Septimus (Sep) Winner, the composer of such enduring songs as “Listen to the Mocking Bird”, “Whispering Hope” and “Oh Where, Oh Where Has My Little Dog Gone?” was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on May 11, 1827.
Largely a self-taught musician, Winner began studying music and violin under the tutelage of Leopold Meignen. At the age of 20 opened a music shop where he gave music lessons on a variety of instruments including the violin, guitar and banjo. He performed locally with the orchestras of the Musical Fund Society, the Cecillian Music Society and the Philadelphia Brass Band.
He began writing music and lyrics under the pseudonym Alice Hawthorne and was one of the first songwriters to also form his own publishing company, Winner & Shuster. In 1854, his first successful song, “What Is Home Without a Mother?” was published. The next year, what was described as a sentimental Ethiopian Ballad entitled “Listen to the Mocking Bird,” became one of the biggest hits from the era.
During the Civil War, Winner was greatly affected by the political atmosphere. His composition “Give Us Back Our Old Commander: Little Mac, the People’s Pride”, was written in plea to President Lincoln for the return of Union General McClellan who had been removed from command. The song was considered anti-Union and Winner spent a brief time in jail on a charge of treason. Winner was released from jail only after agreeing to destroy all remaining copies of the song. The song resurfaced in 1864 when McClellan was a candidate for president and then again in 1880, with new words, as a campaign song for Ulysses S. Grant’s third term run.
It was also during the Civil War that Winner wrote “Oh Where, Oh Where Has My Little Dog Gone,” written to a German Folk song melody “ Lauterbach.” Other hit songs from this period include “Ten Little Injuns,” Abraham’s Daughter,” “Ellie Rhee.” Winner’s last successful composition, was published in 1868, entitled “Whispering Hope”. Winner was a skilled serious composer as well, creating over 1,500 arrangements for various instruments and 2,000 arrangements specifically for the violin and piano.
In addition to a catalog of over 200 popular songs, Winner is the author of just as many musical instruction books for 23 different instruments. He was a frequent contributor to Graham’s Magazine, then edited by Edgar Allen Poe, and was the founder of Philadelphia’s Musical Fund Society.
Septimus Winner died in Philadelphia on November 22, 1902.