A Panorama of American History in the First Half of the Twentieth Century: Sheet Music and 78-RPM Records from the William T. Jerome Library Collection
Pinta, Emil R. “A Panorama of American History in the First Half of the Twentieth Century: Sheet Music and 78-RPM Records from the William T. Jerome Library Collection.” Digital Gallery. BGSU University Libraries, 6 July 2021, digitalgallery.bgsu.edu/collections/item/40230. Accessed 6 June 2023.
|Title||A Panorama of American History in the First Half of the Twentieth Century: Sheet Music and 78-RPM Records from the William T. Jerome Library Collection|
|Description||An essay on sheet music and 78rpm records donated to BGSU's Bill Schurk Sound Archives in 2017, by the donor.|
|Creator||Emil R. Pinta|
|Source||Emil R. Pinta 78-rpm record, sheet music and record-sleeve collection, MUSIC 031; The Music Library and Bill Schurk Sound Archives, University Libraries, Bowling Green State University.|
|Publisher||Emil R. Pinta/BGSU Music Library and Bill Schurk Sound Archives|
|Relation||Part of the Emil R. Pinta 78-rpm record, sheet music, and record-sleeve collection|
A Panorama of American History in the First Half of the Twentieth Century: Sheet Music and 78-RPM Records from the William T. Jerome Library Collection
Emil R. Pinta
Few of today’s sources of mass information were present in the first half of the twentieth century. There were almost no radio broadcasts in the U.S. until after World War I, and no televisions in the homes of most Americans until the late 1940s and early ‘50s. The Internet and social media of today didn’t exist. In this simpler technological time, popular songs were routinely written about important historical and sociocultural events and recorded on 78-rpm records. In some respects, they were the social media of their time. They were ways of sharing information and helped people connect with one another.
Sheet music and records from the first half of the twentieth century represent a panorama of American history and culture. They are important artifacts that helped form our collective identity as a society through shared experiences with these mediums. Songs have unique abilities. Music has been said “to touch the soul,” enabling songs to have a life of their own and to exist long after they lose popularity in the media. Words and melodies are often brought into consciousness by small occurrences that recall past events. They can remind us of both pleasant and unpleasant memories from the past.
The first, flat-disc records in the US were made between 1892 and 1900. They were named Berliner records and manufactured by their inventor, Emile Berliner. Their playing speed varied slightly, but most were recorded at 70-rpm (revolutions per minute). Later, 78-rpm became the industry standard.
For the first quarter of the twentieth century,”78s” were recorded using an “acoustic” process in which sound entered a large acoustical horn, and sound vibrations caused a recording stylus attached to a diaphragm to make impressions in a record groove. During 1925 and 1926, most major U.S. companies switched to a superior electrical recording process with electric microphones, electric recording heads and electric-driven turntables. For its electrically recorded discs, Victor designed an attractive “Orthophonic (Scroll)” label, and Columbia added “Electrical Process” and/or “Viva-tonal” to its labels. Other record companies made similar label changes.
1 Except where noted, all items shown here are part of a collection donated to the William T. Jerome Library of Bowling Green State University by the author in 2017 and are available for in-library use.
Most U.S. companies stopped producing 78-rpm records after 1958 and switched to vinyl 45-rpm and 33 and 1/3 rpm “long-playing” records. These continued as the preferred mediums until the introduction of the Compact Disc (CD) by Phillips and Sony in 1983.
Most of the records displayed here are in age-appropriate record sleeves. Useful information can often be obtained from their sleeve-art and texts; however, their primary purpose was advertisement for records and record companies. Earliest records were transported and sold in plain “envelopes.” The term “record sleeve” developed later.
The following are Columbia label designs and their years of use: Black and Silver (B&S) label prior to 1906; Grand Prize (GP) label from 1906 -1908; Magic Notes label from 1908-1917; Gold Band label from 1917-1923; Viva-tonal label from 1926-1939; CBS label from 1939-1958.
