Murray K. Hill: Newspaper Highlights (1901 – 1942)
Joseph T. Pope got his start in show business performing “blackface” routines in small-time minstrel shows. By the early 1900s, he had set out on his own, under the name of Murray K. Hill. (The spelling varied between “Murry” and “Murray” on record labels and in ads and newspaper stories; “Murray” appears to have been the more common spelling, and it was used in his obituaries.)
Although Hill continued to occasionally appear in blackface into the early 1900s, he was much better-known for his topical songs and rapid-fire comic monologues. Attired in tails and an old-fashioned top hat, he specialized in satirizing current events and mangling American history. He wrote his own material, boasting that he operated a “song and story factory.” “The Last Survivor,” a popular vaudeville act introduced in 1908, was based on his early minstrel-show experiences.
Hill traveled widely on the Sullivan & Considine vaudeville circuit in the U.S. and Canada, but his style became increasingly outdated in the ‘teens and early ‘twenties. After making his last nationally advertised tour in 1922, he settled down with his family in Chicago, but still occasionally performed in the Midwest into the 1930s.
Dayton, Ohio (August 1901)
Hill recalls his experiences during the Evansville race riots
“The Last Survivor,” August 1908: Los Angeles (top), and Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada (bottom)
Butte, Montana (July 1908)
Los Angeles (August 1910)
Victoria, British Columbia, Canada (June 1910)
Wichita, Kansas (October 1911)
The San Francisco Call (January 27, 1913)
Fort Wayne, Indiana (January 1915)
Wichita, Kansas (January 1915)
Chicago (October 23, 1942)
Hill recorded prolifically from the spring of 1907 through the spring of 1911, for Columbia, Edison, Indestructible, U-S Everlasting, Victor, and Zonophone (a final Edison cylinder release, in 1914, probably was from an earlier, previously withheld master). Here’s a small sampling:
MURRAY K. HILL: A Bunch of Nonsense
Camden, NJ: November 10, 1909
Victor 16446 (mx. B 8320 – ) Introducing “The Last Survivor” and “In the Good Old Steamboat Days”
MURRAY K. HILL: The Tale of the Cheese
Camden, NJ: November 10, 1909
Victor 35093 (mx. C8356 – 3)
MURRAY K. HILL: A String of Laughs
New York: Listed April 1909
Edison Amberol 101 (cylinder) Introducing “Don’t” and “Four-Hundred Nursery Rhymes Brought Up to Date”
MURRAY K. HILL: Don’t Go Up in That Big Balloon, Dad
New York: Listed April 1910
Edison Gold Moulded 10375 (cylinder)
Vess L. Ossman, “The Banjo King”: Newspaper Highlights,
and the World’s Biggest Banjo (1891 – 1923)
Vess L. Ossman (left) and Vess, Jr. (undated photo)
Early mentions of Ossman in the New York papers: December 2, 1891 (top), at which time Harlem was an affluent new suburb; and February 12, 1899. Ruben “Ruby” Brooks made recordings in the late 1890s and early 1900s, including Bettini cylinders, but he died in 1906.
Ossman participated in several recording demonstrations that have been documented, including this one for Berliner’s Gramophone on December 16, 1897. Three months earlier, Berliner’s New York studio had been opened rather reluctantly for a similar demonstration in which Ossman also participated, with management declaring, “We have yielded to the demand of popular and scientific interest in the process by which our indestructible Gram-o-Phone records are made.” The demonstration recordings are not known to have been released.
New York (December 1901)
Ossman went to England in the spring of 1900 (top), where he was a hit. He recalled his experiences in January 1918 (bottom).
Ossman in the “talkies” (Salt Lake City, November 1908). The Cameraphone Company was launched in 1908 by Eugene E. Norton, an engineer with the American Graphophone Company (Columbia). The process employed synchronized six-inch cylinder records and Columbia Twentieth Century phonographs for the sound source. (For more on Cameraphone and other early attempts at “talking pictures,” see A Phonograph in Every Home: Evolution of the American Recording Industry, 1900–1919, available from Mainspring Press.)
