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Harry B. Smith

Harry Bache Smith

Librettist, Lyricist, Composer, Writer

(1860 - 1936)

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Harry B. Smith began his career as a reporter and drama/music critic. He began writing sketches for vaudeville and eventually accumulated more Broadway credits as lyricist and librettist than anyone else, contributing to more than 120 shows over three decades. His penchant for collecting rare books, manuscripts, and autographs became a lifelong passion and led to a book in 1914 detailing his collection, A Sentimental Library. He critiqued material for Warner Brothers; wrote articles on literature and music for Harper’s, Atlantic Monthly, and other publications; and set down his autobiography, First Nights and First Editions.

In 1896 he began a decade-long collaboration with composer Ludwig Englander, and they frequently had several shows running concurrently on Broadway. Robin Hood (1891), the comic opera written with Reginald De Koven, is considered the first great work of the American musical stage, and it produced the love song, “Oh, Promise Me.” In 1898 Smith began a long working relationship with Victor Herbert, writing the book and lyrics for The Fortune Teller and collaborating on The Singing Girl in 1899. In 1913 they wrote Sweethearts, Herbert’s most famous operetta. Smith often worked with his brother Robert, and for Herbert’s 1919 Angel Face Harry wrote the book and Robert wrote the lyrics.

In 1902 Harry wrote the lyrics for actress Lillian Russell’s signature song “Come Down Ma’ Evenin’ Star,” and between 1907 and 1912 he worked on several editions of Ziegfeld Follies. In 1914 he wrote the book for Irving Berlin’s musical comedy Watch Your Step. Franz Lehar’s 1920 operetta, which premiered in Germany, was staged in New York as The Land of Smiles with English lyrics by Smith, including “Yours Is My Heart Alone.” The 1921 production Make It Snappy featured “The Sheik of Araby,” written with Francis Wheeler and Ted Snyder. The song has been recorded by several artists including Lionel Hampton, Charlie Christian, and Dean Martin.

Smith retired from the music business in 1930. Harry B. Smith: Dean of American Librettists: Forgotten Stars of the Musical Theatre by John Charles Franceschina is apparently out-of-print.

- Sandra Burlingame


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Harry Bache Smith

First nights and first editions,

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