Bernard Adler Portrait not available
Bernard Aal Adler
(May 8, 1879 to June 11, 1942)
Compositions    
1896
Have You Seen the Old Home Since You
    Left It? [1]
1898
I Want a Real Coon: Two Step
I Want a Real Coon: Song [1]
Sweet Lillie Lavender: Waltz [1]
I'm One of the Family Now [1]
1899
I'se Done Grown Tired of Coon Songs [1]
Rebecca's Left Home with a Coon [1]
Be A Good Fellow My Boy [1]
1906
The Rose and The Heart [2]
Dat Lovin' Rag: Song [2]
The Swellest Girl I Ever Knew [2]
1907
Love, Love, Love [2]
1908
Dat Lovin' Rag: Rag
Good Morning Judge [2]
The Boodle Man [2]
Won't You Come Up and Spoon in Coey's
    Balloon [2]
1909
That Dreamy Rag
I Love My Horse and Wagon, But Oh!
    You Buick Car [2]
That Dreamy Rag: Song [3]
1911
When You're Not Here
That Loving Waltz
When I'm Away
That Dying Rag [4]
1912
Just As the Ship Went Down: A Song of
    the Sea [5,6]

   1. w/Arthur J. Lamb
   2. w/Victor H. Smalley
   3. w/Harry L. Newton
   4. w/Irving Berlin
   5. w/Sidney Gibson
   6. w/Edith Maida Lessing

     Only snippets of information are available on the life of Bernard Adler, who made at least one important ragtime contribution. The collective snippets are presented here for the first time as a long-view portrait of the composer. Bernard was born in Chicago, Illinois to German immigrant clock and watch repairman Louis Adler and his California born wife Sophie (or Sallie) Aal (possibly the Hebrew A’al). He was the middle child of five siblings, including Flora (12/9/1876), Maurice (c.1878), Sophie (1880) and Janet (1889). While little is known of his training or home life, his abilities went beyond what would be taught at Chicago public schools. The fact that Maurice also became involved in the music business suggests that the brothers received some kind of formal music instruction in a town full of very competent musical talent.
     Bernard's first published composition appeared in 1896 when he was just 17. Teamed up with British immigrant Arthur J. Lamb, who over the next few years would make quite a name for himself in Chicago and New York, it was the first of several songs from 1896 to 1899 that spanned the sentimental and outright "coon" song formats. In fact, Lamb's take on the genre that had done well for him in the beginning, I'se Done Grown Tired of Coon Songs, is an indication of how many musicians and consumers had reached saturation as far as exposure to such songs. Their I Want a Real Coon from 1898 was enough of a hit on the Chicago stage to warrant an instrumental release as well. Curiously, the 1900 census does not list an occupation for Bernard, Maurice or their father, which is likely an oversight, since all three were gainfully employed. Bernard is shown as a musician in at least one early Chicago directory, even though he was still living with his parents, and garnered mention as an entertainer in the Chicago papers as early as 1898.
     Adler worked largely in drinking establishments and occasionally for the stage over the next few years, as Lamb had moved on. dat lovin' rag coverThen in 1906 his pieces started to appear again, this time with New York native journalist Victor H. Smalley. One of their first pieces was Dat Lovin' Rag, dedicated to W.B. Dixon of St. Paul, Minnesota, where Smalley would be residing by 1910. Published first in Chicago, the piece got picked up by F.B. Haviland in New York where it saw a measure of success. This simple ragtime song was integrated into a 1907 play with lyrics and libretto by the ambitious Smalley. The Merry Widower had a short 1908 run at the famous Pekin Theater. While the play did not endure, the song did through the efforts of rising star Sophie Tucker. In fact, the feedback she got from Dat Lovin' Rag convinced her to steer more towards syncopated songs in her act, soon propelling her to national stardom. The piece also became a solo piano rag with a little bit of rearranging in 1908, one of those rare instances where the instrumental version came after the song. On June 9, 1906, Bernie was married in Mineeapolis, Minnesota to Charlotta “Lottie” A. Hayward from New York, her second marriage.
     Bernie and Victor continued to turn out a few more pieces through 1909 after which Smalley moved to Minnesota for a full time job in the newspaper business. Adler continued to write sporadically with a couple of other lyricists, including Irving Berlin. There is no indication that Bernie lived in New York City for any amount of time, so the details of how he got involved with Berlin as a lyricist for That Dying Rag are not available. Perhaps the title was not all that attractive, as sales on the piece were only moderate, even after Berlin achieved fame late in the year for his Alexander's Ragtime Band. Bernard and Lottie were shown living in Chicago in the 1910 census, his occupation listed as a musician. Bernie's brother Maurice appears in the same census listed as a sheet music salesman, although no specific firm is indicated.
     For whatever twist of fate was involved, Adler did manage to become involved in one of the most visible hot topic songs of 1912. There was an almost macabre rush to get books and songs to press after the tragic sinking of the ill-fated steamship Titanic in April of 1912. Adler teamed up with two other Chicago area composers for what would become perhaps the most enduring of these entries, Just as the Ship Went Down. Somewhere between the maudlin Asleep in the Deep and the catchy The Band Played On, it found performance venues all over the country, particularly where films of the ship leaving dock and the rescued survivors pulling into New York Harbor were shown. In spite of this success, it is the last known published song from Bernie's pen.
     The trail goes partially cold there. With the proliferation of (traditional) jazz in Chicago in the mid-1910s and the influx of talented pianists from St. Louis and New Orleans, the work may simply have dried up. In 1918 Bernie was listed on his draft record working as a traveling salesman for the Roman Oil Portrait Company. Not quite 40 yet, he cited rheumatism in his left foot and a rib injury as exemptions from the draft. He is not readily found in the 1920 census, although Maurice is still present as a sheet music salesman. Bernie is seen in a couple of 1920s directories in Chicago, but none that indicate his vocation. The 1930 census, however, does show him as divorced and working as a night club musician, actually living at the club at 749 Rush Street in Chicago with other performers. That same year, Maurice was busy in a new career as the owner of a toy store.
     From the mid to late 1930s to just days before his death, Bernie played jazz and swing in numerous ballrooms throughout the Chicago area. In the 1940 census Bernie was still living on Rush Street listed as a musician at the same club. The last advertisement listing him working at that Chicago nightclub was on May 18, 1942. He died within a month at age 63. Bernie Adler unfortunately did not live to enjoy some new level of fame when Capitol Records A&R man Lou Busch recorded Adler's most famous piece, Dat Lovin' Rag, on the first all ragtime LP, Honky-Tonk Piano in 1950. Although Busch had re-titled it to That Everlovin' Rag and rearranged it somewhat, the piece was still recognizable. An even more accurate rendition was recorded by Dick Hyman in 1958 on one of his honky-tonk albums as Knuckles O'Toole.

Article Copyright© by the author, Bill Edwards. Research notes and sources available on request at ragpiano.com - click on Bill's head.