Victor label designs and their years of use: Monarch label used from 1902-1904; Grand Prize label from 1905-1908; Patents label from 1908-1913; Wing label from 1914-1926; Orthophonic (Scroll) label from 1926-1937; and RCA Victor label from 1946 on.
All phonograph records listed here are 10-inches in diameter unless otherwise specified.
Sheet music lyricists and composers are listed as “(lyricist-composer)” whenever possible. Abbreviations used: “v.” for vocalist; “rec.” for recorded.
Charlatan March (Sousa), 1898; 7-in. Berliner Record 36, Sousa’s Band, rec. Sept. 1898
Famous American bandmaster and composer John Philip Sousa (1854-1932) wrote the “Charlatan March" for his 1898 Broadway operetta The Charlatan. The operetta is about a father who passes his daughter off as a princess in order to marry a prince.
Sousa strongly disapproved of recordings, calling them “canned music,” and believed they could replace musicians from their jobs in the future. Consequently, he did not direct his band on Berliner and other early records. This session is directed by Henry Higgins, an assistant conductor.
All Sousa Berliner recordings are scarce. Berliner records were the first flat-disc records in the US. They were made between 1892 and 1900 and pressed on hard-rubber by their German-born inventor, Emile Berliner (1851-1929). Records were later pressed on a material containing shellac as a key ingredient, and 78-rpm records are often referred to as “shellacs.”
Shellac, a resin needed in the production of certain war explosives, became scarce during World War II causing “record recycling drives” where 78s were recycled for their shellac content. Records manufactured during the war with recycled shellac were often brittle and broke easily. After the war, vinyl gradually replaced shellac as a chief ingredient in the manufacture of 78s and other sound recordings.
Hello Central, Give Me Heaven (Harris), 1901; 7-in Columbia B&S Label 230,
v. Ed Favor, rec. 1901
Can there be a sadder song? Song is about a young girl trying to phone her deceased mother via the relatively new invention of the telephone.
Lyrics: “Hello Central, give me heaven, for my mama’s there, You can find her with the angels, on the golden stair…Kiss me mama, it’s your darling, Kiss me through the telephone.”
A 1924 song, “Mr Radio Man (Tell My Mammy to Come Back Home)” (Schuster-White-Friend), has a similar theme. Al Jolson made a popular recording of this song on Brunswick 2582, recorded on March 14, 1924. On this sheet music, a young boy is seen standing before a large radio asking it to bring his deceased mother home. Both these items are also in the BGSU Jerome Libray collection.
Lyrics: “Mr. Radio Man, tell my Mammy to come back home ‘cause I’m so lonely; I’ve been listen’ in every day since she went away…Can’t the angels hear me pray?”
Tearjerker songs such as these were very popular in the early 1900s.
Stay in Your Own Backyard (Kennett-Udall), 1899; Victor Monarch Label 1419, v. Harry Macdonough, rec. June, 6, 1902
This 1899 song sympathizes with the plight of Black children who are ignored by white children.
Lyrics: “Mammy in the little cabin door, Curly headed picanniny comin’ home so late, Cryin’ cause his little heart is sore; All the children play around with skins so white and fair, None of them with him would ever play, So Mammy in her lap takes the little weeping chap…”
A 1919 song also in the BGSU Jerome Library Collection, “My Sugar-Coated Chocolate Boy” (Mahoney-Loos), has the same theme. The sheet music has a large drawing of the face of a young Black boy. It also portrays a mother trying to comfort her son because “the white boys will not let you play.”
Lyrics: “It breaks my heart to see you pine, baby mine, baby mine; You know the good Lord loves the darkies too, He draws no color line.”
These early songs poignantly depict the damaging effects of racial prejudice on the youngest members of Black families.
Uncle Sammy March (Holzmann), 1904; Victor Monarch Label 2897,
[Victor] Dance Orch., rec. June 28, 1904
Sheet music has drawing of “Uncle Sam” proudly standing by a US map and territories of Alaska and recently acquired Hawaii, Philippines and Puerto Rico. Puerto Rico and the Philippine Islands were acquired from Spain after the Spanish-American War of 1898. Hawaii was annexed in 1898 after the removal of its monarchy in 1893.
