John Francis Mahoney, a.k.a. Jack, was born in Buffalo’s First Ward on October 10, 1882 to Daniel Mahoney and Elizabeth Donovan.* He was a first cousin to William J. Donovan, Buffalo native and the founder of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA.) His father was a ship captain, and his family lived on Buffalo’s Sea Wall Strip for a quarter of a century.
Mahoney moved to New York City in 1902 to become a songwriter, and by 1910 he had over two dozen songs to his credit. His work was published by prominent Tin Pan Alley publishers such as Theodore Morse, Jerome Remick, Leo Feist, and M. Witmark and Sons. Mahoney primarily worked as a lyricist, though he also composed music. His main focus was ballads, with comic songs a close second. His most well known song, which he wrote with Percy Wenrich, was “When You Wore a Tulip and I Wore a Big Red Rose.” It was featured in the 1942 film For Me and My Gal starring Judy Garland and Gene Kelly.
Mr. Mahoney died in New York City on December 26, 1945. Much of his songwriting legacy can be found at the Buffalo & Erie County Public Library. The Library carries almost 100 pieces of his sheet music. To view Mahoney’s sheet music, visit the Central Library’s Grosvenor Room. Information on visiting the Grosvenor Room can be found on the Grosvenor Room’s web page.
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*Some sources report that Mahoney’s real name is Ruben Kusnitt. The Library is unable to confirm or refute this information; however, he uses the name John or Jack Mahoney throughout his lifetime, and there was an infant named John Francis Mahoney born in Buffalo on Jack Mahoney’s birth date to Daniel Mahoney and Elizabeth Donovan. A child named John Mahoney also grew up in their household and is listed as their son in census records. A Buffalo Arts Journal article about Jack Mahoney names the couple as his parents.