The Air at the Top of the Bottle

The Ullage Group header image 1

Bobby Edwards, the Troubadour of Greenwich Village (1)

January 5th, 2011 · 9 Comments

bobby1.jpg

I’ve long been interested in the career of Bobby Edwards, who played and made ukuleles in Greenwich Village in the ‘teens and ‘twenties, and established himself as one of the Village’s most conspicuous and colorful personalities.

I haven’t been able to dig up much biographical information.  I know that he was born in Buffalo in 1879, and died in New York City in 1948.  He graduated from Harvard in 1901, and attended Chase Art School; and worked for a while as an illustrator.  He then settled in the Village to pursue a merry, disorganized career as a sometime artist, performer and writer — and full-time Bohemian.  He advertised himself as “Maker of the Ukalyptos, Second Cousin of the Ukulele.  Painting, Poetry, Movie Acting, Music, Singing, Illustrating and General Art Work Neatly Done.  Also Contracts Taken to Make Restaurants Famous.  Terms for Singing at Parties on Application.  Also Portrait Photography.”

He edited the quintessential Village magazine, The Quill (from which the above promotion was taken), and filled its pages with verses, songs, gossip, and photos of his cats romping through his famously cluttered studio.  He also contributed to The Masses, Broadway Brevities, and other periodicals.

But he was best known for his performances in clubs and revues, where he sang his comic songs, strumming a brightly painted cigar box uke.  He not only made the uke himself, but turned out others to sell to tourists.

bobby4.jpg

His signature tune was “The Greenwich Village Epic,” a sprawling satire which apparently everyone then living in the Village added to.  (I posted all the verses I could find, as well as the official Edwards history of it, back here on 3/30/10.)

He was a somewhat controversial figure: many entrenched Villagers were serious artists, and bridled at his frivolity, and at his promotion of the Village as a Boho playground.

In the next few posts, I’ll air some of the material I’ve collected on him.  Ukulele and Village history buffs, watch this space!

(Posted by Doug Skinner.  The first photo is taken from The Song Book of Robert Edwards (1917); the second from Souvenir Book of Greenwich Village (by Ralph Bartholomew, 1920).)

Tags: Bobby Edwards · Ukulele

9 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Angela // Jan 6, 2011 at 2:21 pm

    Bobby and those ukes are pretty damn cute!

  • 2 Mamie // Jan 6, 2011 at 5:07 pm

    What’s a whilom artist?

  • 3 Doug // Jan 6, 2011 at 10:03 pm

    You’re right; I meant “sometime.” I fixed it.

  • 4 Carl Hertel // Jan 1, 2012 at 10:44 pm

    Bobby Edwards was my father’s uncle. My father was named after him. We should talk.

    Carl

  • 5 name Tony Sarg — and Bobby Edwards // Feb 29, 2012 at 12:42 pm

    […] his marionette shows from 1929.  I was surprised to hear that it opens with a song (uncredited) by Bobby Edwards — one of his signature numbers, “The Sultan’s Wives Have Got the Hives (From […]

  • 6 nancy hertel melvin // Jan 1, 2013 at 3:58 pm

    Bobby Edwards was my father’s uncle as well. I have one of his ukes along with bound copies pf his book of songs and several Quills. Would love to talk.

  • 7 Doug // Jan 1, 2013 at 4:26 pm

    I’m so glad to hear that at least one of the ukes survived! I’ll drop you an e-mail.

  • 8 name Bobby Edwards, the Troubadour of Greenwich Village (17) // Jan 1, 2013 at 10:59 pm

    […] been posting information here, from time to time, on Bobby Edwards: a singer-songwriter who became somewhat of a local legend in Greenwich Village in the ‘teens […]

  • 9 Jonathan Ned Katz // Jan 14, 2017 at 6:29 pm

    Hi, Doug. I’m a historian who is doing some research on The Greenwich Village Quill and its editor Robert Edwards. I’m interested in whatever you have found out about him, and the sources of that information.
    I look forward to hearing from you. Jonathan

Leave a Comment