Thoughts on Labor Day

Here’s a treat for your Labor Day weekend enjoyment: “Everybody Works but Father,” by Bob Roberts on Edison 9100, released in October 1905. The Edison Phonograph Monthly had this to say about the number:

No. 9100, “Everybody Works but Father,” by Bob Roberts, is now being sung by Lew Dockstader in performances by his minstrel organization. This is one of the biggest hits that Mr. Dockstader has had. in years, being repeatedly encored wherever he sings It. The song humorously tells how the various members of the family work with the exception of father, who sits on the front porch all day. Mr. Roberts’s unusually clear articulation makes every word clearly understood. The Record will be found one of his best efforts and will b: one of the best sellers on the October list. Mr. Roberts is accompanied by the orchestra. “Everybody Works but Father” was written by Helf and Hager.

A favorite with record collectors, Cincinnati-born Bob Roberts (1871-1930) was a comic singer very much in demand about the time he recorded this cylinder. Victor, Columbia, Edison, and others all sought his services in the 1903-07 range, after which his output fell off sharply. Roberts recorded a lot of “coon” songs and other humorous selections, often the same material that Billy Murray was singing. In fact, Roberts famously took Murray aside when the latter was starting out, warning him not to muscle in on his territory.

A good deal of mystery surrounds the life and career of Bob Roberts, but that’s changing. At the conference of the Association for Recorded Sound Collections in Pittsburgh back in May, “Uncle Dave” Lewis and Rebecca Forste gave a paper on Roberts revealing a wealth of newly unearthed information, including his actual birth year. Your present correspondents were especially gratified to learn that “Bob Roberts” is the same as “Robert S. Roberts” who composed the famous “I’m Certainly Living a Ragtime Life” in 1900. Nice job, Dave and Becca!

But now, let’s all celebrate the weekend like Father.  Happy holiday!

(Edison 9100 from the David Giovannoni Collection; image courtesy of Dick Carty. If you enjoyed this selection and wish to hear more of Bob Roberts’ work, visit his page at our website to see available recordings in our catalogue.)

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7 thoughts on “Thoughts on Labor Day

  1. Just read your note about your Labor Day and the lyrics to Billy Murray’s, “He’s Working in the Movies Now” came to me so sweet and clear, – “Father’s always busy, at eight he robs a train, from ten till noon in a big balloon he’s followed by a sheriff in an aeroplane, From one to four he’s toreador, he posses with a cow …. but it’s goodbye dad if the cow gets mad, he’s working in the movies now. “. Cheers, Sterling

  2. Happy Labor Day! I always thought it was poignant that this recording became a hit for Bob Roberts in 1905, immediately following the death of his own father, Nick Roberts, on August 9, 1905. The poignancy is heightened by the fact that the stone marking Nick Roberts’ grave does not bear his name, but only the word “Father.”

    I really enjoyed reading and listening to this! Great work!

    • Rebecca,

      You are absolutely right about Jean Havez being the correct composer. EPM really flubbed that one; in fact, in another place in the same issue, they have Havez listed as composer. Thanks for pointing it out!

  3. Always liked this number, first heard the Fiddlin’ John Carson rendition courtesy of Document Records, and later, Lew Dockstader and Billy Murray, respectively. Of Bob Roberts and Billy Murray, it’s a toss-up; both versions are superb in their clarity and their devilish enjoyment at singing the lyrics.

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