"Please don't shoot the organist; he's doing his best" (1882)

Bapopik at AOL.COM Bapopik at AOL.COM
Sun Dec 24 00:07:16 UTC 2006

Maybe researchers who have 19th Century U.S. Newspapers or America's  
Historical Newspapers or the Dallas Morning News (yeah, I'll have plenty of  nothing 
when I lose ProQuest in a week) can do better.
“Please do not shoot the piano player. He is doing his  best.”
"Please don’t shoot the piano player. He is doing his best” was a sign in  
western saloons in the 1880s. Oscar Wilde made famous the sign that he saw in a 
 saloon in Leadville, Colorado. Sometimes the warning was not to shoot the 
fiddle  player. Making western music must have been tough! 

Yale Book of  Quotations 
edited by Fred Shapiro 
New Haven, CT: Yale University  Press 
Pg. 822 (Oscar Wilde): 
“Over the piano was printed a  notice: Please do not shoot the pianist. He is 
doing his best.”  
Impressions of America (1906). The Newark (Ohio) Daily  Advocate, 20 Apr. 
1883, describes an after-dinner speech made by Wilde in  Paris about his 
experiences in the United States: “The brightest and best of the  many stories he 
related was one to the effect that at a ball in Leadville he saw  a notice over 
the piano which read: “Please don’t shoot the pianist. He is doing  his best.” 

9 September 1882, Marshfield (WI) Times, pg. 3, col.  1: 
A reasonable request: Some one claims to have found this legend written  to a 
Leadville church: “Please do not shoot at the organist; he is doing his  best.

3 October 1882, Atchison (KS) Globe, pg. 2, col. 5, 
It  is related that a Texas pastor posted the following notice in his church: 
 “Please do not shoot the organist; he is doing his best.” 

20 April 1883,  Newark (Ohio) Daily Advocate, pg. 2?, col. 4: 
Oscar at the Pen and  Pencil Club. 
New York Tribune. 
Oscar Wilde bobs up again. He was the  guest, a fortnight ago, of the Pen and 
Pencil club, of Paris, and made an  after-dinner speech about his experiences 
in America. The brightest and best of  the many stories he related was one to 
the effect that at a ball in Leadville he  saw a notice over the piano which 
read: “Please don’t shoot the pianist. He is  doing his best.” This 
enterprising resurrection of an antediluvian almanac  tradition set the 
company roaring, gave his hearers a high opinion of Oscar as  an observer and 
thinker, and removed Galignani to remark that “there is a  freshness of originality 
about the man that is absolutely fascinating.”  

8 January 1886, Fresno (CA) Republican, pg. 13? (illegible), col.  1: 
Senator Blackburn is credited with saying that the California Theater  
manager who put up the sign saying: “Please do not shoot the pianist, she is  doing 
the best she can,” expressed the feeling of the Democrats toward Cleveland  

29 January 1887, Marion (Ohio) Weekly Star, pg. 2?, col.  2: 
The great democratic editor of the Louisville Courier-Journal, Henry  
Watterson, does not like President Cleveland very well. In a letter from him,  which 
appeared in Tuesday’s Courier-Journal, and in which he indulges in a  
little-goof-natured ridicule of our Nation’s statesmen, he closes as follows:  But 
this is personal, if not bigamous, and I desist. It was Eustis, of  Louisiana, 
who said to a clump of brother Senators who were complaining of the  
Administration: “Gentlemen, you should, in speaking of the President, bear in  your minds 
and hearts the legend over the music stand in the Colorado dive:  ‘Gentlemen 
will please not shoot the pianist.  She’s doing the best that  she knows how.

24 August 1888, Morning Oregonian (Portland,  Oregon), pg. 6, col. 2: 
Washington Special (Aug. 6) to Philadelphia Press.  
“Chairman Brice,” said a prominent democrat to-day, “ought to borrow the  
sign out West, ‘Please don’t shoot the pianist; he is doing the best he knows  

23 November 1889, New York Dramatic Mirror, pg. 6, col.  1: 
EDWIN ELROY, a comedian, tried to shoot a musician in Chicago on Thursday  
evening last, but the bullet (which is supposed to have struck the cheek of the  
musician) glanced off without doing any harm. Mr. Elroy expressed the 
sentiments  of numerous professionals by his nobel action. The motto which hangs over 
the  piano in every music-hall out West, “Don’t shoot, he’s doing the best 
he  can,” will now be in order in the Windy City. 

23 June 1891, San Antonio  Daily Light, pg. 3, col. 1: 
One of the saloons here (Blaine City,  TX—ed.) has the following request 
posted over the music stand: “Please do not  shoot the fiddler, he is doing the 
best he knows how.” 

25 November 1893,  San Antonio Daily Light, pg. 
The ancient story of the placard “Please  Don’t Shoot the Piano—He’s Doing 
the Best He Can,” is purely apocryphal.  

29 September 1906, Los Angeles Times, “Doing the Best He Can,”  pg. II4: 
In an Arizona dance hall of the earlier time this legend was  conspicuously 
displayed: “Don’t shoot the fiddler; he is doing the best he can.”  

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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