Friday, June 16, 2000

100 years ago: “Bird in a Gilded Cage” hit #1

A Bird in a Gilded Cage

Steve Porter

Writer(s): Arthur J. Lamb (words), Harry Von Tilzer (music) (see lyrics here)

First Charted: May 26, 1900

Peak: 16 US, 12 GA, 15 SM (Click for codes to singles charts.)

Sales (in millions): 2.0 (sheet music)

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


Click on award for more details.

About the Song:

Harry Von Tilzer was a composer, songwriter, publisher and vaudeville performer born in 1872 in Detroit, Michigan. He got started playing piano and writing tunes for burlesque and vaudeville shows. His first major success was “My Old New Hampshire Home” in 1898. It sold more than two million copies of sheet music and prompted him to become a professional songwriter. WT

Arthur J. Lamb was a lyricist born in 1870 in Somerset, England. He had his first major success with “Asleep in the Deep” in 1897. WL Two years later, Lamb approached Von Tilzer with lyrics for “A Bird in a Gilded Cage.” Von Tilzer liked it, but asked Lamb to change some words so it was clear the woman in the song was married and not a mistress. The song details the story of a trophy wife who is “surrounded by wealth yet impoverished socially and emotionally.” PS In the first verse, a couple talk about the woman, saying she only married for money, setting up the chorus which refers to her as “a bird in a gilded cage.” In the second verse, the woman dies and it is even speculated that she may be happier that way.

Von Tilzer became “the most prolific composer of this decade.” DJ He said the song was “the key that opened the door of wealth and fame for him.” WB It also opened the doors for ballads to dominate popular music in America through 1914. WB The two went on to work together on more songs, including hits like “The Mansion of Aching Hearts.” W2

The sheet music billed “Cage” as “the most beautiful ballad ever written.” It certainly was “an enormously successful sentimental ballad” TY2 and one of the most successful songs of 1900, selling more than two million copies of sheet music. The first charted version was by Jere Mahoney in April 1990 and it reached #1 on Billboard. It spent five weeks on top, knocked out by Steve Porter’s version of the song. It bettered Mahoney’s, staying at the pinnacle for six weeks. Harry MacDonough also charted with the song that October, reaching #2.


First posted 12/1/2022; last updated 12/15/2022.

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