Friday, November 10, 2000

100 years ago: “When You Were Sweet Sixteen” hit #1

When You Were Sweet Sixteen

George J. Gaskin

Writer(s): James Thornton (see lyrics here)

First Charted: November 10, 1900

Peak: 18 US, 2 GA (Click for codes to singles charts.)

Sales (in millions): 1.0 (sheet music)

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


Click on award for more details.

About the Song:

James Thornton was a songwriter and vaudeville performer born in Dublin, Ireland, in 1861. He started out as a singing waiter before finding success doing comedy in music halls. However, he also composed songs, eventually becoming one of the greatest Tin Pan Alley songwriters. WT

He was inspired by his wife, Bonnie, to write “When You Were Sweet Sixteen.” She tried to keep him from spending all his money on alcohol and when he came home drunk on Independence Day, WT she tearfully questioned if he still loved her. He replied that he loved her as much as he did when she was sixteen. She encouraged him to turn it into a song. TY2 He did, and she introduced the song in her act. The ballad became a hit vaudeville song and became a standard for barbershop quartets. WW

George J. Gaskin, nicknamed the “silver-voiced Irish tenor,” WG had the most successful recording of the song. He was born in Belfast, Ireland, in 1863 but came to the United States as a teenager. He started recording with the Edison North American Phonograph Company in 1891, specializing in Tin Pan Alley songs and sentimental Irish ballads. WG He landed twenty #1 hits over the next decade. His final chart-topper was “When We Were Sweet Sixteen.”

Gaskin wasn’t the first to chart with the song, or even the first to hit #1. In March 1900, Jere Mahoney charted with it, taking it to #1 for five weeks. The following year J.W. Myers and Harry MacDonough both reached #3 with their versions. The song saw a revival in 1947 after it appeared in The Jolson Story. Al Jolson took it to #1 in Australia. Perry Como’s million-selling version reached #2 in the United States, followed by top 20 versions by Dick Jurgens and the Mills Brothers. The song resurfaced again in 1981 when the Fureys went to #14 with it in the UK.

The song was also featured in the Shirley Temple film Little Miss Broadway (1938), The Strawberry Blond (1941), and Bing Crosby sang it on the soundtrack for The Great John L. (1945). TY2


First posted 12/2/2022; last updated 12/14/2022.

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