Harry Tally -- Tenor

By Tim Gracyk

Excerpt from: Another Book About Popular American Recording Pioneers: 1895-1925: The Unpublished Entries


Tally, Harry (30 June 1866 - 16 August 1939)

The tenor was born in Memphis, Tennessee, to Fletcher E. and Marcella Tally (possibly "Talley"). He was a member of an acclaimed vaudeville act called the Empire City Quartet. But it was as a solo artist that he made many recordings, probably beginning with Columbia in late 1902 or early 1903. He seems to have been exclusive to Columbia for several months after making his first record with that company.

He was remarkably versatile, covering virtually every type of popular song, from sentimental to comic. In announcing the release of "Honeymooning" on cylinder 33299, Columbia's January 1909 supplement states, "Mr. Tally has a flexible vibrant tenor voice which he handles in an exceptionally skillful manner."

He was the first Columbia artist to cut "Mister Dooley," from A Chinese Honeymoon. It was issued on seven-inch 876. Dan Quinn cut the song for Victor on July 10, 1902. When Tally's version was cut is unknown. If he had cut it around the same time as Quinn, it is curious that Tally did not record more titles for Columbia around that time. It is more likely that Tally cut it in late 1902.

For Columbia disc 933 he cut "Pinky Panky Poo," which was cut by banjoist Vess L. Ossman for Victor in February 1903. The lowest numbered Columbia disc to feature a Tally performance is "Love Me, Phoebe, Love Me." Tally's version was released on ten-inch 203; Harry Macdonough had cut it earlier for seven-inch 203. Whether Tally cut the ten-inch version in 1902 or 1903 is unknown.

He later worked for Victor and its subsidiary label Zon-o-phone, American, U.S. Phonograph Company (maker of U-S Everlasting cylinder), Leeds & Catlin, and others.

He made three Edison two-minute cylinders. Announcing for September release his Edison debut, "My Little Coney Isle" (Standard 8483), the August 1903 issue of Edison Phonograph Monthly identifies the singer as Harry L. Tally. A second title was issued in October 1903: "There's Music In The Air" (8518)--this time he is "Harry L. Talley." A year later, the October 1904 Edison trade journal listed a third item, "Seminole" (8808) as sung by "Harry Tally." He cut the popular "Seminole" for Victor and Columbia as well.

A decade later he made five Diamond Discs with Harry Mayo, the bass of the Empire City Quartet. The November 1916 issue of Edison Phonograph Monthly reports that the two formed a team "to render tenor and bass duets, which have proved highly popular features of their programs," which suggests that the vaudeville quartet had broken up. Three of the five titles were also issued on Blue Amberol. A title issued on Diamond Disc 50394 and later, in December 1916, on Blue Amberol 3012 is "I Was Never Nearer Heaven In My Life." It would be their last Diamond Disc and last Blue Amberol.

He made his Victor debut on July 1, 1904, with three titles and returned on July 18, 19, and 20. Perhaps his most popular Victor disc of 1904 was "Mandy, Won't You Be My Beau?" (2934). Also popular was Van Alstyne's "Why Don't You Try?" from the show The Belle of Avenue A (Victor 4593; 1905). Other Victor numbers include "Egypt" (4148, 1904), "Wait Till the Sun Shines, Nellie" (4551, 1906), and "Let's Go Into a Picture Show" (16283, 1909). In the June 1980 issue of Hobbies, Jim Walsh identifies the last named record as the first to refer to motion pictures.

He made records for some small companies, including Leeds & Catlin. His version of "Mariar," a song associated with Clarice Vance, was issued in 1904 on Leeds 4274.

In the summer of 1905 Tally cut numbers from The Ham Tree, a revue starring the blackface comic team of James McIntyre and Thomas K. Heath, known as McIntyre and Heath. The fact that Tally cut three numbers from the show--all written by the composing team of Jean Schwartz and William Jerome--suggests he performed in it when it opened on August 28 in New York City (for two seasons a young W. C. Fields performed a juggling act in the show).

His final performance for Victor, "My Bonnie Blue Bell," was issued on 16689 in January 1911. His last for Columbia, "Come, Josephine, in My Flying Machine," was issued on A966 around this time. Neither sold well.

He made one Pathe record, "Come Back, Let's Be Sweethearts Once More" (20082), issued in December 1916. He recorded the Charles K. Harris number for Edison around this time but it was rejected. The last issued Tally record appears to be Canadian Brunswick 5198, probably cut in mid-1917: he sings Irving Berlin's "How Can I Forget" on side A and Jean Schwartz's "I'm All Bound Round with the Mason Dixon Line" on side B. Recording dates for Canadian Brunswick discs are unknown but Irving Kaufman cut the latter title for Columbia A2328 on July 5, 1917, and Berlin's song was cut by Lewis James--as "Robert Lewis"--for Columbia A2287 around the same time. Tally cut "How Can I Forget?" for Edison on September 20, 1917, but it was not issued.

After retiring in 1918 from the stage, he operated a cigar store on the boardwalk in Ocean Park, California. He died in his home at 3009 Washington Blvd in Ocean Park and was survived by his wife Mary.