The RCA Victor Program Transcriptions • A Free Downloadable Discography

Complete Discography
By John R. Bolig


The latest addition to the Mainspring Press Online Reference

Library is a landmark in discographical research. Compiled by John Bolig from the RCA Victor files, it documents the original long-playing masters that were made especially for release as Program Transcriptions, as well listing full details of the 78-rpm source recordings that were used in assembling the more numerous dubbed masters.


Free Download for Personal Use (pdf) (~1mb)


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Winner of the 2019 ARSC Award for Excellence in Historical Recorded-Sound Research, this unique volume contains more than 1,100 entries covering the record companies, independent studios, and individual producers — and the thousands of disc and cylinder brands they produced for the commercial market (including consumer, jukebox, and subscription labels) — from the birth of commercial recording to the start of the LP era.

“A mighty fortress is this book – and it guards an accumulation of knowledge of unparalleled proportions.”
– Tim Fabrizio, ARSC Journal

American Record Companies and Producers will forever be the ultimate resource.”
– John R. Bolig, author of The Victor Discographies

“I am in awe of the scope, breadth, detail
and documentation.”

– James A. Drake, author of Ponselle: A Singer’s Life and Richard Tucker: A Biography




Walter Gustave (Gus) Haenschen: The St. Louis Years — Part 2 • The James A. Drake Interviews

The James A. Drake Interviews
Walter Gustave (Gus) Haenschen:
The St. Louis Years — Part 2

> Read  The St. Louis Years — Part 1



Scott Joplin


There’s so much to ask you about Scott Joplin, so may I begin by noting that you are one of the few major figures in the music industry who can speak authoritatively about Scott Joplin because you worked with him.

I think your word choice, “worked with him,” makes my association with him sound more important than it was. I went several times to the Maple Leaf Club to pay him to help me learn to play ragtime the way he wrote and played it, and when he moved from Sedalia to St. Louis, which was around 1900, [1] I did a lot more work with him. But I was just one of several pianists who were studying with him in St. Louis, so I don’t want to give the impression that we became colleagues or friends or anything that would suggest a close relationship.


This St. Louis Dispatch article from February 28, 1901, pre-dates Joplin’s move to St. Louis, still referring to him as a “Sedalian.” The European trip never materialized.


Even if you had wanted to do that, would it have been possible with segregation? Wasn’t St. Louis as segregated as the rest of the South and much of the Midwest?

There were what you might call “black areas” and “white areas” of St. Louis, but I have to say that being a river town there was more interaction between blacks and whites in St. Louis than in many other cities. [2]  I’ll give you what I think it was one of the reasons why the races got along better in and around St. Louis: Mark Twain’s novels. I can still remember so many passages from Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn.


About Scott Joplin, there are at least two photos of him—one as a young man about the time that his first ragtime pieces were published, and another when he was probably middle-aged. How would you describe his appearance when you were working with him?

 We were about the same height—I was six feet tall, and he may have been an inch shorter than I, if that much. He was stocky—he had put on a few pounds over the years, and his hair was rather thin. His speaking voice was in the baritone range, but it’s hard to describe how he spoke. The way I would put it is that he spoke with authority. He knew who he was, and how important he and his music were. [3]


Joplin’s first St. Louis residence was an apartment at 2658A Morgan (since renamed Delmar Boulevard), which is now maintained as a Missouri state historic site. He and Belle later moved to a large house at 2117 Lucas, which has since been demolished.


Did he live well? By that I mean, did he seem to enjoy his success?

Oh, yes—definitely. As I said, he moved from Sedalia to St. Louis, and he and his wife, whose name was Belle, had a sizable home with well-kept grounds. [4]  You have to remember that at that time, he was one of the most famous men in popular music in this country. He had written several of those great ragtime pieces by then and had also written one opera [A Guest of Honor] and was writing another one [Treemonisha]. So he was well-known, not just in Missouri but everywhere that ragtime, which he essentially “invented,” was being played.


Joplin and company rehearse “A Guest of Honor.”
(The Sedalia Weekly Conservator, August 22, 1903).


What was a typical session with him like? How much time did he allot for each of your “lessons” with him?

Usually each session was about an hour, sometimes more, but I’d say an hour on average. He would have me sit at the keyboard, and he would sit to my left on a piano stool.


Am I correct in assuming that you only played his music?

Sure, of course. That’s why I did everything to persuade to let me pay him to teach me how to refine my playing of his rags. I spent practically a whole year with him, usually once a week.


Was he a stickler about tempo?

Most definitely! He hated hearing his music played too fast. He told me, and I think everyone else he talked to about tempo, that ragtime must never be played fast. I think he may have even had that printed on the sheet music of his songs.


