Recorded July 11, 1912
Will Oakland was born Herman Hinrichs in Jersey City, New Jersey to German-American immigrant parents. Oakland began singing after leaving the US Army in 1905 joining Lew Dockstader’s minstrels. He began recording for Edison Records in 1908 often with Billy Murray sometimes singing the female part in love songs. Oakland sang woeful, sentimental songs that contrasted with Murray’s usually upbeat performances. Starting in 1912 Oakland recorded in the Heidelberg Quintette.
Louis Wolfe Gilbert was born in Odessa, Russia in 1886. His family moved to the US and Gilbert began singing in a small cafe at Coney Island, New York. He toured with the retired boxer John L Sullivan (who was trying his hand on the stage) when he was discovered by a English producer who brought him to London. He returned to New York still writing lyrics and working part-time as a journalist.
Louis Meuer was born in St. Louis, Missouri in 1884. He was a pianist performing at the St. Louis World’s Fair in 1904. He changed his name to Lewis F Muir and moved to New York in 1910. Vaudeville entertainer Bert Williams used Muir’s song in his shows. Other compositions by Muir written 1910-1912 include “Oh, You Bear Cat Rag”, “The Matrimony Rag” and “When Ragtime Rosie Ragged the Rosary”.
In 1912 Gilbert wrote an article in the New York Clipper severely criticizing Muir for the sacrilege for having dared to incorporate the rosary into a rag-time song. Muir and Gilbert confronted each other in person and almost came to blows until Muir challenged Gilbert that if he were so smart and right, he should come home and write a song with him. They came up with 2 songs, one of which was “Waiting for the Robert E. Lee.” Gilbert wrote the lyrics and Muir the melody and it was published by F A Mills Music Publishers. It was Gilbert first success.
On July 11, 1912 Will Oakland and the Heidelberg Quintette went into the Victor Recording studios in Camden, New Jersey and recorded “Waiting For The Robert E Lee”.
Much thanks to the UCSB Encyclopedic Discography of Victor Recordings :