Teddy Bears' Picnic Myth
"The Teddy Bears' Picnic" 1907 (John W Bratton & Jimmy Kennedy) is like "Happy Birthday to you" 1893 (Mildred and Patty Hill) inasmuch as it will be around forever
It has long been believed in our family that John William Bratton of Newcastle, North East England, my Grandfather's cousin was the composer of TBP and, according to family oral tradition he sold the rights to it, lock stock and barrel, which was not an uncommon practice for new composers, to a London publisher, Bert Feldman
IT IS NOW KNOWN THAT THIS IS NOT TRUE
Australian Sheet Music
The irony of all this will not escape the Geordie family members now that it is absolutely clear that it was composed by the American John Walter Bratton of New Castle, Delaware North East America, who wrote some 250 songs, using a lyricist more often than not, but occasionally writing his own lyrics. Surprisingly, to me anyway, he left TBP as an instrumental. Perhaps because it sold so well as sheet music he never felt the need to do anything else with it
Some 25 years on, Jimmy Kennedy, the very famous lyricist, but then relatively unknown, was working in London's Tin Pan Alley employed by Music Publisher Bert Feldman and was asked by his boss to write words to the instrumental for a pantomime. Henry Hall of The BBC Dance Orchestra became aware that the instrumental now had lyrics and he broadcast the song in the kiddies' section of his
popular radio show the very next day before it had been officially published. The publisher's office was deluged with requests for sheet music which did not exist. Kennedy was almost sacked and was punished by Bert Feldman by having his royalties withheld for the rest of Feldman's life...some 15 years or so. It was obvious from the listeners' reaction that this would be a hit and Henry Hall recorded it. The rest, they say, is history.
Correcting the myth that a Brit, a member of our family, wrote Teddy Bears' Picnic is due, in no small part, to the expertise and research of Perfessor Bill EdwARds of www.perfessorbill.com
As he was harnessing his best resources to establish the facts I was checking out the genealogy route, determined to find John Willie Bratton as my Grandma described him. Well, guess what.. there is no John Willie Bratton to be found in our family
Meantime Bill ascertained that the primary publisher was the NY company M. Witmark & Sons (Feldman was merely a selling agent for UK, British Dominions [other than Canada & Oz] and Continental Europe) and that in the copyright records John WALTER Bratton is spelled out in full. If that wasn't enough he sought consensus by sending out parts of his research on TBP, as well as information from this site, to eight others. Four of them are sheet music collector/historians - one in Australia, one in Canada, and two in the US so not just American biased - and four are ragtime performers - one from Sweden, one from Canada, and two from the U.S.
He did not reveal for them the middle name logged in the Witmark books ( found in NYPL archives), but a lot of the other information.
He heard back from six of them - all four of the sheet music experts and two of the pianists. The consensus is unanimous among the six, three of which have other Bratton instrumentals, that the American Bratton was the composer. They also look at things like cover art clues, copyrights (again, why would the British Bratton copyright a piece in the US under his name AND Witmarks, but nothing else, when the American did this consistently) All the experts give (and rightly as it seems) little credence to oral family history. So, in the light of the overwhelming evidence, I am embarrassed that I ever believed it but Grandma told me it every week from when I was 5 till I was 11
So Granny if you're looking down at this I hope you're proud of your multi generational hoax!!
Some people think I'm being hard on you but what gets me is that you told me, not that it was John William Bratton but John Willie Bratton; that's how urban myths are perpetuated. I put a lot of store by that
What it does show is the power of the internet. Generations have gone along with this myth and in a 3 week period, through internet resources, it has been exposed as a nonsense. I apologise to all those kids in school playgrounds that I, and many others, have bragged to, about our famous relative.
Now did you know that a Brattain won a Nobel Prize for inventing the transistor!!