Photos from the Victor monthly supplements, courtesy of
John Bolig .
GEORGE M. COHAN: You Won’t Do Any Business If You Haven’t Got a Band (“A Little of Everything”)
Camden, NJ: May 4, 1911
Victor 60043 (mx. B 10268 – 1) With studio orchestra (conductor not credited in the Victor files)
NORA BAYES & JACK NORWORTH: Turn Off Your Light, Mr. Moon Man (“Little Miss Fix-It”)
Camden, NJ: April 24, 1911
Victor 70038 (mx. 9830 – 5) With studio orchestra (conductor not credited in the Victor files)
AL JOLSON: That Haunting Melody (“Vera Violetta”)
Camden, NJ: December 22, 1911
Victor 17037 (mx. B 11409 – 2) With studio orchestra conducted by Walter B. Rogers. Although Rogers is not credited in the Victor files, Jolson addresses him by name in “Asleep in the Deep (Parody),” recorded at the same session.
ELSIE JANIS: Fascinating Baseball Slide
Camden, NJ: October 22, 1912
Victor 60090 (mx. B 12527 – 1) With studio orchestra (conductor not credited in the Victor files)
DAVE MONTGOMERY & FRED STONE: Travel, Travel, Little Star (“The Old Town”)
Camden, NJ: January 24, 1911
Victor 70033 (mx. C 9845 – 1) With studio orchestra (conductor not credited in the Victor files)
DAVE MONTGOMERY & FRED STONE: Gay Paree
Camden, NJ: May 19, 1911
Victor 70042 (mx. C 9906 – 2) With studio orchestra (conductor not credited in the Victor files)
NAT W. WILLS: New York, What’s the Matter with You? (Ziegfeld’s “Follies of 1913”)
Camden, NJ: September 22, 1913
Victor 17461 (mx. B 13838 – 1) Frank N. Darling, conductor, per Victor files (Darling was the conductor of the “Follies” orchestra).
Clarice Vance, from the November 1907 Victor supplement (top, courtesy of John Bolig); Elsie Janis and Fanny Brice (lower left and right; G.G. Bain Collection, Library of Congress)
Performances by several leading comediennes of the early twentieth century, ranging from the sublime to a howlingly bad (but historically instructive) example of what white-folk thought the “blues” were in 1917. Like many records of the period, some of these contain derogatory racial and ethnic stereotypes, which do not reflect our views.
CLARICE VANCE: I’m Wise
Probably Philadelphia: August 7, 1907
Victor 5253 (mx. B 4768 – 1)
BLANCHE RING: Yip! I Adee, I Aye!
Camden, NJ: March 29, 1909
Victor 5692 (mx. B 6914 – 3)
BLANCHE RING: The Billiken Man
Camden, NJ: June 24, 1909
Victor 5731 (mx. B 8073 – 2)
ELSIE JANIS: Fascinating Baseball Slide
Camden, NJ: October 22, 1912
Victor 60090 (mx. B 12527 – 1)
ELIDA MORRIS (with BILLY MURRAY): You’ll Come Back
Camden, NJ: May 16, 1910
Victor 16653 (mx. B 8572 – 4)
MARIE CAHILL (CARL GRAY, piano): The Dallas Blues
(Preceded by Mose’s Baptism)
New York: January 2, 1917
Victor 55081 (mx. C 18652 – 3)
FANNY BRICE: The Sheik of Avenue B
Camden, NJ: July 14, 1922
Victor 45323 (mx. B 26800 – 2)
Studio orchestra conducted by Rosario Bourdon
Discographic data from the Victor Talking Machine Company files, courtesy of John Bolig. Except for the last selection, conductors are not listed in the Victor files.
RACE RECORDS AND THE AMERICAN RECORDING INDUSTRY, 1919–1945: An Illustrated History
By Allan Sutton
388 Pages / 208 Illustrations 6″ x 9″ Quality Paperback
$39 US (Free Shipping) $59 All Foreign (w/ Insured Airmail)
From the Preface:
Race Records and the American Recording Industry is the story of those remarkable companies and individuals who gambled on a new and often unpredictable market in the face of racial prejudice and entrenched business practices, and in doing so made the American recording industry more inclusive, and far more interesting, than it once had been.
