New Online Discography: Olympic Records (1921 – 1924)

Olympic Records, 1921 – 1924
A Provisional Discography
by Allan Sutton

 

The Latest Addition to the
Mainspring Press Free Online Reference Library

 

Download OLYMPIC RECORDS, 1921 – 1924  (PDF, ~1mb)
Free to Download for Personal, Non-Commercial Use

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Now long-forgotten, John Fletcher failed at virtually every commercial venture he undertook, and yet he managed to produce some interesting records in the process. The Olympic label would be produced by three different Fletcher-backed ventures in rapid succession, over the span of just four years — including one in which Black Swan’s Harry Pace found himself unfortunately entangled after what seemed like a promising start.

Attempts to produce a definitive Olympic discography have been ongoing since the early 1950s, when a group of collectors and researchers affiliated with Record Research magazine began compiling detailed data on Olympic and related labels from first-hand inspection of the original discs. Black Swan: The Record Label of the Harlem Renaissance (Thygesen, Berresford, and Shor, 1996) included the first commercially published Olympic discography, albeit a somewhat sketchy one. It served well as a very basic starting point, but much work remained to be done. The opportunity to do so finally arose after Mainspring Press acquired the Record Research group’s discographical data, which have now been merged with more recent findings from other equally trustworthy contributors to produce the discography.

The discography contains details of all records originally marketed by the Olympic Disc Record Corporation, Fletcher Record Company, and Capitol Roll & Record Company, including client-label and other derivative issues. It is still very much a provisional discography at this point — a first attempt to sort out and disseminate what is currently known for certain concerning these records. It also identifies and corrects some misinformation found in several well-known jazz and dance-band discographies, which has been debunked through synchronized aural comparisons of the Olympic recordings to supposed matches on other labels.

An introductory essay covers Fletcher’s career during this period and clarifies his business relationship with Harry Pace and the Black Swan operation. Black Swan collectors  will find some fresh surprises, with a number of the Fletcher-period Black Swan issues now definitively traced back to World War War I-era Pathé recordings that found their way onto the label via Fletcher’s old universal-cut Operaphone dubbings. And for newer arrivals to collecting, you’ll find all the information you need to keep you from paying a king’s ransom for “Henderson’s Orchestra” or “Ethel Water Jazz Masters” Black Swans that are really just white dance bands from the Olympic catalog in disguise!

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Happy Holidays! • Coming Attractions for Early 2022

Happy Holidays….

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… and best wishes for a happy, healthy, and prosperous 2022!
Here a few things we’ll be bringing you in the new year, as part of the free Mainspring Press Online Reference Library:

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THE OLYMPIC DISCOGRAPHY (1921 – 1924)

The first deeply detailed discography of John Fletcher’s ill-fated label — including all the derivative Black Swan, BD&M, and client-label issues; pseudonym unmaskings; release dates; and even some exact recording dates from the files of Ed Kirkeby (who in his pre–California Ramblers days booked Olympic sessions for artists ranging from Nevada van der Veer to Fred Van Eps).

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HERBERT BERLINER AND THE COMPO COMPANY IN NEW YORK: The Compo-Series Masters (1926–1927)

For two years, Herbert Berliner’s New York studio produced electrically recorded masters for Pathé and Gennett while those companies lagged in converting to the new technology. You’ll find all the details here, compiled from the original Compo Company documentation.

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THE EMERSON DISCOGRAPHY (1915 – 1928)
Second Edition

A thoroughly revised and greatly expanded edition of Mainspring’s 2013 best-seller, in a free new downloadable edition that now includes the small-diameter pressings, client labels, and special issues not included in the original print version.

