A Vintage Fourth of July Concert

Independence Day in the United States is one of the rare occasions when it is still common for people of all ages to gather and enjoy – often at live performances – festive music from the late 19th and very early 20th centuries.

The virtual “concert” presented here is anything but live. All of the recordings are over 100 years old and were made prior to the advent of the microphone. But the instruments used by concert style military bands reproduced well enough through the old acoustic recording horns to yield performances that are still enjoyable over a century later.

Below you will find an option to hear all of the recordings play though continuously in “concert style” followed by a section with background information where you can listen to each recording individually.

 


Listen “Concert Style”Click on the arrow in the audio player to hear all recordings play through continuously.


About The Recordings – Listen Individually 

 

“When Uncle Sammy Leads The Band”
Peerless Quartete, vocal
July 18, 1916   (Victor 18139-A)

Patriotic themes were a popular subject for Tin Pan Alley song writers throughout the 1910s decade. When this Harry Von Tilzer/Lou Klein composition was recorded in July 1916, World War I was raging in Europe. The United States would not enter the conflict until April of the following year. The Peerless Quartet was a vocal group that made hundreds of recordings between 1901 and the late 1920s.   During this recording session, the quartet consisted of Henry Burr, John H Meyer, Albert Campbell and Arthur Collins.

 

“Who’s Who In Navy Blue”
Sousa’s Band
June 10, 1920 (Victor 18683-B)

This march was composed by “March King” John Philip Sousa in 1920 as the official march of the 1921 graduating class of the US Naval Academy. Sousa’s band toured extensively between the 1890s and his death in 1932 and made over 1,700 recordings. But Sousa was not a fan of “canned music” and was personally present for only a handful of his band’s recording sessions.

 

“L-I-B-E-R-T-Y” 
Henry Burr, vocal
August 8, 1916 (Victor 18139-B)

This patriotic themed composition was written by Tin Pan Alley songwriter Ted S Barron who was responsible for both its music and lyrics. Henry Burr was a Canadian tenor who was perhaps the most prolific vocal recording artist during the first quarter of the 20th century. In addition to his many solo and duet recordings, he also recorded as part of the Peerless Quartet, the Sterling Trio and the American Quartet.

 

“Col. Stuart March”
Conway’s Band
May 8, 1919 (Edison 50614-R)

 

This march, composed by Alfred F Weldon, dates back to 1901. Weldon was the bandmaster for the Second Regiment Band of Chicago which eventually was known as Weldon’s Band. Conway’s Band, led by Patrick Conway, was formed in 1895 in Ithaca, New York and was originally known as the Ithaca Band. While the band had made records since 1912, the May 1919 performance presented here was the band’s first appearance on the Edison label. The recording here was taken from an Edison Diamond Disc but Edison also released it as a Blue Amberol cylinder.

 

Comrades Of The Legion
Sousa’s Band
June 10, 1920 (Victor 18683-A)

This John Philip Sousa march was published in 1920 and was dedicated to the American Legion.

 

“Rainbow Division March”
Arthur Pryor’s Band
December 10, 1918 (Victor 18559-A)

This march was published in 1917 and composed by Danny Nirella who, for many decades, led marching and concert bands in the Pittsburgh area. Arthur Prior was John Philip Sousa’s star trombone player and assistant bandleader. He left Sousa’s band to form his own in 1903 which became famous in its own right. Because John Philip Sousa disliked recorded music and refused to attend recording sessions, most of the Sousa’s pre-1904 recordings were, in fact, conducted by Arthur Pryor. Because of Pryor’s association with Victor, he continued to step in as conductor for Sousa’s recording sessions for a number of years after he left the band.

