Biography of John W. Bratton

This section presents the biography of John W Bratton, the writer of more than 250 songs, including the classic Teddy Bears picnic

John Walter Bratton

Watercolor of New Castle circa 1830 by Robert Shaw

John Walter Bratton, known as John W. Bratton was born on 21 Jan 1867 in New Castle (Wilmington) Delaware

According to the 1880 census he was brought up in the New Castle home of his Grandmother Sarah Bratten (note the spelling) b Pennsylvania 1826. (In 1896, see below, he wrote a song She's Been a Mother To Me and at the top of the sheet music he added "Dedicated to Mrs Sarah Bratton who has been a mother to me")

His musical education was at the Philadelphia College of Music. He went to New York's Tin Pan Alley and early on, he was a stage performer in both plays and as a baratone singer. His main career was as a composer of light music and it was said "Bratton was musically very literate and used subtle changes in rhythm patterns and dynamics to great effect." Indeed in the 1930's the record of his best work, The Teddy Bears' Picnic was used by the BBC for calibrating & adjusting equipment, due to the recording's large dynamic and frequency range

When he was 32 years old he became a Freemason, being raised in St. Cecile Lodge No. 568, New York City on 28 Feb 1899. His publishers the 3 Witmark brothers had joined that lodge 5 years earlier. It was/is the Mother Lodge of the Entertainers' Lodges and it also boasted as members, though not necessarily at the same time, Louis B Mayer (1912 ish), Al Jolson (1913), Harry Houdini (1923) and Film Director D W Griffith (1905 ish)

Bratton wrote over 240 songs in a prolific 25 year period from when he was about 25 years old in 1893 till his early 50's in 1918 ( career essentially over but he still dabbled for the rest of his life, late on, turning the tables and being the lyricist for other composers, clocking up a grand total of 250 songs carrying his name)
Broadway, New York

Walter H Ford wrote lyrics to 83 of the 107 Bratton songs in 1893-1901, 9 had 6 different lyricists, 13 were instrumentals and in two, Bratton wrote both words & music

Paul West wrote the lyrics to 71 songs (1902-1907 mainly). In the 3 year period 1903-05 John & Paul co-wrote 61 songs, bettering the output (but not the quality) of the John & Paul team some 60 years later
JWB's composing peak was in 1903 when he had 40 songs published ( 8 instrumentals, 26 with Paul West and 6 with other lyricists) The production line period of his career was over by 1905, with 89% of his entire output in print.

The Musical Comedies he wrote the music for are Hodge Podge & Co., Man From China, The Pearl & the Pumpkin and The Newlyweds and their Baby
Those in which he had songs featured include Star and Garter, Buster Brown, A Trip to Chinatown, The Toreador, Merry Go Round, The Rainmakers, The Old Holmstead Company, Gentleman Joe, The Land of Nod, The Gay White Way, The Office Boy, The School Girl and Charlot Revue 1925/26

In 1907 his best work The Teddy Bears' Picnic was published which sold well as a piece for piano.

The theatre connection remains, because in Britain The Teddy Bears' Picnic was often used in pantomimes. Indeed it was for a pantomime that 25 years later, words were added by Jimmy Kennedy in London's Tin Pan Alley. It became a great record success... it has gone on to become a classic.

In 1909 Bratton teamed up with Leffler and the Bratton Leffler Co produced three Broadway shows, The Newlyweds and Their Baby (1909) Let George Do It (1912) and The Ding Bats (?)

In 1914 Victor Herbert and others formed the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP). John W Bratton became a charter member
His last published work during his lifetime, was as the lyricist, in 1945 at the age of 78, a career spanning 52 years...but note, I've seen reference to a work published 9 years after his death in 1956..I Watched The Rain w&m by Edith Temple, John W Bratton and Nancy O'Hara

John Walter Bratton died in his Brooklyn home on 7 Feb. 1947 a fortnight after his 80th birthday.

Broadway, NY