O'Hara, Geoffrey

O'Hara, Geoffrey. Composer, singer, lecturer, b Chatham, Ont, 2 Feb 1882, d St Petersburg, Fla, 31 Jan 1967; honorary D MUS (Huron, S Dak) 1947. He played the piano as a child, and at 12 was a singer and organist in a Chatham Anglican church. In 1904 he joined Lew Dockstader's Minstrels and went on to sing light opera as a baritone at Daly's Theater in New York. Later O'Hara travelled the Lyceum and Chautauqua vaudeville circuits as a singer, lecturer, and community song leader.

Appointed instructor of native music in 1913 by the US Secretary of the Interior, he collected and recorded songs of the Navajo and other tribes. He also taught 1936-7 at Teachers' College, Columbia U, and lectured on songwriting at Huron College. During World War II O'Hara visited military camps as a singing instructor and morale builder. He was president in 1925 of the International Lyceum and Chautauqua Association, board member in 1941 of ASCAP, and president in 1945 of the Composers-Authors Guild.

O'Hara's first work was a ragtime composition, Coloured Fireworks (Canadian American 1904), written under the name Geoffrey de Vere. His first hit song, 'Your Eyes Have Told Me' (Ricordi 1913), was recorded by Caruso. He is remembered best for the songs 'Give a Man a Horse He Can Ride' (1917) and 'K-K-K-Katy' (1918), both written while he was visiting in Kingston, Ont; for 'There Is No Death' (Chappell 1919) and 'The Living God' (Huntzinger 1930), both with words by Gordon Johnstone; for 'Wreck of the Julie Plante' (Ditson 1921) and 'Leetle Bateese' (Ditson 1921), both settings of verses by the Canadian poet William Henry Drummond; and for the barbershop-quartet favourite 'The Old Songs' (Boston Music 1927).

He also composed 12 operettas 1927-48, listed in Catalogue of Canadian Composers, and some 500 hymns, patriotic songs, and popular tunes. With J.M. Gibbon and O. O'Brien he prepared the songbook Canadian Folk Songs, Old and New (London 1927, 1949). Recordings of O'Hara's songs 1913-27 are listed in Roll Back the Years, as are his own 78s 1914-18 for Victor and HMV.