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Cecil Mack, 1908
*Cecil Mack was born on this date in 1873. He was a Black composer, lyricist, and music publisher.
Born as Richard Cecil McPherson in Portsmouth, Virginia, he attended the Norfolk Mission School and Lincoln University in Pennsylvania (class of 1897) before leaving to go to New York City, where the 1900 Federal Census lists his occupation as a stenographer.
Mack started writing song lyrics, beginning with "Good Morning, Carrie" in 1901. He co-founded the Gotham-Attucks Music Publishing Company in May 1905 in New York City; it was likely the first Black-owned music publishing company. Among Mack's next hits were the comically clever Please Let Me Sleep, composed by William and Walker's music director, Tim Brymn, and The Little Gypsy Maid, written by Harry B. Smith and Will Marion Cook. They had already been making waves in the music world. In July 1906, an article in the New York Age referred to Mack as the company's "secretary and treasurer and general business director." In 1907, he wrote the lyrics for the musical The Black Politician.
Except for one published work, which may have been a leftover from an earlier year, McPherson appears to have not written anything from 1917 through 1922. However, either the lure of the stage or requests from other composers put him back into the world of music, and to no small effect. Paired up with younger writers in the early 1920s, Mack found renewed success when he co-wrote the Broadway musical Runnin' Wild with James P. Johnson in 1923. The key hit from that production, albeit more as an instrumental than a song, was part of the essential soundtrack of the so-called "Jazz Age" of the 1920s: The Charleston.
However, another gem from that show, still played nearly a century later, was Old Fashioned Love, a wonderful lilting song touched with a bit of stride. He also wrote again with Chris Smith in 1925. Also, in 1925, he co-wrote the book for the musical Mooching Along. Mack also formed a choir, the Southland Singers, that year. In 1931, he co-wrote the music for the musical Rhapsody in Black. He was married to Dr. Gertrude Curtis, a pioneering black dentist with an office in Harlem. They had no children.
Cecil Mack died in New York, New York, at age 70 on August 1, 1944. His obituary observed, "Not even Irving Berlin exceeded the output of this talented New York Negro. His songs were as American as Stephen Foster's – one or two of them may be remembered as long and were typically representative of the pre-radio era when fortunes were made over the 10-cent-store counters. Cecil Mack's songs were pure fun and never had an off-color line."