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See Victor Emerson at work and play, in personal photos from the Emerson family collection

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Forgotten Black Musicians • Wendell P. Talbert

Forgotten Black Musicians • Wendell P. Talbert

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ROSA HENDERSON (Wendell P. Talbert, piano)
Good Woman’s Blues

New York: May 24, 1923
Victor 19084 (mx. B 28026 -2)

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ROSA HENDERSON (Wendell P. Talbert, piano)
Good Woman’s Blues

New York: May 24, 1923
Victor 19084 (mx. B 28027 -2)

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Like Noble Sissle, with whom he was associated off-and-on for many years, Wendell Talbert was largely a creature of the theater. Unlike Sissle, he left behind only a handful of issued recordings, and only in an accompanying role. As a result, he’s been largely overlooked by collectors and historians.

The earliest substantive reference we’ve found to Wendell Phillip (or Philips, depending on the account) Talbert shows him as a member of the Southern Jubilee Singers and Players in January 1912. This was a traveling organization that specialized in old-time “plantation” songs, traditional spirituals, and other fare that likely was selected at least in part for its appeal to white audiences.

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Talbert as tenor, cellist, and pianist with the Southern Jubilee Singers and Players (Bismarck [North Dakota] Tribune, January  27, 1912)

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By 1914, Talbert was a featured performer with William A. Hann’s Jubilee Singers, a group of “seven cultured ladies and gentlemen” whose offerings ran from “refined and wholesome humor” to spirituals and grand opera. Its members included soprano Florence Cole, who Talbert married in the same year. At about that time, Noble Sissle joined the troupe, initially filling in for Talbert on occasion, based upon some published programs from the period. Their paths would continue to cross for the next four decades.

.Wendell Talbert and Florence Cole-Talbert with Hann’s Jubilee Singers (Hutchinson [Kansas] Gazette, October 17, 1914)

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The Talberts divorced at some point, although the date remains unclear. One secondary source cites 1915, but news reports as late as 1917 continued to state that the couple were married. The latest such report we’ve located so far, in the Xenia [Ohio] Daily Gazette for May 24, 1917, refers to Cole-Talbert’s “talented husband, Prof. Wendell Talbert.” However, she continued to use Cole-Talbert as her professional name, perhaps leading to some confusion in the press.

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Florence Cole-Talbert is remembered primarily for her Black Swan recordings. She and Wendell had divorced by the time those recordings were made, but she continued to use her married name in stage work.

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Talbert appears to have left Hann in 1918 or 1919, when mentions of him vanish from the press. At some point in the early 1920s, he made the transition from old-time tunes and spirituals to jazz and blues, albeit of a rather tame sort. In July 1921, it was reported that he would be writing for the Chamberlain Company, a newly launched music publisher in Detroit. Anecdotal reports credit him with coming up with the name for Sissle & Blake’s “Shuffle Along,” and conducting the pit orchestra in one of the show’s touring companies, but those stories remain to be confirmed.

In 1923, Talbert resurfaced as the piano accompanist on a few records by vaudeville-blues singers Rosa Henderson (Victor) and Lethia Hill (Vocalion). His two recordings with Henderson were released in Victor’s first attempt at a race-record series:

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Victor’s first attempt at a race-record series, July 1923. Sissle’s and Talbert’s sessions were held a day apart. Sissle by this time was a major star, and it’s tempting to speculate that he might have arranged for Talbert to record for Victor.

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By late 1925, Talbert had remarried and was touring in vaudeville with his Chocolate Fiends, a large revue that starred Alethia Hill. In November of that year, he accompanied two sides by comedian Billy King on Okeh. His orchestra made a test recording of “Deep Henderson” for Brunswick of October 28, 1926, which unfortunately was not approved for issue.

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Talbert and company on the road (Indianapolis, December 1925)

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Talbert remarried in 1926 and publicly credited new wife Hallie for her help and inspiration. He continued to tour with the Chocoalte Fiends into the late 1920s, but made no further issued recordings that we know of.

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Pittsburgh Courier (October 2, 1926)

Pittsburgh Courier (October 9, 1926)

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Pittsburgh Courier (September 15, 1927)

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In the early 1930s, Talbert returned to his roots with his Dusky Troubadours, a choir that specialized in the same sort of material he had performed with Hann’s Jubilee Singers two decades earlier. The group broadcast over radio station WOR (Newark, New Jersey) on occasion. By 1934, Talbert had augmented the choir with an eighteen-piece orchestra.

