1863 – 1899
Born in Dayton, in 1863, the year of the Emancipation Proclamation, Gussie Lord Davis was the first commercially successful Black American composer of popular songs. One of his most memorable songs was “Irene Good Night”. Davis published over 300 songs including one of his greatest hits written in 1896, “In the Baggage Coach Ahead”, inspired by his job as a railroad porter. Later he was a janitor at the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music. While there he managed to pick up bits and pieces of musical knowledge and was soon writing ballads. His only official musical training was from private study provided him by teachers at the Cincinnati Conservatory. Gussie Lord Davis’s work is listed by the Whittlesey file at the Library of Congress and includes music that is included in the standard repertoire of today’s bluegrass grass, folk, and country musicians.