 


 

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Benny Kruger And His Orchestra – 1924

"Ray And His Little Chevrolet" Vintage Sheet Music Cover

 

“Ray And His Little Chevrolet”
Benny Kruger And His Orchestra; Billy Jones, Ernest Hare vocals
June 30, 1924 (Brunswick 2641-A)

 

As automobiles became more affordable and an increasingly important part of modern American life during the 1910s and 1920s, the songwriters for the big Tin Pan Alley music publishers churned out countless songs about the machines and their owners.  Two common themes centered around their lack of reliability and young men hoping that having a car might result in success in gaining the affection of young ladies.  Sometimes, the songs were about both, as in the case of the 1910s hit “He’d Have to Get Under — Get Out and Get Under (to Fix Up His Automobile)”

Songs that referred to specific brands of automobiles were most often about Fords.  As the 1920s progressed, Ford’s Model T was increasingly viewed as old fashioned compared with more attractive offerings from its rivals – and songs began to portray them as unstylish and cheap.

Song about Chevrolet and other competitors were not as common.  But here’s one from 1924 that was successful enough to attract the interest of the record labels.

The vocalists on this recording, Billy Jones and Ernest Hare, were highly successful on early radio where they billed themselves as “The Happiness Boys.”  A few weeks after they cut this recording with Benny Kruger’s band for Brunswick, they recorded the song again on Okeh with top billing as The Happiness Boys.

A couple of other famous musicians participated on this recording session as well.  On piano is Phil Ohman, half of the famous Arden-Ohman piano duo and later co-leader of the Arden-Ohman Orchestra which he and Victor Arden headed up.   On banjo is Harry Reser, the most famous banjoist of the 1920s and leader of the house band on the highly successful early network radio program The Clicquot Club Eskimos.   Neither of the musicians are prominently featured on this recording.  But in those days, recording sessions were lucrative work for musicians as participants were usually paid a flat fee per side recorded regardless as to whether the eventually issued record sold well or not.

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Jack Berger And His Hotel Astor Orchestra – 1931

 

“There’s Nothing Too Good For My Baby”
Jack Berger And His Hotel Astor Orchestra; Peter Cantor, vocal
September 5, 1931 (Melotone M 12273)

 

Here’s a catchy tune that Eddie Cantor introduced in the 1931 musical comedy Palmy Days which was one of that year’s top grossing films.  The fact that the uncredited vocalist on this recording is named Peter Cantor is mere coincidence and the two were not related.

Jack Berger’s orchestra appeared at New York City’s Hotel Astor for at last six years ending in 1936.  Its broadcasts from the hotel over WEAF were carried by the NBC Red Network and heard nationally.  In addition to Melotone, the band cut records for both the Crown and Bluebird labels.

Very little has been written about Jack Berger or of what became of him after the conclusion of his engagement at Hotel Astor when his name suddenly disappears from newspaper mentions and radio listings.  However, I recently stumbled across this extremely informative article that fills in a lot of blanks about Berger and his career.

– Dismuke

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Bessie Smith – 1929

“He’s Got Me Goin'”
Bessie Smith, vocal; James P. Johnson, piano
August 20, 1929  (Columbia 14464-D mx 148902)

 

This recording brings together two musical giants of the 1920s.  Bessie Smith was the era’s most popular and influential female blues singer.   James P. Johnson was the one of the originators of the stride piano style and had a major influence on artists such as Duke Ellington and Fats Waller.  He was also the composer of the song that is most frequently associated with the 1920s, “The Charleston.”

 

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The Three Keys – 1932

“Somebody Loses – Somebody Wins”
The Three Keys (Bon Bon, Slim & Bob)
August 29, 1932 (Columbia 2706-D mx 152292)

 

“Mood Indigo”
The Three Keys (Bon Bon, Slim & Bob)
August 29, 1932 (Columbia 2706-D mx 152270)

 

The Three Keys were a vocal harmony group that first performed together in Chester, Pennsylvania in 1931.  It was comprised of John E. “Slim” Furness, Robert “Bob” Pease and George “Bon Bon” Tunnell.

According to promotional material from the time none of the members of the group were able to read music.  After broadcasting locally in Philadelphia they were able to land national exposure over NBC which led to stage appearances on what was still remaining of the old vaudeville circuits and opportunities to cut records for Columbia and Brunswick/Vocalion.

