Paul Dresser (born Johann Paul Dreiser, Jr.; April 22, 1857 – January 30, 1906) was an American singer, songwriter, and comedic actor of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Dresser performed in traveling minstrel and medicine-wagon shows and as a vaudeville entertainer. He sold his songs through sheet music publishers in New York City's Tin Pan Alley, and became a partner in the music publishing business.
Dresser grew up in a large family (including his brother, novelist Theodore Dreiser) and lived in Sullivan and Terre Haute, Indiana. He had a troubled childhood and spent several weeks in jail. Dresser left home at age sixteen to join a traveling minstrel act and performed in several regional theaters before joining John Hamlin's Wizard Oil traveling medicine-wagon show in 1878. Dresser composed his first songs while working for Hamlin. He settled in Evansville, Indiana, for several years while continuing to work as a traveling performer and musician. Eventually, he became a nationally known talent and traveled with a number of different acts, including The Two Johns, A Tin Soldier, and The Danger Signal, among others. Dresser wrote songs featured in these shows, sold his songs to others acts, and published his music. In 1893 Dresser joined "Howley, Haviland and Company", a New York City sheet music publisher, as a silent partner. He later became an active partner in other music publishing companies. At the height of his success, Dresser lived in New York City as a wealthy entertainer, successful songwriter, and sheet music publisher. He was generous, especially to family and friends, and lavish spending. The turn of the century brought him financial distress when his music fell out of style. In 1905 his music publishing business declared bankruptcy and Dresser's health declined. He died penniless in New York City a year later.
Although Dresser had no formal training in music composition, he wrote ballads that had wide appeal, including some of the most popular songs of the era. During a career that spanned nearly two decades, from 1886 to 1906, Dresser composed and published more than 150 songs. His biggest hit, "On the Banks of the Wabash, Far Away" (1897), became the second best-selling sheet music of the nineteenth century. Following the success of "Wabash", many newspapers compared Dresser to popular composer Stephen Foster. "On the Banks of the Wabash, Far Away" became the official song of Indiana in 1913. The Paul Dresser Birthplace in Terre Haute is designated as a state shrine and memorial. Dresser was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1970.
Birth and Death Data: Born April 21st, 1857 (Terre Haute), Died January 30th, 1906 (New York City)
Date Range of DAHR Recordings: 1896 - 1942
Roles Represented in DAHR: composer, lyricist
Recordings (Results 1-25 of 116 records)
|Company||Matrix No.||Size||First Recording Date||Title||Primary Performer||Description||Role||Audio|
|Berliner||187||7-in.||Before Apr. 1899||Just tell them that you saw me||George J. Gaskin||Male vocal solo||lyricist, composer|
|Berliner||189[a]||7-in.||4/17/1896||Just tell them that you saw me||Artists vary||Male vocal solo||lyricist, composer|
|Berliner||399||7-in.||Before Feb. 1899||On the banks of the Wabash far away||Mabel Casedy||Female vocal solo||lyricist, composer|
|Berliner||577||7-in.||Apr. 1898||On the banks of the Wabash||Annie Carter||Female vocal solo||lyricist, composer|
|Berliner||867||7-in.||11/15/1896||Just tell them that you saw me||George J. Gaskin ; Mozart Quartet||Male vocal solo, with male vocal quartet||lyricist, composer|
|Berliner||1784||7-in.||July 1897-Mar. 1898||On the banks of the Wabash||Artists vary||Male vocal solo||composer, lyricist|
|Berliner||1936||7-in.||11/29/1895-12/14/1898||Sweet Savannah||J. W. Myers||Male vocal solo||composer, lyricist|
|Berliner||3428||7-in.||6/17/1898||On the banks of the Wabash far away||Henry Higgins ; Arthur Pryor||Cornet and trombone duet||composer|
|Berliner||4255||7-in.||Mar. 1898||On the banks of the Wabash, far away||Diamond Four||Male vocal quartet||composer, lyricist|
|Berliner||055||7-in.||3/28/1899||On the banks of the Wabash far away||George J. Gaskin||Male vocal solo||lyricist, composer|
|Berliner||0109||7-in.||Before June 1899||Sweet Savannah||George J. Gaskin||Male vocal solo||composer, lyricist|
|Berliner||01061||7-in.||3/10/1900||The blue and the gray||Arthur Collins||Male vocal solo, with orchestra||composer, lyricist|
|Berliner||01143||7-in.||3/23/1900||The blue and the gray||Harry Macdonough||Male vocal solo||lyricist, composer|
|Berliner||01215||7-in.||4/17/1900||The blue and the gray||Joseph Natus||Male vocal solo||lyricist, composer|
|Berliner||01218||7-in.||4/17/1900||In good old New York town||Joseph Natus||Male vocal solo||composer, lyricist|
|Berliner||01222||7-in.||4/17/1900||Sweet Savannah||Joseph Natus||Male vocal solo||composer, lyricist|
|Victor||[Pre-matrix A-]83||7-in.||6/11/1900||The blue and the gray||Harry Macdonough||Male vocal solo||lyricist, composer|
|Victor||[Pre-matrix A-]164||7-in.||7/21/1900||The blue and the gray||Arthur Collins ; Metropolitan Orchestra||Male vocal solo, with orchestra||composer, lyricist|
|Victor||[Pre-matrix A-]204||7-in.||9/14/1900||The blue and the gray||Street piano||"Street" (barrel) piano||composer, lyricist|
|Victor||[Pre-matrix A-]515||7-in.||11/15/1900||When the moon comes up behind de hill||S. H. Dudley||Male vocal solo, with orchestra||composer, lyricist|
|Victor||[Pre-matrix A-]677||7-in.||2/16/1901||There is no North or South to-day||Joseph Natus||Male vocal solo, with piano||lyricist, composer|
|Victor||[Pre-matrix B-]677||10-in.||2/16/1901||There is no North or South to-day||Joseph Natus||Male vocal solo, with piano||lyricist, composer|
|Victor||[Pre-matrix A-]678||7-in.||2/16/1901||I'd still believe you true||Joseph Natus||Male vocal solo, with piano||lyricist, composer|
|Victor||[Pre-matrix B-]678||10-in.||4/29/1903||I'd still believe you true||Joseph Natus||Male vocal solo, with piano||lyricist, composer|
|Victor||[Pre-matrix A-]680||7-in.||2/16/1901||Calling to her boy just once again||Joseph Natus||Male vocal solo, with piano||lyricist, composer|
Discography of American Historical Recordings, s.v. "Dresser, Paul," accessed October 21, 2021, https://adp.library.ucsb.edu/names/108958.
Dresser, Paul. (2021). In Discography of American Historical Recordings. Retrieved October 21, 2021, from https://adp.library.ucsb.edu/names/108958.
"Dresser, Paul." Discography of American Historical Recordings. UC Santa Barbara Library, 2021. Web. 21 October 2021.
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