|Born||April 9, 1877|
|Died||June 17, 1912
Toledo, Ohio, United States
|Genres||Broadway musicals, revues, show tunes|
|Occupation(s)||Songwriter, composer, lyricist|
His works and bio
His best-known composition was the popular song "Won't You Come Home Bill Bailey". This ragtime song was published in 1902. (It has been claimed he wrote it at the age of sixteen, though this is questionable, since that date would have predated ragtime as a genre.) After publication the song quickly became a hit and then a standard, has been covered many times since by a wide range of singers, including Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, Pearl Bailey, Marion Montgomery, and Bobby Darin.
The song became an instant success following its first performance by Blackface John Queen, a contemporary of the composer. Another of the author's long-lasting hits is Frankie and Johnny, published in 1904.
Cannon wrote the featured song "I love the Two Steps (With my Man)" for the New York show 'Mrs. Black in Back', which opened in 1904 and ran for 79 performances. Mrs. Black was played by May Irwin, who also appeared in one of Thomas Edison's earliest productions, "The Kiss."
Cannon also wrote music for "A Venetian Romance" at the Knickerbocker Theater.
Cannon was buried in Connellsville, Pennsylvania, where his mother lived. His mother, May Brown Cannon Smith Robbins, had been in show business and had played the role of "Little Trixie" in a production that toured the nation for several years in the late 1800s. By the time her son became a well-known composer she was managing a theater in Connellsville with the help of her third husband Fred G. Robbins. Not much is known about his the composer's actor father, John Cannon.
Not long before his death, Cannon told a Detroit newspaper that he sold off the rights to most of his songs. In a letter to his mother he lamented "the songs I once had."
He told the same newspaper that while he also used drugs, it was alcohol that was the hardest to kick. A brief marriage to Emma Dorson ended in divorce, the final decree handed to her just hours after his death. Cannon died penniless.
Cannon's other songs include "For Lawdy Sakes, Feed My Dog," "I Hates To Get Up Early In The Morning", "Possum Pie", "Just Because She Made Dem Goo-Goo Eyes" and "You Needn't Come Home."
Musicologist Peter Muir remarked that "You Needn't Come Home" was "truly remarkable for 1901" for its unusual use of 12-bar arrangements for both chorus and verse. "In terms of popular songs at the turn of the century, the enterprise, to the best of my knowledge, is quite unique."
Thornton Hagert (founder of Vernacular Music Research), in 1971, noted Cannon's use of a 12-bar structure. "A few" of Cannon's better-known songs, Hagert found, "are very close to the classic blues structure."
Two years after "Bill Bailey" swept the nation, Cannon composed a tune called "He Done Me Wrong." This "death of Bill Bailey" tune is sad, Muir noting "a powerful ambivalence often found in the blues." Muir argued that Cannon's "music represents in its way the birth of commercial blues in American culture."
Cannon died at the age of 35 at the Lucas County, Ohio, Infirmary. The official cause of death was cirrhosis of the liver.
- short bio
- Still no home for 'Bill Bailey' written by Emily Leone, 2006
- Queen, John; Cannon, Hughie L. (1900). Just because she made dem goo-goo eyes. New York: Howley, Haviland and Co. Retrieved 20 September 2014.
- Long Lost Blues: Popular Blues in America, 1850-1920 (University of Illinois Press, 2009).
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