Paul Dresser

~ Person


Paul Dresser (April 22, 1857 – January 30, 1906) was born Johann Paul Dreiser Jr. in Terre Haute, Vigo County, Indiana. After changing his surname, Dresser went on to become a well-known singer, popular American songwriter, and comedic actor of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. In addition to songwriting Dresser performed in traveling minstrel and medicine-wagon shows and as a vaudeville entertainer. Dresser sold his songs through sheet music publishers, especially the firms in New York City's Tin Pan Alley, and became a partner in the music publishing business.

Dresser grew up in a large family and lived in Sullivan and Terre Haute, Indiana. He had a troubled childhood and spent several weeks in jail. Dresser left home at age sixteen to join a traveling minstrel act and performed in several regional theaters before joining John Hamlin's Wizard Oil traveling medicine-wagon show in 1878. Dresser composed his first songs while working for Hamlin. Dresser settled in Evansville, Indiana, for several years, while as he continued to work as a traveling performer and musician. Eventually, he became a nationally-known talent and traveled with a number of different acts, including The Two Johns, A Tin Soldier, and The Danger Signal, among others. Dresser wrote songs featured in these shows, sold his songs to others acts, and published his music. In 1893 Dresser joined "Howley, Haviland and Company", a New York City sheet music publisher, as a silent partner. He later became an active partner in other music publishing companies. At the height of his success, Dresser lived in New York City as a wealthy entertainer, successful songwriter, and sheet music publisher. He was also known for his generosity, especially to family and friends, and lavish spending. At the turn of the century Dresser fell into financial distress when his music fell out of style. In 1905 his music publishing business declared bankruptcy and Dresser's health declined. He died penniless in New York City a year later.

Although Dresser had no formal training in music composition, he wrote ballads that had wide popular appeal, including some that became among the most popular of his time. During a career that spanned nearly two decades, from 1886 to 1906, Dresser composed and published more than 150 songs. His biggest hit, "On the Banks of the Wabash, Far Away" (1897), became the second best-selling song, in terms of sheet music, during the nineteenth century. Following the success of "Wabash", many newspapers compared Dresser to popular music composer Stephen Foster. "On the Banks of the Wabash, Far Away" became the official state song of Indiana in 1913. The Paul Dresser Birthplace in Terre Haute is designated as a state shrine and memorial. Dresser was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1970.

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Album + Compilation

Year Title Artist Rating Releases
2002 Jussi Björling Collection, Volume 2: Sånger på svenska 1929-37 Compilation Jussi Björling 2

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