Carrie Jacobs Bond
America’s Gallant Lady of Song
By Teresa Nguyen
"It was the necessity of supporting myself and my little son that made me a writer of songs. It is true that even as a little girl, when I thought of the future, I always thought of myself as a songwriter."
~ Carrie Jacobs Bond, from her 1927 biography, The Roads of Melody.
In Janesville, Wisconsin, there are two markers for Carrie Jacobs Bond, one for each of the houses where she lived. The house where she was born was, at one time, located near Bond Park. The house where she wrote the song "I Love You Truly" was located on E. Milwaukee Street, and S. Wisconsin Street, near the top of the hill where a small parking lot is now located.
Sometimes good is born of hardship. Creativity is often an outlet for expressing deep emotions and, during challenges, it can thrive. We all know about her successful songwriting and publishing career, but her incredible inner strength and raw courage is what truly makes Carrie Jacobs Bond an inspirational woman of Janesville!
As a young child, Carrie could memorize numerous difficult pieces on the piano. And though she had lessons, she was never taught music theory.
A young Carrie Jacobs Bond and her son, Fred
Marker on E. Milwaukee St. in Janesville - Carrie's former home
Photo by Teresa Nguyen
She went on to publish 170 songs from the late 1800s through the 1940s, even selling over 1 million copies of her original song, “I Love You Truly”! That part of her story is amazing in and of itself. What a gifted woman! But there’s another side of Carrie. She was a woman who suffered a life of incredible tragedy and loss, yet persevered and stayed strong.
At age 11, Carrie lost her father, enduring a youth of poverty with her mother. This was all in an era when life was made difficult for women, employment was challenging to find and women were remarkably underpaid.
Marriages, Motherhood, Making Ends Meet
Carrie then married at age 18. Her son, Frederick Jacobs Smith, was born on July 23,1882. She and Edward Smith divorced only 7 years later, something rare and scandalous in those days. We don’t know what that relationship was like, but the experience must have been quite difficult for Carrie.
Not much later, Carrie married a wonderful man, Dr. Frank Lewis Bond, who encouraged her in her songwriting. They lived in Michigan and she worked part time painting ceramics, giving piano lessons, and writing musical compositions. Only 7 years into her new marriage, Frank tragically fell on ice, hitting his head, which led to his sudden death.
Carrie was forced to care for her son as a single mother, again at a time when life was still very challenging for women.
She borrowed money and moved to Chicago, where she obtained a house and rented out rooms. Having difficulties making ends meet, she was forced into a smaller place, making only $15 a month on the rentals. Yet, all the while, she was known to generously help the homeless looking for food, shelter or to shovel snow. What a beautiful spirit of compassion!
In need of income, she began to publish her musical work. She published “I Love You Truly” in 1901 and a hit was born. The tune sold over 1 million copies! Carrie eventually performed this popular song in the White House for President Theodore Roosevelt. The song was later featured in the movie, “It’s a Wonderful Life,” as Bert and Ernie serenaded George and Mary Bailey on their wedding day.
Her second big hit, “A Perfect Day”, was first published in 1910. Eight million copies of the sheet music and five million recordings sold within a year. All in all, 25 million copies of the sheet music sold during Jacobs-Bond's lifetime! The song was her most-requested number when Jacobs Bond entertained the soldiers at U.S. Army camps in Europe during World War I.
By 1920, Carrie still found it difficult to succeed in the male dominated music publishing business, so she and her son moved to California to establish her own publishing company, becoming one of the few women to control her own work. She continued to write and publish her work, retaining a very successful songwriting career.
Tragedy Strikes Again
Her sorrows, however, were not over. In the following decade, her beloved son Fred became severely ill and suffered deep depression. He committed suicide, while listening to "A Perfect Day" on the gramophone, leaving his mother devastated. She had lost her only child.
Through her grief, Carrie continued to publish songs into the 1940s, in spite of deteriorating health.
Carrie Jacobs Bond
Her song, “Because of the Light”, was published in December 1944 at age 82! Carrie Jacobs Bond passed away in 1946 and is buried in California.
An Amazing Musical Legacy
Throughout her life, Carrie wrote more than 400 songs with 170 of them published! Her beautiful melodies live on in the hearts of Americans, in all who discover her creative music. Carrie Jacobs Bond was eventually inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1970.
On her tombstone, former President Hoover summarized Carrie Jacobs Bond as the writer of “heart songs that express the love, the longings, sadness and gladness of people everywhere” and as “… America ’s gallant lady of song.”
The following is an entertaining short film by Master Art Products from 1933 depicting the life of the beloved Carrie Jacobs Bond, with actual footage of Carrie and 3 of her hit songs sung by radio baritone Ralph Kirbery: