The first female composer to sell over a million copies of her sheet music, Carrie Jacobs-Bond was born in Janesville, Wisconsin, in 1862. As a child, Jacobs-Bond had the ability to learn complex pieces of music by ear and from an early age she hoped to become a professional song writer. She achieved this childhood ambition, becoming the most successful female composer of her day and reportedly earning more than $1 million in royalties before the end of 1910.
In 1881 Jacobs-Bond married Edward Smith; the couple had one son and divorced in 1887. She married Dr. Frank Lewis Bond in 1889 and began selling her compositions to supplement her husband’s income. Dr. Bond died in 1895, leaving Jacobs-Bond in a financially precarious position. She supported herself and her young son by giving piano lessons and selling hand-painted ceramics and her musical compositions; when additional money was needed she began selling her furniture.
A few years after her husband’s death, Jacobs-Bond moved from Wisconsin to Chicago, Illinois, to be closer to music publishers. She performed her songs in private homes and gained a reputation as a singer and composer. Her songs, simple and sentimental in the style of the day, became increasingly popular, and American opera singer Jessie Bartlett Davis helped her publish her first collection of music in 1901. This collection, Seven Songs: As Unpretentious as the Wild Rose, included two of Jacobs-Bond’s most popular songs: “Just Awearyin’ for You” (lyrics by Frank Lebby Stanton) and “I Love You Truly.” The latter became a popular wedding song and is featured in the 1946 film It’s a Wonderful Life.
As the male-dominated music industry was reluctant to publish her music—claiming variously that it was too arty, too simple, and too complex—Jacobs-Bond established a small music publishing business, The Bond Shop, in her home in Wisconsin. The success of Seven Songs enabled her to expand her previously existing business in Chicago. Because she was publishing her own music, she owned every note and word she wrote, which was highly unusual for the time, particularly for a woman.
In the early years of the 20th century, she enjoyed continued success, performing for President Theodore Roosevelt at the White House and with Enrico Caruso in London. In 1910 she published what would prove to be the most popular of her songs in her lifetime, “A Perfect Day.” (This song would acquire tragic connotations for Jacobs-Bond when her son committed suicide while listening to a recording of it during the Great Depression.)
During World War I, Jacobs-Bond held concerts to entertain American troops. Following the war and the advent of the Jazz Age, her style of music became less popular, but she continued to perform and to publish songs throughout the 1920s. In the early 1920s, she moved to Hollywood, California, where she helped to found the Hollywood Bowl. In 1941, she was cited by the General Federation of Women’s Clubs for her contributions to the progress of women in the 20th century, and in 1970 she was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame. Jacobs-Bond died of a heart attack in 1946.
The Schlesinger Library holds a small collection of Jacobs-Bond’s papers, as well as her autobiography, The Roads of Melody. Additional material, including sheet music for many of her compositions, is held by the Loeb Music Library and other Harvard libraries.