"The Singer's Heart" by Harris Merton Lyon

McClure's Magazine, July, 1908


By Doug Boilesen, 2023

The phonograph, imitated by vaudeville performer Harry Barnes playing the record "When We Were a Couple of Kids," is the only reference to the phonograph in this short story. Nevertheless, it's in the PhonoLiterature Library because a single reference may seem insignificant but it's another example of how the phonograph and its records were part of daily life and popular culture in 1908.

Harry Barnes, an old vaudeville actor who felt like his prime may have passed as a performer, was pitched an idea by his agent to help Barnes get his name in print one more time.

“Now here’s a chance,”’ went on the agent, in a confidential tone. ‘‘No money in it, of course, but, as I said, there’s a chance to get into print. Some sort of a newsboys’ benefit bunch is going to get together Sunday night and give a little entertainment fer the kids up in Beals’ gymnasium on the Bowery. They’re callin’ for volunteers among the actors. You take your monologue stunt down there and get onto the program. The newspapers always plays up this newsboy dope strong and you'll get a good mention sure. Clip the notices and then you've got somethin’ to flash. See?” (p. 292)



Harry "imitated a wheezy phonograph playing “When We Were a Couple of Kids”;

Harry's performance was a great success:.

For two hours the entertainment went on, speeches and official plans interspersed with the antics of Barnes. Was there anything he could not do? He mimicked birds and animals; he imitated a wheezy phonograph playing “When We Were a Couple of Kids”; he recited “The Raven” and “Paul Revere’s Ride”; he gave a cutting from Dickens and one from Sheridan Knowles; he showed how Joe Jefferson played Rip Van Winkle, how Sol Smith Russell did “A Poor Relation.”


School-Days (or 'when we were a couple of kids') by Cobb & Edwards, Gus Edwards Music Pub. Co., 1512 Broadway, New York, published 1907. Courtesy of Lester S. Levy Sheet Music Collection, Johns Hopkins).


Listen to "School Days, When We Were a Couple of Kids" sung by Byron G. Harlan, Victor 10" Black Label single-sided disc No. 5086, recorded on February 26, 1907 (Record label and recording courtesy of David Giovannoni Collection).


All the next day he did not leave his room, save at meal times; for he wished to be alone and hug his exultation. To the four flat walls he repeated snatches of the things he had done the night before; up and down the rag carpet he smirked and grimaced and laughed and jigged. He sang the songs that had “taken” so well. He went through certain gestures and then deliberately exaggerated them, in a high goodhumor. He was as young again as on the day when he had signed his first contract. He puffed out his chest, looked at himself in the glass with mock seriousness, and then, when the pent-up good feeling burst out in his merry eye, he winked it gleefully and said: ‘‘Oh, you divvil, you! You old blatherskiting divvil!”

At half-past four he went down to the corner and bought a copy of the Star, the late edition which had the dramatic news in it....

After a few minutes he ceased reading and sat, picking at the edge of the paper, staring into the blankness of the little room. He stayed thus immovable for a long, long time, and then slowly the tears slipped across his cheeks, down on the forgotten “notice,” his throat ached with a tender sobbing, and he bowed his head into the newspaper.

He was thinking of the children; he had made them laugh and cry. And this was the thrill, once more, of the singer’s heart.