“Uncle Sam” was used as a designation for the US government and its people going back to the War of 1812. It became popular after the annexation of Hawaii when newspaper cartoonists began using it to represent the US and its global acquisitions.
“Indian Territory” is shown on the map in green above Texas. It was originally a large area that included parts of today’s states of Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, Iowa, the Dakotas, Montana and Colorado. It gradually shrunk as a result of forced treaties and purchased land grabs, becoming the small territory shown on the map. The Indian Territory applied for separate statehood at about the same time that Oklahoma Territory applied, but statehood was refused. It ceased to exist after 1907 and became part of Oklahoma. Remaining Native Americans on its land were given property deeds.
In My Merry Oldsmobile (Bryan-Edwards), 1905; Columbia Grand Prize Label 3654, v. Billy Murray, rec. 1905
Lyrics: “Come away with me Lucille, In my merry Oldsmobile…You can go as far as you like with me, In my merry Oldsmobile.” This last phrase, with its double-meaning, was considered very risqué at the time.
Song was said to be inspired by the first transcontinental trip in an Oldsmobile, made in the summer of 1903 in a curved-dash runabout similar to the one shown on the sheet music. In 1903 there were only about 150 miles of paved roads in the US, and all were east of the Mississippi. One of the first cars to be manufactured on an assembly line, the Oldsmobie runabout retailed for only $650. The trip from San Francisco to New York City took 72 days! The drivers crossed the Sierras at Lake Tahoe and used special cloth tires to navigate the Nevada desert. Reaching Utah, they followed the route of the transcontinental railroad.
In 1915 the Lincoln Highway was mapped from Times Square to Lincoln Park in San Francisco for the Pan-American Exposition. There were still almost no paved roads west of the Mississippi. However, by 1916 the transcontinental trip was being made by car in only five days.
See: D. Duncan and K. Burns, Horatio’s Drive: America’s First Road Trip, Alfred A.Knopf, 2003 and D. Hokanson, The Lincoln Highway, U. of Iowa Press, 1999.
My Cousin Caruso (Madden-Edwards), 1909; Victor Patents Label 16327, v. Billy Murray, rec. May 13, 1909
Comic song from the Ziegfeld 1909 Broadway production Miss Innocence, in which the performer boasts of being a cousin of the great tenor Enrico Caruso (1873-1921).
Lyrics: “He make the ladies tear out the rafta, when he sings Traviata…He make dem all cry ‘Bravo Gratsi,’ when he sings Pagliacci.” Caruso had a hobby of drawing caricatures, and the sheet-music cover is a signed self-caricature by Caruso.
Part of the record sleeve is unreadable, but it gives instructions on how to care for the Victor record. One of the recommendations is “lubricating worm gears with pure vasoline.” It also recommends replacing steel needles after every play to reduce record wear. Victor later developed tungsten needles, marketed as “Tungs-tones,” that were good for multiple plays.
The vocalist on this and the previous record is Billy Murray (1877-1954), one of the most prolific recording artists of the acoustic era. He recorded numerous records and cylinders for numerous companies. Raised in Denver, he was called the “Denver Nightingale.” In 2016 he received a long-overdue honor by being inducted into the Colorado Music Hall of Fame.
See T. Gracyk, Popular American Recording Pioneers 1895-1925, Haworth Press, 2000.
Call Me Up Some Rainy Afternoon (Berlin), 1910; Columbia Magic Notes Label A855, v. Ada Jones, rec. mid-1910
This sheet music has an attractive drawing of a well-dressed man and a woman struggling with wind and rain on a street, and there is a large trash barrel with Irving Berlin’s name. A girl at the top is laughing and holding an early telephone.
The song describes secret love-making over early invention of the telephone. Lyrics: “Call me up some rainy afternoon, And I’ll arrange for a quiet little spoon…We can have a quiet little talk, I’ll see that my mother takes a walk.”