Another Ossman appearance on-screen (Independence, Kansas, March 1913). These movies were made for Thomas Edison’s short-lived Kinetophone, which also employed synchronized cylinders.
A December 1916 El Paso dealer ad for Columbia records by Ossman and “Howard Van Epps” (a typo for Fred Van Eps, Ossman’s only significant rival).
Ossman and company on the road (Scranton, Pennsylvania, January 1917). The Peerless Records Makers were forerunners of the Eight Famous Victor artists, a traveling promotional troupe in which Fred Van Eps replaced Ossman.
In 1918, with his recording career over and his style becoming increasingly outdated, Ossman moved to Dayton, Ohio. He spent the remainder of his career performing in Dayton and other Midwestern cities. The ads above are all from Dayton, published in May 1918 (top left), October 1922 (top right), and December 1921 (bottom).
Dayton, Ohio (December 7, 1923)
Vess Ossman Jr. continued to perform in the Dayton area into the early 1930s; the ad above is from November 1931. He later moved to Kansas City, where he worked as a theater manager.
Ossman’s recorded output was truly monumental. Here are just a few favorites; his “Maple Leaf Rag” was the second recording to be made of that number, preceded only the U.S. Marine Band’s 1906 version.
VESS L. OSSMAN: Salome Intermezzo
Camden, NJ (Johnson factory building): January 21, 1901
Victor Monarch Record 3048 The pianist is uncredited but is likely Frank P. Banta (father of the novelty pianist Frank E. Banta) or C. H. H. Booth, Victor’s house accompanists at the time.
VESS L. OSSMAN: Maple Leaf Rag
New York: Released June 1907
Columbia 3626 (M-1414) With studio orchestra probably directed by Charles A. Prince
VESS L. OSSMAN: The Buffalo Rag
New York: March 2, 1909
Victor 16779 (mx. B 6848 – ) The pianist is uncredited, contrary to some discographies. Ossman originally recorded this piece for Victor on January 26, 1906 (mx. B 3049).
VESS L. OSSMAN: St. Louis Tickle
New York: Released January 1911
D&R Record 3759 (Columbia mx. 4919 – 1) With studio orchestra probably directed by Charles A. Prince
VESS L. OSSMAN: Hoop-E-Kack
New York: Released July 1909
Indestructible 1113 (cylinder) With studio orchestra probably directed by Joseph Lacalle
We thought we’d discovered Tascott‘s full name when we found several 1901–1902 newspapers stories and ads giving it as William H. Tascott.
But it turns out we didn’t drill down quite far enough. Ryan Barna did, and discovered that “Tascott’s” real name was actually Ben Brede. Here’s his obituary, from Variety for February 25, 1925; many thanks to Ryan for spotting and reporting this (be sure to check out his Phonostalgia website, if you haven’t already):
Sam Moore’s 1921 Victor recording of “Laughing Rag” is an astonishing record for the period, blending Southern folk, Hawaiian, and ragtime influences in a way unlike anything that had been heard on records up to that time. Music historian Dick Spottswood has praised Moore’s performance on that record for its “aggressive mainland verve…which stands halfway between Hawaiian and the 1920s country guitar rags of Sam McGee, Blind Blake, Roy Harvey, and Sylvester Weaver.”
The Moores had already established a reputation as musical family when Samuel Pasco Moore was born in Monticello, Florida, on June 28, 1887. His father, Samuel Lewis Moore, was a Civil War veteran and holder of a Confederate Cross of Honor. Music, however, was only an avocation for the family, which operated a successful construction business.
Sam Moore with his family and banjo, both circa 1895
(courtesy of Betsy Loar)
Proficient on the violin by age seven, Sam was later sent to Macon, Georgia, to study under Professor W. C. Kaler. After a badly healed broken arm ended his aspirations as a violinist, Moore turned to the banjo and guitar and also began to experiment with everyday objects — most notably, the ordinary hand-saw — as musical instruments.
In 1919, Moore left home to audition for Florenz Ziegfeld in New York. The result was a six-moth run at Ziegfeld’s Roof Garden. For a time, the newly arrived Georgian was the toast of New York society, even serving as guest of honor at a reception hosted by the editors of TheMusical Courier that was attended by Enrico Caruso and other luminaries. “Those eminent artists,” a New York paper reported, “were so delighted by Mr. Moore’s playing on a carpenter’s hand-saw, that they hovered so closely around him that he hardly had room to play.”
