Tell Taylor

William "Tell" Taylor (aka Tellie[1] Tell Roberts; born 28 October 1876[2] to Jane Roberts, on a farm near the Village of Vanlue, Amanda Township, Hancock County, Ohio — 23 November 1937 Chicago)[3] was an American traveling vaudeville performer, tenor vocalist, playwright, music publisher, composer, and lyricist who had written over 200 popular songs.[4] By far his biggest hit was "Down by the Old Mill Stream" from 1910, one of the most commercially successful Tin Pan Alley publications of the era. The song was published by Forster Music Publisher, Inc. of Chicago. Taylor performed vaudeville theaters and founded a Chicago music publishing house bearing his name. His other notable songs include "He Sleeps Beneath the Soil of France," "I Love You Best of All," "If Dreams Come True," "Little Old Home in the Valley," "Rock Me to Sleep in the Old Rocking Chair," "Some Day," and "When the Maple Leaves Were Falling." Taylor also wrote the Broadway comedies Tiger Lillee and In New York Town.[5][6]

Career highlights


By 1892, at the age of 16, Taylor's name as a thespian began to be published in theater reviews of newspapers in and around New York, Wisconsin, Illinois, Ohio, Indiana, Iowa, and Missouri. Among the plays of that year featuring Taylor was By Wits Outwitted, written by Edward Owings Towne, where Taylor played the audacious hero (Valentine Navaro), and Florence Modena playing the pretty heroine (Fernanda).[7] Taylor also played the part of Bill Smith, a farm hand, in A Glimpse of Paradise, by Frank S. Pixley, a one-act play that often preceded the three-act By Wits Outwitted.[8][9]

Music publishing and songwriting

Before launching his Chicago publishing firm in 1907, Taylor had co-founded one of the original Tin Pan Alley publishing houses in New York City with fellow composer, Ernest R. Ball, and former New York City Mayor who then was a state senator, James J. Walker. In 1918, Earl Kelly Smith (1886–1954), who had been affiliated with Taylor's Chicago publishing house since 1908, opened a branch in New York City.[10] In Chicago, Taylor composed songs and ran his own sheet music publishing firm from 1907 to 1922.

Post publishing & singing

In 1922, Taylor sold his Chicago publishing firm and purchased a farm for his parents near his boyhood home, on the outskirts of Findlay, Ohio, and spent the rest of his life there.[11] By 1936, his top selling composition, "Down By The Old Mill Stream," had sold 4 million copies.[12]


In the fall of 1937, prior to embarking on a trip to California to discuss a motion picture about his life and career, Taylor entered a Chicago bar and ordered a drink. Tell sat at a table, put his head down to rest and, unexpectedly, died from a heart attack at the age of sixty-one. He was buried in Van Horn Cemetery, Findlay, Ohio.

Posthumous lawsuit over song

In 1937, when the original copyright for "Down By The Old Mill Stream" was expiring, Earl Kelly Smith (1886–1954) filed an application to renew the copyright as co-composer. The renewal was granted. Jerry Vogel Music Company began publishing it. Forster Music, which had acquired the rights to the song from the heirs of Tell Taylor, filed suit to stop Vogel from publishing the song. In 1944, a U.S. District Court in New York ruled in favor of Forster.[13]

Selected works

Popular songs

G.W. Setchell Publisher (George William Setchell; 1860–1923), Boston

Forster Music Publisher, Inc., Chicago

Tell Taylor, Chicago

Copyright renewed 1939 by Earl Kelly Smith (1886–1954), Hollywood, California
Copyright renewed 1939 by Fred Sloop, Jr. (1883–1966), Steubenville, Ohio
Copyright renewed 1939 by Dave N. Robinson, Austin, Texas
Copyright renewed 1941 by Jesse Thornton Taylor, Jr. (1890–1956) Findlay, Ohio

Taylor Music Corp., Chicago

Musical theater (vaudville)


Tell Taylor's Marriage License — 1907. Note that Buda Godman did not use her legal name Helen Julia Godman.