Irving Berlin (1888-1989), one of America’s great songwriters, was still relatively unknown in 1910 when this song was published. His first big hit came a year later in 1911, “Alexander’s Ragtime Band.” Other hits by him that are still popular today include “Easter Parade” (1933) and the Christmas classic, “White Christmas” (1944). He also wrote music for well-known Broadway musicals such as Annie Get Your Gun that was later made into a movie, and films such as Easter Parade and White Christmas.
Come, Josephine, in My Flying Machine (Up She Goes!) (Bryan-Fischer), 1910; Victor Purple Patents Label 60032, v. Blanche Ring, rec. Dec. 22, 1910
The sheet music has a drawing of a young couple on an early, rear-propeller biplane.
Lyrics: “Come Josephine in my flying machine, Going up she goes! Up she goes; Balance yourself like a bird on a beam, In the air she goes! There she goes!”
Victor records were sometimes issued in special colors denoting the celebrity status of the artist. Artists on red-seal labels had the highest status; those on purple labels were a step below. Blanche Ring (1877-1961) was a popular star of early Broadway musicals.
Aerial navigation in 1910—just a few years after the Wright brothers’ first flight—must have been an exciting adventure and apparently a great activity to take a date, as this drawing and song suggests. Let’s hope the woman’s long scarf doesn’t get tangled in the rear propeller! Few people at the time could have envisioned the concept of “airline travel” and how essential to our lives it would become in a relatively short period.
A verse of this song was sung by Leonardo DiCaprio to Kate Winslet in the 1998 movie Titanic.
He’d Have to Get Under—Get Out and Get Under (To Fix Up His Automobile) (Clarke-Leslie-Abrahams), 1913; Victor Wing Label 17491, v. Billy Murray,
rec. Nov. 14, 1913
The frequent breakdown of early automobiles—interfering at times with romantic intentions—is the subject of this song
Lyrics: “He’d have to get under, Get out and get under, To fix up his little machine; He was just dying to cuddle his queen, But every minute, When he’d begin it, He had to get under, Get out and get under, etc….A dozen times they would hug and kiss, And then the darned ol’ engine it would miss…”
A year after this song, 1914, was the first year that automobile production in the US was greater than the production of horse-drawn carriages and wagons.
Castle Walk (Jas. Europe-Dabney), 1914; Victor Wing Label 17553, Europe’s Society Orchestra, rec. Feb. 10, 1914
Vernon and Irene Castle, a husband-wife team, were famous society ballroom dancers, Broadway performers, dance innovators and instructors in the early 1900s. They were portrayed by Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers in the 1939 movie The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle. The “Castle Walk” became one of the dance fads that hit the US. The record was released in a special sleeve that has a drawing of the Castles and “An Announcement to the Public” by Vernon Castle attesting to the superiority of Victor Records.
Born in England, Vernon Castle enlisted in the Royal Air Force in Canada in World War I and died in a plane crash in 1918 while on a training mission. Irene Castle briefly continued her career on stage and was an advisor to the 1939 Astaire-Rogers film. She lived until 1969.
James Reese Europe (1881-1919) was a Black musician and one of the composers of “Castle Walk” and many early jazz compositions. His Europe’s Society Orchestra was one of the first Black orchestras to play for white society. He became the Castles’ musical director, and they credited much of their success to him. As a lieutenant in World War I, he conducted his “Hell Fighters” Band at concerts in the US and Europe, traveling over 2,000 miles in France. He was fatally stabbed by one of his drummers in 1919 after reportedly telling him to “put more pep in the sticks.”
See R. Badger, A Life in Ragtime: A Biography of James Reese Europe, Oxford Univ. Press, 1995
When the Lusitania Went Down (McCarron-Vincent), 1915; Columbia Magic Notes Label A1772, v. Herbert Stuart (Albert Wiederhold), rec. May 20, 1915
During the period of American neutrality (1914-1917) in World War I, the British passenger ship Lusitania was torpedoed by a German submarine on May 7, 1915, with a loss of 1,200 lives including 128 Americans. The Lusitania had left New York City and was on her way to Liverpool, England, when she was torpedoed off the coast of Ireland.