 

Talbert with the USO during World War II (Louisville Courier-Journal, September 24, 1944)

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During World War II, Talbert served as musical advisor to the Colored USO of Central New Jersey. In July 1950, Talbert rejoined Noble Sissle, probably for the last time, in a fund-raiser for the New York Heart Association. He died in the early 1950s.

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Marian Anderson: Black Swan’s Missed Opportunity

Marian Anderson: Black Swan’s Missed Opportunity

By Allan Sutton

 

One December 27, 1920, Harry Pace wrote to W. E. B. DuBois concerning several artists he wanted to audition for his as-yet unnamed record label, in which DuBois was a major investor. In the same letter, Pace approved DuBois’ suggestion that the label be named “Black Swan.”

The other interesting revelation in this letter is that Pace hoped to make a test recording of the young Marian Anderson:

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Harry Pace to W. E. B. DuBois (New York: December 27, 1920). W. E. B. DuBois Papers, University of Massachusetts-Amherst Special Collections.

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If Pace made test recordings by any of these artists, they have yet to be found. Cole-Talbert was eventually signed by Black Swan, and her output can be heard on the new Black Swans CD. Although Pace states that he had signed Ford Dabney, no Black Swan records by his orchestra were forthcoming.

Pace failed to follow through with Anderson, an artist who could have done for Black Swan’s operatic series what Ethel Waters did for its pop catalog.

She wasn’t the only opportunity Pace let slip through his fingers, in the way of concert artists. In June 1921 he hired Paul Robeson as a salesman, but did not record him.

In both cases, his losses would become Victor’s gains. In Anderson’s case, Victor musical director Josef Pasternack signed her in 1923, although she was placed in the lowly black-label series (as was Robeson, two years later). It would take many years, and a change of ownership at Victor, before Anderson was finally granted the Red Seal status she so richly deserved.

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MARIAN ANDERSON: Go Down, Moses

Camden, NJ: May 29, 1924
Victor 19370 (mx. B 29896 – 9)
With studio orchestra directed by Charles Prince

 

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Text © 2019 by Allan R. Sutton. All rights are reserved.

The John Fletcher Story, Part 2: The Olympic-Remington Debacle (1921 – 1922)

The John Fletcher Story, Part 2: The Olympic-Remington Debacle (1921–1922)
By Allan Sutton

 

 

The following is a condensed excerpt from the author’s Harry Pace, John Fletcher, and the Black Swan Saga (in preparation for 2018 publication)

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Pathé was not yet producing lateral-cut discs when it took over  John Fletcher’s Operaphone Company as a subsidiary. [1] By early 1920, however, it was preparing to do so, and the universal-cut Operaphone discs (being readily playable on lateral-cut machines) might have been seen as a potential competitive threat. It probably was no coincidence that Operaphone’s sudden disappearance in early 1920 occurred at precisely the same time as Pathé’s launch of its new lateral-cut Actuelle discs.

Little more was heard of John Fletcher until March 1921, when The Talking Machine World reported the launch of the Olympic Disc Record Corporation. [2] Incorporated with $260,000 capital in Maryland (although it never operated there [3]), Olympic announced that it would “manufacture the highest possible quality phonograph records, and plans to engage the best artists available.”

Much was made of the fact that the Remington Phonograph Company held a controlling interest in Olympic. Olympic’s  executive roster was identical with that of Remington Phonograph, except for one outsider — John Fletcher, who was listed as secretary of the new company. [4] Remington’s failure a year later would  take Olympic down with it, but in early 1921 the acquisition was hailed by industry insiders as a promising move by a rising new phonograph manufacturer.

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    The Remington Phonograph Corporation, picturing president Philo E. Remington, was registered on July 20, 1920. The company filed a trademark application for Reminola records on the same date.

