AFTER THE BALL
by Charles K. Harris (1865-1930)
A little maiden climbed an old man’s knees—
Begged for a story: "Do uncle, please!
Why are you single, why live alone?
Have you no babies, have you no home?"
"I had a sweetheart, years, years ago,
Where she is now, pet, you will soon know;
List to the story, I’ll tell it all:
I believed her faithless after the ball.“
”Bright lights were flashing in the grand ballroom,
Softly the music playing sweet tunes.
There came my sweetheart, my love, my own,
‘I wish some water; leave me alone.’
When I returned, dear, there stood a man
Kissing my sweetheart as lovers can.
Down fell the glass, pet, broken, that’s all—
Just as my heart was after the ball.“
”Long years have passed, child, I have never wed,
True to my lost love though she is dead.
She tried to tell me, tried to explain—
I would not listen, pleadings were vain.
One day a letter came from that man;
He was her brother, the letter ran.
That’s why I’m lonely, no home at all—
I broke her heart, pet, after the ball."
After the ball is over, after the break of morn,
After the dancers' leaving, after the stars are gone,
Many a heart is aching, if you could read them all—
Many the hopes that have vanished
After the ball.
The 1890s witnessed the emergence of a commercial popular music industry in the United States. Sales of sheet music, enabling consumers to play and sing songs in their own parlors, skyrocketed during the “Gay Nineties,” led by Tin Pan Alley, the narrow street in midtown Manhattan that housed the country’s major music publishers and producers. Although Tin Pan Alley was established in the 1880s, it only achieved national prominence with the first “platinum” song hit in American music history—Charles K. Harris’s “After the Ball”—that sold two million pieces of sheet music in 1892 alone. “After the Ball’s” sentimentality ultimately helped sell over five million copies of sheet music, making it the biggest hit in Tin Pan Alley’s long history. Typical of most popular 1890s tunes, the song was a tearjerker, a melodramatic evocation of lost love.
(From: “After the Ball”: Lyrics from the Biggest Hit of the 1890s (History Matters)
Interestingly, the most popular song of the Fair also had its origin in Chicago - or so the story goes.
Harris had attended a dance in Chicago. There he had seen a pair of young lovers go home separately after a quarrel. He made note of the line "Many a heart is aching, after the ball." On his return to Milwaukee he used the line as the basis of a story where and old man tells a story to his young niece of a lost love due to a terrible misunderstanding. The idea of telling the story to a young niece allowed Harris to fill in lines using the word "pet."(From: Chas. K. Harris "King Of The Tear Jerker" [Parlor Songs])
The Columbian Exposition aggressively promoted itself as a cultural event and music was an important element. John Phillip Sousa and his band had played at the dedication of the Columbian Exposition buildings in October of 1892 and was asked by Theodore Thomas, first conductor of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, to perform at the Fair in 1893 from May through June. Sousa's open air performances on the Grand Plaza were a hit and because Sousa liked "After the Ball" so much, it was played every evening. Sousa became a huge success and so did the song.
"After the Ball" was translated into many other languages, but today the "World's Fair Song" perpetually lives on as part of the score of the classic American musical, Show Boat.
Parlor Songs (An outstanding website on American popular music from 1800 to 1920.)
Music Publishing (Encyclopedia of Chicago)
John Phillip Sousa (Library of Congress)
Charles K. Harris (Parlor Music)
"After the Ball" (Music for the Nation, Library of Congress)