I don’t believe that Scott Joplin ever made a phonograph recording, but I’m told that he did make piano rolls, so at least we have some idea how he sounded.

No, you can’t say that because those piano rolls are not reliable. I know because I’ve heard a piano roll of him playing “Maple Leaf Rag,” and it’s definitely not the way he played it. Many piano rolls were embellished—notes and chords were added to them—and the Joplin roll of “Maple Leaf Rag” has a bunch of bass notes that he never played.

Those bass notes were added to the roll—maybe with his permission, and maybe not, I don’t know. But what I do know is that there are far more bass notes in that roll than he ever played. Now, the style I had developed as a pianist had a lot of bass, and Joplin noticed that right away when I started [studying] with him. He said to me, “You’re pretty heavy with that left hand, and I’m going to need you to cut out a lot of that when you’re playing my music.”


Joplin’s “Maple Leaf Rag” as originally published by John Stark in Sedalia (top), and a later, far more common printing made after Stark moved to St. Louis (center). A long-forgotten song version was published in 1903, with the addition of trite lyrics by Stark office-boy Sydney Brown (bottom). Joplin biographer Edward Berlin notes that the arrangement, which uses only the rag’s opening strain, “is uncharacteristic of Joplin and was probably made by someone else.”


You made piano rolls too, am I correct?

Yes, I made about a half-dozen of them when I brought my band to New York City to make recordings that I could sell in St. Louis. I went over to Newark, which was then the capital of the piano-roll industry. There were several labels that each company had. The biggest company was QRS, which is still in business. I made my rolls for a smaller label called “Artempo.”


Was there a special piano you had to play to make piano rolls?

Well, there were two methods—maybe more, I don’t know—but there were two methods that I learned about in Newark and each one had a specially made keyboard. [5] One method required the pianist to play at about half the tempo he’d use if he were playing it for an audience, for patrons of a club or some other public place. That particular method had the piano keyboard rigged up to a series of individual “blocks”—small rectangular blocks that were made of oak and were slightly rounded on each end.

The actual “roll” was two layers of brown paper that were separated by carbon paper. When the pianist struck a key, one of those “blocks” would strike the top layer of paper, which simultaneously made an imprint on the bottom layer. The carbon paper that was sandwiched between the two rolls is what made the imprint [on the bottom roll]. After the pianist had finished playing whatever tune it was, a technician would use a razor tool that looked like a scalpel to cut out those impressions that the blocks had made on the bottom layer of paper. That would become the “master roll,” the template for making identical rolls to sell to the public.

The other method was much better because the piano keyboard was rigged to a series of hole-punches that were air-powered. These small, round, sharp-pointed punches would keep poking holes in the roll of paper until the pianist lifted his finger and the tone stopped. Afterward, that vertical string of tiny holes would have a border drawn around them, and a worker would use a scalpel to cut a rectangular strip exactly the length of that string of tiny holes. When that missing strip passed over the pneumatic bar in the player piano, it would cause the appropriate piano key to be depressed. The advantage of that method was that the pianist could play at the tempo he was accustomed to using—not half-speed like that other method required.



An excerpt from Scott Joplin’s School of Ragtime advising  pianists to “catch the swing, and never play ragtime fast at any time.” The advertisement is from February 1908.


What sort of “tips” would Scott Joplin give you when you were playing his music and he was sitting there near you?

He would tap out the correct tempo, and would get me to augment chords and say slightly ahead of the beat in some measures, or slightly behind it in others. He like to use the metaphor of a swing—like a swing on a playground or a swing suspended by ropes from a tree limb. He’d say, for instance, that to get a swing moving you have to push it. So in a passage, or on a particular note, he’d say to me, “Now push it here,” which meant to play it more forte or to play it a little faster. If I was playing a passage a little too fast, he’d say to me, “Lay back now.” He would tell me to picture the swing when it reaches the peak of its arc—that moment where it’s just suspended in the air, right before gravity takes over and the swing begins a downward arc. He’d say, “Swing it now”—meaning to hold the chord, to pause before playing the next notes.


When Joplin died in 1917, it was reported that he had contracted syphilis when he was young. Medical journals of that period listed three stages of the disease—primary, secondary, and tertiary—and in the secondary stage, the gradual loss of muscle control in the hands and legs would be evident. Did you see any hint of that when you were with him?

None at all. Not only his playing, but everything about him—his concentration, his hearing, his walking, everything—was normal.


From The New York Age: March 29 (top) and April 5, 1917


I’m interested to know what you think of the ragtime revival today, and how accurate the playing of those who are making LPs of the Joplin repertoire is compared to his own playing.