The record here was the group’s first record and their only one that was issued on Columbia.  Less than two weeks later they had their first recording session on Brunswick which led to a handful of sides being made for that label in 1932 and 1933.   Some of their Brunswick sides were reissued on Vocalion in 1934.

Apparently personal difficulties among the group’s members slowed down it’s professional momentum just as its fame was starting to take off.  The Three Keys continued to perform and broadcast through the early 1940s but were never able to recapture their initial success.

Under the leadership of “Slim” Furness the group eventually morphed into The Four Keys and cut records backing up Ella Fitzgerald after she stepped down as the leader of the former Chick Webb Orchestra. Furness brought members of his own family into the group and by the 1950s it was making records as The Furness Brothers.  A number of Furness Brothers recordings can be accessed by searching the group’s name on YouTube.  One that I thought was quite nice was a doo-wop era selection which can be heard at this link.  The Furness Brothers continued performing into the 1980s.

For more information about the group, Marv Goldberg has done a great job researching and documenting its evolution over the decades and what became of its original members in an article that you can access at this link.

 

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Cloverdale Country Club Orchestra (Ben Selvin) – 1931

“Who Am I”
Cloverdale Country Club Orchestra
October 8, 1931 (Okeh 41523 mx 404989)

 

“Good Night Sweetheart”
Coverdale Country Club Orchestra
October 2, 1931 (Okeh 41523 mx 404988)

 

Here are nice renditions of two songs that were popular in 1931.  I thought it would be interesting to share the backstory behind the record they came from.  It is a good example of some of the “smoke and mirror” techniques that the record labels of the era often employed.

The first smokescreen is the name of the group, “Cloverdale Country Club Orchestra.”  In reality, there was no such orchestra. It was merely one of many pseudonyms used for recordings by Ben Selvin’s Orchestra.  During this period, Selvin was an in-house music director for Columbia Records which also owned the Okeh label.

Prior to 1935 the use of pseudonyms was extremely common, especially on a label’s  budget priced subsidiary labels and the so-called “dime store” labels which were specifically manufactured for various retail chains.  For example, the Romeo label was made for the S. H. Kress & Co dime store chain while the Oriole label was made for McCrory Stores.  It was not uncommon for a single recording to be issued on multiple labels under multiple pseudonyms.

Even the full priced flagship labels employed pseudonyms which they often heavily promoted – for example “The High Hatters” on Victor was led by in-house music director Leonard Joy and “The Knickerbockers” and “The Columbians”  on Columbia were pseudonyms for Ben Selvin.  It was more cost effective for a label to issue recordings by its in-house musicians than it was those of top named bands such as Paul Whiteman’s or Fred Waring’s.

The record featured here takes the smoke and mirrors one step further than usual.  When Okeh was acquired by Columbia in 1926 it was allowed to continue operating separately from Columbia.  It had its own roster of artists, its own marketing and its own recording sessions.  The masters from Okeh’s recording sessions had an entirely different numbering system than that which was used on Columbia and its budget labels Harmony, Velvet Tone, Diva and Clarion.

1931, however, was a dismal year for the record industry as the Great Depression made it difficult for people to afford records.  Companies attempted to cut costs any way that they could.

Both of the selections here were recorded for Columbia.  “Who Am I” was issued on Harmony, Velvet Tone and Clarion under the pseudonym of “Lloyd Keating And His Music” and had a Columbia matrix number of W 351109.  “Good Night Sweetheart” was issued on those same labels under the pseudonym of “Roy Carroll And His Sands Point Orchestra” and had a Columbia matrix number of W 351106.

To save money, the company decided to use Ben Selvin recordings originally made for Columbia on some of Okeh’s dance band releases.   But it wasn’t as simple as pressing an extra batch of records from same stampers used for the Harmony/Velvet Tone/Clarion releases and slapping an Okeh label on them as they contained the Columbia matrix number in the run-out area.   To to preserve consistency in the matrix numbering scheme of Okeh releases, a separate Okeh master was made by dubbing a copy from the Columbia master.