This work takes a broad view of what were once termed “race records” — recordings intended primarily for the African-American market, which often were segregated in specially numbered series and not listed in the record companies’ main catalogs. Many modern writers associate race records solely with blues and gospel, the equivalent of assuming that rural whites bought only records of mountaineer tunes, or that Italian immigrants bought only opera. While blues and gospel made up a large portion of race-record offerings, they were only part of a broad spectrum that also included religious material of all sorts, jazz and dance music, mainstream pop, comedy and novelty selections, concert and classical material, and even the occasional country-music offering, all of which are explored in this work
Because the music itself has been amply covered elsewhere, this work instead focuses on the making, marketing, and distribution of race records prior to the late 1940s, exploring the ways in which those activities affected, and were affected by, conditions within the nation and within the recording industry as a whole. That is why (to respond in advance to inevitable criticism by Robert Johnson’s legions of fans) an entire chapter is devoted to Mamie Smith, whereas Johnson is covered in several pages. Were this a musical rather than a business and social history, the ratio, of course, would be reversed.
But Mamie Smith’s early records, whatever their musical shortcomings, had a profound impact on the recording industry, revealing a huge untapped market, opening the way for many other black artists to make records, and encouraging aspiring black entrepreneurs to get involved with record production, which until then had been completely controlled by whites. On the other hand, although Robert Johnson is now revered by mass-media rock stars and the pop-culture establishment (as much for the hoary legends surrounding him as for his music), in the 1930s he was just another talented but obscure local artist whose records went largely unnoticed outside of his home region, and who had no significant impact on the recording industry or American musical culture at the time his records were issued. Johnson receives as much coverage as he does mainly because his story provides an excellent example of how the record companies handled, or mishandled, their race artists.
The book also debunks many common myths and misconceptions that stubbornly refuse to die, having been perpetuated for decades by writers who are content to parrot anecdotal material from questionable secondary sources. Some long-standing discographical errors have been corrected as well, based upon examination of primary-source materials that have been missed by earlier researchers…
The ARSC Award for Excellence—Best Label Discography went to Eli Oberstein’s United States Record Corporation: A History and Discography, 1939–1940:
2015 Certificates of Merit were awarded to The Victor Discography: Special Labels, 1928–1941; and Ajax Records: A History and Discography:
ORDER SOON if you’re interested in Oberstein or Victor Special Labels. Both titles have been on the market for a while, so supplies are running low (and in addition, there’s recently been a big library run on USRC). We won’t be reprinting either title once our current supplies are gone.
Sorry, Ajax has already sold out (it was a 2013 title — the wheels sometimes turn very slowly at ARSC), although we might consider reprinting this one if there’s sufficient interest — Let us know.
Edward M. Favor (1856 – 1936) isn’t easy on modern ears, but his recordings allow us to hear a popular nineteenth-century stage star in action. Favor’s career pre-dated the start of commercial sound recording. He was attracting notice in New York as early as 1883, when he landed a starring role in “Fun in a Balloon” at Tony Pastor’s. His biggest musical-comedy success came with wife Edith Sinclair in E. E. Rice’s long-running extravaganza, “1492 (Up to Date, or Very Near It),” which opened at Palmer’s in 1893. Two years later he made a successful transition to vaudeville, headlining on the B. F. Keith circuit in an act that a New York Times critic dismissed as “rather more of the rough-and-ready kind.” He also began to record prolifically in the late 1890s, churning out hundreds of titles for major and minor concerns alike. He returned to musical comedy in the early 1900s, with a corresponding drop-off in recording activity, and reportedly remained active in vaudeville into the early 1930s.
EDWARD M. FAVOR (self-announced): Bedelia
New York: c. October–November 1903 (released January 1904)
Columbia 1667 (take 1; no “M-“ number present)
EDWARD M. FAVOR: La Ti-dly I-dly Um
Philadelphia: March 16, 1906
Victor 4667 (mx. B 3185 – 2)
EDWARD M. FAVOR: Fol the Rol Lol
Philadelphia: March 16, 1906
Victor 4856 (mx. B 3182 – 2)
Note: The Encyclopedic Discography of Victor Recordings also shows this on Victor 4669, a number that does not appear in the Victor Monthly Supplements, and which we have not been able to confirm as actually issued (let us know if you have one). Victor 4856 is a delayed release (November 1906).
