As “the signature barbershop song,” DS “Sweet Adeline” may represent the sound of the first decade of the 20th century, WHC maybe even the first two decades, DS more than any other song. WHC The term wasn’t used until the 1920s, LW but the format of four-part male harmony with little or no musical accompaniment was introduced in the late 19th century. LW
The song began life in 1896 WK as an instrumental called “Down Home in New England.” The composer, Henry W. Armstrong, was a barbershop quartet enthusiast and tapped Richard Gerard to add lyrics, resulting in “You’re the Flower of My Heart Sweet, Rosalie.” RCG When they couldn’t find a publisher, they changed the title to “Sweet Adeline,” inspired by the “legendarily beautiful” LW opera singer Adelina Patti, although prima donna Adeline Gerard has also been cited as an inspiration. RCG
It was common for barbershop songs of the day to drift into “minstrel or vaudeville shtick,” DS but the Haydn Quartet, who scored their sixth #1 with “Sweet Adeline”, generally stuck to more straightforward harmony. DS The song was the biggest hit of 1904. WHC The Columbia Quartet and the duo of Albert Campbell & James F. Harrison also charted with versions that year, taking the song to #1 and #2 respectively. The Mills Brothers had a top 10 with it in 1939. The song also became identified with Boston Mayor John F. “Honey” Fitzgerald PM who used it as his campaign song in 1906.
“Sweet Adeline” established the foundation for vocal groups for decades to come. The Everly Brothers; The Beach Boys; Crosby, Stills & Nash; and even The Beatles’ penchant for “tight harmony singing” can all be traced back to the barbershop movement. LW
- one of the top 1000 songs of all time
- DMDB song of the year
- Biggest #1 Pop Songs in U.S. Chart History
- one of the top 100 songs from 1900-1909s
Resources and Related Links:
- The Haydn Quartet’s DMDB Encyclopedia entry
- the DMDB page for “Sweet Adeline”
- DS Don’t Stay Up Too Late (2011). Top 100 Lists
- LW Alan Lewens (2001). Popular Song – Soundtrack of the Century. Billboard Books: New York, NY. Page 15.
- RCG RimChiGuy.com The Old Songs (1900-1929)
- WHC Joel Whitburn (1999). A Century of Pop Music. Menomonee Falls, WI; Record Research, Inc. Pages 5 and 11.
- PM Joel Whitburn (1986). Pop Memories 1890-1954. Menomonee Falls, WI; Record Research, Inc.
- WK Wikipedia.org