Moore traveled to Chicago during the summer of 1920. There he met Harry Skinner, an employee of Lyon & Healy, the city’s leading music retailer. In September, Moore made a well-advertised appearance in Lyon & Healy’s auditorium, at which he played his hand-saw.
Moore’s appearance at Lyon & Healy (Chicago, September 1920)
Skinner introduced Moore to his new invention, an eight-string steel guitar named the octo-chorda. (Although several accounts credit Moore with its invention, a 1926 news article confirms that Moore’s eight-string steel guitar was “the recent invention of Harry Skinner of Lyons & Healy in Chicago.”) Together, Moore and Skinner composed a showpiece for the octo-chorda, titled “Laughing Rag.”
Moore was soon traveling on the Keith and Orpheum vaudeville circuits, sometimes with Horace D. Davis. A great-grandson of Robert E. Lee, who also performed under the name of John Powell, Davis was an accomplished guitarist.
During the summer of 1921, Moore recorded “Laughing Rag” as an octo-chorda solo for the Gennett, Okeh, and Victor labels. Gennett 4747 was the first to be recorded, in New York on June 11, 1921, with piano accompaniment by Frank Banta. The recording was erroneously entered in the Gennett files as a hand-saw solo, and was even advertised as such in some newspapers, but the records are correctly labeled.
Okeh 4412 was released in November, coupled with Moore’s “Chain Gang Blues,” using an uncredited accompanist. Moore recorded two more octo-chorda solos for Okeh at about the same time — “Wang Wang Blues” and “Tuck Me to Sleep in My Old ‘Tucky Home” (the latter with Davis, coupled on Okeh 4423).
But Moore’s most successful recording of “Laughing Rag,” musically as well as in terms of sales, was made for the Victor Talking Machine Company in their New York studio on August 24, 1921, originally as part of a trial session. For this version, Moore used Horace Davis to accompany on the harp-guitar, an odd hybrid instrument with six primary strings plus an additional set of strings that resonated sympathetically.
SAM MOORE & HORACE DAVIS: Laughing Rag
New York: August 24, 1921 (Released March 1922)
Victor 18849 (mx. B 25543 – 1) Recorded as a test and later accepted for commercial release, per the Victor files. Originally scheduled for release on Victor 18846, coupled with Moore & Davis’ “Cry Baby Blues,” which was canceled before release.
Victor inexplicably delayed its release of “Laughing Rag” for seven months, only to discover that they had a hit on their hands. The guitar interplay between Moore and Davis proved to be irresistible. Victor’s version remains a perennial favorite with collectors and has been commercially reissued several times, most recently on RCA’s “Classic Ragtime” CD. But of the fourteen titles Moore and Davis recorded for Victor between August 1921 and September 1922, only three were issued, the other two being straightforward “Hawaiian” numbers.
Unfortunately for modern listeners, “Laughing Rag” was an anomaly. In 1922, Moore and Davis split, and Moore teamed with Carl Freed, a ukulele- and guitar-playing comedian who also played the musical spoons. Together, they developed a novelty vaudeville act entitled “Spooning and Ballooning,” in which Moore played an inflated rubber balloon and other gadgets to Freed’s spoon accompaniment. The Columbus [Georgia] Ledger for April 9, 1924, reported that “Among the most appreciative of Sam Moore’s audiences are the negroes who go north… [they] often talk to the performer from the galleries, which makes the act ‘go big’…”
An early review of “Spooning and Ballooning” (Altoona, Pennsylvania, October 1922)
The long-running “Spooning and Ballooning” plays Allentown, Pennsylvania
Although Moore’s guitar work is what interests most modern collectors, his use of offbeat instruments is what captivated audiences in the 1920s. In April 1924 Moore’s father told the Columbus Courier, “That boy can music out of anything. When he was a small boy, I’ve seen him get music out of a pitchfork.” Moore didn’t leave any known recordings on the pitchfork, but he made a number of hand-saw records, beginning with “Mother Machree” for Gennett, on the reverse side of “Laughing Rag.”
