The Nebraska History Museum has a wonderful collection of Nebraska sheet music, including 25 pieces that were performed by Nebraska singer and actress, Ruth Etting.
Ruth Etting was born in David City, Nebraska in 1897. At the age of 17 she moved to Chicago to attend the Academy of Fine Arts. While there, she got a job designing costumes at a night club called the Marigold Gardens. She also began dancing in the chorus line. By 1918 she was a featured vocalist. She began performing on Chicago radio stations and headlined at several venues. She was signed by Columbia records and released her first record in 1926.
In 1927 Ruth moved to New York and appeared on Broadway in the Ziegfeld Follies of 1927.
In the following years she starred in Whoopee!, 9:15 Revue, Simple Simon, and the Follies of 1931.
Ruth had more than 60 hits including “Shine on Harvest Moon,” “Let Me Call You Sweetheart,” “You Made Me Love You” and “Love Me or Leave Me.” Her trademark was to change the tempo in songs.
In addition to being dubbed the Sweetheart of Columbia Records, she was also known as America’s Radio Sweetheart, and America’s Sweetheart of Song. Many pieces of sheet music dub her a a glorifier or as glorifying American or popular song or even ”Glorifying the American Girl.”
Ruth appeared in many movie shorts, made at Vitaphone Studios in Brooklyn, New York, and RKO in Hollywood. She moved to Hollywood in the early 1930s and appeared in films which included Roman Scandals, Gift of Gab and Hips Hips Hooray.
From 1922 to 1937 Ruth was married to Martin “Moe” Snyder, also known as “The Gimp,” who allegedly had connections with the Chicago mob. The couple divorced in 1937 and in 1938 Snyder shot Ruth’s accompanist and boyfriend, Mryl Alderman. Alderman survived and they were later married. The scandal greatly affected Ruth’s career. Although she attempted a comeback in 1947, Ruth and Mryl retired to Colorado Springs, where she passed away in 1978.
In 1955 Ruth’s story was made into a movie, Love Me or Leave Me starring Doris Day and James Cagney.
For more information about Ruth Etting and her life, see the web exhibit developed by the The Music Library at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
Laura Mooney, Museum Registrar