
Bryan worked with several composers during his career. Among his collaborators were Fred Fischer, Larry Stock and Joe McCarthy. Perhaps his most successful song was "I Didn't Raise My Boy to Be a Soldier" (1915), with music by Al Piantadosi. The song sold 650,000 copies during the first three months and became one of 1915's top-selling songs in the United States. Although Bryan himself was not a committed pacifist, he described the American public's anti-war sentiments in his lyrics.
He died in Gladstone, New Jersey, aged 86.
His hits included
- "Peg o' My Heart"
- "Come Josephine in My Flying Machine"
- "I Didn't Raise My Boy to Be a Soldier"
- "We'll Be Together When the Clouds Roll By" (music by Kerry Mills)
- "Who Paid The Rent For Mrs. Rip Van Winkle?" (music by Fred Fischer)
- Van Wienen, Mark W. (2002). Rendezvous with Death: American poems of the Great War. University of Illinois Press. ISBN 978-0-252-07059-4.
- "Alfred Bryan". Songwriters Hall of Fame. Retrieved 21 March 2012.
- Van Wienen 2002, p. 289
- Van Wienen 2002, p. 80
- Sheet music for his song "We'll Be Together When the Clouds Roll By" from the collection at University of Oregon Libraries