Bert Ingraham – Whiting’s Famous Composer
By Gayle Faulkner Kosalko
There’s a lone piece of sheet music over at the WR Historical Society Museum called “Roses Bring Dreams of You,” published in 1908. And why is this a museum treasure? It’s a treasure because the piece was composed by Herbert “Bert” Ingraham, a famous composer from Whiting. Of course, few of us know anything about him today since it was over 100 years ago that his music was familiar to so many. Here’s his story.
Bert was actually born in Aurora, Illinois, in 1882 but his family moved to Whiting in 1891. Biographical information on Ingraham says that he was a child prodigy. His musical talents would later have him take his place alongside such other composers of “popular music” at the turn of the century as Victor Herbert, Scott Joplin and Irving Berlin. You’ll find Ingraham’s name listed on Wikipedia and other sites for popular “hit” songs in the first decade of the 20th century.
But according to a historical edition of The Whiting Times back in 1939, the author says that while Bert attended schools here in Whiting, he “didn’t frighten any of the teachers with his ability to absorb knowledge” and was better known for his tendencies towards mischief and pranks. His teachers seemed readily agreeable to forgiving him though when he would sit down at the piano and play wonderful harmonies or take out his violin and bow and entertain them.
He left school, as so many did back then, and tried his hand at Standard Forge. After six months of working, he found his way back to school only to leave for good after making it through the seventh grade.
In 1898 he was sent to Valparaiso University, but only remained there six months when he was called home to see what he could to do to help the family out financially. And while he went back to work, he found he was never very good at a real job.
His first love was music so he tried giving music lessons. He even pitched for the old Whiting Grays team but there was nothing he could do that he liked that would bring in money.
So in 1899 he became the musical director for the Breezy Times company which was evidently a theatrical group. They hit the road and produced such turn-of-the-century popular theatre as “Peck’s Bad Boy” and “Prince Otto.” And the very next year, New Year’s Day to be exact, he married Pearl Akers.
In 1905 Bert impersonated Spaghetti, a great Italian bandmaster of the day. Bert was the leader of a band at White City, an amusement park that had opened that same year. White City was one of the South Side's most popular entertainment venues. The amusement park was located at 63rd Street and South Parkway (now Martin Luther King Drive). The park was named White City in honor of the monumental Beaux Arts architectural style of the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition in Jackson Park. According to The Whiting News, Ingraham’s make-up was so perfect and his directorship “so good an imitation of the famous Italian” that he was often approached and addressed in Italian by friends of the real Spaghetti.”
While constantly writing songs, his “I’m Married Now” caught not only the attention of music critics but brought a Mr. Shapiro, famous music publisher from New York, all the way to Chicago to meet Bert and offer him a position as a staff songwriter for his firm. But he was not the only publisher courting Bert. Many anxious publishers wooed him for his popular sounds but Shapiro Bernstein Publishing Company won out. Off to New York went Bert with the idea of becoming the greatest American popular song writer that ever lived.
Remember this was a time when there was no radio or television. Traditionally families would gather around the piano in the parlor and sing together. Sheet music from the era is, itself, now considered a true art form in today’s antique market and these beautiful pieces adorned the family uprights. Families from all over the country bought popular sheet music to play just as we do CDs today!
A hundred years later, one can go on the internet and actually hear some of Ingraham’s music played on a piano. Go to Roses in Popular Songs – Part II to hear one of these songs played in a midi version there. Several of his hits include “All That I Ask of You Is Love,” “You Are the Ideal of My Dreams” and “Good-by Rose.” “Roses Bring Dreams of You” (which is at our museum) was one of his greatest hits. Ingraham was also known for his comedy songs which were parlor favorites for which he wrote both lyrics and music. “Because I'm Married” and “Hoo-oo! Ain't You Coming Out Tonight?” were said to throw people into “convulsions of laughter.” Ingraham’s music is listed from 1907 through 1910 among the most popular songs of that era. Dream songs were in vogue in that period and Ingraham’s dream songs were said to have choruses that were not only wonderful but “oozed with passion.” Today’s music critics write that the noted composer’s forte was his bringing together his talents for the musical theatre and orchestra into play to write the songs that became so popular in his day. His were wonderfully tender ballads about love and its loss.
Unfortunately, not only for Bert but for the music world at large, he was struck down with tuberculosis at a very young age. It is said that some of his best work was written as he was bedridden back at Saranac Lake, New York, where he and his family lived. But before his untimely death at only 27 years of age, he came back to Whiting for a visit.
According to The Whiting Times article, Bert “spent money like water to show his old-time companions all the good times he could” on his return. It said that Bert was still much like the little boy with the wonderful personality who had left Whiting for the musical road and that he had remained untainted by his success. A great public meeting was called to receive him and all who could, crowded into the big high school auditorium to hear him speak.
“He met us all and entertained just as if we were in one big parlor together, singing, playing and telling us of his experiences,” the article reads.
Bert died on August 24, 1920, leaving his widow Pearl, one child and a collection of sentimental and comic songs that went around the world pleasing the public that hungered for his music.
Interestingly enough, the article makes no mention of Bert’s brother, Edward Roy Ingraham, who was actually born here in Whiting on December 5, 1895. Roy followed in his brother’s musical footsteps as a songwriter, composer and conductor. His first song was published at age 17. He was a vaudeville performer between 1916 and 1923, and then he led a dance orchestra in California, and later at New York's Paramount Hotel Grill. He wrote songs for the Florentine Gardens for seven years and also began writing for films at this time. Later he became a radio broadcaster. Some of his popular-song compositions include "No Regrets", "Deep in the Arms of Love”, "A Girl Like You, A Boy Like Me", and "Love Is a Beautiful Song". Roy also wrote special material for diva of the day, Sophie Tucker. He passed away in L.A. in 1988 at age 93.
But as for Bert who died so young, critics say that had he been given more time, he would have been a “spectacular success.”