Born Thomas Zachariah Glazier on September 3, 1914, in Philadelphia, PA; died on February 21, 2003, at St. John's Home, Rochester, NY; son of Jacob (a shipyard carpenter) and Sophie Glazier; married Miriam Reed Eisenberg (a remedial reading teacher and social activist), 1944 (divorced, 1974); children: John Prescott, Peter Reed. Education: Attended City College (now City College of City University of New York) for three years, left 1941. Addresses: Record company--CMS Records, 13 Warren St., New York, NY 10007. Publisher--Hal Leonard Corporation, P.O. Box 138, Milwaukee, WI 53213.

A singer, songwriter, guitarist, and recording artist who is best known as the creator of "On Top of Spaghetti"--a children's song about a rolling meatball sung to the tune of "On Top of Old Smokey,"--Tom Glazer is recognized as a pioneering entertainer for young people. Specializing in ballads, he is also credited with helping to popularize folk music during the 1940s, along with such performers as Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger, Huddie Ledbetter (nicknamed Leadbelly), Burl Ives, and Josh White, which paved the way for the folk revival of the early 1960s. Glazer introduced Americans to the traditional songs "Greensleeves" and "The Twelve Days of Christmas," among others. An author, editor, adapter, and educator, Glazer produced two well-received collections of fingerplays for children, several popular collections of traditional songs for children and adults, and a book of original poetry.

As a songwriter, Glazer composed music for radio, television, and film as well as for recording artists. He wrote lyrics for several pop hits, recorded by such singers as Frank Sinatra, Rosemary Clooney, Perry Como, and the Ink Spots, and for folk recordings by artists like Bob Dylan, the Weavers, and Peter, Paul, and Mary. He wrote the lyrics for two standards, "More" and "Melody of Love," and collaborated with guitarist Dave Guard of the folk group the Kingston Trio on their hit "A Worried Man." As a composer, Glazer created the musical score for A Face in the Crowd (1957), a film directed by Elia Kazan that starred Andy Griffith, later a popular television actor, as a country bumpkin who becomes an overly ambitious media star. Glazer also was a social activist who fought for civil rights; his original songs reflect his belief in equality and his collected songs include several ballads with social justice as their theme.

A Budding Folk Musician

Born in Philadelphia, Glazer was the son of a carpenter, Jacob Glazier (his son later would change the spelling of his surname), who was from the Russian city of Minsk. Jacob left Russia for the United States to avoid the draft but returned to marry his wife, Sophie. The couple came to America in 1912 and had three children, of which Tom was the youngest; his older brother, Sidney Glazier, became an Academy Award-winning movie producer. Glazer's first introduction to the music that he later would popularize came through his mother, who often sang folk songs to her children. When Glazer was four, his father died in the influenza epidemic of 1918. After her husband's death, Sophie Glazier married a man who did not want her children in his home. Consequently, the siblings were sent to live with various relatives before ending up at an Orthodox Jewish orphanage.

Glazer attended public school in Philadelphia where he studied music, sang in choirs, and learned the guitar, tuba, and string bass. He also discovered his father's extensive collection of classical records, which influenced him greatly. At 15, Glazer made his first public appearance as a musician; shortly thereafter, he quit high school to help support his family during the Depression. At 17, Glazer hitchhiked to New York City with just 50 cents in his pocket. He worked part time at Macy's department store while finishing high school at night; he also supported himself by playing bass and tuba in jazz and military bands.

After graduating first in his high school class, Glazer enrolled at City College of New York to study English literature. To pay for school, he got a job singing in the choir of a Catholic church. In his senior year, Glazer left college to move to Washington, D.C. to take a job at the Library of Congress. While working there, he became friends with the noted musicologist Alan Lomax, who introduced him to a variety of folk songs. Glazer bought an acoustic guitar--he was noted for using more complex guitar chords than most other folk artists--and started to work as a folk singer. One of his most memorable engagements was at a performance at the White House, where Eleanor Roosevelt, the wife of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, hosted two tea parties for the soldiers who guarded her and her husband. While in Washington, Glazer met his wife Miriam Reed Eisenberg, a remedial reading teacher and social activist; the couple had two sons, John and Peter, before divorcing in 1974. Glazer left Washington to return to New York City so that he could study music at Juilliard. However, his career as a folk singer started to blossom, and he never got the chance to enroll.

