Because he was never a performer, the name Alfred Bryan may not resonate with many music lovers. However, he was undoubtedly a monumental contributor to Canadian songwriting.
Born in Brantford, Ontario on September 15, 1871, Bryan was to become the most prolific lyricist of his era ever to emerge from Canada. Not much is known about his early years, or how he became involved in songwriting, other than he attended parochial schools in Canada, where he excelled at literature, before moving to New York City in the late 1880s to make his way.
In 1910, 20 years after his arrival in New York, Bryan finally achieved the success he deserved. It was that year that he wrote the lyrics to what is arguably his most well known hit Come Josephine In My Flying Machine, performed by Blanche Ring, and featured in the films The Story of the Castles (1939), Oh, You Beautiful Doll (1949) and most recently in Academy Award winning Titanic (1997).
As a lyricist, Bryan would go on to partner with various composers, including Fred Fisher, Alfred Gumble, George Meyer, Pete Wendling, John Klenner, Larry Stock, Al Piantadosi and Joe McCarthy. He is said to have written more than 1,000 songs, 229 of them certified by the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP).
Other popular Bryan works include: Oui Oui Marie (charted at #2 by CAPAC in 1918), Brown Eyes, Why Are You Blue? (#2 in 1925), When It’s Night Time Down in Burgundy (#6 in 1914), Sweet Little Buttercup (#4 in 1917), When Alexander Takes His Ragtime Band to France (#4 in 1918) and My Song of the Nile (#7 in 1929).
Bryan received considerable recognition for Peg O’ My Heart, a song inspired by the Broadway Show Ziegfeld Follies that he wrote in 1913, which also served as the inspiration for the 1933 film of the same name. He also gained notoriety when his song I Didn’t Raise My Boy To Be A Soldier stirred controversy in the U.S. during the First World War.
After arranging for several publishing firms in New York, and contributing to Broadway scores including The Shubert Gaieties of 1919, The Midnight Rounders of 1920 and 1921, The Century Revue and A Night in Spain, Bryan later moved to Hollywood, where he expanded his work to include film scores.
Although he died in New Jersey on April 1, 1958, he was inducted posthumously into the American Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1970.