Billy Murray and Ransom Olds: Contemporaries

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Billy Murray and Ransom Olds: Contemporaries

When William Thomas Murray was five years old his parents moved from Philadelphia to Denver, Colorado. In his early years he sang in school and church choirs. He made no secret that he was interested in show business. Reluctantly, when he was 16, Mr. and Mrs. Murray permitted “Billy” to join a troupe of performers led by Harry Leavitt. They called themselves the High Rollers. He spent the next decade honing his skills in a succession of minstrel shows and small-time vaudeville venues.
Murray left Denver in 1903 and obtained a recording contract with the T. Edison National Phonograph Company. After what seemed to be an endless list of tests and trials, his initial recordings were marketed nationwide and they were immediate hits. Soon dubbed the “Denver Nightingale,” Murray was America’s foremost recording artist. Music stores and department stores across the country scrambled for his recordings. One department salesclerk told his biographer, “The song being sung matters not, they’ll buy anything if Billy is singing.” He was the first singer ever to make a living and become a star solely from recording. Being able to sing in full voice was his primary attribute; a skill he claimed to have learned by singing in noisy vaudeville theatres. Two of his wildly successful hits were Meet Me in St. Louis (1904) and In My Merry Oldsmobile (1906). He also introduced his audiences to an astonishing range of styles: Broadway hits, ballads, comical antics, and even classic standards from opera and off-Broadway stages.   His popularity never needed a kick-start or a reboot but after joining the Paul Whiteman Orchestra as a featured vocalist he jokingly told a reporter, “… singing with Whiteman sealed the flap on my bankbook, it reached another million dollars.” He was still on top of the world in 1944, but he retired to devote his time to the war-effort. He died on September 17, 1954. By the mid-1930s the whole world recognized the voice of Billy Murray. He made his way into the world of show business singing songs like Sister Susie’s Sewing Shirts for Soldiers and In My Merry Oldsmobile.  
In My Merry Oldsmobile By Vincent Bryan and Gus Edwards; Sung by Billy Murray First Verse Young Johnny Steele has an Oldsmobile He loves his dear little girl She is the queen of his gas machine She has his heart in a whirl Now when they go for a spin, you know, She tries to learn the auto, so He lets her steer, while he gets her ear And whispers soft and low… Verse 2 They love to “spark” in the dark old park As they go flying along She says she knows why the motor goes The “sparker” is awfully strong Each day they “spoon” to the engine’s tune Their honeymoon will happen soon He’ll win Lucille with his Oldsmobile And then he’ll fondly croon. Chorus Come away with me, Lucille In my merry Oldsmobile Down the road of life we’ll fly Automobubbling, you and I To the church we’ll swiftly steal Then our wedding bells will peal You can go as far as you like with me In my merry Oldsmobile.
Ransom Eli Olds was born in Ohio to parents who often demonstrated that having a creative mind was a good thing. His father was a blacksmith; his mother a dress patternmaker. They moved to Cleveland when Ransom was a young boy, but work was uncertain and the family moved on to Lansing, Michigan. It was in Lansing that Olds attended high school and worked in the family’s newly formed steam-engine business. On June 5, 1889, he married Metta Woodward. They had two daughters. Olds built his prototype in Lansing, Michigan in 1897. One nearly identical model was sold in 1901 for $650. Another landmark event in the company’s history came the following year when Mr. Olds ran the first national advertisement for an automobile in the February 15, 1902, Saturday Evening Post. [The original Oldsmobile was quite similar to the 1904 model seen on the postcard above which was the model featured on the sheet music of the 1905 song.] Within three years the company became the first gasoline-powered automobile manufacturer to work at such a volume and pace. Oldsmobile became a top-sales corporation about 1903 but their success was short-lived due to a dispute between Mr. Olds and his sales manager Frederick Smith. Olds left his own firm in 1904 and formed the REO Motor Car Company.
The first cars to make it to the American mass-market from an automotive assembly line (a manufacturing concept frequently misattributed to Henry Ford) was the 1902 through 1907 Oldsmobile model “R.”
1917 Oldsmobile Defender
1949 Oldsmobile 88 Sedan
1954 Oldsmobile Sedan
1956 88 Holiday Coupe  
1956 98 DeLuxe Holiday Sedan
R. E. Olds retired in 1937 and died August 26, 1950. The last Oldsmobile left the assembly line in April 2004. It was an Oldsmobile Alero, a car that Mr. Olds would have hated. There is no evidence that Billy Murray’s version of In My Merry Oldsmobile was Ransom Olds’s favorite song.  Click Here to Watch a nice presentation of My Merry Oldsmobile on Youtube
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I grew up in suburban Cleveland, and this article reminded me of the jingle used on commercials by the Earl Oldsmobile dealership — “Come see Earl/ On Pearl and Brookpark/ For a deal on an Oldsmobile that’s out of this world!”

A great report that reveals interesting historical aspects of a song I’ve been aware of since childhood. Amazing!

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