On November 4, 1907, Taylor married Buda Godman (née Helen Julia Godman; 1888– ),[14][15] the daughter of Otho and Julia Godman (née Conklin) of Chicago.[14] Buda had met Taylor about two years prior when Taylor had been a dinner guest at the St. Joseph's Convent and Academy in Adrian, Michigan, where Helen had been attending school. Taylor had just started his songwriting career and was appearing with a traveling stage company in Adrian. Buda and Tell had become good friends before dinner was over, but did not correspond afterward. Two years later, while attending the performance of "The Girl Question," by Howard, Adams, and Hough, at a theater in Chicago, Buda recognized Tell and sent a note to him backstage, and they became reacquainted. After spending much of their time together lunching and dining during the following week, they met once again for dinner at a downtown Chicago hotel, and sent for a judge to marry them in the hotel's parlor.[16]

In 1910, Tell Taylor filed for divorce from Buda in Chicago. In late September of that year, the divorce was granted, with Tell accusing Buda of having "affinities" with other vaudvillains.[17] In the divorce proceedings, Tell stated that "I married Buda when we both were drunk and I found out she was quite incapable of loyalty to anyone."[18]

On July 8, 1913, Tell Taylor married again to Blanche Irene King (maiden; born 1887) in McLean County, Illinois. In 1921, Blanch filed for, and was granted a divorce from Tell Taylor in Chicago.[19]

Selected performances

As cast member

  1. Milwaukee
  2. La Salle Theater, Chicago
Opening night: August 17, 1907
Mort H. Singer (né Mortimer Henry Singer; 1876–1944), theater manager

External links


  1. "United States Census, 1880," index and images, FamilySearch, "Tellie Roberts," under entry for "Arthur S. Roberts, 1880" (image)
  2. Ohio, County Births, 1841-2003 (Record of Births, Probate Court, Hancock County, Ohio), FamilySearch, "Fell Roberts, 1876" (image)
  3. Tell Taylor, Author of "Old Mill Stream", Ballad Inspired On Shore of Blanchard River in Ohio — Writer Dies in Chicago, The New York Times, November 24, 1937
  4. Tell Taylor Dies in Chicago; Composed "Old Mill Stream," Plain Dealer, November 24, 1937, pg. 15
  5. Biographical Dictionary of American Music, by Charles Eugene Claghorn (1911–2005), Parker Publishing Co., West Nyack, New York (1973) OCLC 609781
  6. Biography Index, A Cumulative Index to Biographical Material in Books and Magazines — Volume 3: September 1952 — August 1955, New York: H. W. Wilson Company (1956) OCLC 731506763, 35305535
  7. "By Wits Outwitted at the Grand". The Kansas City Star. Kansas City, Missouri. November 7, 1892. p. 5.
  8. ""By Wits Outwitted" Gives Satisfaction". Wyoming County Times. Warsaw, New York. October 13, 1892. p. 1.
  9. "By Wits Outwitted". The Daily Citizen. Iowa City, Iowa. November 2, 1892. p. 2.
  10. Earl K. Smith, Variety, April 5, 1918, Vol. L, Issue 6, pg. 11
  11. Findlay to Sing Composer's Praises, by Peg Dennis, Toledo Blade, April 28, 1967, pg. 18
  12. Slight Hope of Cleaning Old Mill Stream is Held, The Lima News, August 28, 1936, pg. 1, cols. 6 & 7 (bottom)
  13. The Mystery of 'Down By The Old Mill Stream', by Gary Pakulski, Toledo Blade, September 20, 1987
  14. 1 2 Helen likely took the name "Buda" from the slang word "bud," used in the late 1800s and early 1900s for a cute girl that had just entered puberty.
    See Cassell's Dictionary of Slang, 2nd edition, by Jonathon Green, London: Orion Publishing Group (2005) OCLC 769046857
  15. Helen Godman: Passport Application November 3, 1919, National Archives and Records Administration, Washington D.C.
    Passport Applications, 2 January 1906 – 31 March 1925, Collection ARC Identifier 583830, MLR N° A1 534
    NARA Series M1490, Roll 974, Certificates 135750–136125, 5 Nov–6 Nov, 1919
  16. Weds Actor She Met At Convent, Philadelphia Enquirer, November 10, 1907, pg. 3
  17. Music Publisher Divorced, Variety, October 1, 1910
  18. Queen of the Badger Band., by Elgar Brown. In The American Weekly, Sunday newspaper supplement, The Milwaukee Sentinel, September 1, 1946, p. 16.
  19. Six Divorces: Freedom Season Has Opened In Chicago Courts, Variety, October 28, 1921, pg. 5, col. 1
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