Glazer on Top

On January 8, 1943, Glazer made his formal public debut at New York City Town Hall. Just prior to his concert, the city had the worst blizzard in its history. A critic for the New York Times was among the audience members who braved the weather, and his glowing review helped to foster Glazer's career. As a folk musician, Glazer worked with Guthrie, Leadbelly, and White as well as with the Union Boys, a group that included Seeger, Ives, Lomax, and blues singers Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee.

From 1945 to 1947, Glazer hosted Tom Glazer's Ballad Box, a folk music program on ABC radio; he also appeared as a singer and actor on the radio shows We the People, Listening Post, True Story, CBS Radio Theatre, and Theatre Guild on the Air, among others. Glazer used his broadcasts to introduce his audience to folk music as well as to offer his political beliefs; songs like "Because All Men Are Brothers," a composition based on a melody by Hans Leo Hassler most famously set by J.S. Bach, and "Talking Inflation Blues," a tune covered by Bob Dylan on his Minnesota Party Tape in 1960. He also had a hit with "Old Soldiers Never Die" when he put a tune to General Douglas MacArthur's farewell address to the Senate.

As a solo artist, Glazer gave many live performances in concert halls, schools, and libraries; in the first 20 years of his career, he gave over 600 concerts. He wrote and adapted a variety of material for children, and developed a reputation as a gifted performer for this audience. Glazer hosted two radio shows for the young, Tom, Timmie, and Mae, which featured actress Mae Questrel, the voice of cartoon character Betty Boop, as well as the imaginary character Timmie, and a weekly concert show on WQXR in New York City, a classical music station. As a soloist with the Philadelphia Orchestra Children's Concerts, Glazer made his second appearance at the White House.

Glazer was the storyteller/writer/balladeer for Young People's Records, Inc., a label that sold nearly a million of his LPs for children during the 1950s and 1960s. In 1963 Glazer had his greatest commercial success with his parody "On Top of Spaghetti." Sung by Glazer and the Do-Re-Mi Children's Chorus, this novelty song relates the tale of a meatball that is sneezed off of the top of a plate of spaghetti. The meatball rolls out of the door and into the garden, where it grows into a tree that sprouts meatballs and tomato sauce. "On Top of Spaghetti" reached number 14 on the Billboard charts in 1963; the accompanying album, which includes additional humorous remakes of children's songs, reached number 114 in the same year. Known internationally, "On Top of Spaghetti" now is considered a children's classic that has become part of the oral tradition.

Words and Music

As a recording artist, Glazer produced albums of ballads, union songs, protest songs, nursery rhymes, activity and game songs, holiday songs, songs about space, nature, and the weather, and songs reflecting the musical heritage of several countries, among many other works. His compilation album Treasury of Civil War Songs is a best-seller that is still available at many Civil War National Park battlefield sites. Do Not Go Gentle, an album released in 1972, combines Glazer's musical and literary interests: in this work, he provides musical settings for poems by writers such as William Shakespeare, Dylan Thomas, William Blake, A. E. Houseman, and William Butler Yeats.

As a writer and compiler, Glazer generally produced books that paralleled his records. He is perhaps best known in this area as the compiler of two collections, Tom Glazer's Treasury of Songs for Children, a volume that never has been out of print, and Tom Glazer's Treasury of Folk Songs. He also is respected as the creator of Eye Winker, Tom Tinker, Chin Chopper: Fifty Musical Fingerplays and Do Your Ears Hang Low? Fifty More Musical Fingerplays. Inspired by Glazer's observation that having children act out songs as well as sing them increased their enjoyment of his concerts, the books include new and traditional activity songs such as "The Ants Go Marching," "Pat-a-Cake," and "Eensy-Weensy-Spider" with accompanying fingerplays. Writing in the Horn Book Magazine, Ethel L. Heins called Eye Winker a "fresh and valuable contribution to early childhood material," while Alice Ehlert of Library Journal dubbed it a "splendid collection."

Glazer also is the creator of a series of informational books for children that take popular first names, such as John, Mary, David, and Susan, and outline their historical and cultural contexts. Among his other accomplishments, Glazer composed the musical score for an episode of the Barney television series, wrote the title songs for the films Kid Rodelo and Namu the Killer Whale, appeared as narrator and balladeer in the RKO film Sweet Land of Liberty, and acted as producer for Woody Guthrie's American Song, a musical featuring Guthrie's music that was conceived and directed by his son, Peter Glazer.