By the time Moore recorded for Columbia in 1922, however, the musical-saw fad was fading in New York. Moore’s April 7, 1922, Columbia session yielded a single release (A3750), which appears to have sold poorly. A few Moore saw-solo releases followed during 1923–1924 on Brunswick and Vocalion, on some of which Horace Davis made a reappearance, but again, sales appear to have been small.
From a 1924 Vocalion supplement
By the mid-1920s, with several firms marketing cheap musical saws and instruction courses, the hand-saw was largely relegated to the status of an amateur’s novelty instrument. Moore carried on, championing the hand-saw as well as a host of other instruments that had fallen from (or, in the case of the rubber balloon, never attained) grace. Interest in “Spooning and Ballooning” faded, and Moore and Freed eventually went their own ways.
By 1927, Moore was once again working with Horace Davis, but no issued recording resulted. Together, they recorded Scott Joplin’s “Maple Leaf Rag” for Brunswick on November 8, which was to have been coupled with a remake of “Laughing Rag” on Brunswick 3713. However, there is no evidence in the Brunswick files that the latter title was recorded, and Brunswick 3713 was canceled before release. Two October 1928 Brunswick duets with ukulele player Edmund Evans were rejected.
A formal 1920s portrait of Sam Moore (left), and a snapshot taken during his stint with KFSO radio’s “Country Store” (courtesy of Betsy Loar)
In the 1930s, Moore left the stage for radio work, writing for and performing on several NBC shows into the 1940s. For a time he teamed with his wife, Carolyn, in a stereotypical “blackface” act called “Sambo & Mandy” for local radio broadcasts and personal appearances.
Moore suffered from asthma, and eventually he settled in San Francisco for health reasons. There he was featured in the cast of KFSO’s “Country Store.” He died in San Francisco on November 13, 1959, at the age of 72.
Thanks to Betsy (Moore) Loar, the grand-daughter of Sam Moore, for sharing her rare photos and other source materials. Discographical data are from the original company files, via the University of California–Santa Barbara’s Discography of American Historical Recordings site and John R. Bolig.
“Blackface” Eddie Ross: A Clipping Archive
(1911 – 1931)
Giraud Ross Eddinger (a.k.a. Eddie G. Ross and “Blackface” Eddie Ross) was among the last of his kind, an old-fashioned burnt-cork minstrel man in an age that was rapidly moving away from such fare. Ross apparently was not Canadian, as some writers have claimed, although he performed there often. He was born in Hillsdale, Michigan, married in nearby Jackson, and lived in Orlando, Florida, for much of his adult life.
A capable ragtime banjo soloist and composer, Ross tested for Edison in 1917 but was rejected. He made four tests for Victor. The first, “Ross’ Dog Trot” (recorded July 18, 1921, with piano accompaniment), was apparently enough to convince Victor, which on August 30 had him remake the title with studio orchestra for commercial release. The recording was made on a “special narrow-groove matrix,” no doubt accounting for its tendency to turn up in stripped-out condition. Ross later made three more Victor tests, in June and August 1922, including a “Whistling Medley” with monologue, the only confirmed instance of anyone having recorded his voice.
Ross made only six issued recordings, all of his own cakewalk-style titles that were already dated but still popular, as apparent sales of his first release (“Ross’ Dog Trot” / “Ross’ Reel”) proved. It’s still one of the most commonly encountered Victors of the period, and in 1927 it was transferred to Victor’s “Historical Catalog,” rather than being deleted entirely in the purge of acoustic material following Victor’s conversion to electrical recording.
Ross’ second release, in 1922 (for which an extra tuba was added to the studio orchestra), is not as frequently encountered. His final Victor, recorded in November 1923 with a more-modern accompaniment by Ross Gorman (saxophone) and Leroy Shield (piano), does not appear to have been a strong seller.
Eddie Ross in Canada (Ottawa, October 1914)
Ross reportedly was touring in vaudeville by 1909. One of his earliest known billings (October 1911) appears above, along with Ross’ wedding announcement, in Jackson, Michigan (June 1911).
