Born in New Orleans, Louisiana, he became a blackface singer in minstrel shows before starting his recording career around 1916. He was one of the first white singers to record blues songs. His July 1918 version of "Saint Louis Blues" was the first vocal audio recording of the W. C. Handy standard recorded in America. Sometimes billed as "The Singing Comedian", other songs of note Bernard recorded include "Shake, Rattle and Roll", about a dice game, entirely unaffiliated with the later Rock & Roll hit; and he was also the first American singer to record the song "Frankie and Johnny" in America. Recording into the 1940s, Bernard died in 1949 in New York City.