A Short Biography of Billy Murray (1877-1954)
Full name, William Thomas Murray, Billy Murray was a musician and recording artist who rose to fame during the early 1900s. Personally, he is my favorite recording artist of all time. Allow me to advance his legacy and briefly describe some highlights of his life.
Born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (United States), in 1877, Billy Murray was the son of Irish immigrants to the United States. As he grew into his late teenage years, he gained a fascination with theatre, and pursued numerous minor roles throughout Denver, Colorado. In 1897, however, he began his career as a recording artist when he made recordings for Peter Bacigalupi, who owned a phonograph company in San Francisco.
By 1903, Billy Murray began recording often in New York, where the Tin Pan Alley era of music was just beginning (Tin Pan Alley still exists today, but the street is in horrible condition and is constantly in threat of being demolished). Shortly after the publication of his recording, “In My Merry Oldsmobile” (1906), Murray moved on to become something of a minor celebrity in the United States.
During the Great War, he joined the American Quartet and with them recorded a number of goodbye songs and other wartime music. Murray, thanks to his remarkably high tenor voice, took the lead role in most of these songs. After the war ended and after the American Quartet disbanded, Billy Murray found himself doing many recordings of his own songs once again.
Tin Pan Alley Era music, as was Billy Murray’s style, was defined mostly by the short, simple, humorous aspect of its songs. Titles by Billy Murray including “Sweet Marimba,” “Come Josephine in my Flying Machine,” and "(S)He Gave Them all the Ha Ha Ha,” exemplify this. Essentially, Billy Murray would sing short, comical songs, solo, with the instrumentals following his lead. In fact, during prohibition, he often slammed the amendment in his music, which I find quite comical.
His recording style was something peculiar, as well. Keep in mind, back in the 1910s and 1920s, the microphone had not yet made its debut, meaning that all sound was recorded on wax cylinders by a large engraver horn. Billy Murray’s method of singing, which he called “hammering it,” was him essentially screaming the song into the recording horn. Unfortunately, when radio broadcasting became regular in the 1930s and onward, he couldn’t do that anymore because of the new technology, so he had to adapt his voice to work with the recording microphones. Nevertheless, his music style was deemed too old and traditional by the new age, and sales of his records dropped.
Billy Murray would make his last recordings in 1943, and then retired to Long Island, New York, due to heart complications. Aside from music and theatre, Billy Murray had been an avid baseball fan. Over the course of his life, his music made him a major celebrity by the 1940s. Even as he retired, sales of his records suddenly began to increase as people began to see his songs as something nostalgic. He would die in 1954 of a heart attack at the age of 77. He never married.
Today, the only people who listen to his music are weirdos like me, and people who play horror video games (as, because of the tinny sound quality of Billy Murray’s songs, they have been added to numerous horror games to add a scary, phonographic effect. I, however, love when music has that fuzzy, phonographic sound). If you are interested enough in Bully Murray to actually listen to one of his songs, I would recommend “In the Old Town Hall,” or “(S)He Gave Them all the Ha Ha Ha,” as these encompass a lot of his music style.