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The Remington Phonograph Corporation had been incorporated in January 1920. [5] The company was headed by former Remington Typewriter Company executive Philo E. Remington (president), along with James S. Holmes (vice-president and general manager), and M. B. Thomas (secretary and, later, treasurer). [6] Eliphalet Remington, son of the founder of the Remington Arms Company, served on the board of directors. [7] Although Remington Phonograph’s promotional materials strongly suggested that the company was affiliated with Remington Arms, it was not, as later testimony would confirm. [8]

The phonograph plant was to have been housed in the Remington Typewriter factory at Ilion, New York, [9] a plan that was quickly abandoned. Instead, the company purchased an existing factory (formerly used by an unnamed manufacturer of bank and office fixtures) in Brooklyn’s Bush Terminal Building. [10] Shipments of the first phonograph model, coupled with a national advertising campaign, began in late July or early August 1920. [11] Three additional models began shipping that autumn.

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Remington’s main selling point was its reproducer, which was said to do away with the “cramped or imprisoned tone” of other models.

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Remington Phonograph clearly was anticipating record production as early as the summer of 1920. In July of that year, the company filed a U.S. trademark application for use of the Reminola brand on phonographs and records. [12] Although his application claimed use since May 5, 1920, no evidence has been found that that Reminola records were ever produced commercially. Early reports stated that Remington’s records would be manufactured at Ilion, but as 1921 dawned, they had yet to appear.

Then, in April 1921, came the first listing of Olympic records, as May releases. TMW reported that the company had already begun recording and pressing records in its Brooklyn facility. [13] A month later, it was reported that Olympic had acquired Fletcher’s idled Operaphone facility (which included a studio and pressing plant) on Meadow Street in Long Island City. Edward Kuhn (a former Edison supervisor) was hired as an advisory mechanical engineer as recording and manufacturing were transferred to the Long Island facility. By then, Fletcher had been elected to Remington Phonograph’s board of directors. [14]

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Olympic advertised aggressively, albeit to little apparent effect. The double-page spread ran in a 1921 edition of The Talking Machine World.

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Olympic got off to an unsteady start, despite an aggressive advertising campaign. Once again in charge of a recording program, Fletcher repeated past mistakes. Although Olympic was marketed as a premium-priced label, its main offering was bland pop and light classical fare, much of it performed by the same New York-area dance bands and studio freelancers who could be heard on dozens of other labels, many of them better-produced than Olympic.

The only relatively bright spot was an operatic series (with program notes printed on the labels) featuring such lesser lights as Regina Viccarino, Henrietta Wakefield, and Percy Hemus. Broadway star Greek Evans was pressed into service as an operatic baritone on several releases. However, only ten issues appeared, most of them single-sided.

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Olympic used many of the same freelance studio singers and New York-area dance orchestras (like Harry Yerkes’ Jazzarimba Orchestra, above) that could be heard on dozens of other labels. Some of the operatic recordings (right) later turned up, in disguise, on the cut-rate National Music Lovers label.

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Olympic’s recording and technical quality were mediocre, and with few stars or anything out of the ordinary in the way of repertoire in its catalog, the label could not hope to compete with Columbia, Victor, and other comparably priced brands. The company boasted a large number of retailers, but many (like the “trunk, bag, and umbrella” store shown below) carried phonographs and records only as side-lines. Sales lagged as advertising fell off, and the final Olympic Disc Record Corporation releases appeared in December 1921. At the same time, the parent Remington Phonograph Company was failing.

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Remington in decline: In late 1921, the company began steeply discounting its phonographs.

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On December 1, 1921, Remington and Olympic were thrown into receivership on the complaint of vice-president Holmes, who contended that it was impossible to proceed with business unless additional capital could be raised. In addition, Holmes disclosed that a number of legal actions against the companies were likely. Remington Phonograph claimed liabilities of $22,500 and assets of $100,000. The situation was more dire for Olympic, with liabilities of $33,000 and assets of $60,000. [15] Later testimony revealed that Remington had lost money from the start, despite rosy statements to investors.

