The founder of the H.W. Gray Company, H. Willard Gray, was born in 1868 in Mortlake, England, a suburb in his day to the southwest of London but now a part of the Greater London city. He was one of 11 siblings, 8 boys and 3 girls. As a young man, he was an accountant for Novello, Ewer & Company, a long-time music publisher known well throughout Europe and the countries of the British Empire. The strength of its multi-faceted catalog was found in sacred music where it emphasized choral and organ works for England’s Anglican church.
In the mid-1890s, Novello & Company was troubled by the lack of the required reports from its American branch in New York City which was located at 21 East 17th Street. When many letters, followed by cables, went unanswered, it became clear that they needed to send someone across the Atlantic to investigate the problem and assess the status of the agency’s business. H.W. Gray was selected to do the job and traveled to the United States to do so. He immediately discovered that the problem lay in the serious illness of the Englishman who was the Branch Manager. The report explaining this which was cabled by H.W. Gray back to the home office in England was answered with a return cable that told Gray to “Do your best (to run the agency). Help is on the way.”
Many months and then years later, the promised help was still “on the way.” Meanwhile, the young accountant H.W. Gray continued to “do his best” and in time demonstrated to the home office an ability to run the branch properly. So instead of sending help, the home office made him the new Branch Manager of Novello in New York City.
Initially, Novello’s “Sole Agent for the USA” in New York City was merely a store devoted to the promotion and sale of church music coming from England. Music directors at large churches in NYC and other major cities in the United States were largely transplanted Englishmen, Welshmen, and Scotsmen and they were also the heart of the agency’s customers. Because of their Anglican background, they gravitated towards positions in liturgical and mainline churches. Those who were composers as well as choirmaster/organists began to write music specifically for the American market. Willard Gray saw the need to be a publisher of church music, not just the representative of Novello. So with Novello’s blessing he established the H.W. Gray Company in 1906 while continuing his ties with Novello & Company by being their “sole agent” in the USA for many years. H.W. Gray eventually parted with Novello in order to focus all his efforts on his burgeoning publishing company. Decades of growth and success followed, along with the usual challenges of managing a publishing enterprise.
Willard Gray’s son Donald H. Gray eventually stepped in to take over the business (in 1948 upon the Willard’s death). Donald was assisted for years by his brother Geoffrey, and later by his son, H. W. Gray II. Click here to read an interview with H.W. Gray II.
Donald H. Gray H.W. Gray II
Eventually, the H.W. Gray Company was sold to Belwin-Mills Publishing Corporation. As publishing acquisitions continued throughout the 90s and 2000s, the H.W. Gray catalog found its home with Jubilate Music Group in 2016.