The Ebony Colored Club



Title: The Ebony Colored Club, Composed By: Harry D. Kerr, Published By: M. Witmark & Sons, Location: New York, Year: 1901

Harry David Kerr (8 October 1880 Santa Rosa, California – 21 May 1957 Los Angeles) was an American songwriter, lyricist, author, and lawyer. Kerr became active in music at age 15 (1895). The practice of law had been his prime avocation until 1920, when he decided to focus on songwriting. But he still continued to use his legal training in music. In 1922, while living in New York City, Kerr prepared the incorporation documents for the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP), of which he had become one of 90 charter members at its founding in 1914.

 Copyright Activist

From February 1900 to 1903, he had studied law in the law office of George H. Cobb of Watertown, New York. In May 1905, Kerr received an LL.B. from Albany Law School.

Beginning in 1907 as a young lawyer, Kerr worked for about 18 months with a coalition in Washington, D.C., for the passage of the Copyright Act of 1909, which secured the rights of composers to charge royalties on the sales of sound recordings. While lobbying for it, Kerr was associated with the New York City law firm Dougherty, Olcott & Tenney.

The U.S. Congregational Committee on Copyrights began hearings Mary 26–28, 1908, at the Library of Congress, to vet the concerns and proposals of authors and managers. Constituent groups giving testimony were the (i) National Association of Theatrical Managers, (ii) the Allied Copyright Committee, and (iii) the White Rats, an author advocacy group of which Kerr was a member.

In 1909, Kerr also wrote the lyrics to “Get on a Raft with Taft,” President William H. Taft’s campaign song — a particularly memorable concept given that Taft weighed 300 lbs. Taft signed the Copyright Act into law.

Witmark & Sons was a leading publisher of sheet music for the United States “Tin Pan Alley” music industry.

The firm of Marcus Witmark & Sons was established in New York City in 1886. The father, Marcus Witmark, was the legal head of the company; but from the beginning it was run by his sons Isidore, Julius, and Jay, who were under legal age when the company started (ranging in age from 17 to 14 years old). They started out publishing their own compositions. They were adept at plugging songs, and within a few years were publishing the works of such composers as Victor Herbert, George M. Cohan, Ben Harney and John Walter Bratton.

Witmark originated the practice of giving free “professional copies” of their new music to famous and established singers and bands, which proved so successful an advertising method that it was copied by the rest of the music publishers.

When the International Copyright Law was passed in 1891, Witmark pioneered publishing versions of British music in the United States and arranging for American hits to be published in the UK.