Glazer Remembered

Reviewers praised Glazer as an influential artist who enriched the knowledge of and appreciation for music among both children and adults. He also is considered a seminal children's entertainer. Writing in Folksingers and Folksongs in America, Ray M. Lawless said, "Among well-established professional ballad singers, few are more widely popular than Tom Glazer... Perhaps no ballad singer has been more popular with children... His singing career has indeed been one of continued success." Writing in Time, Richard Corliss called Glazer "the master of the `found' song," while Greg Adams of All Music Guide noted, "Before the tradition of great subversive children's entertainers like Soupy Sales and Shel Silverstein, Glazer was already making children's music that adults could enjoy as well." Writing in MusicStaff Teacher's Lounge, Deborah Jeter thanked Glazer "for the richness that you have given us through your music.... We are deeply grateful for your life."

Glazer told Something About the Author, "My motivation among many is to provide instruction and/or entertainment to as many people as can find my efforts useful. The most vital thing I know of today is to prevent violence while changing the world for the better if possible. All else is secondary ..." When asked by Jeter to name his greatest legacy in the history of American music, Glazer responded, "I am always grateful if people like what I have done... The important thing for me was to do some work that I liked and hopefully that some other might also like ..." He confided, "I have a fantasy that I'm standing in line before the Pearly Gates in the musicians' line, in which I stand last. When I'm asked what have I done in music and I say I wrote `On Top of Spaghetti,' I'm told, 'Sorry, buster, you can't enter.'" Glazer concluded, "I hope that the child in me never dies."

by Gerard J. Senick

Tom Glazer's Career

Made first public appearance as a musician at 15 in Philadelphia; left City College (New York City) in his senior year to take a job at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C.; there he met musicologist Alan Lomax, who fostered his interest in folk music and introduced him to a wide range of material; performed for Eleanor Roosevelt at the White House as a member of a folk-singing group comprised of government employees; made formal public debut at New York City Town Hall, 1943; hosted radio program Tom Glazer's Ballad Box, 1945-47; appeared on many radio and television programs throughout career; composed music for film A Face in the Crowd, 1957; as songwriter, had hits with "More," "Melody of Love," and "A Worried Man," by other artists before charting in 1963 with children's song "On Top of Spaghetti," that reached number 14 on the Billboard charts; compiled Tom Glazer's Treasury of Songs for Children, 1964; produced first activity book, Eye Winker, Tom Tinker, Chin Chopper: Fifty Musical Fingerplays, 1973; produced musical Woody Guthrie's American Song, conceived and directed by son Peter Glazer, 1995.

Tom Glazer's Awards

Silver Medal, U.S. Treasury Department, for war bond work during World War II; Annual Record Music Award for children's recordings, 1947; Parents' Institute Certificate, Parent's Magazine Seal of Approval, 1950; also received National Critics Award and other awards and prizes for his work in radio, television, and film as well as from the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers (ASCAP).

Famous Works

Further Reading



Visitor Comments Add a comment…

over 15 years ago

I think you've found me, Ivan. He wasn't a beatnik exactly (too old) but then he might have disagreed. He certainly sang with people on this record with whom beatniks would have identified, one the now quite remarkable Sandy Bull. PG

over 15 years ago

Just found Glazer's The Samplers in Person album in the thrift store. I loved the song called Beatnik Talking Blues. What if any association did he have wiht this movement? Were he and Dylan friends? Thanks for the info.

over 15 years ago

I met and had a very long conversation with Tom Glazer at Corlears School, New York Cit in November,1986. It was the day before I embarked on a career as a music specialist with preschool children. I was nervous about my upcoming job but Tom soothed me by saying,"They are with women all day long. It will be a treat to hear the sound of a male voice." Several years later, when I was recording my first CD, I spoke with him the phone. I told him I planned to record "A Robin Sat On a Cherry Tree" and he imeediately stated singing it to me." The only email address I have for Peter seems to have been disconnected. I woould very much like to send him my CD, "Songs From the Old School" and exchange more information about Tom's work,which for me goes back to the nursery school my parents owned and operated in Los Angeles in the 1950's and 1960's. Here's hoping. Ivan Ulz