Thus the matrix numbers in the song credits above are completely different than those found for the exact same recordings on their Harmony/Velvet Tone and Clarion releases.

Was the public fooled by such smoke and mirror tactics?  They certainly fooled a music critic in the January, 1932 issue of Phonograph Monthly Review who wrote:

“The Okeh annotators do a great deal of shouting about their Cloverdale Country Club Orchestra and the praises it has elicited from the New Yorker. Personally, I think it is far outdistanced by Buddy Campbell’s good humored and spirited orchestra.”

The only problem was that the “Cloverdale Country Club Orchestra” and “Buddy Campbell And His Orchestra” were the exact same orchestra and were just pseudonyms for Ben Selvin’s Orchestra for recordings originally issued on Columbia labels under a different set of pseudonyms and then dubbed over to Okeh masters for release on that label.

 

 

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Clyde McCoy And His Orchestra – 1931

 

“I’ve Found A New Baby”
Clyde McCoy And His Orchestra
September 2, 1931 (Columbia 2531 D mx 151765)

 

“Mood Indigo”
Clyde McCoy And His Orchestra
September 2, 1931 (Columbia 2531 D mx 151764)

 

Clyde McCoy is best remembered for his theme song “Sugar Blues” which brought attention to his trademark “wah-wah” effects on the muted trumpet.  He recorded the song in 1931 for Columbia and again in 1935 after he began recording for Decca.

The two sides here feature McCoy’s trumpet playing – but you won’t hear much in the way of “Sugar Blues” style “wah-wah.”  Both are quite jazzy.

“I’ve Found A New Baby” has a very nice hot arrangement. “Mood Indigo” was popularized by Duke Ellington and many bands have performed the song through the years.  I think the version here is one of the more impressive.

One bit of Clyde McCoy trivia: he was a descendant of the same family that became famous for the Hatfield-McCoy feud.

– Dismuke

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Ben Selvin & His Orchestra “Lady Whippoorwill” – 1928

Columbia 1538-D Record Label Image

 

“Lady Whippoorwill”
Ben Selvin And His Orchestra
August 31, 1928  (Columbia 1538-D mx 146936)

 

Here is a charming recording of a mostly forgotten song that was recently added to the Radio Dismuke playlist.

“Lady Whippoorwill” was introduced in the musical production Cross My Heart which opened on Broadway at the old Knickerbocker Theatre on September 17, 1928.  The show closed after an eight week run and, two years later, the theater itself was demolished (though the building that replaced it is a rather impressive Ely Jacques Kahn Art Deco skyscraper).

This recording and its flip side, “Right Out Of Heaven,” which was also from Cross My Heart, was made a few weeks prior to the show’s opening.  This was a common practice for record manufacturers as it gave them lead time for records to be in stores in the event that a song appearing in an upcoming production proved to be popular.

In this instance, apparently Columbia was the only record label the song’s publishers were able to convince than an advance recording was worth the risk.  I am not able to find reference of it having been recorded by any other American record label besides one that Columbia itself recorded a day earlier for its budget priced Harmony, Diva and Velvet Tone subsidiary labels.  That recording was made by Rudy Vallee’s Yale Collegians, though Vallee himself did not perform the vocal.  Columbia continued to utilize its outdated acoustical (i.e., pre-microphone) recording equipment for its bargain labels, so, unfortunately, the Vallee recording does not have the nice fidelity that the electrically recorded “Vivia-Tonal” Ben Selvin recording has.

 

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Bessie Smith And Her Blue Boys 1927

Columbia 14219 D

 

“There’ll Be A Hot Time In The Old Town To-night”
Bessie Smith And Her Blue Boys
March 2, 1927  (Columbia 14219-D mx 143570)

 

“Alexander’s Ragtime Band”
Bessie Smith And Her Blue Boys
March 2, 1927 (Columbia 14219-D mx 143568)

 

Here are two recordings that I am especially pleased to add to Radio Dismuke’s playlist.

