The most popular female singer of the entire pre-1920 era, Ada Jones was born on June 1, 1873 in Lancashire, England. She did not play an instrument and unable to read music, she learned songs by ear. With her strong contralto voice, Jones showed an early versatility in singing vaudeville sketches, sentimental ballads, rags and Irish songs. However it was her talent for comic songs that would later contribute to her longevity.
Her family moved to Philadelphia Pennsylvania in 1879 and soon after, her mother died. It was Ada’s fathers’ new wife, Annie Douglas Maloney, who first encouraged Ada in music, encouraging her into stage appearances. As early as 1882, ‘Little Ada Jones’ began appearing on the cover of sheet music.
It has been documented that her earliest recordings were brown wax cylinders for Edison Recording Company in approximately 1893, which are among the earliest commercial recordings of a female singing as a solo artists. In the late 1890’s Jones developed as a stage performer, specializing in the accompaniment of colored slide projections. However, more than a decade would pass before Ada began recording again in 1904.
By 1905, Jones’ recording career began in earnest and for a long time she was unique among artists, the only female to record as steadily as her male counterparts. Her first recording of note was ‘My Carolina,’ which hit the #3 spot on Billboard in May of 1905. The February 1905 issue of Edison Phonograph Monthly stated, "'My Carolina Lady' serve[s] as an introduction to the Phonograph public of another new singer in Miss Ada Jones, who has a charming contralto voice. Miss Jones sings this selection in a style all her own, with a dainty coon dialect and expression, that claim your interested attention at once."
In 1905 the team of Jones and Len Spencer released their first hit song, ‘Me and Mrs. Murphy’ which would hit #8 on the charts of that year. With the recording one of the era’s most popular recording teams was born. Together they had top ten hits with ‘Ev’ry Little Bit Helps’, ‘Reuben and Cynthia’, ‘Pals’, ‘Jimmie and Maggie at the Hippodrome’, ‘Courtship of Barney and Eileen’, ‘The Golden Wedding’, ‘Fritz and Louisa’, ‘The Original Cohens’, ‘Bashful Henry and His Lovin’ Lucy’, ‘Peaches and Cream’, ‘Let Me See You Smile’, ‘Jimmie and Maggie at the Ball Game’, ‘Down on the Farm’, ‘Meet Me Down at the Corner’, ‘Herman and Minnie’, ‘You’ve Got to Love Me A lot’, ‘Jimmie and Maggie at the Merry Widow’ and ‘Return of the Arkenasas Traveler.’
Jones also teamed with Billy Murray, allegedly responsible for discovering her in, "I can get away with some pretty high notes, but there were a couple in that song that I couldn't reach on tiptoes...So I told the director about the girl I had heard in the Fourteenth street museum [Huber's] and suggested that she be given a try-out. He told me to bring her around. I did, and she made just as big a hit with everybody else as she did with me...Some one has spread the impression that Ada Jones is in private life Mrs. Billy Murray. We are married but not to each other."
Jones and Murray had their first hit in 1907 with ‘I’m Sorry.’ The team would also record the #1 hits ‘Let’s Take an Old-Fashioned Walk’ (1907), ‘Wouldn’t You Like to Have Me for a Sweetheart?’ (1908), ‘When We are M-A-Double-R-I-E-D’ (1908), ‘Cuddle Up a Little Closer, Lovey Mine’ (1908), ‘Shine On, Harvest Moon’ (1909) and ‘Be My Little Baby Bumble Bee’ (1912). However due to Murray’s contractual restrictions, the duo ceased in 1913.
From 1913 till the end of her career, Jones recorded steadily and teamed with other partners include Henry Burr, Billy Watkins, Will C. Robbins, George Wilton Ballard, George L. Thompson, M.J. O'Connell and Billy Jones. However by 1916, her popularity was in decline. Her career suffered when popular music changed in the World War I era toward the novelty jazz songs.
She eventually re-teamed with Billy Murray in 1917, however the partnership never reclaimed the notoriety it had once celebrated. Their last hit as a duo, ‘When Francis Dances With Me,’ was recorded in 1921.
While on tour, Ada Jones died of kidney failure in North Carolina on May 2, 1922. She was survived by her husband Hugh Flaherty and one daughter.