With Neil O’Brien’s Minstrels in Corsicana, Texas (February 1918)
Back in Canada, this time on the Pantages vaudeville circuit
(Edmonton, June 1918)
Dealer ad for Ross’ first release (December 1921)
“BLACKFACE” EDDIE ROSS: Ross’ Reel
New York: August 31, 1921 (released December 1921)
Victor 18815 (mx. B 25542 – 2) Studio orchestra directed by Rosario Bourdon. “Special narrow-groove matrix,” per Victor files.
“BLACKFACE” EDDIE ROSS: Ross’ Juba
Camden, NJ: July 5, 1922 (released November 1922)
Victor 18926 (mx. B 26585 – 1) Studio orchestra directed by Rosario Bourdon. “Extra tuba [Adolph] Hirschberg,” per Victor files.
Review of Ross’ first release (Leavenworth, Kansas, December 1921)
Ross with the Al. G. Field Minstrels: Jackson, Mississippi (top, December 1926), and in his hometown of Orlando, Florida (bottom, January 1927)
In Orlando (February 1928)
One of Ross’ last documented appearances, with the Al. G. Field Minstrels (Dayton, Ohio, July 1931). He died on November 22, 1931.
Forgotten Vaudeville Stars • William H. (Billy) Tascott
By Allan Sutton
Known for most of his career simply by his last name, William H. Tascott specialized in the “coon song,” which merits some discussion here. These syncopated songs were the vocal counterpart to ragtime, and the subject matter was the supposed foibles of black folks.
There has long been a tendency to dismiss coon songs as racist trash, and not without some justification. Many exploited the worst stereotypes — corrupt preachers, razor fights, crap-shooting, cheating spouses, chicken-coop raids, and lusting after watermelon are recurring themes. And yet, many of the best (and, generally, least offensive) coon songs were written by blacks, including Bert Williams, Alex Rogers, Will Marion Cook, Jim Europe, and other notable figures.
The lyrics to “Shame on You,” which is posted here in Tascott’s rendition, were written by Chris Smith, a prolific black songwriter and vaudevillian who two decades later was featured on the earliest Ajax race records. If accounts of the period are any guide, many coon songs were enjoyed by black and white audiences alike. It was primarily white songwriters (like Paul Dresser, whose “Nigger Loves His Possum” was a hit for Collins & Harlan) who sullied the genre.
One of the earliest mentions of Tascott appears in the Boston Post for June 16, 1901, which noted that he “excels as a singer of coon songs.” Newspaper reports and advertisements from 1901 give his name variously as William H. Tascott, Will H. Tascott, or W. H. Tascott. By 1902, Tascott was using only his last name on stage — perhaps to avoid confusion with William B. Tascott, a suspected murderer who was the subject of a headline-grabbing manhunt at the time.
Singing between horse-races (Boston, August 1901)
Tascott traveled extensively in vaudeville, where he was billed as “The World’s Greatest Coon Shouter” (and much less often as “The White Coon,” the billing used for his Edison recordings). He spent the summer of 1901 playing vaudeville houses in Boston and even performing between horse race at Combination Park.
Tascott seems to have been especially popular in Washington, D.C., where The Washington Times for October 28, 1902, reported that his act “is a novel one, in that he does not appear in ‘black face.’” The Washington Evening Star observed that Tascott’s delivery “would doubtless cause many of his hearers to believe that he is in reality a colored singer, were it not for the fact that he does not resort to burnt cork.” This is certainly borne out by the straightforward delivery we hear on Tascott’s recordings, in which he largely avoids the annoying, stereotypical “darky” mannerisms that mar the work of Arthur Collins and some others who specialized in the genre on records.
Tascott’s total known recorded output consists of two Edison cylinders — “Shame on You,” recorded on April 22, 1905, and “You Must Think I’m Santa Claus,” from May 12, 1905. They bear out several reviews of the period that remarked on Tascott’s auditorium-filling voice. There are any number of possible explanations for such a short recording career — a busy touring schedule, Arthur Collins’ and Bob Roberts’ stranglehold on coon-song recording, or a voice that produced records prone to wear out prematurely are all certainly possibilities.