On December 9, the Olympic Disc Record Corporation filed a petition in bankruptcy. [16] With Remington itself on the verge of collapse, management’s answer was to press its already-disgruntled investors for still more money. A meeting of Remington stockholders on January 30, 1922, turned violent, as the Philadelphia Inquirer reported:

Interrupted by cried of “liar,” “thief,” “throw him out,” and “wait until we get you outside,” James P. Holmes, vice-president of the Remington Phonograph Company [sic], tried in vain yesterday to soothe the ruffled feelings of five-hundred disgruntled stockholders… Most of them appeared to be persons of small means… The manager of the hotel came on the run when a bedlam of hisses and howls greeted Holmes’ further efforts to preside. The manager settled this argument by threatening to call the police and have the whole crowd ejected if the noise continued. [17]

A proposal that stockholders sink still more money into a reorganization was shouted down. Eventually, Edwin Starr Ward, an attorney representing the stockholders, was allowed to present his report. Philo Remington, he alleged, was merely a company figurehead, drawing a minimum $5,000 annual royalty for the use of his name. Of the 22,500 shares he had originally owned, he was now said to hold only 1,100. Ward concluded, “The business was carried on in a wasteful, ignorant, and extravagant manner and with utter disregard for the interests of stockholders.” Finally, the New York Times reported, “the gathering broke up in disorder.” [18]

The Olympic and Remington operations were quickly dismantled. Louis Jersawit, the receiver for both companies, gave notice in the New York Times for March 3, 1922, that all of Olympic’s assets and property were to be auctioned on March 25. Offered for sale was,

a fully equipped plant for the manufacture of phonograph records, phonograph records completed and in the course of completion, all materials and property used in the manufacture of phonograph records, all patents, copyrights, and trademarks, all office and factory furniture and fixtures, together with the complete equipment of the factory of the said defendant, Olympic Disc Record Corporation, contained in the premises at 156 Meadow Street, Long Island City… [19]

The purchaser would be none other than John Fletcher, in partnership with Black Swan’s Harry Pace—the American recording industry’s first racially mixed executive team. Fletcher retained possession of his Olympic masters, some of which he proceeded to reissue under colorful aliases on Black Swan, in the process scuttling Pace’s pledge to issue only recordings by black artists (although in fairness, it should be noted that Pace himself had already broken that pledge on several occasions).

Some Olympic masters would also find their way to other companies, including the Bridgeport Die & Machine Company, New York Recording Laboratories, and Scranton Button Company, which parceled them out to their client labels for several years. Some of Olympic’s celebrity operatic issues even ended up, in disguise, on Scranton’s cut-rate National Music Lovers label. [20]

Fletcher had escaped the Remington Phonograph Corporation’s collapse unscathed, at least from a legal standpoint, but other Remington executives would not. An investigation of Remington Phonograph revealed that of the $1 million allegedly collected on stock sales, only $440,000 showed on Remington’s books. In addition, shareholder complaints continued to mount over misleading promotional materials and artificially inflated stock prices. The result was an investors’ lawsuit charging that the Remington Phonograph Corporation “was grossly mismanaged by its officers, who are now under indictment for fraudulent use of the mails in connection with the selling of the stock of the corporation.” [21]

The indictment referred to in the shareholder’s suit originated in  the Philadelphia District Attorney’s office, which charged Philo Remington and five other Remington Phonograph executives or associates with stock fraud. On June 1, 1922, all six were ordered held on $5,000 bond each, pending arraignment. [22] The investigation would drag on into the spring of 1924, before finally going to trial on April 4. Of the six who were originally charged, only Morris Pomerantz (a salesman whose connection to the company is unclear) escaped indictment.