I heard this recording of “There’ll Be A Hot Time In The Old Town To-night” some years ago and was simply blown away by it.  I can’t put  into words the specific quality of Bessie Smith’s voice that caused this recording to have such an effect on me and made it so memorable. Let’s just say that her voice was powerful.   And the jazz combo that backs her up is excellent – it included Fletcher Henderson on the piano and Buster Bailey on clarinet.  On the “Alexander’s Ragtime Band” side Coleman Hawkins is the clarinet player.

Both of these songs were already “oldies” by the time Smith recorded them. “There’ll Be A Hot Time In The Old Town Tonight” was published in 1896 and was used as a marching song by Teddy Roosevelt’s Rough Riders during the Spanish-American War.  Irving Berlin composed “Alexander’s Ragtime Band” in 1911 and it became his first of many hit songs.

– – Dismuke

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The Story Behind “Winter Wonderland” – 1934

Photo of record label for Victor 24757

 

“Winter Wonderland”
Richard Himber And His Ritz Carlton Orchestra; Joey Nash, vocal
October 23, 1934 (Victor 24757-B)

 

“Winter Wonderland”
Harry Leader And His Band; Sam Browne, The Carlyle Cousins, vocal
January 1935 (Eclipse 902-A)

 

Here is the very first recording of “Winter Wonderland” and the story of how a now familiar and beloved holiday classic came close to having been overlooked and forgotten.

The first recording of “Winter Wonderland” was this version presented here by Richard Himber And His Ritz Carleton Orchestra. The song’s lyrics were written in early 1934 by an obscure song writer named Dick Smith after he observed children playing in the snow from his window in a Scranton, Pennsylvania sanitarium where he was sick with tuberculosis. Smith took the lyrics to his friend, pianist Felix Bernard, who composed a tune to go with them. The song might well have been lost had it not come to the attention of Joey Nash, the vocalist for Richard Himber’s popular New York City society orchestra.

Decades later in the 1970s Nash recalled:

“A fan in my neighborhood, Bernie Smith, told me about a song his brother Dick, a patient in a Pennsylvania sanitarium, had co-authored with Felix Bernard. He showed me a penciled manuscript and played a wheezy, home-made recording of “Winter Wonderland.” I liked the unique, sleigh bells-snowman romantic lyrics and its lovely melody. I learned Donaldson-Douglas-Gumble music publishers had accepted the tune and evidently forgot about its existence.

I introduced “Winter Wonderland” on the air and on this Victor date [October 23, 1934] the band and I were scheduled to record it. Due to technical difficulties, time had run out and the session ended without the song being made. Himber had left the studio and the musicians were packing up. I so wanted to do this tune, I asked the band, as a favor to me, to try for a master. They agreed, but it would be a one-shot try. If something or someone fouled it up, well, that would be just too bad. (In those days, before tape recording, a rendition had to be faultless from start to end: if not, you had to do it again – and again.) It was a perfect performance…”

Joey Nash’s performances on Richard Himber’s radio broadcasts brought the song to the attention of bandleader Guy Lombardo who recorded his own version for Decca the day following Himber’s recording session. Lombardo’s recording was released in December and it quickly climbed to number 2 on the Billboard charts. Ted Weems recorded the song for Columbia on November 11 and it reached Billboard’s number 13 position.

I do not have a copy of either the Guy Lombardo or Ted Weems version – but I have included in this posting an exceptionally nice version from Great Britain recorded in January, 1935 by Harry Leader and His Band.  This recording is from an eight inch Eclipse record.  Eclipse was an in-house bargain label sold through the British branch of the F. W. Woolworth dime store chain.

Both recordings receive regular air play on Radio Dismuke.

Dick Smith lived to see his song become a hit before the tuberculosis took his life on September 28, 1935 – just one day prior to his 34th birthday.

— Dismuke

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