WILLIAM TASCOTT: Shame on You
New York: April 22, 1905 (released July 1905; deleted December 1, 1908)
Edison Gold Moulded cylinder 9033
At some point, Tascott received a Richard K. Fox medal, an award originally bestowed upon boxers by the owner of the Police Gazette, which was later expanded to include entertainers. Tascott shifted his activities to the Midwest around 1907 and began touring on the Keith vaudeville circuit. The Suburbanite Economist reported on April 2, 1909, that he had purchased a home in Chicago, at 6230 Throop Street. Now billed as Billy Tascott, he toured widely throughout the Midwest during 1909–1910 and even ventured into Canada, where he appeared at Winnipeg’s Dominion Theatre in March 1910.
“Billy” Tascott in the Midwest (Dekalb, Illinois, February 1910)
A mention of Tascott’s Richard K. Fox medal (Moline, Illinois, May 1908)
The summer of 1910 saw Tascott back on the East Coast for a string of appearances in the Washington–Baltimore–Philadelphia corridor. From there, he swung westward to Altoona, Pennsylvania, and Akron, Ohio, after which his trail grows cold for a time. He resurfaced in December 1913, when he performed at a “smoker” in Brooklyn for fifteen-hundred supporters of politician James P. Sinnott. There are other occasional mentions of Tascott as late as January 1915, when he played a small-time theater in Trenton, New Jersey. By then, however, the coon song was becoming passé, and Tascott fades from the picture.
Collectors’ Corner (MP3) • Some January Cylinder Finds
Edison Two-Minute Cylinders (1901 – 1909)
Cylinder fans — If you’re a serious collector or conscientious dealer, you need Edison Two-Minute and Concert Cylinders, compiled from the original Edison documentation. This is the only fully detailed guide to Edison cylinders, identifying and dating all of the numerous remakes. Remakes often employed different artists (see, for example, the note to the first selection below), who generally are not identified in earlier cylinder guides. Supplies are very limited, and we will not be reprinting once they are sold out — order soon!
Some of these recordings contain racially derogatory language that is typical of the period. It does not reflect the views of Mainspring Press; however, we see no value in censoring history. This was America (and, sadly, still is, in some jerkwater communities).
ARTHUR COLLINS: Little Alabama Coon
Edison Gold Moulded 1523
New York – Master plated July 19, 1901 National Phonograph began plating masters for the new Gold Moulded cylinders on January 21, 1901, in advance of an early 1902 launch. #1523 was originally allocated to George J. Gaskin’s 1897 recording of this title, which was subsequently replaced by a brown-wax version by Collins (deleted in July 1902 and replaced by this version in Gold Moulded format). The number was recycled yet again in July 1905, for a more common remake by Ada Jones with orchestra.
BOB ROBERTS: Somebody Lied
Edison Gold Moulded 9936
New York – Listed July 1908
WILL F. DENNY: My Word! What a Lot of It
Edison Gold Moulded 9620
New York – Listed June 1907
JACK PLEASANTS: I Said “Hooray”
Edison Gold Moulded 10293
London – Listed November 1909 (U.S.) British issue on 13898 – Listed c. July 1909
MURRY K. HILL: In the Good Old Steamboat Days
Edison Gold Moulded 9619
New York – Listed June 1907
BILLY MURRAY & EDISON MALE QUARTET: San Antonio
Edison Gold Moulded 9547
New York – Listed March 1907
EDWARD M. FAVOR & CHORUS: Almost (from The Fair Co-Ed)
Edison Gold Moulded 10147
New York – Listed April 1909
ANTONIO SCOTTI: Falstaff – Quand ero paggio
Edison Grand Opera Record B-57
New York – Listed November 1907
After a sluggish start that included plowing through more red-label Columbias, etc., than anyone should ever have to, March ended with some nice finds from a collector who’s downsizing. If you’re doing the same, and have material of similar quality to dispose of, let us know (top prices paid for top records, if needed for the collection; true E- or better, on the VJM scale, with strong V+ the minimum acceptable grade except in rare cases). Here are a few favorites from the new batch: .