This young man [Joshua] Rifkin plays “The Entertainer” the way Joplin played it, and he does a good job with “Maple Leaf Rag” too. He is careful not to play ragtime fast, which is the mistake most of these “revivers” make.


In the 1950s, there was also a “ragtime revival” on recordings by Crazy Otto, and on television by Big Tiny Little, Jr., and Joanne Castle on Lawrence Welk’s weekly program. What was your opinion of their “ragtime”?

Some of that got started by the popularity of Hoagy Carmichael’s “The Old Piano Roll Blues,” but then it turned into a pop-music trend with Crazy Otto’s records. Tiny Little was just one of several Crazy Otto imitators, but of course he had the advantage of being seen and heard on television ever week thanks to Welk. Tiny Little was [Little] Jack Little’s son, and although he was probably as good or better a pianist than Jack was, his so-called “ragtime” playing on the Welk show was just “showy.”

Neither he nor Crazy Otto or any of those other imitators of the Crazy Otto style had anything to do with real ragtime. They were playing on uprights that were deliberately out of tune, and their fingering amounted to nothing more than playing the same note an octave apart by playing the higher note with the “pinky” and the lower one with the thumb. Most of them used rolling chords in the bass, which was all wrong. That’s the kind of playing that belongs in a saloon, and it has nothing at all to do with the ragtime of Scott Joplin.

— J.A.D.


Editor’s Notes

[1]  Joplin biographer Edward Berlin has Joplin moving to St. Louis in the spring of 1901 (Berlin, Edward A. King of Ragtime: Scott Joplin and his Era, pp. 97–98. New York: Oxford University Press, 1994), which is consistent with the February 1901 St. Louis Dispatch article showing Joplin still in Sedalia.

[2]  Berlin identifies the area in which Joplin resided as St. Louis’ “red-light” district, bounded roughly by 12th Street on the east, Beaumont on the west, Clark on the south, and Morgan on the north (Berlin, op. cit., p. 90).

[3]  Haenschen’s recollections are in agreement with those of other Joplin acquaintances and associates, who described him as “not much socially,” “quiet, serious,” “unassuming,” and “always studying.” (Berlin, op. cit., p. 97).

[4]  In the previous installment, Haenschen recalled having first seen Joplin at the 1904 St. Louis Exposition; but based upon his recollection of Belle Joplin and the large house, the lessons probably took place during 1902–1903. Those were the only years in which Joplin is known to have occupied a house in St. Louis (a thirteen-room structure at 2117 Lucas, a portion of which the Joplins rented to boarders). The Joplins separated in 1903, and Scott Joplin’s only other confirmed St. Louis addresses were apartments.

[5]  Haenschen is referring here to methods used to produce “hand-played” piano rolls, an innovation that first appeared c. 1912–1913, as distinct from the more common practice of having technicians mechanically perforate the rolls.


For More:

Gus Haenschen: The Brunswick Years

Gus Haenschen: The Radio Years


© 2020 by James A. Drake. All rights are reserved.

Latest Updates and Revisions to Our Online Publications (Aug 19, 2020)

Latest Updates and Revisions to
Our Online Publications
(Aug 19, 2020)


The publications referenced below can be downloaded free of charge, for personal use only, on the Mainspring Press Online Reference Library page.



Pages 6–7 (June and July 1904) and 4–5 (September and October 1904) were shown incorrectly in the original posting. These have now been corrected, and the files are available for download. Our thanks to Joseph Barganski for reporting the problem.


Download Corrected Pages Only (pdf, ~5 mb)

Download Complete Corrected File (pdf, ~41 mb)






Steve Smolian has submitted the following revisions from first-hand inspection of the discs, both of which he believes to be by tenor Anton Moser.

Star 2201
Change entry: The Parvis recording currently listed (sung in Italian) was reported anecdotally and is unconfirmed. Steve’s confirmed copy of Star 2201 is the same selection but is sung in German, possibly by Moser (source issue not yet determined).

Star 3318
Add entry: “Trompeter von Sackingsen: Ihr heisset mich Willkommen” (possibly Moser, sung in German; source issue not yet determined). We have also located a confirming listing in a recently acquired Star catalog that was not accessible at the time the discography was originally compiled.

These will be added to the present file the next time it is fully updated.





J. E. Knox has corrected the following entry and supplied supporting photo and sound files. This will be revised in the present file the next time it is fully updated:


New Phonic 1222
“Rose of the West” is a fox trot, not a waltz as stated in the current listing, and the uncredited vocalist is Leroy Montesanto.

Mr. Knox notes that this recording was also released on the reverse side of a special Romeo advertising record: “The Romeo sample record’s A side is an advertisement for Kress Stores. At its end, the announcer states, in distinct Brooklyn-ese, “On the re-voice side of this rekkid you will find one of the latest hits…” It’s hard to think of ‘Rose of the West’ in that regard!”



We welcome additions and corrections to our online publications, from your first-hand inspection of the original records or ancillary materials, preferably with supporting photos or scans (but please — no anecdotal, speculative, or second-hand information). You can e-mail us at:



Beniamino Gigli Discography — Updates (Free Download)

Beniamino Gigli Discography — Updates
(Free Download)



The latest revision of John Bolig’s Gigli discography is now available to download free for personal use. The most notable feature is a thorough revision of data for the 1946 Aida recordings, thanks to expert input from David Cutler (who first alerted John to the fact that Gigli was not in Italy on one of the recording dates cited by another source) and John Banks.


Download Version 2.0 – Free for Personal Use (pdf) (~1.5mb)


This copyrighted publication is intended for personal, non-commercial use only. Unauthorized reproduction or distribution in any form and by any means (including but not limited to e-book or digital database conversion) is prohibited. Please read, and be sure to observe, our terms of use as outlined in the file, so that we can continue to offer these free publications.


August 10, 1920 • Mamie Smith’s “Crazy Blues” Turns 100 • Mamie Smith and the Birth of the “Blues Craze”

August 10, 1920 • Mamie Smith’s “Crazy Blues”
Turns 100




New York: c. August 10, 1920 (released October 1920)
Okeh 4169 (mx. S 7529 – B)

Transferred at 80 rpm, the correct playing speed for Okeh records of this period




Mamie Smith and the Birth of the “Blues Craze”
By Allan Sutton

Excerpted from
Race Records and the American Recording Industry
(Mainspring Press, 2016)


While George Broome was busy launching the first Black-owned record company in 1919, another relative newcomer, the General Phonograph Corporation, was struggling to carve out a niche in a glutted market.  Founded in mid-1918, and backed in part by the Berlin-based Carl Lindstrom conglomerate, the company was an outgrowth of the Otto Heineman Phonograph Supply Company, a manufacturer of phonograph motors and parts. Its Okeh label, like other start-ups of the period, relied heavily on the usual studio free-lance performers. The early artist roster was so lackluster that for the for the first eighteen months of its existence Okeh often listed only song titles in its trade-press advertising, without bothering to mention the performers.[1]

Okeh’s unlikely saviors would be Perry Bradford and Mamie Smith — the former a struggling Harlem songwriter and music publisher, the latter a recent arrival in Harlem who was slowly gaining a following as a cabaret singer. Setting up shop in New York in 1918, Bradford quickly earned the nickname “Mule” for his tenacious promotion of blues-inflected pop tunes. [2] Bradford recalled meeting resistance from members of the local Black musical establishment, who found his material to be “low-class,” unpleasant reminders of life in the South.[3] Bradford claimed that he “walked out several pairs of shoes trying to show…the value of the blues,” and he was not alone. W. C. Handy recalled,

I caught another glimpse of the same prejudice when I tried to introduce colored girls for recording our blues. In every case the managers quickly turned thumbs down. “Their voices were not suitable.” “Their diction was different from white girls. “They couldn’t possibly fill the bill”… Viola McCoy, who was under contract with me, made test records for seven companies, all of whom turned her down. [4]

Bradford was particularly impressed by Mamie Smith, a singer he first heard performing with comedian Tutt Whitney’s Smart Set company. She soon left to pursue solo work in the local cabarets, at which point Bradford hired her to appear in his Made in Harlem, a quickly cobbled-together production that opened at Harlem’s Lincoln Theater in 1918. There, she scored a hit singing his “Harlem Blues.” Determined to capitalize on Smith’s popularity, Bradford shopped her around to the local record companies, with no success.

In early 1920, Bradford finally got a foot in the door. Edward King, Victor’s New York studio manager, agreed to schedule a test session for Mamie Smith. [5] On January 10, 1920, Smith made an unnumbered trial recording of Bradford’s “That Thing Called Love” with Bradford at the piano. [6] When Victor showed no interest, Bradford renewed his search and found an unlikely champion in Okeh’s Fred Hager, a veteran white recording artist and studio director whose career had begun in the 1890s. For the last decade, Hager had moved from one failed label to the next while relying on his music publishing business to keep him afloat financially. Now well into his forties, and with Okeh so far showing only faint promise, he must have been open to new opportunities.

Hager agreed to schedule an Okeh recording session for Mamie Smith. Short of cash, Bradford tapped band leader George Morrison (freshly arrived with his orchestra from Denver, at the behest of Columbia records) for a loan to buy Smith some suitable attire. As Morrison recalled,

[Bradford] came up to my hotel, at the time I was recording. He says, “Morrison, you wanna make some money? I’ve got a sure bet — sure thing…  And he took me up there to this house, and there she was in this old house, and the old lamp light burning — in the daytime, now, mind you. It was simply awful in there — whooo! simply awful. And who was it? Mamie Smith… She was up there ironing. Perry said, “Kid, we’ve got it made! Mr. Morrison here’s gonna finance this thing, and we’ve got it made….

And so I went and got a hundred and fifty dollars and I bought Mamie a hat — great big old hat, and then I bought her some lingerie, and shoes. I dressed her from the inside out. Everything. I had never heard of that woman — never seen her before. Mamie said she was gonna pay me back. She was going to record for Okeh records.[7]

On or about February 14, 1920,[8] Mamie Smith reported for her first Okeh session in the company’s studio on West 45th Street, where she recorded Bradford’s “That Thing Called Love” and “You Can’t Keep a Good Man Down” accompanied by the so-called Rega Orchestra, a cover name for Okeh’s white studio band. [9]  Hager directed the session in the company of Ralph Peer, a newly arrived Okeh employee who within a few years would play a major role in the development of race records.[10]

“That Thing Called Love” / “You Can’t Keep a Good Man Down” (Okeh 4113) was listed in the June 1920 Talking Machine World advance bulletin as a July release. Cataloged in Okeh’s Tenth Supplement alongside the latest offerings by Billy Murray, the Waldorf-Astoria Dance Orchestra, and other mainstream white artists, it was the first pop release by a Black female soloist. Okeh avoided any mention of Smith’s race, describing the record merely as “Contralto with orchestra,” [11]  but the African-American press was quick to spread the news. On March 13, two months before Okeh formally announced the record, The Chicago Defender broke the news:

Well, you’ve all heard the famous stars of the white race chirping their stuff on the different makes of phonograph records. Caruso has warbled his Jones to the delight of millions; Tetrazzini has made ’em like it heavy, and Nora Bayes has tickled their ears with a world of delight; but we have never — up to now — been able to hear one of our own ladies deliver the canned goods. Now we have the pleasure of being able to say that at last they have recognized the fact that we are here for their service; the Okeh Phonograph Company [sic] has initiated the idea by engaging the handsome, popular and capable vocalist, Mamie Gardener Smith of 40 W. 135th Street, New York City, and she has made her first record… [12]

Many questionable or false claims have been made over the years regarding Mamie Smith and her first record. Smith was by no means the first Black woman to make commercial recordings.[13] Nor does her first record appear to have been the sensational hit sometimes portrayed by modern writers, based on its relative scarcity today and its failure to make Okeh’s own list of top sellers for the summer of 1920.[14] However, the mechanical royalties were good enough that Bradford was able to repay George Morrison’s loan,[15] and Okeh decided to gamble on another Mamie Smith release.

Mamie Smith returned to the Okeh studio on or around August 10.[16]  Her first release had featured two Pace & Handy publications, but for Smith’s second session, Bradford chose to promote two titles from his own catalog — “Crazy Blues” and “It’s Right Here for You (If You Don’t Get It, ’T’ain’t No Fault of Mine).” The former was a retitling and slight reworking of two earlier Bradford pieces (“The Broken-Hearted Blues” and “The Harlem Blues) that he had already sold to other publishers, a move that would soon land him in serious legal trouble.

In a marked departure from the first Smith session, the stiff Rega Orchestra was replaced on Bradford’s recommendation by a hastily assembled band he dubbed the Jazz Hounds. Their raucous, uninhibited style, unlike anything heard so far on records, took Okeh’s studio staff by surprise. As Bradford recalled, the session became a battle of wills between himself and recording engineer Charles Hibbard, whose insistence that the band soften its approach was roundly ignored. [17] Rising above the cacophony, Smith shouted her way through Bradford’s lyrics, which in the case of “Crazy Blues” included a threat to “get myself a gun and shoot myself a cop” — a line that most companies of that period  almost certainly would have censored.


Okeh announces the release of “Crazy Blues” (October 1920)

“Crazy Blues” was released with considerable fanfare in October 1920, and this time there was no dodging the race issue. A full-page ad in The Talking Machine World featured Smith’s portrait. [18]  The record caused a sensation among Black and white buyers alike. Trade papers soon were awash in planted stories like this one, masquerading as press releases:

The advertising department of the General Phonograph Corp., New York, received recently an interesting letter from a Mamie Smith enthusiast in North Carolina. … It reads: “I rite you to please send me one of your latest catalog of latest popular songs and musical comedy hits popular dancing numbers I got the Crazy Blues all ready and if you have any other latest Blues sung by Mamie Smith and her jazz hounds send along 2 or 3 C.O.D. with the catalog I want something that will almost make a preacher come down out of the pulpit and go to dancing and hang his head and cry I want all you send to be Blues.” [19]

Early Okeh advertisements make it clear that Mamie Smith’s records were not intended solely for Black customers, contradicting widely published claims by such modern writers as Daphne Duval Harrison that the records “were sold exclusively to Blacks.” [20] In one Okeh distributor’s full-page, Mamie Smith was even pictured along with the celebrated tenor John McCormack.

Smith’s records were widely advertised by white dealers, and several even found their way into Canada, where they were pressed under the Phonola and Sun labels. A full-page ad for “Crazy Blues” in November 1920 employed a stereotypical minstrel-show theme that was clearly aimed at white buyers, with a cartoon figure in blackface proclaiming in minstrel-show dialect, “I’s heard Blues, but I’s telling you Mamie’s beats ’em all. O! Man, her voice is as sweet as honey! It jes flows and flows and ev’ry note gets richer until I can just sit back and expire with joy.”[21]


Okeh chose a stereotypical “minstrel” theme for its
November 1920 ad.


In the same month, Okeh announced that it was supplying dealers with special Thanksgiving window displays featuring Mamie Smith, “colored queen of syncopation,” alongside several of its white artists. By then, the records were turning up in all sorts of unlikely venues. The Talking Machine World reported that even the manager of the Summit-Cherry Markets of Toledo, Ohio, was stocking Mamie Smith records in his grocery stores:

Demand for Mamie Smith numbers has been particularly large, and Mr. Richards has expressed himself on numerous occasions as being very enthusiastic about the line and well pleased with his merchandising policy of bringing music to the attention of housewives when they are doing their marketing.[22]

Okeh dealers reported that they were delighted with the “unlimited sales possibilities” of blues records.[23]  Unfortunately, Okeh’s sales data have not survived, but the large number of surviving copies of “Crazy Blues,” and the many variations seen in early pressings and labelings  (strong indicators that  outside plants were used to keep up with demand) are certainly evidence of a strong seller. However, claims that “Crazy Blues” sold 75,000 copies the first month, and a million copies within seven months of release — which originated with Bradford’s self-aggrandizing (and often demonstrably inaccurate) autobiography, and which have since been slavishly repeated in countless works — are questionable, given what is known of record sales in general during this period. [24]

But Bradford’s boastful sales claims pale in comparison with those made by some modern pop-culture writers, who have inflated them considerably over the years, without ever citing a documentary source (because there is none; the Okeh files for this period have not survived, and there was not yet a method of certifying sales results within the recording industry):

“For months, the disc sold some 7,500 copies a week.” (Paul Oliver, Blues Fell This Morning, 1960)

“It sold 75,000 copies in the first month, and over a million in the first half-year.” (Gunther Schuller, Early Jazz, 1968)

“The disc is reputed to have sold a million copies within a few weeks.” (Louis Barfe, Where Have All The Good Times Gone?, 2004)

“A wild success, selling over a million copies in less than a year, and finally ending up selling over two million copies.” (Red Hot Jazz website, 2008)



By January 1921, Okeh had released eight sides by Mamie Smith. In the same month, Harry Pace began laying the groundwork for Black Swan, the second Black-owned record company.


Whatever the actual sales might have been, they seem to have justified the risk that Fred Hager and Okeh’s management had taken in issuing and promoting “Crazy Blues.” Anecdotal tales have appeared over the years of dealer resistance and even outright hostility, and although none has been convincingly documented, they likely have some basis in fact, given the rampant racial prejudice of the time. In later years, Perry Bradford expressed his appreciation for the opportunity that Fred Hager had afforded him and Mamie Smith:

May God bless Mr. Hagar [sic], for despite the many threats, it took a man with plenty of nerve and guts to buck those powerful groups and make the historical decision which echoed around the world… He prised open that old “prejudiced door” for the first colored girl, Mamie Smith, so she could squeeze into the large horn — and shout with her strong contralto…” [25]

Now well on her way to national stardom, Smith needed more professional management than Bradford alone could offer. In early 1921 she agreed to let the Standard Amusement Company handle her stage appearances. The company lost no time in sending Mamie Smith & her All Star Revue on the road, in a production that featured Smith singing her Okeh hits, interspersed with comic acts, a magician, a juggler, and dance numbers by the Jazz Hounds. [26] By April of that year, the troupe had completed a circuit that began in Chicago, worked its way through the Midwest down to Texas, then swung through the deep South before eventually heading north to end in Philadelphia.

Smith returned to New York just in time to see “Crazy Blues” become embroiled in a legal controversy that temporarily halted sales of all recordings of the song. In May 1921, two major music-publishing houses — Frederick V. Bowers, Inc., and Shapiro, Bernstein & Company — filed for a temporary injunction restraining Bradford and wife Marion L. Dickerson from publishing and selling “Crazy Blues.”

The lawsuit also sought to restrain fourteen record and piano-roll companies from distributing any recording of the song, and from paying any royalties on sales to Bradford, his company, or his wife. [27] Bowers alleged that twelve bars of “Crazy Blues” came from “The Broken-Hearted Blues,” which his firm purchased from Bradford in 1918. Shapiro, Bernstein & Company alleged that “Crazy Blues” incorporated parts of “The Harlem Blues,” which they had purchased from Bradford in the same year. [28]

The settlement required Bradford to pay substantial damages to both companies. The lesson seems to have been lost on him, however. A similar legal scrap in 1923, over the authorship of “He May Be Your Man, But He Comes to See Me Sometimes,” saw Bradford convicted for subornation of perjury, for which he served four months in jail.

In the meantime, the working relationship between Bradford and Smith was becoming increasingly strained. The inevitable split came during the summer of 1921, while Bradford was preparing his new stage production, Put and Take. Exactly what transpired between the two is unclear in Bradford’s rather jumbled account, but the result was that the starring role went not to Smith, but to Edith Wilson, for whom Bradford quickly negotiated a Columbia recording contract. [29]

For Mamie Smith, it meant the loss of the Jazz Hounds (by now under the nominal direction of cornetist Johnny Dunn), who went along to Columbia with Wilson as part of the package deal. Smith was allowed to continue to use the Jazz Hounds name in her stage act, but on records, the name as well as the band itself now belonged to Columbia.

With demand for new Mamie Smith releases still running high, and another extended tour scheduled to begin on September 23, [30] Okeh spent the late summer of 1921 stockpiling new Smith recordings, minus the Jazz Hounds, with unsettling results. A group of white musicians, reputedly drawn from Joseph Samuels’ commercial dance orchestra, was pressed into service in place of Bradford’s band. Variously known as Samuels’ Jazz Band, the Synco Jazz Band, or the Tampa Blue Jazz Band, the group had been churning out stiff, cliché-laden “jazz” records for many of the smaller labels since 1919.

Beginning with “Daddy, Your Mama Is Lonesome for You” and “Sax-O-Phoney Blues” (Okeh 4416) in August 1921, the ill-conceived collaboration dragged on into September, yielding twelve issued titles before Smith left for her tour. While she was away, Okeh attempted to cover its tracks by publishing a photo purportedly taken during the recording of “Sax-O-Phoney Blues” that showed Black musicians accompanying Smith. [31] The subterfuge should have been apparent to anyone who compared the photo to the record, since the instrumentation does not match, and the two saxophonists who figure so prominently in “Sax-O-Phoney” are nowhere to be seen. [32]

Ultimately, Mamie Smith would be eclipsed by far better singers cashing in on the blues craze she had started. She returned from her tour to find Edith Wilson and the Jazz Hounds already selling well for Columbia. Okeh kept Smith on until the summer 1923, but as Perry Bradford recalled,

I didn’t bother Mamie anymore, because she was coming down the ladder… Mamie’s records were falling down and melting away like snow balls on a hot July day, and Okeh was feeling the pinch of competition. [33]



[1] “Okeh Records” (monthly advertisements). Talking Machine World, May 1918–December 1919.

[2] The “Mule” nickname appeared in print as early as May 1919, in a column by songwriter Tom Lemonier (“Lemonier’s Letter.” Chicago Defender, May 24, 1919, p. 9).

[3] Charters, Samuel B., and Leonard Kunstadt: Jazz: A History of the New York Scene, p. 82. New York: Doubleday (1962). Much of this information comes from Dan Burely’s 1940 profiles of Perrfy Bradford and Mamie Smith in the Amsterdam News.

[4] Handy, W. C. Father of the Blues, p. 200. New York: Macmillan (1941).

[5] King is remembered today primarily for having ejected cornetist  Bix Beiderbecke from his first recording session with the Jean Goldkette Orchestra.