EDWARD M. FAVOR & CHORUS (announced by Edward Meeker): Fol the Rol Lol
New York: c. August 1906 (released November 1906)
Edison 9142 (2-minute cylinder)
New York: c. April 1921 — Released: July 1921
Okeh 4340 (mx. S 7878 – A)
With “Rega Orchestra” (Okeh studio orchestra conducted by Fred Hager)
Neither F. Wallace Rega nor Milo Rega were actual recording artists or conductors, contrary to some discographies.“F. Wallace Rega” was a pseudonym for Fred Hager, as confirmed in the federal Catalog of Copyright Entries. “Milo Rega” was a composite alias (“Justin Milo” being a pseudonym for Justin Ring, which in turn was the professional name of Justus Ringleben), as disclosed in the same source.
HAM TREE HARRINGTON: Nobody Never Let Me In on Nothin’
New York: March 11, 1924 — Released: June 1924
Brunswick 2588 (mx. 12674, 12675, or 12676*)
With uncredited orchestra (conductor unlisted in files)
*The selected take is not shown on the pressings or in the Brunswick files.
EDDIE HUNTER (piano by C. LUCKEYTH “LUCKEY” ROBERTS): Hard Times
Camden, NJ: November 16, 1923 — Released: July 18, 1924; Deleted: 1926
Victor 19359 (mx. B 28897 – 2)
Shelton Brooks, with his prodigious skill as a songwriter and two successful decades on stage, is an undeservedly forgotten pioneer in black entertainment. Born in Amherstburg, Ontario (not Amesburg, as cited in Rust’s Complete Entertainment Discography) in 1886, Brooks left school in the early 1900s to play piano in Detroit cafes. His first break as a songwriter came when Sophie Tucker introduced his composition, “Some of these Days,” which she recorded in 1911 (Amberol 691). Over the next decade, Brooks wrote a string of hits that included “There’ll Come a Time” (1911), “Ruff Johnson’s Harmony Band” (1914), “The Darktown Strutter’s Ball” (1916), “Walkin’ the Dog” (1917), and “Saturday” (1921). By 1915, Brooks was touring successfully on the Keith and Orpheum vaudeville circuits as a Williams mimic.
In 1922 Brooks was featured as the master of ceremonies in Plantation Revue with Florence Mills (opened July 17, 1922). A European tour with Lew Leslie’s Blackbirds — including a royal command performance before George V — followed in 1923, but in November of that year Brooks returned to the United States. He co-starred with Ham Tree Harrington and Florence Mills in the Broadway production of Dixie to Broadway (opened October 29, 1924). A review of the show in The Messenger for January 1925 predicted that Brooks was “in a fair way to surpass the late Bert Williams, if he can find a producer who can keep him at work and give him his head.”
Apparently, Brooks didn’t find that producer, and he began to fade from public notice after his Okeh recording contract ended in late 1926. There were more vaudeville appearances, including a 1928 tour with band leader Ollie Powers, but in 1931 Brooks made his final appearance in a Broadway musical, a long-running production of Brown Buddies (opened October 7, 1930), with Bill Robinson, Adelaide Hall, and Ada Brown. He died in 1975.
Okeh released 27 sides by Brooks from early 1921 through late 1926 that ran the gamut from comic routines to Williams-style recitations of his own songs and included one race-series release (Okeh 8062) with blues singer Sara Martin. In March 1922, the Chicago Defender announced that Brooks and several other popular black stars would make Echo records as soon as their current contracts expired. But no Echo records, by Brooks or anyone else, have ever surfaced.
Ham Tree Harrington
A diminutive and sometimes cantankerous individual, Ham Tree Harrington developed a following in the Harlem nightclubs, billing himself as “The Pint-Sized Bert Williams.” Louis Hooper, pianist and mainstay of the Elmer Snowden and Bob Fuller bands in the 1920s, recalled Harrington’s ongoing feud with cornet star Johnny Dunn in a 1966 Record Research interview: “Now Johnny was no trouble maker…but there was something on his mind he didn’t like about Ham Tree, and Harrington knew it. Dunn got up and…said something to Harrington. Ham Tree stood up and WHAM! He hit him! The next day they were still ribbing each other.”
After several years in vaudeville, Harrington got a major break with a starring role in the 1922 Broadway productions of Strut Miss Lizzie. Another feature role followed in 1924’s Dixie to Broadway with Shelton Brooks and Florence Mills, about which the New York Post commented, “Harrington pulls off one of his most original pantomimes of ghost-fright seen in a long day…it is effective beyond words.” Despite good reviews, Harrington returned to club and vaudeville work and didn’t appear in another Broadway musical until the ill-fated 1930 production of J.C. Johnson’s Change Your Luck, in which he co-starred with Alberta Hunter for all 17 performances.