FLETCHER HENDERSON & HIS ORCHESTRA: You’ve Got to Get Hot [EE-]
New York: October 1923
Vocalion 14726 (mx. 12199)
FLETCHER HENDERSON & HIS ORCHESTRA: Charleston Crazy [E]
New York: November 1923
Vocalion 14726 (mx. 12376)
SAMMY STEWART & HIS ORCHESTRA: Copenhagen [E-]
Chicago: September 1924
Paramout 20359 (mx. 1891-1)
WILLIAM HAID: Shim-Sha-Wabble [sic] & I’ll See You in My Dreams [V+]
Marsh Laboratories, Chicago: c. January 1925
Autograph unnumbered (mx. 701)
WENDELL HALL: Hot Feet [E-]
New York: March 29, 1927
Champion 15295 (Gennett mx. GEX-561)
BOB DEIKMAN’S ORCHESTRA (as Grandview Inn Orchestra): Roll Up the Carpets [E]
Richmond, IN: December 25, 1927
Champion 15401 (Gennett mx. GEX-991)
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.
Four very different treatments of Shelton Brooks’ 1910 hit, beginning with a Victor release by studio singer Billy Murray in auto-pilot mode. Given what we know of Victor’s musical assembly-line of the period, Murray’s first encounter with the song quite likely came when a company representative handed him the score and gave him a few days to prepare for the recording.
The song might have died on the spot, given such treatment, but Sophie Tucker made it her own. She brought audiences to their feet (and folks of the sort who carped about “white coon shouters” to near-apoplexy), and it would serve as her signature tune for the rest of her career. Here are two of Tucker’s many recorded versions — the original, and a mid-1920s reworking with the Ted Lewis band that incidentally marks one of the earliest fruits of the Columbia-Okeh merger. Lewis was exclusive to Columbia, Tucker to Okeh; the fact that Columbia got the release was perhaps a not-so-subtle reminder of who was boss in the new relationship.
And finally, a full jazz treatment by The Missourians, the sensationally hot band that Cab Calloway had recently taken over. Within a few months he would begin adjusting personnel and reducing them to glorified accompanists, but here we have them in their final, untampered-with glory.
BILLY MURRAY & AMERICAN QUARTET: Some of These Days
Camden NJ: December 27, 1910 (Released March 1911)
Victor 16834 (mx. B 9740 – 3)
Personnel not listed in the Victor files. The American Quartet at this time normally included Murray (lead tenor), John Bieling (tenor), Steve Porter (baritone), and William F. Hooley (bass).
SOPHIE TUCKER: Some of These Days
New York: February or March 1911 (Released May 25, 1911)
Edison Amberol 691 (four-minute cylinder)
The Edison studio cash books list Tucker four-minute sessions on February 17 and 24, and March 2, but do not indicate the titles recorded at each.
TED LEWIS & HIS BAND with SOPHIE TUCKER: Some of These Days
Chicago: November 23, 1926
Columbia 826-D (mx. W 142955 – 2)
CAB CALLOWAY & HIS ORCHESTRA (Cab Calloway, vocal):
Some of These Days
New York: December 23, 1930
Brunswick 6020 (mx. E 35880 – A)
These extracts are from an August 1898 Phonoscope feature, “Gallery of Talent Employed for Making Records” (entries without photographs are not shown).
All of the artists pictured were active into the early 1900s, and far beyond in many cases, but Russell Hunting and Steve Porter had the longest and most distinguished recording-industry careers. In addition to his prolific recording activities, Hunting was the editor of The Phonoscope (the industry’s first trade journal) in the 1890s, and he was still active in the later 1920s as American Pathé’s technical director.
Stephen Carl (Steve) Porter spent several years abroad in the early 1900s, including a stint as a recording engineer with the Nicole company, for which he made ethnic recordings in India and Burma. Upon his return to the U.S. he resumed recording (often in a stereotypical “dumb Irish” role that belied his brilliance), organized and managed the Rambler Minstrels (a popular recording and for-hire act that featured Billy Murray), and successfully filed for patents on various devices, including the Port-O-Phone, an early hearing aid. His activities are covered in detail in Steve Porter: Global Entrepreneur, on the Mainspring Press website.
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.