Cecil Mack (1873-1944)
Richard Cecil McPherson studied medicine for two years at the University of Pennsylvania after attending Norfolk Mission School and Lincoln University in Norfolk, Virginia, where he was born. Perhaps it was due to his medical connections that he met and married Dr. Gertrude Curtis, mentioned in newspapers as the first African American dentist in New York, before deciding to embark on a career in music (“Cecil Mack,” n.d.; “Cecil Mack, famous choir leader, dead,” 1944). Beyond this scant information, biographical sketches of R. C. McPherson mostly recount his prolific output of songs and his business associations, along with the hypothesis that the connections he made among New York musicians would give him his working name: Cecil Mack.
Mack was primarily a lyricist and would collaborate with many of his contemporaries. He was also one of the original members of the Frogs: a well-known theatrical group in New York, the Crescendo Club: an association of African American composers in Harlem, and a member of the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publisher (ASCAP) (“Richard Cecil McPherson (Cecil Mack),” n.d.; “Cecil Mack, famous choir leader, dead, 1944). Vocal groups that he arranged, Cecil Mack’s Southland Singers and the Cecil Mack Choir, would be used in various stage productions and Broadway musicals (“Cecil Mack – R. C. McPherson,” n.d.; James, 2003).
Mack teamed up with Will Marion Cook, early in 1905, to organize the Gotham Music Publishing Company. Soon after their company was established, Mack and Cook acquired the “first black-owned and operated Tin Pan Alley firm” called Attucks Music Publishing from its owner Shepard N. Edmonds. Mack and Cook merged the two into the Gotham-Attuks Music Company and signed, the wildly popular and successful, Williams and Walker to an exclusive contract (James, 2003). Mack continued with Gotham-Attucks until 1911 before refocusing on lyric writing.
Cecil Mack in the news:
Songs in the USF Libraries digital African American Sheet Music Collection: