Born in Portobello near Edinburgh, Scotland, Harry was orphaned at the age of 12 and had to take up work, first in a local flax mill, and later in a coal mine, before winning a talent contest that gained him entry to the music hall circuit. He formed his own touring company with the violinist Mackenzie-Murdoch, and eventually became the highest paid entertainer of his time. He wore a trademark kilt on stage, and always carried a crooked stick. Lauder made his first visit to the USA in 1907, and was in Australia when World War I broke out. Whilst entertaining in London in 1917, he learned that his son had been killed in the fighting.
Lauder continued to entertain the troops and launched a charitable "Million Pound Fund" to aid the war wounded. it was for this work that he was knighted in 1919. He continued entertaining until his seventies.
Among his most famous songs were: