“American Record Companies and Producers (1888 – 1950)” Has Gone to Press

AT PRESS:

American Records Companies and Producers
(1888–1950)

An Encyclopedic History

By Allan Sutton

760 pages • 7″ x 10″
Library binding (full-cloth hardcover, Smyth-sewn)
Limited edition of 300 copies

Release date and price to be announced

 

From the Preface: Criteria for Inclusion

… To be included, a company or individual must have produced phonograph records (disc or cylinder) for entertainment purposes from 1888 through 1950, with the intent to distribute or sell those products to the general public, or a significant portion thereof. This includes companies that produced records exclusively for jukebox use, the contents of which ultimately were disseminated to the public; subscription operations, which although limited in sales goals, still dealt with the public at large; and transcription or custom studios that did not have their own labels but recorded masters for commercial producers.

“Entertainment,” of course, is largely in the eye of the beholder. Modern readers, for example, might not think of political speeches as entertainment, but many of our ancestors did, and so I have included operations like The Nation’s Forum.

The criteria have been relaxed mainly for the earliest cylinder producers (the North American Phonograph sub-companies), due to the nature of the early phonograph business. Cylinder records at that time were employed largely for use on coin-operated machines, in “phonographic concerts,” and as demonstration items in phonograph showrooms. We know from numerous newspaper accounts that many of the early phonograph companies made their own recordings, often employing a mixture of local and visiting talent. A tremendous number of cylinder recordings undoubtedly were made during the 1880s and 1890s that received public exposure but never were formally listed for sale or duplicated in any significant quantity. Because so few cylinders and catalogs have survived from this period, we cannot rule out the possibility that all of these companies made original recordings, at least for demonstration to the general public, if not for outright sale. Therefore, all have been included.

Custom and personal labels (which overlap at times) present a less clear-cut situation. Both were self-financed ventures, with limited distribution goals, but those are not automatically grounds for exclusion. The key to inclusion here is the presence of a business model, or at least the appearance of one, to the extent that it can be determined from the remaining evidence. Some custom products that were not advertised to the general public — such as certain Ku Klux Klan and religious labels — still had sufficient marketing and distribution to merit inclusion. In deciding which to include, I have factored in (to the extent possible, given the scarcity of data on many of these ventures) the nature and number of artists featured; where, how, and to whom the records were marketed; and whether surviving documentation and the general nature of the output suggests the venture was intended to be an ongoing, albeit limited, business.

Personal or “vanity” issues (self-financed records made purely for the edification of the artist and perhaps a few fans or family members) are not included. The intent usually appears to have been nothing more than to produce a personal souvenir and perhaps sell a few copies. There were a few notable exceptions, such as the Columbia Personal Records made for Roland Hayes, which became the basis for a very modest and short-lived mail-order business. However, the vast majority of personal issues one is likely to encounter were made for amateurs or semi-professionals who are long forgotten today, often for reasons that are painfully obvious to modern listeners. Some personal-record ventures undertaken by professional artists, like Roland Hayes and the Christian and Missionary Alliance Gospel Singers, more closely resemble custom-label operations. They have not been included mainly because of the slippery-slope factor; an examination of all known personal records would require a volume unto itself.

Labels intended for the ethnic markets present a similar challenge. Papers trails range from sparse to nonexistent for most early ethnic labels, and some appear to have been owned or operated by the artist they feature, which seemingly places them in the personal-record category. Further investigation, however, has revealed that many of these companies were indeed being operated as commercial entities, filing copyright and trademark applications, advertising in domestic foreign-language papers, and selling through small retail establishments in immigrant communities. Although it is likely that some I have chosen to include to do not fully meet the criteria established for this work, I prefer to err on the side of inclusiveness.

Not included are companies that produced only children’s, educational, or special-use recordings (air-checks, radio transcriptions, sound-effects records, parakeet-training records, etc.), unless they supplied masters to commercial labels; companies that did not make or commission original recordings (primarily those who produced only reissues or relied entirely on imported or other licensed recordings, unless those recordings were specially commissioned for their use); and, with several unusually interesting exceptions, pirating operations….

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Includes: More than 1,100 Detailed Entries • Introductory Overview of the American Recording Industry (1888 – 1950) • User’s Guide • Company Genealogies and Timelines • Glossary • Selected References • Label Index • Subject Index

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Collector’s Corner • Some August Finds (Bennie Moten, Count Basie, Johnson’s Cracker Jacks, Tiny Parham)

Collector’s Corner • Some August Finds (Bennie Moten, Count Basie, Johnson’s Cracker Jacks, Tiny Parham)

August highlights: A nice little stack of Victor V-38000s in generally decent shape, hiding where one would least expect to find them; and some hot Bluebirds (reissues, sure, but old reissues in great shellac, unbeatable for “listening” copies).

July was a cylinder month, with a big local haul; we’ll try to get some of the most interesting titles posted next month. In the meantime, here are a few August favorites (VJM grading; Victor file data courtesy of John Bolig):

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KING OLIVER & HIS ORCHESTRA: The Trumpet’s Prayer (E- -)
New York: February 1, 1929 / Released: March 29, 1929
Victor V-38039 (BVE 48334 – 1)

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TINY PARHAM & HIS MUSICIANS: Subway Sobs (E- to V++)
Chicago: February 2, 1929 / Released: April 19, 1929
Victor V-38041 (BVE 48849 – 1)

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BENNIE MOTEN’S KANSAS CITY ORCHESTRA: Rite Tite (V+)
Chicago: July 17, 1929 / Released: January 17, 1930
Victor V-38104 (BVE 55423 – 1)

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BENNIE MOTEN’S KANSAS CITY ORCHESTRA: Sweetheart of Yesterday (E)
Chicago: October 24, 1929
Bluebird B-6851 (BVE 57316 -1R, from -2)
1937 dubbed reissue of Victor V-38114. Label shows James Rushing vocal, in error.

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JOHNSON’S CRACKER JACKS (Benny Jackson, vocal): The Duck’s Yas Yas Yas (E)
Egleston Auditorium, Atlanta: February 22, 1932
Bluebird B-6278 (BVE 71625 -1)
1936 original-master reissue of Victor 23329

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BENNIE MOTEN’S ORCHESTRA featuring WILLIAM (COUNT) BASIE: Prince of Wales [sic] (E)
Church Studio #2, Camden, NJ: December 13, 1932
Bluebird B-6851 (BS 74854 – 1)
1937 original-master reissue of Victor 23393­

 

Stripper in the Board Room: Winnie (“The Flaming Redhead”) Garrett and the Famous Record Company

Stripper in the Board Room: Winnie (“The Flaming Redhead”) Garrett and the Famous Record Company
By Allan Sutton

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Winnie Garrett, a.k.a. “The Flaming Redhead,” served as vice-president and promotions manager of Famous Records, Inc., beginning in 1947.

 

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To all appearances, the Famous Record Company was a rather dodgy operation. Its first label was copied from Brunswick’s 1920 design (although there was no connection to that company), suggesting a much earlier operation than was actually the case. Even the company name was copied; it had been used several years earlier by an unrelated New York venture that marketed cheap picture discs containing sound track excerpts by Hollywood stars before disappearing. Famous received little coverage in the trade papers, and early labels gave its location only as “U.S.A.” (its mailing address was  Room 303 of the RKO Theater Building at 6 Market Street, in Newark, New Jersey).

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The original Famous label was copied from Brunswick’s long-abandoned 1920 design, although there was no connection to that company. It was later redesigned.

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To date, no reliable contemporary account of the Famous Record Company’s launch has been found, but its initial releases on the Famous label — four sides by Phil Napoleon’s Orchestra, accompanying singers Ross Leonard and Roma Lynn — were reviewed in late November 1944. Billboard critic M. H. Orodenker rendered a mixed verdict:

“Still another disk label enters the fold, this one springing from Newark, N. J. For its bow, [it] brings back Phil Napoleon for the music making… Napoleon provides a highly attractive setting for the romantic baritoning of Ross Leonard. Warbler goes all out in dramatic style for “I Dream of You,” dragging it out no end and negating much of the disk appeal of one of the better ballads of the moment. However, Leonard listens to better advantage when keeping within rhythmic confines for two new ballads… Remaining side, an innocuous rhythm ditty in ‘Rhythm Has Got You Too,” provides the hot hymnaling of Roma Lynn. However, none in the company can distinguish themselves with the song.”

Famous’ artist roster, drawn largely from New York and New Jersey nightclubs, was soon expanded to include Jerry Delmar’s Orchestra, Margie Hudson, Jim Messner, and Tommy Ryan. But the Famous Record Company did virtually no advertising, and little more was heard of the venture until early 1947, when it resurfaced in Billboard‘s manufacturers’ directory as Famous Records, Inc.

Operating at the same Newark address, the reorganized company launched a new series of Famous records late that autumn.  Several new distributors were secured, and the company began advertising on a modest scale, primarily to jukebox operators. It was not an opportune time to re-enter the record business, with the second American Federation of Musicians’ recording ban looming. The trade papers were filled with accounts of record companies stockpiling masters in advance of the ban, but Famous was not among them.

The initial release in Famous’ new FA-600 series (“The Stars Were Mine” / “Are You Havin’ Any Fun,” by Freddy Miller’s Orchestra) earned faint praise from a Cash Box reviewer in November 1947 as a “pair of sides that [jukebox] ops may use to fair advantage.”

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The redesigned Famous label and a November 1947 ad for the new FA-600 series, launched around the time of Winnie Garrett’s buy-in. Freddy Miller and Janet Parker were among the Famous artists that Garrett took to Connecticut, for an appearance on behalf of the Damon Runyon Memorial Cancer Fund, in March 1948.

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One of the reorganized company’s investors was Winnie Garrett, a twenty-five year-old burlesque strip-tease star billed as “The Flaming Redhead.” News reports suggest that she had invested around November 1947, corresponding with the label’s relaunch. Garrett was given with the title of vice-president and promotions manager. Billboard reported that Garrett made so little money from the company, she could not afford to retire from the stage. Instead, she maintained two careers, representing Famous Records by day while continuing to strip at night.

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Initially, Garrett’s main duty was to secure plugs for Famous records from local disc jockeys, but by 1948 she was taking a more active role in the operation. In March of that year, she and several Famous artists traveled to Bridgeport, Connecticut, for an appearance on behalf of the Damon Runyon Memorial Cancer Fund. In June, she sued 20th Century Fox for $150,000 over its portrayal of a fictitious Famous Records company (which goes bankrupt) in the film, “You Were Meant for Me,” alleging damage to her company’s financial reputation. By then, newspapers were referring to Garrett as the “head” of Famous Records. However, new releases stalled as the AFM ban dragged on.

Garrett appears to have undertaken an image makeover at that time, offering a toned-down version of her act with mixed results. In November 1948, she was arrested at New York’s Club Ha-Ha for presenting a “lewd and indecent performance.” The incident was widely covered by the local papers:

“[Garrett] told reporters the performance that led to her arrest early today was an ‘interpretive dance.’ At first she wasn’t sure just what it interpreted, but finally decided it has ‘a little African in it’… She explains that she begins the dance wearing an evening dress, gloves, three brassieres, an under-skirt, and peace-net panties. She ends, she said, with one brassiere and g-string panties.”

The charges were dropped after the arresting officer admitted that Garrett had not been totally nude, as he had originally thought. After noting that the same performance had failed to raise any objections in staid Boston, Garrett promised to clean up her act and invited the officer to visit the Club Ha-Ha every night to make sure her dance was “more conservative.” We don’t know if he took her up on the offer.

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In May 1950, Garrett sued photographer Murray Korman for mental anguish and distress after he placed photographs of her on penny peep-machines. By then, Famous Records appears to have been inactive for some time, having failed to garner much attention for anything other than Garrett’s presence. She continued to perform into the mid-1950s.

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Selected References

“Charges Against Strip-Tease Dancer Dismissed in Court.” St. Cloud [MN] Times (Nov 25, 1948), p. 10.

“Film Company Sued.” Bridgewater (NJ) Courier-News (May 19, 1948), p. 9.

Orondenker, M. H. “Popular Record Reviews.” Billboard (Dec 9, 1944), p. 21.

“Sales Talk Louder Than Words” (ad). Cash Box (Nov 15, 1947), p. 18.

“Strip-Teaser Brings Suit as Record Company Head.” Tampa [FL] Times (Jun 1, 1948), p. 12.

“The Cash Box Record Reviews.” Cash Box (Nov 27, 1947), p. 16.

Uno. “Burlesque.” Billboard (Mar 27, 1948), p. 43.

“Winnie the Waxer.” Billboard (Mar 13, 1948), p. 16.

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© 2018 by Allan R. Sutton. All rights are reserved. Full details of the Famous Record operation will appear in the author’s American Record and Producers, 1888–1950, currently in preparation for publication.

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Leeds & Catlin Data Now Available Online at DAHR

Leeds & Catlin Data Now Available Online at DAHR

 

As part of Mainspring Press’ ongoing transition to digital data distribution, we’re happy to announce that our Leeds & Catlin discography has now been incorporated into the University of California-Santa Barbara’s free online Discography of American Historical Recordings.

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The listings were expertly adapted from Leeds & Catlin Records: A History and Discography (William R. Bryant & Allan Sutton, Mainspring Press, 2015) and include the latest revisions to that work. All brands are covered, from the well-known Leeds, Imperial, and Sun labels to such truly obscure items as 20th Century and Duquesne.

The American Record Company (Hawthorne, Sheble & Prescott) and International Record Company databases are currently in preparation for DAHR. Mainspring’s American Zonophone data, including the previously unpublished volume covering 7″, 9″, and 11″ issues, was transferred to DAHR last year.

American Record Labels • Sorting Out Paramount’s Two “National” Labels (1922 – 1924)

SORTING OUT PARAMOUNT’S TWO “NATIONAL” LABELS
(1922 – 1924)

By Allan Sutton

 

During 1922–1924, the New York Recording Laboratories supplied Paramount masters to two unrelated National labels that operated under completely different business models. Unfortunately, discographers (particularly foreign ones who have  access to only a small sampling of the actual discs, or who trust reports from unreliable sources) have muddled them together over the years.

Some progress has been made lately in sorting out a related situation (the two faces of Puritan, with more capable  discographers now distinguishing between the United Phonographs/New York Recording Laboratories and Bridgeport Die & Machine versions of the label in their work). Hopefully, this article will spark a similar effort in regard to the two Paramount-derived National labels of the early 1920s.

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The National Record Exchange Company (Iowa City, Iowa) launched its version of the National label in early 1922 and contracted production to NYRL. National Record Exchange was founded by Francis Waldemar Kracher, who filed for copyright on the slogan, “Get new records on our exchange plan,” on March 6, 1922. The company’s trademark application claimed use of the brand on phonographs (without mentioning records) since February 10, 1922. The records were used in an exchange scheme, rather than being sold outright.

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National Record Exchange agents were scattered across the country. This ad appeared in the Santa Ana [California] Register on August 7, 1922.

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The National Record Exchange’s 12000-series catalog numbers correspond to those on NYRL’s version of the Puritan label (which in turn were derived from the corresponding Paramount catalog numbers), plus 10000 — thus, in the example pictured below, National 12130 = Puritan (NYRL) 11130 = Paramount 20130. A lesser-known 8000 series featured a mixture of standards, light classics, and ethnic material from the Paramount catalog. Catalog numbers for that series correspond to Paramount’s, minus 25000 (for example, National 8113 = Paramount 33113).

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(From Allan Sutton & Kurt Nauck’s American Record Labels & Companies:
An Encyclopedia, 1891–1943
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National Record Exchange agents were scattered across the country, but like some earlier exchange plans, the idea seems not to have caught on. The label appears to have been discontinued in 1924, and today, the records range from uncommon to rare, depending upon the issue.

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The National Certificate Corporation employed a very different model for their version of the National label, which launched at approximately the same time as the National Record Exchange. In an early version of the trading-stamp scheme, National Certificate gave away coupons with purchases made from participating  dealers, which could be redeemed for National records and other goods.

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An August 1922 ad encouraging consumers to patronize stores that gave
National Certificate coupons.

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Production was also contracted to NYRL, but in this case, manufacturing was handed off to the Bridgeport Die & Machine Company in Connecticut, using Paramount masters. BD&M manufactured the East Coast version of NYRL’s Puritan label, along with Broadway, Triangle, and a host of other brands originally pressed from Paramount masters. BD&M Puritans sometimes used NYRL Puritan’s couplings and catalog numbers, but quite often, the company recoupled selections and/or reassigned NYRL’s Puritan catalog numbers to different recordings. The same situation applied with National.

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Two BD&M National pressings from Paramount masters, both unlisted in the Van Rijn–Van der Tuuk Paramount discography and similar works. These use the same couplings and catalog numbers as BD&M’s version of the Puritan label. Both selections were also issued by the National Record Exchange, under different catalog numbers derived from the corresponding Paramount numbers. (ARLAC)

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The coupon model appears to have been little more popular than the exchange model, based upon the relative rarity of National Certificate’s records. The last confirmed releases use Paramount masters recorded during the summer of 1923, and thus far, no advertising for the records after early 1924 has been found. An unrelated National label, manufactured by Grey Gull for the possibly fictitious National Record Company (location not stated), made a brief appearance in 1925.

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Final Close-Out Sale on All Mainspring Press Books • Save 10% to 50% Off Original List Prices

 

 

 

 

On May 13, a substantial portion of our remaining book inventory sustained severe water damage and had to be discarded. The undamaged copies have been recovered and are now being offered at final clearance pricing of 10% to 50% off original list. All are in their original shrink-wrap and have been carefully inspected to ensure you receive perfect, first-quality copies.

Because we are in the process of converting from book production to online data distribution, none of these titles will be reprinted. Quantities are very limited, and prices will never be lower — order soon to avoid missing out!

Visit www.mainspringpress.com for secure online ordering with Visa, Master Card, or Pay Pal. A mail-order form is also available on the site. Sorry, no phone orders.

Mainspring Press Has Pulled the Plug on Facebook — Here’s How to Stay in Touch

Mainspring Press Has Pulled the Plug on Facebook —
Here Are a Couple Better, Safer Ways to Stay in Touch

Mainspring Press has closed its Facebook account due to serious concerns over privacy and security violations by that company, and by certain companies and individuals with which it associates.

In light of the latest revelations — including Facebook’s sale of users’ personal information; its secret tracking of users’ off-site browsing, and of linked friends and contacts; its failure to monitor rogue app suppliers; its interference, knowingly or otherwise, in our political process; and its blind eye toward hate content, falsified news, and manipulation by fake accounts and bots — we feel that the risks of continuing to maintain a Facebook account far outweigh the rather meager benefits.

If you’ve been coming to the Blog by way of Facebook, we apologize for the inconvenience, but here are a couple of safer and even more convenient options:

(1) Click FOLLOW THIS BLOG in the left-hand panel, and you will continue to receive notifications of new postings

and / or

(2) Add https://78records.wordpress.com to your bookmark list for easy, login-free one-click access anytime.

 

The James A. Drake Interviews • Nina Morgana (Part 1)

NINA MORGANA
(Part 1 of 3)
By James A. Drake

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Born of Italian parents who had emigrated from Palermo, Sicily, to Buffalo, New York in 1890, Nina Morgana (1891-1984) first sang in public performances in her native city’s Italian district in 1900. [1]  After studying in Italy with Teresa Arkel from 1909-1913, she made well-received debuts in Alessandria and in Milan.  When she returned to America, she was chosen by Enrico Caruso as one of his assisting artists in a highly-publicized series of concerts in the United States.  Morgana made her Metropolitan Opera debut in the 1920-21 season, having previously sung with the Chicago Opera Association under the management of Mary Garden.

In June 1921, scarcely two months before Caruso’s sudden death, Morgana married the tenor’s full-time secretary, Bruno Zirato (1886-1972), who later became the general manager of the New York Philharmonic and also served as Arturo Toscanini’s representative in North and South America.  Essentially self-educated and invariably self-assured, Morgana was well-acquainted with Beniamino Gigli, as she discussed in a number of interviews conducted by the author from 1973-1979. 

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Bruno Zirato with Dorothy and Enrico Caruso on their wedding day, August 20, 1918. The location is the roof of the Knickerbocker Hotel, New York.
(G.G. Bain Collection, Library of Congress)

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You and Beniamino Gigli made your Metropolitan Opera debuts during the same season, is that correct?

In the same season, yes, and less than twenty-four hours apart:  Gigli made his as Faust in Boito’s Mefistofele on November 26, 1920, and I made mine as Gilda in Rigoletto on Saturday, November 27.  But strictly speaking, my debut was not my first performance at the Met.  Several months earlier, on March 28, I sang three arias at a Sunday Night Concert, with Pasquale Amato and [violinist] Albert Spalding also on the program. 

 

Was Caruso [was] to have sung the Duke in your debut in Rigoletto?

Yes, but he was ill, so Mario Chamlee sang the Duke at my debut. [2]  Giuseppe De Luca sang Rigoletto.  Chamlee and De Luca were also my partners in Barber of Seville during that same season.  I also sang Nedda in Pagliacci with Edward Johnson as Canio and Antonio Scotti as Tonio in my debut season.  I was to have sung Pagliacci with Caruso originally.

 

In operatic circles, it is widely known that you were “discovered” by Caruso.  When and where did this “discovery” take place?

I can tell you precisely:  it was on Saturday, May 9, 1908, at 3:00 p.m., in Buffalo, New York, in one of the four suites on the top floor of the Iroquois Hotel.   I can be more specific by telling you that Caruso’s suite was the one atop the front of the hotel, which faced Eagle Street.  The hotel, which had one-thousand rooms, was still new at that time; it had opened for business in conjunction with the Pan-American Exposition, which was held in Buffalo in 1901.

 

You performed at the Pan-American Exposition, correct?

Yes, I sang there in an exhibition called Venice in America, on the midway.  I was nine years old, and was billed as “Baby Patti” or “Child Patti” in the [Buffalo] newspapers.

 

It was at the Pan-American Exposition, on June 13, 1901, that President William McKinley was assassinated.  Do you recall anything about that tragic day?

The only memory I have is hearing adults around me saying very agitatedly, “The President has been shot!  The President has been shot!”  I was too young to know what “being shot” meant—and I also didn’t know what “president” meant, much less who the president was.  When I asked my parents about it, they tried to explain to me that in the United States, the president was “the king.”  Well, I didn’t know what a “king” was, so I just accepted the fact that someone important had been hurt in some way.

 

When you auditioned for Caruso, do you recall what you sang?

Yes, I sang “Caro nome.”  Just the “Caro nome,” without the recitative.  When I finished, Caruso patted me on the cheek and told my father, who came with me, that I had a very promising voice.  He told us that I would have to study in Italy, and he said he would write a letter on my behalf to the great Teresa Arkel, asking her to accept me as a pupil.  He did so, and about a year later, my father and I sailed to Italy.  During the day, while I was at Mme. Arkel’s having my lessons, my father worked as a laborer.

 

Obviously, Caruso detected the youthful promise in your voice, just as he did several years later with the young Rosa Ponselle.  Looking back, what do you think he heard in your voice that prompted him to refer you to Teresa Arkel?

Well, whatever he heard was not what Mme. Arkel heard!  In his letter to her, Caruso had written that he believed my voice would become a mezzo-sopranone, or in English, “a great big mezzo-soprano.”  When I sang for Mme. Arkel, however, she said that my voice would be fine for roles like Lucia, Amina in Sonnambula, and Adina in Elisir d’amore, which require an exceptional top.  And I had one, too.  By the time I left Mme. Arkel, I could sing the G above high-C effortlessly.  But vocally, I was certainly not going to be singing Mamma Lucia in Cavalleria rusticana.

 

When you were studying in Italy, was Caruso as famous there as he was in the U.S.?

Actually, no.  His recordings were well-known, of course, and hence his name was well-known, but since 1903 he had been at the Metropolitan Opera, not La Scala or one of the other houses in Italy.  The tenor who was admired when I was studying in Italy—not just admired, but adored—was Giuseppe Anselmi.  He was as famous there as Caruso was in the United States.  

Anselmi, whom I heard several times, had a gorgeous voice and a perfect technique, and was also extraordinarily handsome.  Anselmi was “all the rage,” so to say, as was Maria Galvany among sopranos.  It was Galvany, not Melba, who was adored in Italy, yet in America she was almost unknown other than on recordings.

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Giuseppe Anselmi

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A great tenor who sang during Anselmi’s time, and whom some historians claim was the equal of Caruso in certain roles, was Alessandro Bonci.  Did you see Bonci, and if so, what was your assessment of him?

The distance between Caruso and Bonci as tenors was about the size of the Grand Canyon.  They had nothing at all in common, either vocally or as men.  In Italy, it was rumored that Bonci was an unethical person.  He had played some part in obtaining a forged letter from Verdi, giving Bonci supposed permission to sing the “È scherzo od è follia” in a unique way.  I heard a recording of it, and Bonci’s performance was different yet acceptable.  But he was still in disrepute because he had paid someone to forge the letter from Verdi.

Personally, I saw Bonci as Faust in Boito’s Mefistofele, in which he was wearing an over-stated costume topped by a large hat with an even larger feather protruding from it.  Frankly, he looked silly on the stage.  Vocally, his singing was pleasant enough, and it reminded me somewhat of Lauri-Volpi because both of them had exceptional high ranges.  But Lauri-Volpi was handsome onstage, whereas Bonci was a feather-bearing little man in an overdone costume with high-heeled boots.

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Alessandro Bonci, 1910

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Earlier, you mentioned having sung with Edward Johnson in Pagliacci at the MetWhen Johnson’s name is mentioned in connection with the Metropolitan Opera, it is usually in reference to his tenure as General Manager, not as one of its significant tenors.  Do you recall the first time you heard him sing?

Yes, in Italy in 1910.  I sang with him there in Elisir d’amore.  At the time, he was singing under the Italianized name “Edoardo di Giovanni.”

 

Where in Italy did you make your debut? 

My very first performance on an opera stage was as the hidden “forest bird” in Siegfried, at the Teatro Dal Verme.   Tullio Serafin, who was young and handsome—his hair was brown and thick in those days—had come to Mme. Arkel to ask if she had a pupil who could sing the part.  She told him that I could do it, and I did—I sang it hidden in a papier-maché “tree.”  Giuseppe Borgatti was the star of the performance.

I was also in the premiere of Der Rosenkavalier at La Scala on March 1, 1911, which was led by Serafin.  The cast included Lucrezia Bori in the breeches role of Octavian, Ines Maria Ferraris as Sophie, and Pavel Ludikar as Baron Ochs.  During one of the curtain calls with the full cast, I held Strauss’s hand.

 

At the Met, Lucrezia Bori and Edward Johnson were famously paired as Romeo and Juliet.  But you knew both singers in Italy a decade before you made your Met debut?

Bori and Johnson were perfect for each other in Roméo et Juliette.  And, yes, I sang a number of performances with Johnson at the Met.  But his best partner among sopranos was Lucrezia Bori, not Nina Morgana.  I’m sure you have heard recordings of Bori, but have you seen photographs of her?

 

Yes, mostly studio portraits but a few candid ones, in various books about the history of the Met.

Most of her publicity photos were taken [of her] in profile, or else at an angle, rather than facing the camera lens.  She had an ocular condition called strabismus, which lay people refer to as having a “lazy eye” or, less kindly, as “cross-eyed.”  When she was relaxed, Bori’s right eye would tend to drift toward her nose.  My brother, Dante Morgana, a premiere ophthalmologist and surgeon, gave her exercises to train the muscles of her right eye to keep the eyeball centered.

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Lucrezia Bori (G. G. Bain Collection, Library of Congress)

 

Although fate deprived you of the opportunity to sing Pagliacci with Caruso, you sang not only Nedda but other major roles with almost all of the legendary tenors who inherited Caruso’s repertoire.

My best roles were Nedda in Pagliacci, Micaela in Carmen, and Musetta in Bohème.  Although I also sang Mimì in Bohème, [General Manager Giulio] Gatti-Casazza said that I was not only better as Musetta, but that I was the best Musetta of the several sopranos who sang the role under his management.  

 

Do you recall some of the casts in your performances of those operas?

I sang my first Micaela in Carmen with Giovanni Martinelli and Miguel Fleta alternating as Don José, and with José Mardones as Escamillo.  I know of no other basso profondo who could sing Escamillo—later, Pinza sang it, but his voice was a less powerful lyric sound compared to José Mardones.  But Mardones’ range was so marvelous that he could sing Escamillo easily and convincingly.  In some of my performance in Pagliacci, Antonio Scotti sang Tonio and the “new boy,” Lawrence Tibbett, was Silvio. 

In the 1924-1925 season, in a new production of Tales of Hoffmann, I sang the part of the mechanical doll Olympia, with Miguel Fleta as Hoffmann.  In that production, Bori sang the roles of Giulietta and Antonia, and she did them with great distinction.  Later, Queena Mario sang Antonia, but with no distinction at all.

Perhaps you know that Queena Mario’s birth name was Helen Tillotson, a perfectly fine name.  She claimed that [conductor and coach Wilfrid] Pelletier, to whom she was married, had suggested the ridiculous name “Queena,” but I think she made it up herself.  I used to make her mad by asking, “If you have a brother, is his name Kinga?”

 

You sang several times with Giovanni Martinelli, who, perhaps with the sole exception of Caruso, seems to have been beloved by everyone, even by the other great tenors of that era.

I sang Eudoxie in the revival of La Juive with Martinelli as Eléazar, Leon Rothier as the Cardinal, and Rosa Ponselle as Rachel, the role she had created [at the Met] with Caruso in 1919.  In fact, other than Martinelli singing Eléazar in place of Caruso, the revival had almost the same cast as the [Met] premiere.  Ponselle sang most of the performances, but not all of them.  Florence Easton sang several Rachels, as did Elisabeth Rethberg later.

Among the other great tenors of that period, I sang with Giacomo Lauri-Volpi for the first time in Rigoletto in 1926, with De Luca and Mardones.  For that performance, with Gatti-Casazza’s consent, I made a change in Gilda’s costume:  I wore a pink gown in the first scene.  I also sang with Lauri-Volpi in Africana, with Ponselle as Selika, and I sang with him again in Pagliacci in the 1929-1930 season.  In Africana, Gigli was cast instead of Lauri-Volpi in several of the performances I was in, and Florence Easton replaced Ponselle in some of them.  Most were conducted by Serafin.

 

Do you recall the tenors with whom you sang in Bohème?

As I said earlier, Musetta was one of my best and most frequent roles, and I was especially fortunate to sing several performances with Lauri-Volpi as Rodolfo [in 1932].  A few times, Rodolfo was sung by Martinelli.  It’s not a role that one would immediately associate with him, but the color of Martinelli’s voice was light enough for it, and he restrained the volume of his clarion voice.  I also sang some performances with Armand Tokatyan, who was a very fine tenor and deserves to be remembered better today.

I was also fortunate to be in the opera house on the opening night of the 1921-22 season, when Gigli sang Alfredo to Galli-Curci’s Violetta at her debut.  I knew Galli-Curci before then.  Both of us had sung in Chicago when Mary Garden was the general manager.

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Mary Garden (G. G. Bain Collection, Library of Congress)

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If one-half of the stories that have been told and written about Mary Garden are true, she must have been a formidable person.

Indeed, she was, but probably no more so than Melba or Patti before her.  They ruled their kingdoms—and they made those kingdoms.  No woman who achieved what Patti, or Melba, or Geraldine Farrar, or Mary Garden achieved, could have done so without enormous self-confidence.  Mary Garden, at least as I knew her, was not imperious at all, but she knew very well what her value was. 

She could talk about herself in a way that may sound conceited in the retelling, but from her standpoint it was simply a matter of fact.  I remember walking to the Chicago Opera house with my sister Angie, who traveled with me, and seeing Mary Garden coming toward us.  She stopped us and said, “Did you see my Carmen last night?” Not “How are you,” or “Wonderful to see you today,” but “Did you see my Carmen last night?” 

We hadn’t seen it, so we said so.  “You must see my next one,” she replied.  “There is nothing like it, and there never will be.”  She said that without a trace of haughtiness.  It was as if she had said, “You should carry an umbrella tomorrow because it’s likely to rain.”    

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[1]  The family of Nina Morgana, which comprised seven children, is remarkable not only for her success, but also her siblings’ successes. In addition to her brother Dante Morgana (who, as she mentions in the interview, became a nationally-known eye surgeon), her brother Emilio Morgana entered the priesthood and became a close friend of the friar-author Thomas Merton.  Another brother, Charles Morgana (Giuseppe Carlo Morgana), was an automotive inventor and a close associate of Henry Ford.  His older sister, Angelina Morgana, followed their brother Dante into medical school, where she became the only female in her class in the Medical Department (as it was then known) of the University of Buffalo.   She withdrew because of the harassment she experienced from the all-male faculty.

[2]  Here Morgana’s normally precise memory has failed her: on the day of her Metropolitan Opera debut (Saturday, November 27, 1920) Caruso sang a matinee performance of La forza del destino, and hence was not “ill.”
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© 2018 by James A. Drake. All rights are reserved. Short excerpts may be quoted without permission, provided the source and a link to this posting are cited. All other use requires prior written consent of the copyright holder. Please e-mail Mainspring Press with questions, comments, or reproduction requests for the author.

Photographs from the Library of Congress’ Bain Collection are in the public domain and may be reproduced without permission.

_______________________________________
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Coming in Part 2: Nina Morgana’s personal recollections of Caruso; Gigli’s premier at the Met; comparing the great tenors

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The Louisville Jug Band Gets Arrested (1914), and Other Earl McDonald Snippets

The earliest known personnel listing for the Louisville Jug Band, 1914. “Colvin” presumably is a typo for Ben Calvin, who worked on-and-off with McDonald for many years; could “John Smith” be a typo for Cal Smith, a long-time McDonald associate? (Louisville Courier-Journal, October 20, 1914)

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A 1918 iteration of the Louisville Jug Band, interrupting their Chicago engagement for a week’s appearance at the Antler cabaret in Dayton, Ohio. Can anyone identify the members? (Dayton Daily News, April 14, 1918)

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McDonald and company fared far better than most race-record artists during the early Depression years, thanks to their popular “Ballard Chefs” broadcasts. Originating in Louisville, the program aired in many major cities. (What’s on the Air, April 1930)

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Earl McDonald entertains at the University Kentucky. (Louisville Courier-Journal, February 15, 1948)

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(Louisville Courier-Journal, April 29, 1949)

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SARA MARTIN & HER JUG BAND: I’m Gonna Be a Lovin’ Old Soul

New York: September 1924
Okeh 8211 (mx. S 72837-b)

Clifford Hayes, violin; Curtis Hayes, banjo; Earl McDonald, jug

 

Highlights from the Pathe Records Catalog (August 1916)

From the Bill Bryant papers at Mainspring Press. Note the issue by Rector’s New York Dance Orchestra (Leopold Kohls, director), which is missing from American Dance Bands on Records and Film. A bit of trivia for the organ fans out there, from a page not pictured: Pathé’s “exclusive” studio organ was a Mason & Hamlin (a popular line of reed organs), model not mentioned.

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“American Idol,” 1916 Style

“American Idol,“ 1916 Style
By Allan Sutton

 

Long before The Voice, American Idol, Horace Heidt, or even Major Bowes, there was the Colorado Scholarship Fund contest of June 1916 — possibly the first amateur-talent contest for which the reward was a record deal (of sorts). The contest was widely publicized in the Colorado newspapers, and even The Talking Machine World (the major trade-paper of the day) covered it in detail:

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The record still turns up often in Colorado, generally to the dismay of collectors, since aside from the interesting-looking label, it’s pretty dreadful (so much so, that we won’t post the sound-file, out of respect to two artists caught at an awkward stage in their development). In defense of Ms. Forsyth and Mr. Parsons, both were truly amateurs at the time, and Forsyth had recently suffered throat problems, according to a local paper.

For all its shortcomings, the record appears to have sold very well. It didn’t lead to a Columbia contract for either singer (and was numbered in Columbia’s Personal Record series, ensuring it would never be listed in a Columbia catalog), but apparently the experience encouraged them to pursue professional careers. Both took up vocal studies at Denver’s Wilcox Studios shortly after the record’s release.

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Forsyth remained in Denver until late 1919, when she joined the All-American Opera Company on tour, as an understudy to Anna Fitziu. By the early 1920s she had married and settled in Los Angeles, where she became a fixture on the local concert circuit and taught at Davis Musical College.

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Alice Forsyth in Los Angeles, 1923

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Parsons joined the Jambon Players, a group that entertained the troops overseas during World War I, then settled in Pittsburgh. In addition to regular concert and church work, he was a radio pioneer, broadcasting regularly over station KDKA beginning in 1921. During 1927–1928 he appeared on Broadway in Artists and Models, which ran for 151 performances at the Winter Garden. In the later 1920s he had his own program on KDKA and was a featured star on NBC’s Yeast Foamers program during 1929–1930.

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Chauncey Parsons at Loew’s Aldine Theater (Pittsburgh), 1924

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The Colorado contest was so successful that it was later repeated in other cities.

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Mainspring Press Updates (Feb-March 2018): Leeds & Catlin Online Database / American Record Companies & Producers 1888-1950

Leeds & Catlin Database Going to DAHR in March

Our Leeds & Catlin database is going to the University of California Barbara–Santa Barbara in March, to be incorporated in their free online Discography of Historical American Recordings. It includes all the latest updates to Leeds Records: A History and Discography (now out of print). Watch for the online release later this year.

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Nearing Completion:

American Record Companies and Producers, 1888–1950: An Encyclopedic History

Approx. 748 pages (hardcover)
Release date, imprint, and price to be announced

 

American Record Companies and Producers 1888–1950 covers all producers of original recordings for the retail, subscription, and jukebox markets in detail — from the dawn of the wax-cylinder era through the advent of the LP, from the behemoths to the smallest and most obscure. (Not covered are companies that produced only reissues, children’s records, or pressings from imported masters; personal recordings; promo and one-off labels, etc).

The book is based on reliable primary-source materials (100% Wikipedia-free!), including company and legal documents, original recording and production files, trade-press and newspaper reports, accounts of the persons involved, etc. — all fully cited. Anecdotal accounts, when they appears at all, are clearly identified as such.

The work differs from our earlier American Record Labels and Companies in that it is organized by companies or producers rather than by label names. So, for example, you will still find all the information you need on the Black Swan label under the Pace Phonograph Corporation entry, or on the Phono-Cut and Colonial labels under the Boston Talking Machine Company entry. There will be a label index (in addition to general topic and song title indexes) to help you navigate.

Being primarily a business history, the book does not have label illustrations; however, we are looking into the possibility of having a label DVD produced as a stand-alone product at some point, if there is sufficient interest.

 

 

Some Early Record-Pressing Plants

AUBURN BUTTON WORKS (Auburn, NY) — Founded in 1876  by John Hermon Woodruff, as Woodruff’s Button Factory, this  company was renamed Auburn Button Works in the late 1880s. It moved into the Washington Street buildings shown here in 1900. Auburn pressed the 7″ and 9″ brown-shellac Zonophone discs at an auxiliary plant in New York City.

The relationship was severed after Zonophone switched to Duranoid pressings in 1904, and the pressing equipment was moved to Auburn, where the International Record Company (producers of Excelsior, Lyric, et al.) was set up as a recording subsidiary. The company was forced to suspend production of its own records after losing a 1907 patent-infringement suit to Columbia. In the early 1920s the pressing plant was leased to Brunswick, then was sold to the Scranton Record Company in November 1924.

Auburn continued to manufacture other goods after spinning off the pressing business. Its final incarnation was as Auburn Plastics, Inc., which was incorporated on July 1, 1957, and dissolved (after many years of inactivity) on March 24, 1993.

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COLUMBIA PHONOGRAPH COMPANY (Bridgeport, CT) — Columbia’s sprawling Bridgeport complex housed most production operations other than recording. Acquired by the American Record Corporation in 1934, it continued to produce high-quality laminated pressings for ARC’s more expensive labels (Brunswick, Columbia, Liberty Music Shops, et al.), while pressing of ARC’s budget labels remained in Scranton. Conditions in the Bridgeport pressing plant were so bad by the mid-1930s that record producer John Hammond published a scathing exposé and attempted to unionize the workforce.

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VICTOR TALKING MACHINE COMPANY (Camden, NJ) — The largest record-production facility in the United States at the time, the Victor complex was a city unto itself, with its own printing plant, fire department, infirmary, auditorium, police force, docks, and rail line. The view above is from 1916; just twenty years earlier, future Victor founder Eldridge Johnson was building motors for Emile Berliner in a rented shack. The sole surviving structure now houses luxury apartments.

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LEEDS & CATLIN COMPANY (Middletown, CT) — In September 1905, Leeds & Catlin opened this pressing plant in the former Worcester Cycle Company factory, replacing its New York City plant. The move coincided with Leeds’ phase-out of its foil-labeled discs. Three months later, the company announced it had installed fifty additional presses to accommodate the ever-increasing demand for its new paper-labeled Imperial records. By the end of 1905, the Middletown plant was said to have an annual capacity of 150 million discs. This view appeared in a 1906 ad for Radium cylinders, Leeds’ short-lived attempt to re-enter the cylinder market.

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AMERICAN RECORD COMPANY / DOMESTIC / OKEH  (Springfield, MA) — The American Record Company (Hawthorne, Sheble & Prescott) pressed their blue-shellac discs in this building during 1904–1906. Horace Sheble later pressed his Domestic discs here, using the same sort of blue shellac.

Following the demise of Domestic, Otto Heineman took over the plant in early 1918 for his newly launched Okeh label. Unable to keep up with orders for the first several years, Heineman contracted his overflow pressing to at least two outside plants.

In this view, Okeh is sharing space with the International Insulating Corporation, one of Heineman’s many other business ventures. This pressing plant was closed after Heineman opened a more modern facility in Newark, NJ, in 1921.

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BRUNSWICK-BALKE-COLLENDER COMPANY (Jersey City, NJ) — This was Brunswick’s second pressing plant; initially, it used a facility in Long Island City, NY. Brunswick also used the Auburn Button Works facility as an auxiliary pressing plant until November 1924, when the Scranton Button Company acquired Auburn’s pressing plant. Brunswick’s main pressing plant, in Muskegon, MI, opened in 1922. Vocalion’s masters were transferred there in March 1925. The Muskegon pressing plant was closed after the Brunswick and Vocalion labels were licensed to American Record Corporation, and in 1934 Decca Records purchased the largely obsolete equipment, much to its regret.

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STANDARD MUSIC ROLL COMPANY / THE ARTO COMPANY (Orange, NJ) — Employees assemble for a company photo in 1918 at the Standard Music Roll plant, before production of Arto records began (above). The photo was presented to president George Howlett Davis as a Christmas gift.

The Arto pressing plant was housed in a new structure, shown here in a 1919 architect’s sketch (below). Only the two-story structure on the right was actually built. In addition to the pressing plant, it housed Standard’s piano-roll flange factory. Although Arto claimed to operate its own studio, the vast majority of its masters were commissioned from outside sources, including Jones Recording Laboratories, Independent Recording Laboratories, New York Recording Laboratories, and Harry Marker’s H&M Laboratories (see Bell and Arto Records: A History and Discography, 1920–1928, available from Mainspring Press).

SCRANTON BUTTON COMPANY (Scranton, PA) — The largest independent American pressing plant for several decades, Scranton was closely affiliated with the Plaza Music Company / Regal Record Company group beginning in the early 1920s. Some accounts refer to this company in error as the Scranton Button Works.

Scranton sometimes invested in its clients (including National Music Lovers, in which it held a 49% stake) as a means of ensuring their continued business. At the time this view was published in 1924, the company has just acquired the Emerson recording division, which had been split from the radio division (the latter being the ancestor of the present-day Emerson corporation).

The plant was included in the 1929 merger that created the American Record Corporation. It continued to press budget labels for ARC until that company was sold to CBS, which had no use for the facility. Reorganized as the Scranton Record Company in 1939, it barely survived an entanglement with Eli Oberstein’s failed United States Record Corporation before re-emerging as a major independent plant. Capitol Records began purchasing  Scranton stock in 1944, and on March 26, 1946, it bought the company outright.

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NEW YORK RECORDING LABORATORIES (Grafton, Wisconsin) — Owned by the Wisconsin Chair Company (Port Washington, WI), this converted knitting mill on the Milwaukee River housed the pressing plant for Paramount and its many associated labels. It was a relatively primitive operation, and its pressings tend to reflect that. The pressing plant occupied the large structure on the left. Paramount’s now-legendary (and equally primitive) recording studio opened in late 1929, in the smaller building on the right. The studio building was demolished in 1938, the pressing-plant building in the mid-1940s.

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The Kaufman Brothers: Highlights from Jack Kaufman’s Scrapbooks (1910 – 1927)

A few years ago, Phil (“Road Mangler”) Kaufman kindly loaned us his grand-dad Jack’s scrapbooks, a treasure-trove of clippings and memorabilia relating to the Kaufman brothers’ time in vaudeville, as well as Jack’s family life. Here are some highlights, along with a few additional nuggets we recently found among Bill Bryant’s papers.

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Kaufman Brothers banner from the scrapbook’s inside back cover, c. 1910. The original act comprised Jack and Phil; Irving came in after the latter’s death in the late ‘teens.

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The Kaufman Brothers on the road (1910)

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Telegram sent to Jack Kaufman while appearing in Toronto, announcing the birth of his son. (1910)

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(Left, seated above arrow) Jack Kaufman’s wife, Rosina Carson Kaufman (a.k.a. Olive York), as an English showgirl. (Right) Jack Kaufman’s son Jules, c. late 1910.

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In the early days of their act, the Kaufmans regularly toured from coast to coast, but as the itinerary on the left shows, they later stayed close to home. Both pieces probably date to 1914, based on their position in the scrapbook. The misspelling “Kauffman” was not uncommon in newspapers.

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A telegram to the “Kuffman” brothers, November 1911. Bender, Coombs, Morgan, Pearl & Robinson was a vaudeville act comprising three Boston Athletics pitchers, the Pearl Sisters (Kathryn & Violet), and theatrical manager John Robinson. They toured together briefly after the 1911 World Series.

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An early ad for the Kaufman Brothers picturing Jack (left) and Phil (right), c. 1910. Before signing with Orpheum, they toured on the Pantages circuit.

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The Kaufmans were a favorite of newspaper caricaturists. These examples date from c. 1912–1914, when they sometimes  performed in blackface. “Palestine” refers to the town in Texas where the brothers claimed they picked up their “Southern” accents.

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Phil and Jack Kaufman in blackface with unidentified others, c. 1912. This unfortunate component of the act was mostly mothballed after Irving replaced Phil in the late ‘teens.

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After Phil’s death, Jack teamed with younger brother Irving, who had recently left the Avon Comedy Four. Irving and Jack were in  high demand by the recording studios. They worked cheap, weren’t picky about repertoire, and cranked out recordings by the hundreds, using so many aliases that new ones are still be discovered. Their cover of Gallagher & Shean’s Victor hit (“Absolutely, Mr. Gallagher?” “Positively, Mr. Shean!”) appeared on many minor labels. Regal’s ad pictured the actual Gallagher and Shean. (1923)

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Work is where you find it — in this case as an “added attraction” at a Philadelphia movie house. (1922)

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A hodge-podge of a concert at the Chicago Theatre, with selections ranging from a pipe-organ transcription of Wagner’s Rienzi Overture to a selection of current Tin Pan Alley hits by the Kaufmans.

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This Chicago handbill probably dates from 1923–1924. Note the mention of Jimmy Wade, a popular black Chicago band leader who recorded some fine sides for Paramount at about this time.

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The Kaufmans in a Vitaphone short (1927)

Black Swan Carusos, and Other Pirate Tales (1898 – 1951)

Black Swan Carusos, and Other Pirate Tales
(1898 – 1951)
By Allan Sutton

 

 

Record piracy — the unauthorized copying and selling of sound recordings — is a problem as old as the recording industry itself. Charges of cylinder piracy first surfaced in the early 1890s and became increasingly common as the decade progressed. Legal recourse was limited; sound recordings were not protected under copyright law at the time, and would not be for many more decades.

Pirating the early wax cylinders was simplicity in itself, requiring only a couple of phonographs, an inexpensive recording head, a cylinder to copy, and some blanks upon which to copy it. Disc records were not immune to piracy, either, although the process was more complicated. The earliest discs sold for use with the new Zonophone machines used masters that were electroplated from Berliner pressings, with the Berliner name and patent notice buffed out.

At about the same time, the Standard Talking Machine Company (comprising Albert T. Armstrong, Joseph W. Jones  Joseph A. Vincent, Emory Foster, and musical instrument manufacturer Charles G. Conn)  [1] began selling pirated Berliner discs under the Wonder brand, for sale with the Wonder Double-Bell Talking Machine, a two-horned phonograph apparently inspired by Conn’s line of double-belled band instruments. Standard issued a substantial disc catalog made up entirely of Berliner recordings that retained their original catalog numbers, with a “1” prefix added. The company quickly failed.

Armstrong’s next venture, the American Talking Machine Company, offered a new disc line, pressed in the same distinctive red fibrous material as the Wonder records. Berliner also claimed  these were pirated, although some known examples are not. American Talking Machine countered with the offer of a $1000 reward for the arrest and conviction of “parties circulating false and malicious statements” about their products. The manager of Berliner’s Philadelphia office was arrested, but little more came of the scuffle. The company failed in 1900, after the American Graphophone Company (Columbia) withdrew patent protection. [2]

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.(Top) The Wonder Record catalog was made up entirely of pirated Berliner Gramophone recordings; catalog numbers were Berliner’s, prefixed by a 1. (Bottom) Albert Armstrong’s American Talking Machine discs used some non-Berliner masters that are believed to have been original. His later American Vitaphone records used pirated Victor and Columbia recordings. The example shown here is a Columbia title by Billy Murray.

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The arrival in the early 1900s of molded cylinders, which required expensive equipment and a high degree of technical expertise to produce, put an end to cylinder piracy. Discs were another story.

By 1902, Armstrong and some former associates were back in business, as the American Vitaphone Company. [3] They  launched the earliest known “record club,” which amounted to an exchange program under which members could turn in their old records for partial credit toward new Columbia, Victor, or Zonophone discs. [4] For a time, Armstrong even offered to take in old Berliner machines, which he would refurbish for $12 and return to the customer with a new Concert Grand nameplate. Such record-exchange arrangements, however, were frowned upon by the major suppliers (which considered them to be illegal price-cutting), and Vitaphone’s “club” appears to have been short-lived. [5]

But what landed Armstrong and company in serious legal trouble was their introduction in 1902 of American Vitaphone discs, which were clearly pirated from Columbia and Victor recordings. Masters, again made by electroplating commercial pressings, often showed the original markings, and Armstrong even retained the Columbia and Victor catalog numbers. Shoddily pressed and barely advertised, the records did little if anything to undermine Victor or Columbia sales.

Victor finally took action in 1904, suing American Vitaphone for unfair competition as well as infringing its “red circular label applied to the center of a disc,” [6] for which it had recently been granted a U.S. trademark. [7] U.S. Circuit Court Judge Lacombe dismissed the red-label argument but ruled that American Vitaphone’s “re-duplication” of Victor recordings did indeed constitute unfair competition. [8] He granted an injunction on October 4 of that year, effectively ending the American Vitaphone operation. Armstrong died in early 1905, and in  November of that year, the American Express Company served notice that it would auction all unclaimed American Vitaphone property in its possession.

The Vitaphone decision had a temporary chilling effect on would-be pirates. Victor and Columbia instead turned their attention to vanquishing upstart companies, like Leeds & Catlin and Talk-O-Phone, that infringed their patents. The latter was still manufacturing phonographs, although it had not produced its own records since late 1903. [9] But in October 1908, Talk-O-Phone founder Winant Van Zant Pearce Bradley resurfaced in pirate mode with the Continental Record Company of New Baltimore, New York. Officially, the company was incorporated by Benjamin I. Carhart, E.O. Goodell, and J. C. Cady, Jr., none of whom were known entities in the recording industry. [10] In reality, as later testimony would reveal, the company was just a front for Bradley.

Following the now-familiar procedure, Continental obtained its stampers by electroplating commercial pressings of Victor and Fonotipia celebrity recordings. The stampers were sent to an undisclosed foreign location, widely suspected to be Japan, where a factory had recently opened that supposedly pressed  and exported “re-duplicated” records. Although the original markings were generally effaced from the stampers, Continental’s sales literature and labels openly acknowledged that the discs were “duplicates” of original records.”

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(Left) A Continental pressing from a pirated Fonotipia master, with the disclaimer, “This record is a duplicate of an original recording.” (Right) A Luxus pressing from a pirated Caruso Victor. Possibly of foreign origin, specimens turn up in the U.S. on occasion. (Kurt Nauck collection)

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In August 1909, following motions for preliminary injunctions, Victor and Fonotipia Ltd. brought separate actions against Bradley, which were tried together by Judge Chatfield. [11] Investigation revealed that the Continental Record Company, which claimed in its incorporation papers to be headquartered in New Baltimore (a rural village south of Albany, New York), had no verifiable office or plant there; its only confirmed employee was a local attorney. The company’s New York billing address, at 147 West Thirty-Fifth Street, turned out be occupied by an apparently unrelated storage company. Bradley claimed to have no connection with the company, except as its sales agent, but he was unable to produce witnesses who would testify to that effect.

During the trial, it was established beyond doubt that Bradley’s pressings were pirated from commercial releases. Despite his  claim that the records were equal in quality to the originals, examination revealed that the Continental pressings used inferior material, were less durable and more prone to warping than the originals, and exhibited  “a dulling or far-away effect” in playback.

Waldo G. Morse (the attorney who had represented Bradley’s Talk-O-Phone Company several years earlier) contended that Victor’s and Columbia’s licensing agreements and price controls amounted to restraint of trade, and that the artists whose work had been taken were necessary parties to the suit. Judge Chatfield rejected both arguments, holding that Bradley’s operation amounted to unfair competition, and granted an injunction. [12]

In his ruling, the judge opined, “The education of the public by the dissemination of good music is an object worthy of protection, and it is apparent that such results could not be attained if the production of the original records was stopped by the wrongful taking of both product and profit by anyone who could produce sound discs free from the expense of obtaining the original record.” Bradley moved on to other, non-phonographic endeavors, although his brothers remained involved in some legally questionable enterprises, including the patent-infringing International Record Company.

Little more was heard of illegal record operations, at least in the U.S., until 1921. In early April, the Opera Disc Company burst on the scene with an extensive catalog featuring Enrico Caruso, Geraldine Farrar, and many other exclusive Victor Red Seal artists. [13] The company had been incorporated several months earlier by New York securities broker Max Hesslein, in partnership with C. G. Galston and C. Rose. [14] Although the company named its label Musica, the public called them “Opera Discs” from the start. [15]

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.(Left) An early Opera disc issue, with the company’s label pasted over a DGG original. (Right) The more familiar version of the label, applied directly to the pressings.

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Manufactured in Germany by Deutsche Grammophon Gesellschaft (DGG) and exported by DGG’s Polyphonwerke branch, Opera Discs were not technically pirated. DGG’s predecessor, Deutschen Grammophon Aktiegescheellschaft (DGA), was the Gramophone Company’s German branch and as such held a vast number of Gramophone and Victor masters at its Hannover pressing plant. The masters were seized as spoils of war at the outbreak of German hostilities in 1914. Following the war’s end, DGA was reorganized as DGG, an independent entity. Although it no longer had corporate ties to the Gramophone or Victor companies, DGG claimed rights to any of those companies’ masters that had been in their possession at the time of the seizure.

What DGG did not possess were rights to distribute those recordings outside of Germany. Victor and the Gramophone Company immediately demanded that distribution be halted, to no avail. [16] The records continued to be sold into 1922, when the matter was finally referred to the Anglo-German Mixed Arbitral Tribunal in London. Although sales of the recordings in Germany were ruled to be legal and allowed to continue, DGG and Polyphonwerke were enjoined from exporting the records. [17] In the U.S., Victor sought but initially failed to obtain a permanent  injunction. [18] A definitive American ruling was not issued until March 31, 1923, when the  U.S. District Court in Brooklyn granted the injunction and ordered the Opera Disc Company to turn over all pressings, catalogs, and advertising material to Victor. [19]

American customers, it turned out, liked Opera Discs. The records were pressed in better material than their Victor counterparts, some dealers offered them below list price (which was roughly comparable to that of the corresponding Red Seals), and the catalog included European recordings by the likes of Battistini and Chaliapin that were not otherwise available in the U.S. They sold well overall; even today, many issues are still fairly easy to find.

A strong market for Victor knock-offs clearly existed, and record producer John Fletcher stepped in to fill the void that Opera Disc’s forced departure created. Fletcher, in partnership Harry Pace, had launched the Fletcher Record Company in April 1922, primarily to serve as the pressing plant for Pace’s Black Swan records. Fletcher had already failed with his earlier Operaphone and Olympic operations, and things would not go much better for his latest venture. His newly relaunched Olympic label attracted little interest, and sales of Black Swan’s race records were declining in the face of stepped-up competition from Okeh and others. As production faltered, Fletcher began making the same sort of bad decisions that had doomed his previous companies.

In late December 1922, an unnamed party approached Harry Pace with a proposition that the Fletcher plant press records from “masters made by Caruso himself in Germany.” (Since Caruso never recorded in Germany, the reference almost certainly was to the Victor and Gramophone Company masters being held by DGG in Germany.) Pace wisely declined, writing to Black Swan investor W. E. B. Du Bois that he did so “for fear of legal entanglements with the Victor Company who are too powerful to start any scrap with.” [20]

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.Fletcher Record Company pressings from pirated Victor recordings, 1923. Harry Pace opposed the idea but was overruled by Fletcher.

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But Fletcher, who controlled the manufacturing end of the partnership, overruled him. The Fletcher Record Company would manufacture the illegal pressings, which featured Caruso and other exclusive Victor artists. They were marketed by one or more shadowy entities whose backers probably will never be known, under the Pan American and Symphony Concert labels. [21] The labels showed no manufacturer’s name, but the records exhibited all the tell-tale characteristics of Fletcher’s pressings and label typography. Some appear to use the original DGG stampers; many others used stampers that had obviously been electroplated from commercial pressings, and not very expertly. Efforts to efface the original markings weren’t entirely successful, some small pits and other surface irregularities appear that are not present on the originals, and in one case, what appears to have been a stray hair was electroplated right along with the disc.

If Victor had any response to the new pirates, it was never reported in the trade papers. It would prove to be a moot point, anyway. By the spring of 1923 (probably the soonest the records could have made it to market), the Fletcher Record Company was failing. Pace pulled out in June, transferring his Black Swan pressing business to the New York Recording Laboratories’ plant, and Fletcher was bankrupt by year’s end. By then, the Symphony Concert records were being remaindered by one New York dealer for 19¢ each.

Record piracy did not resurface in any significant way until the later 1940s, with the sudden proliferation of small independent pressing plants eager for business of any kind, no questions asked. These tended to be full-fledged counterfeiting operations, copying not just the recordings, but the actual labels as well. The problem became so widespread that in the autumn of 1947 the Treasury Department launched an investigation that soon expanded to include the FBI and any number of state and local agencies. Initially, only small independent labels were targeted (particularly those specializing in race records), but it was not long before counterfeit Deccas began to surface.

In early April 1948, officials of Capitol, Columbia, Decca, and RCA Victor agreed to help underwrite the investigation, which by then had become national in scope. [22] A few minor offenders were caught, but the counterfeiting continued unabated. With no major culprits apprehended, the investigation eventually wound down, leaving the problem to worsen considerably. In September 1951, Billboard reported that one operation based in the New York area, which had so far eluded all efforts at detection, was believed to be pressing more than 50,000 counterfeit discs weekly. [23]

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References

 

[1] Unrelated to the later Standard Talking Machine Company of Chicago, a premium-scheme operation that sold legally rebranded Columbia products.

[2] Details of this rather complicated arrangement can be found in the author’s A Phonograph in Every Home (Mainspring Press).

[3] Unrelated to Clinton Repp’s 1911 Vitaphone company, which manufactured a unique reproducerless phonograph, nor to the much Vitaphone sound-film system.

[4] “Rates for Exchanging Records to Club Members… How to Secure Free Life Membership in Exchange Club” (American Vitaphone Company bulletin, December 1, 1902).

[5] “Our Proposition Of You Are the Owner of an Old Style Gramophone Just Like This One.” ” (American Vitaphone Company bulletin, December 1, 1902).

[6] Victor Talking Machine Co. v. Armstrong et al., 132 F. 711

[7] Victor Talking Machine Company. U.S. trademark application #42,962 (filed June 9, 1904).

[8]  “Decision on Re-Duplication.” Talking Machine World (March 15, 1905), p. 11.

[9] Talk-O-Phone’s corporate predecessor, the Ohio Talking Machine Company, made original recordings in its Toledo studio during 1902–1903, employing Strobel’s Band (Charles J. Strobel being  president of the Toledo Baseball Club and the band’s financial backer, but not its director) and other local talent. In late 1903, at about the time of its reorganization as the Talk-O-Phone Company, it discontinued recording and instead began marketing the new Leeds & Catlin discs for use with its phonographs.

[10] “Recently Incorporated.” Talking Machine World (October 15, 1908), p. 19, repeated in an untitled notice on p. 32). The former gave the location as New Baltimore, Maryland, in error.

[11] Fonotipia et al. v. Bradley, 171 F. 951; Victor Talking Machine Co. v. Same, 171 F.951.

[12] Signs Decree in ‘Dubbing’ Case.” Talking Machine World (September 15, 1909), p. 45.

[13] “Phonograph Discs “Made in Germany.’” Brooklyn Daily Eagle (May 18, 1921), p. 16.

[14] “Incorporated.” Talking Machine World (February 15, 1921), p. 54.

[15] Opera Disc Co. “Musica G.D.” U.S. trademark filing #145,643 (filed April 2, 1921). The filing claimed use of the Musica name on records since March 25, 1921.

[16] “Asks Record Injunction.” New York Times (December 10, 1921), p. 19.

[17]  “German Record Concerns Enjoined.” Talking Machine World (May 15, 1922), p. 61.

[18] “Hearing Held in the Victor Company–Opera Disc Company Suit.” Talking Machine World (March 15, 1922), p. 82.

[19] “Victor Co. Secures Injunction in Opera Disc Suit.” Talking Machine World (April 15, 1923), p. 106.

[20] Pace, Harry H. Letter to W. E. B. Du Bois (December 23, 1922). Special Collections and University Archives, University of Massachusetts–Amherst. Largely forgotten today is the fact that Du Bois, perhaps as much as Pace, was a driving force in Black Swan’s creation. A major investor in the company, he was frequently consulted by Pace on matters ranging from financial and legal issues to artists and repertoire. Their correspondence, which survives but has been largely overlooked by researchers, presents a far more accurate picture of Black Swan’s inner workings than most modern texts.

[21] The Symphony Concert label was used earlier for legitimate pressings from Earle W. Jones’ masters, as well as being pasted over other companies’ surplus pressings. Examples are known of Symphony Concert labels pasted onto Opera Disc pressings, but other (presumably later) examples are clearly Fletcher’s work.

[22] “Major Diskers Crack Down on Coast Bootlegging of Hit Recordings.” Variety (April 7, 1948), p. 42.

[23]  Martin, Joe. “‘Disklegger’” Is Plague to Record Mfrs.” Billboard (September 1, 1951), p. 1.

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©2017 by Allan R. Sutton. All rights are reserved.