[6] Victor trial session ledgers. Sony Archives, New York. Bradford was not credited by name in the ledger, but stated his biography that he was the accompanist. Bradford recalled being given a test pressing, which apparently no longer exists.

[7] Morrison, George. Interview by Gunther Schuller. Quoted in Schuller, Gunther: Early Jazz: Its Roots and Musical Development, p. 367. New York: Oxford University Press (1968).

[8] The recording date of February 14, 1920, was supplied many years later by Perry Bradford (an often unreliable source) and should be considered approximate. The Okeh recording files for this period have not survived.

[9] “Rega” was a pseudonym for Fred Hager, as confirmed by multiple entries in the U.S. Copyright Register; “Milo Rega” was a pseudonym for Hager in collaboration with his long-time associate, Justin Ring. The accompanying personnel shown for this session in Dixon, Godrich & Rye’s Blues and Gospel Records is incorrect, having apparently been based on the erroneous assumption that the Jazz Hounds accompanied this session. Photographs of the Rega Orchestra in The Talking Machine World and other trade publications show an all-white group with Hager present.

[10] Charters and Kunstadt, op. cit., p. 84

[11] “Okeh Records Tenth Supplement” (advertisement). Talking Machine World (July 15, 1920).

[12] “Making Records.” Chicago Defender (March 13, 1920), p. 6.

[13] That honor might have been held by May C. Hyers, who recorded at least fourteen titles, including several syncopated songs, on cylinders for the Kansas City Phonograph Company, c. 1898.

[14] “Six Best Sellers.” Talking Machine World (October 15, 1920), p. 144.

[15] Morrison, George. Interview by Gunther Schuller, op. cit.

[16] See note 6 concerning the accuracy of Okeh recording dates.

[17] In his autobiography, Bradford made the questionable claim that the session took eight hours to complete, which would have been unprecedented given what we know of studio practices during this  period. Bradford also erroneously claimed that the recordings were “hill & dale” (i.e., vertically cut), and his  recollection of the band personnel present at the session (particularly cornetist Johnny Dunn) has been widely questioned by modern jazz scholars.

[18] “Okeh Records — To Hear Is to Buy!” (advertisement). Talking Machine World (October 15, 1920).

[19] “Has Designs on the Preacher.” Talking Machine World (February 15, 1921),  p. 127.

[20] Harrison, Daphne Duval. Black Pearls: Blues Queens of the 1920s, p. 46. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press (1988).

[21] “Okeh Records” (advertisement). Talking Machine World, (November 15, 1920).

[22] “Doing Big Okeh Record Trade.” Talking Machine World (January 15, 21), p. 146.

[23] “Records for the Okeh Library.” Talking Machine World (October 15, 1920), p. 200.

[24] Million-sellers appear to have been very rare occurrences in the early 1920s, based on surviving company documentation. Although sales figures for most of the smaller companies have long since vanished, some reliable statistics that survive in the Victor and Columbia archives offer a good picture of record sales in the early 1920s, in the process debunking some other “million-seller” myths.  Paul Whiteman’s “Whispering” (Victor 18690), for example, is often said to have sold nearly 1.5 million copies, although the Victor files show sales of only 214,575 copies. A similar case is Ben Selvin’s “Dardanella” (Victor 18633), which is said in Faber’s Companion to Twentieth Century Music to have sold an incredible six million copies, although the Victor files shows that only 961,144 copies were pressed.

[25] Bradford, Perry. Born with the Blues, p. 119. New York: Oak Publications (1965).

[26] “Mamie Smith Co.” Chicago Defender (April 2, 1921), p. 6

[27] “Songwriter Faces Two Suits.” Talking Machine World (May 15, 1921), p. 149.

[28] Bowers admitted that he had not copyrighted “The Broken-Hearted Blues” owing to an oversight on his part that he attributed to “changes in the personnel” at his firm.” Bradford was the initial publisher of “The Harlem Blues,” but he assigned copyright to Shapiro, Bernstein & Company, as was duly registered with the Copyright Office.

[29] Put and Take opened at the Town Hall (New York) on August 23, 1921, and Wilson made her first Columbia recordings on or about September 12.

[30] “Mamie Smith on Extended Tour.” Talking Machine World (October 15, 1921), p. 64.

[31] “Making Sax-O-Phoney Blues.” Talking Machine World (November 15, 1921), p. 160.

[32] On March 9, 1940, clarinetist Bob Fuller told New York Amsterdam News columnist Dan Burely that he and cornetist Bubber Miley were present in the purported “Sax-O-Phoney” session photo.

[33] Bradford, op. cit.,  p. 157.


© 2016 by Allan R. Sutton