Ernest Roland Ball, American singer and songwriter, most famous for composing the music for the song “When Irish Eyes Are Smiling” in 1912, dies in Santa Ana, California on May 3, 1927. He is not himself Irish.
Ball’s nascent career is much buoyed when James J. Walker, then a state senator of New York, asks him to write music for some lyrics he had written. He does, and the song “Will You Love Me In December as You Do In May?” becomes a hit. Walker later becomes known as “Dapper Jimmy Walker”, Mayor of New York City, a fortunate event for Ball’s career.
Ball accompanies singers, sings in vaudeville and writes sentimental ballads, mostly with Irish themes. He collaborates with Chauncey Olcott on many songs including “When Irish Eyes are Smiling,” for which Olcott writes the lyrics. He writes other Irish favorites including “Mother Machree,” “A Little Bit of Heaven,” “Dear Little Boy of Mine” and “Let the Rest of the World Go By.” “Mother Machree” is made popular by the famous Irish tenor, John McCormick. He also works with J. Keirn Brennan on songs like “For Dixie and Uncle Sam” and “Good Bye, Good Luck, God Bless You.”
Ball becomes a charter member of the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) in 1907, and writes many American standards. He is also a fine pianist, and his playing is preserved on several piano roll recordings he makes for the Vocalstyle Music Company, based in Cincinnati in his home state of Ohio.
Ernest Ball dies on May 3, 1927 just after walking off stage at the Yost Theater in Santa Ana, California while on tour with “Ernie Ball and His Gang,” an act starring Ball and a male octet. He is posthumously inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1970.
A 1944 musical Irish Eyes Are Smiling tells the story of Ball’s career and stars Dick Haymes and June Haver. His grandson is the guitar string entrepreneur Ernie Ball, great-grandson is singer-songwriter/content producer Sherwood Ernest Ball and his great-great-granddaughters are actress Hannah Marks and singer/songwriter Tiare’ Ball.