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Nora Bayes

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Biography

Nora Bayes was one of those rare female triple-threats in vaudeville entertainment: a singer, comedienne, and songwriter of tremendous ability, she was easily the most popular female entertainer in vaudeville for much of the first quarter of the 20th century. Born Leonora Goldberg in 1880, she began her career in entertainment in Chicago during 1899, when she was 19 years old. Bayes was married five times, but it was her second husband, Jack Northworth, who had been her stage partner and who she married in 1908, who was the most important of them musically -- together they composed the song "Shine On, Harvest Moon," which became an overnight hit and one of the most popular songs of the 20th century. Curiously, Bayes's singing ability, as she would have been the first to admit, was nothing special, but she had extraordinary stage presence, which came over exceptionally well on the vaudeville stage, and it compensated for any vocal shortcomings. Additionally, she could "act" a song -- especially a comedic one -- for all it was worth.She was called "the life of every production with which she is connected" by contemporary reviewers. Bayes recorded for both Victor and Columbia Records during the late teens and early '20s. Among her biggest successes was the cheerful ethnic popular song "Has Anybody Here Seen Kelly," which came from Lew Fields' 1910 production of The Jolly Bachelor, which knocked critics and audiences alike off their feet. The accompanying record, cut the same year for Victor, was also a hit. Bayes' later successes included the World War I patriotic anthem "Over There," "Tomorrow I'll Be in My Dixie Home Again," "How Ya Gonna Keep 'Em Down on the Farm," "The Argentines, The Portugese, and the Greeks," and "The Japanese Sandman." ~ Bruce Eder

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