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Remembering Composer Carrie Jacobs-Bond

If you went to a wedding this summer, odds are good that you heard "Have I Told You Lately" or "Ain't No Mountain High Enough." A hundred years ago, you would have heard "I Love You Truly," written by Carrie Jacobs-Bond.

Bond's song has faded from wedding-party soundtracks, and her name is largely forgotten now. But Max Morath hasn't forgotten.

"Her music was charming, memorable, hummable. People loved it," says Morath, who is best known for helping to revive ragtime in the 1970s. But Bond was also an early musical love.

"I started singing her music when I was in the seventh-grade boys glee club in North Junior High School in Colorado Springs, Colo.," Morath says.

Telling Bond's Story In Her Voice

He was so taken by her life story that he wrote a biographical novel titled I Love You Truly: A Biographical Novel Based on the Life of Carrie Jacobs-Bond. He wrote it in Bond's voice. It begins like this:

Bond really did write an autobiography — called The Roads of Melody — in which she glossed over the hardships of her life. She conveyed a similar image through her songs, according to mezzo-soprano and voice teacher Joan Morris.

"Carrie Jacobs-Bond came from a world that would not have forgiven anything improper," Morris says. "So in her songs, I think she was careful to stay within boundaries."

A Tenacious Woman

When it came to business, Bond pushed those boundaries. Morath says she was tenacious and sometimes ruthless.

"She had a relentless ego," Morath says. "Now, you know something? We would say that about George Gershwin, and we'd say it about Irving Berlin. And we'd say it about any male composer. Of course they have overwhelming egos. Of course they want success. Of course they try to handle their public image. Carrie Jacobs-Bond never had a press agent. She was her [own] best press agent."

She had to be. Her husband died when Bond was 33 with a young son to support. So she moved from Iron River, Mich., to Chicago to be closer to the music publishers. But when Bond got there, the publishers brushed her off.

"I have seen all the following words used to tell her, 'We don't want you,' " Morath says. " 'Oh, Mrs. Bond, your music is too arty.' 'Mrs. Bond, your music is too complicated.' 'Mrs. Bond, your music is too simple.' 'Mrs. Bond, why don't you do ragtime?' "

So Bond did an end-run around the music industry. She opened her own publishing house. She owned every note and every word of everything she wrote — virtually unheard-of in her day, especially for a woman.

A Singer's Songwriter

One of the first songs Bond published is a setting of the Frank Stanton poem, "Just a Wearyin' for You." Morris says she admires the way Bond married words to music.

"You like singing it," Morris says. "And you know you're going to be able to make a good effect with it. So singers love those kinds of songs."

"Just a Wearyin' For You" became a parlor-music hit in the days when sheet music, arranged for the piano, was how most people heard music. The song sold more than 2 million copies of sheet music.

Bond had another hit with "The End of a Perfect Day," which became a World War I anthem. It was tackled by many singers, including Paul Robeson, who made a recording right before World War II.

Bond published 200 songs, and they sold almost 20 million copies of sheet music. But she only had three hits. That's not bad, Morath says.

"Except for 'I Love You Truly,' 'The End of a Perfect Day' and 'Just a Wearyin' for You,' I'd never heard of her other music," Morath says. "She didn't have any other big successes. Who did in those days? How many other composers of her generation had three hits that were still recorded in 1940?"

By then, Bond's music had been overshadowed by that of Irving Berlin, Cole Porter and the Gershwin brothers. But still, her music continued to be recorded over the decades by musicians such as Bing Crosby, Pat Boone and Benny Goodman, among others.

And who knows? Maybe one of these days, you'll even hear "I Love You Truly" at a wedding again.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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