Thursday, April 29, 1993

100 years ago: George J. Gaskin hit #1 with “After the Ball”

After the Ball

George J. Gaskin

Writer(s): Charles K. Harris (see lyrics here)


Published: 1891


First Charted: April 29, 1893


Peak: 110 US (Click for codes to singles charts.)


Sales (in millions): 5.0 (sheet music)


Airplay/Streaming (in millions): -- radio, -- video, -- streaming

Awards: (Click on award for more details).

About the Song:

Charles K. Harris wrote this classic waltz in 1891 for an amateur minstrel show in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The first time it was performed, the singer, Sam Doctor, forgot the words and the song made a poor impression. PG However, Harris believed in the song and paid well-known performer J. Aldrich Libbey to include it in his A Trip to Chinatown show. SS It grew in popularity and John Philip Sousa and his band performed it daily at the World’s Fair in Chicago in 1893. PG That same year, George J. Gaskin and John Yorke Atlee recorded the song. The former was a #1 for 10 weeks while the latter peaked at #2. It was the fourth chart-topper for Gaskin, who was known as “The Silve-Voiced Tenor.” He had a total of 19 songs reach the peak from 1891 to 1901. It was one of only three chart hits for Atlee. PM

In the song, an old man explains to his niece that he never married after seeing his sweetheart kissing another man at a ball. He left, and refusing to hear her explanation, WK only to find out years later that it was her brother. SS Harris got the idea from a dance in Chicago where he saw two lovers get in a fight and leave separately. SF

The song “exemplifies the sentimental ballads published before 1920, whose topics were frequently babies, separation, and death.” WK It “is sometimes credited with beginning the commercial exploitation of popular music.” SF Before 1893, most songs became regional hits and then word spread, but the aggressive marketing behind “After the Ball” set a new standard. SS According to Songfacts.com, it was the first song to sell a million copies of sheet music. SF It would go on to rack up five million in sales, becoming the best seller in Tin Pan Alley’s history. WK Tin Pan Alley was the name given to a group of 19th century and early 20th century music publishers and songwriters in New York City.

The song resurfaced in 1927 when it was used in the groundbreaking musical Show Boat. Norma Terris performed it during its original Broadway run and Irene Dunne performed it for the 1936 film version. It was made into a film again in 1951 and performed by Kathryn Grayson. WK In 1940, it was featured in the biographical musical film Lillian Russell and performed by Alice Faye. WK It has also been performed by Nat “King” Cole, Bing Crosby, Guy Lombardo, Julie London, and Lawrence Welk. WK


Resources and Related Links:

  • DMDB encyclopedia entry for George J. Gaskin
  • DMDB encyclopedia entry for John Yorke Atlee
  • PG Peter Gammond (1991). The Oxford Companion to Popular Music. Page 7.
  • SF Songfacts
  • SS Steve Sullivan (2013). Encyclopedia of Great Popular Song Recordings (Volumes I & II). Scarecrow Press: Lanham, Maryland. Pages 511-2.
  • PM Joel Whitburn (1986). Pop Memories 1890-1954 (1986). Record Research, Inc: Menomonee Falls, WI. Pages 467 and 642.
  • WK Wikipedia

First posted 4/15/2021; last updated 4/17/2021.

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