“Please don’t shoot the piano player. He is doing his best” was a sign in western saloons and churches from the 1870s. The sign was cited in publications from February 1879 and December 1879,
Irish poet and playwright Oscar Wilde (1854-1900) made famous the sign that he saw in a saloon in Leadville, Colorado, in 1882. Sometimes the warning was not to shoot the organist or 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.”
20 December 1879, Harper’s Bazaar, pg. 815:
A recent traveller in California describes the social condition of that country as slightly anarchical. Not only does every one do what is right in his own eyes, but expresses himself very strongly (and generally in bullets) against whatever displeases him that is done by others. In a church—for there are churches—which our traveller chanced to visit he noticed this touching appeal, printed in large type, on the organ-loft: “It is requested that you will not shoot at the organist. He does his best.”
26 July 1882, Atlanta (GA) Constitution, pg. 4, col. 4:
We have read that on the frontier they post a notice in some of the churches to this effect, “Please do not shoot at the organist; he does his best.”
31 July 1882, Washington (DC) Post, pg. 2:
A Springfield Republican man has discovered a Leadville church, in which is conspicuously displayed the legend: “Please do not shoot at the organist; he does his best.”
23 August 1882, Chicago (IL) Tribune, pg. 6, col. 6:
In one of the Colorado variety theatres there is a notice reading as follows: “Please don’t shoot at the piano-player. He does the best he knows how.”
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 exactly.
29 January 1887, Marion (OH) 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, OR), 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 how.’...”
23 November 1889, New York (NY) 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 (TX) 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.”
The Story of the Files:
A Review of California Writers and Literature
By Ella Sterling Mighels
San Francisco, CA: Cooperative Printing Co.
In Sam Davis’ Story, “A Christmas Carol,” published in the Argonaut of February 25, 1879, may be found the anecdote concerning that celebrated placard in a frontier dive:
PLEASE DO NOT SHOOT THE PIANO-PLAYER.
HE IS DOING HIS LEVEL BEST.
25 November 1893, San Antonio (TX) 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 (CA) 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.”