Thanks to his association with Alex Rogers (Williams’ collaborator as far back as 1900), Eddie Hunter is more closely linked to Bert Williams than the other performers listed here.
Hunter seems to have appeared on the scene suddenly, first attracting notice in 1923 for his starring role in the Broadway production of How Come? He also wrote the show’s libretto, which was criticized at the time for borrowing too liberally from Sissle & Blake’s Shuffle Along. The show opened on April 16, 1923 to generally poor reviews and ran for only 32 performances. The New York Sun huffed, “It’s getting dark on Broadway. But not very dark, as the young people who make up the personnel of How Come? have hardly the shade of darkness.”
Hunter’s next Broadway appearance came with newcomer Adelaide Hall in My Magnolia during the summer of 1925. Reviewers liked Hunter and Hall but weren’t enthusiastic about the show itself, which closed after only four performances. Hunter did not make another Broadway appearance until Blackbirds of 1933, in which he starred with Edith Wilson and Bill (Bojangles) Robinson. The show opened on December 2, 1933 but survived for only 25 performances. More Eddie Hunter recordings…
MR. O’CONNELL (as BILLY REYNOLDS): I Got It (The Fidg-e-ty Fidge)
New York (master shipment date): March 17, 1923
Gennett 5111 (mx. 8282 – A) With uncredited orchestra
A mystery artist — We’re going out on a limb here by lumping whoever this is in with the vaudevillians, but his style certainly suggests some stage experience. The Gennett log sheet attributes this only to a “Mr. O’Connell” (not M. J. O’Connell, based on the aural evidence), and the record was issued under the equally obscure name of “Billy Reynolds.” Anyone know anything about him?
EDDIE NELSON: I’ve Got the Joys
New York — Released October 1921 Emerson 10426 (mx. 41919 – 3) With studio orchestra probably directed by Arthur Bergh
Eddie Nelson (1894–1940; not to be confused with song-writer Ed G. Nelson) was a California native who toured in vaudeville with a succession of partners. His first major role in a musical comedy was in the 1921 production of “Sun-Kist” (Globe Theater, New York), from which he took his nickname. Nelson was a hit in London in 1927, where a reviewer opined, “He is starring at a very big salary…and evidently jusitifies it.” He made one Vitaphone short in 1928, and additional single-reelers in the 1930s as “Sun-Kist Nelson.”
JANE GREEN: Somebody Like You
New York: January 30, 1925 — Released April 24, 1925; Deleted 1926
Victor 19604 (mx. B 31451 – 6) With studio orchestra directed by Nathaniel Shilkret
Another California native, Jane Green got her start as a child actress in Los Angeles, toured in vaudeville as a teenager, then headlined at the major New York houses from 1918 into the late 1920s. Her Broadway credits include “The Century Revue” and “The Midnight Rounders” (1920), “Nifites of 1923,” and various editions of the “Grenwich Village Follies.” She began broadcasting over station WOR (Newark, NJ) in 1925.
Edison Two-Minute and Concert Cylindersis the first study of these records to be compiled from the surviving company documentation (including the factory plating ledgers, studio cash books, remake and deletion notices, catalogs, supplements, and trade publications), along with first-hand inspection of the original cylinders. All American-catalog issues from 1897 through 1912, including the Grand Opera series, are covered.
Unlike previously published guides, which don’t list Edison’s numerous and often confusing remakes, this new volume lists all versions — even indicating those initially supplied by Walcutt & Leeds — along with the listing or release dates and the distinguishing details (changes in artists, accompaniments, announcements, etc.) for each. Plating dates for brown-wax pantograph masters and early Gold Moulded masters, which provide valuable clues to the long-lost recording dates, are published here for the first time.
Other features include composer and show credits, medley contents, accompaniment details, pseudonym identification, an illustrated footnoted history of Edison cylinder production during the National Phonograph Company period, user’s guide, and indexes.
Joe Maxwell is one of the more elusive Edison recording artists. These clippings are from an unknown source (June 2, 1907), top; the Indianapolis Star (December 12, 1909), lower left; and the Pittsburgh Post (September 12, 1907), lower right.
From the theater-clippings archive, Bill Bryant papers