At the trial, Harry Sieber (who had succeeded Thomas as treasurer) testified that Remington Phonograph had “never earned a dollar,” and that the stock price “was shoved up whenever that seemed expedient.” His testimony was followed by a parade of stockholders who declared they had been misled into believing that Remington Phonograph was affiliated with Remington Arms and Remington Typewriter. Among the evidence presented was a booklet devoted to the history of both companies, which Remington Phonograph had mailed to potential investors. [23] Two other key pieces of evidence were discovered to have mysteriously disappeared, but copies were allowed into evidence. [24]

By the end of the thirteen-day trial, seven of the original nine counts had been dismissed as faulty, and most of the evidence relating to misleading use of the Remington name had been excluded. Philo Remington and James Holmes were acquitted. The jury was unable to reach a verdict on the other three. [25]

In the meantime, John Fletcher, having not been caught up in the Remington investigation, had been busy. In the space of two years, he had bought his way into Black Swan, contributed significantly to its collapse, and now was about to pack his bags for Chicago, where one last failure awaited him.

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Part 1 — Music for Everybody (1900–1921)

Part 3 (Coming Soon) — A Not-So-Black Swan (1922–1923)

Part 4 (Coming Soon) — Beating a Dead Horse in Chicago (1924–1925)

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 Notes

[1] “Pathé Frères Phonograph Co.” (re: Operaphone as a Pathé subsidiary). Moody’s Manual of Railroads and Corporation Securities. New York: Moody Manual Co. (1922), p. 940. Pathé’s control of Operaphone beginning in the later ‘teens was never disclosed publicly.

[2] “New Concern to Make Records.” Talking Machine World (Mar  15, 1921), p. 3

[3] Two of Olympic’s board members resided in Baltimore, perhaps explaining the decision to incorporate in Maryland.

[4] “New Concern to Make Records,” op. cit.

[5] Untitled notice. Talking Machine World (Jan 15, 1920), p. 121.

[6] “To Enter Talking Machine Field.” Talking Machine World (Mar 15, 1920), p. 226.

[7] “Announcing the Remington Phonograph Corporation” (ad). Talking Machine World (Jun 15, 1920), p. 62.

[8] “Remington Phonograph Head on Trial for Fraud.” Olean [NY] Times Herald (Apr 9, 1924), p. 5.

[9] “Holmes with Remington Corp.” Talking Machine World (May 15, 1920), p. 62.

[10] “Reviews Remington’s Progress.” Talking Machine World (Sep 15, 1920), p. 124.

[11] “Remingtons Now Being Shipped.” Talking Machine World (Aug 15, 1920), p. 51. Shipments of additional models began in September or early October.

[12] Remington Phonograph Corporation. “Reminola,” U.S. trademark application #135,214 (filed Jul 20, 1920).

[13] Some pressings had been produced by March 14, 1921, when they were demonstrated at Remington Phonograph’s first annual shareholders’ meeting.

[14] “Remington Co. Doubles Stock.” Talking Machine World (Apr 15, 1921), p. 33.

[15] “Receiver Is Appointed for Remington Phonograph.” New York Tribune (December 2, 1921), p. 19.

[16] “Business Troubles — Petitions in Bankruptcy.” New York Tribune (Dec 10, 1921), p. 17.

[17] “Heads of Defunct Firm Threatened.” Philadelphia Inquirer (Jan 31, 1922), p. 2. The New York Times, in the article cited below, gave the number of stockholders attending as four-hundred.

[18] “Stockholders in Wrangle.” New York Times (Jan 31, 1922), p. 3

[19] “Receivers’ Sales.” New York Times (Mar 4, 1922), p. 19.

[20] Sutton, Allan. Pseudonyms on American Records, 1892–1942 (Third Revised and Expanded Edition). Denver: Mainspring Press (2013).

[21] Frankland et al. v. Remington Phonograph Corporation et al. (119 A. 127).

[22] “6 Remington Officers in $5,000 Bail.” Rochester [NY] Democrat and Chronicle (Jun 2, 1922), p. 1

[23] “Promoters Listen to Luring Letters.” Philadelphia Inquirer (Apr 5, 1924), p. 2.

[24] “Evidence Missing. Letters Used in Alleged Fraud Case Are Stolen.” Cincinnati Enquirer (Apr 5, 1924), p. 9.

[25] “Two Are Acquitted in Remington Case.” Philadelphia Inquirer (Apr 23, 1924), p. 3.