Born in Ohio, Speaks grew up in the Columbus area. He began his musical career as a pianist and singer and held positions at several churches at the beginning of his career. He began composing songs in the 1890s, and their success eventually spawned his move to New York City in 1898.
In New York City, Speaks met with success as a church musician and also as a composer. More than 100 of his songs were published by G. Schirmer, and though he returned to Columbus in 1906, he remained successful. His songs are of the 19th-century parlor ballad tradition, with simple piano parts and sentimental melodies that fit the needs of both amateur and professional musicians.
--Christie Finn Source: Paul C. Echols' essay in the New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians