Music Publishers of America President Steve Harris today revealed a treasure trove of new personal information on Louis Vitak and his family, due in large part to Rachel Tipton, a Vitak family member, and genealogist.
“For years, I’ve wanted to bring to life Louis Vitak and his family, developing a more personal connection to the man who started the music publishing dynasty that became the Vitak-Elsnic Company,” Harris said. “But official records were sparse. Thanks to Rachel’s dogged genealogical searching and willingness to share family records and oral histories, we now know more about Louis Vitak than ever before.”
Much of the new information relates to Vitak’s first twenty years of his life in America. Louis Vitak emigrated from Bohemia to the United States in 1881 and settled in Canton, Ohio. He gave instruction in wind and stringed instruments and had a wholesale musical instruments business. Vitak wrote and arranged his first known musical compositions there, marches for Canton’s Grand Army of the Republic Band. According to Tipton, that band was a favorite of William McKinley, a Canton native who went on to be elected President of the United States. In the late 1890s, Vitak also was a violin professor at Mt. Union College in Alliance, Ohio. His Ohio years were formative, and Vitak and his family moved from Canton to Chicago in 1902, where he built his publishing empire.
“And thanks to Rachel, for the first time we now have pictures of Vitak and his family,” Harris said. “Rachel has shared three family photos of Louis Vitak as a young man and then later in life. All three show a very determined man.”
Tipton’s research also provided new insights into Louis Vitak’s wife, Augusta, and of Albertina, one of his daughters who went to New York and joined the Ziegfeld Follies. The women in Louis Vitak’s life have amazing stories of their own to tell.
Harris and Tipton presented their findings at a March 31, 2020 virtual meeting of the University Libraries Leadership Council at Ohio’s Bowling Green State University. BGSU’s music library houses the Vitak-Elsnic Collection, the world’s largest collection of archival music published by the Vitak-Elsnic Company, as well as business records and artifacts, including musical instruments. The March 31 presentation can be viewed on the Vitak-Elsnic website as a slideshow.