Bird in a Gilded Cage, A
DESCRIPTION: A couple sees a rich young woman. When the girl envies the fine lady's wealth, her companion replies that "she married for wealth, not for love." He pities her; "she's only a bird in a gilded cage... Her beauty was sold for an old man's gold."
AUTHOR: Words: Arthur J. Lamb / Music: Harry von Tilzer
EARLIEST DATE: 1900 (copyright)
KEYWORDS: money marriage age
FOUND IN: US(MW)
REFERENCES (8 citations):
Stout 52, pp. 70-72, "A Bird in a Gilded Cage" (3 texts)
Spaeth-ReadWeep, pp. 205-206, "A Bird in a Gilded Cage" (1 text, 1 tune)
Gilbert, pp. 317-318, "A Bird in a Gilded Cage" (1 text)
Silber-FSWB, p. 266, "A Bird In A Gilded Cage" (1 text)
ADDITIONAL: Aline Waites & Robin Hunter, _The Illustrated Victorian Songbook_, Michael Joseph Ltd., 1984, pp. 172-174, "A Bird in a Gilded Cage" (1 text, 1 tune)
Robert A. Fremont, editor, _Favorite Songs of the Nineties_, Dover Publications, 1973, pp. 34-37, "A Bird in a Gilded Cage" (1 text, 1 tune, a copy of the original sheet music)
Margaret Bradford Boni, editor, _Songs of the Gilded Age_, with piano arrangements by Norman Lloyd and illustrations by Lucille Corcos, Golden Press, 1960, pp. 96-98, "A Bird in a Gilded Cage" (1 text, 1 tune)
Leo Boswell & Elzie Floyd, "She's Only a Bird in a Guilded (sic.) Cage" (Columbia 15150-D, 1927)
Brown and Bunch [pseud. for Leonard Rutherford & John Foster], "She's Only A Bird In A Guilded (sic.) Cage" (Supertone 9375, 1929)
[Byron] Harlan & [?] Madeira, "Bird in a Gilded Cage" (CYL: Edison 7696, 1901)
Roy Harvey & the North Carolina Ramblers, "She Is Only A Bird In A Guilded (sic.) Cage" (Paramount 3079, c. 1928; Broadway 8133, n.d.; rec. 1927)
Marlow & Young, "She's Only a Bird in a Gilded Cage" (Champion 15691, 1929)
Frank & James McCravy, "A Bird in a Gilded Cage" (Brunswick 4335, 1929; Supertone S-2022, 1930; rec. 1928)
Joseph Natus, "A Bird in a Gilded Cage" (Zonophone J-9072,
cf. "Maids When You're Young Never Wed an Old Man" and references there
NOTES [464 words]: The image of a bird trapped in a golden cage and wanting to be free goes back at least to Chaucer's Canterbury Tales. In the Manciple's Tale [Fragment IX in the Riverside Chaucer edition], we read:
Taak any bryd, and put it in a cage,
And do all thy entente and thy corage
To fostre it tendrely with mete and drynke
Of alle deyntees that thou kanst bithynke,
And keep it al so clenly as thou may,
Although his cage of gold be never so gay,
Yet hath this brid, by twenty thousand foold,
Lever in a forest that his rude and coold
Goon ete wormes and swich wrecchednesse.
For evere this brid wol doon his bisynese
To escape out of his cage, yif he may.
His libertee this brid desireth ay.
Take any bird, and put it in a cage,
And do all your intent and your ability
To foster it tenderly with food and drink,
Of all the dainties that you can think,
And keep it all as clean as you may,
Although his cage of gold be never so gay,
Yet had this bird, by twenty thousand fold,
Rather in a forest that is rude and cold
Go to eat worms and such wretchedness
For ever this bird will do its business
To escape out of its cage, if it may --
Its liberty this bird desires for aye.
It is suggested that Chaucer derived this ideas from Boethius's Consolation of Philosophy.
For that matter, the idea that "youth cannot mate with age" is prominent in several of the Canterbury Tales, notably the Merchant's Tale of January and May.
avid A. Jasen, Tin Pan Alley: The Composers, the Songs, the Performers and their Times: The Golden Age of American Popular Music from 1886 to 1956, Primus, 1988, p. 41, says that in Arthur J. Lamb's original, the young woman was merely cohabiting with the rich old man. Harry von Tilzer, before setting the tune, insisted that they be married. I have to think this improved the result. After getting the words, "Von Tilzer went to a party which ended at a house of ill repute. He sat down at the piano in the parlor to compose music to the words. When he finished, he noticed that some of the girls were crying, and their reaction convinced him of the song's possibilities.
Jasen, p. 40, reports that Von Tilzer's real name was Harry Gumm; he took "Tilzer" from his mother's maiden name, and added "von" to make it sound more exalted. Born in 1872, all four of Harry's brothers also were involved in music. He himself ran away from home at age fourteen to join a circus. The famous singer Lottie Gilson told him he should be a songwriter. It took some time for Harry to establish himself, but obviously he eventually made it big. This song sold more than two million copies.
Not many of von Tilzer's hits seem to have established themselves in tradition, but in addition to this, he wrote the music to "Wait Till the Sun Shines, Nellie." - RBW
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