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Attucks Music Co.
*On this date in 1904, the Attucks Music Publishing Company opened for business. This was one of the first Black music publishing businesses in America.
Housed at 1255 Broadway in New York City, The Company was named after Crispus Attucks, the first patriot to die in the Revolutionary War. Attucks Music in-house writers included Tom Lemonier, Alex Rogers, William Tyers, Jesse Shipp and Bert Williams. Some of their material had illustrations of Bert Williams and his partner George Walker. A few also featured Walker's wife, Ada Overton Walker.
Many of these lyricists had been in music and show business for years. Tyers was formerly staff arranger for the Joseph Stern Publishing Company. Rogers and Shipp were involved with the Williams and Walker 1902 Broadway success. Tom Lemonier specialized in the harmonica and also performed in vaudeville. Sheppard N. Edmonds was hired to manage Attucks. While working there Edmonds tried to get his material published under the Attucks masthead and submitted Attuck's songs to the Copyright office under his own name. This got him to be fired from Attucks.
Eventually Edmonds formed his own publishing company which opened in 1905; The Gotham Music Company. Other Black songwriters associated with Gotham were James Reese Europe, Tom Lemonier and Will Marion Cook. The quick-tempered Cook was already a music business veteran and was an organizing force behind the Gotham Music. He had more of his music published by Gotham than any other songwriter. Gotham Publishing Company was in business for less than six months and published less than ten songs during that time.
On June 6, 1905, the Gotham-Attucks Music Company was formed through the merger of the two lesser firms. Staff writers included Tom Lemonier, James `Tim' Brymn, Alex Rogers, Chris Smith, R.C. McPherson, Will Marion Cook, Henry Creamer, Bert Williams, J. Leubrie Hill, Ford Dabney and Jesse Shipp. Some of the songs that Gotham-Attucks published came from two of Williams and Walker's Broadway Shows, “In Abyssinia” and “Bandanna Land.” In 1908, Gotham-Attucks had its most successful year, with twelve songs placed for copyright. Many of the Black songwriters moved on to other companies. Gotham-Attucks was not a large publishing company and could not put out as many versions of a particular song in different formats (voice, guitar, dance orchestration, etc.). This fact alone may have greatly influenced the writers.
One of the great accomplishments of this short-lived music publishing company was its cover art, which changed the way America saw Black written music. Up to this time America had sold music that was supposed to portray the Black experience through the use of hideous stereotypes. The "coon" songs portrayed everything black as bad and everything white as good. The themes of these songs revolved around chicken stealing, knife wielding, lazy, and inappropriately dressed Black men and women.
Gotham-Attucks softened that theme in their songs and did not use blatant stereotypes on their covers. Gotham-Attucks did publish That's Why They Call Me Shine, a song that nowadays is rarely sung and is known only as Shine. Yet they made a valid attempt to free the world of these gross and powerful images. The demise of the Gotham-Attucks Publishing Company illuminates one of the darker sides of the publishing business.
In 1911, Gotham-Attucks was sold to Ferdinand E. Mierisch. He was a song-shark, who after the sale, began to use the Gotham-Attucks masthead to lure in unsuspecting songwriters. Song-sharking is still in use, is the method by which a publisher advertises for material, by unknown and hopeful songwriters. When it is submitted, the songwriter is informed that his song or lyric is promising and with a little luck, will become the next big hit.
The person is then told that a fee will have to be paid to have the song arranged, Copyrighted and printed. Once the sizeable fee is paid, the publisher prints a few copies, mainly to satisfy the writer. The publisher has no further interest in the song since he makes his money from the fees that the unsuspecting songsters send to him. With the supposedly good name of Gotham-Attucks behind him, Mierisch used the Gotham-Attucks Company in this manner for a year before he disappeared from the music business.
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