The German embassy had issued warnings in US newspapers for Americans not to travel overseas on British ships. These were largely ignored for the Lusitania because hardly anyone thought Germany would torpedo a passenger ship. However, Germany accused the ship of transporting military arms and ammunition to England.
Lyrics: “Although they were warned, The warning they scorned, And now we must cry in despair…Many brave hearts went to sleep in the deep, When the Lusitania went down.”
Germany’s policy of unrestricted submarine warfare did not sit well with the American people and provided impetus for the US to enter the war on the side of the Allies. Recording artist Albert Wiederhold changed his name to “Herbert Stuart” for this record to avoid any German associations. See D. Preston, Lusitania: An Epic Tragedy, Walker Pub., 2002.
Barnyard Blues (aka Livery Stable Blues) (LaRocca), 1917; Original Dixieland “Jass” Band, Victor Wing Label 18255, rec. Feb. 26, 1917
Sheet music states: “Barnyard Blues as recorded on Victor Record No. 18255 under the title of ‘Livery Stable Blues.’"
According to some sources, Victor 18255 is the first US jazz recording made in a jazz style! See Guy Marco, Encylopedia of Recorded Sound in the United States, Garland Pub., 1993, p. 500. However, that statement is open to some debate. Similarly, it is often said that W.C. Handy’s “Memphis Blues,”composed in 1912, contains the first jazz break that ushered in modern jazz—another statement with room for disagreement. But it can be agreed by all that “Barnyard Blues” is an early jazz recording, indicating that jazz was beginning to take hold in the US prior to its entry into World War I.
The Original Dixieland Jazz Band [“Jass” on earlier recordings] was a pioneer group of white musicians that began playing in New Orleans and then settled in New York City by way of Chicago. As pictured on the sheet music, they were Nick LaRocca, cornet; Larry Shields, clarinet; Eddie Edward, trombone; Henry Ragas, piano; and Tony Sbarbaro, drums. They recorded for Victor and Columbia records in the US and Europe.
I Didn’t Raise My Boy to Be a Soldier (Bryan-Piantadosi), 1916; Columbia Picture Label E 2943, Lorelei (Traditional), Franz Schubert Männerchor, New York, rec. March 16, 1916
This sheet music and record were produced during the period of American neutrality in World War I from August 1914 to April 1917. “I Didn’t Raise My Boy to Be a Soldier” is an anti-war song portraying a mother holding her son surrounded by drawings of bombings, battlefields and marching soldiers.
Columbia E 2943 was recorded in New York City and was primarily intended for German- and Austrian-Americans The label shows a German soldier and a widow with her small child visiting the gravesite of their deceased husband and father. Proceeds of the record were sent to the German and Austrian Red Cross “in support of the German and Austrian soldiers who have been blinded in the field [of combat]” (translation of German at the bottom of label).
Columbia created several similar labels depicting German and Austrian Red Cross medics attending wounded soldiers; and Austrian-German widows and children amidst burning buildings. Production of these records promptly ceased when America declared war on Germany on April 6, 1917.
Note: Columbia E 2943 is in the private collection of the author.
President Wilson’s War Message, Spoken by Ervin Goodfellow, Delivered Before a Joint Session of Both Houses of Congress on April 2, 1917; 7-in. Emerson 7179
“The world must be made safe for democracy,” President Woodrow Wilson declared in his speech before Congress asking them to declare war on Germany. Congress responded by overwhelmingly declaring war on April 6, 1917.
In his speech, spoken on this record by Erwin Goodfellow, Wilson decried the German submarine attacks that sank ships from neutral countries without warning if suspected of transporting munitions. Wilson also referred to the “Zimmerman telegram.” German Foreign Minister Arthur Zimmerman sent this telegram in code on Jan. 16, 1917, to the German Ambassador in Mexico, and from there to Mexican President Carranza. The telegram was decrypted in England and printed in US papers on March 1, 1917. It proposed that Mexico join Germany against the United States if war broke out; and that Mexico would “reconquer its lost territory” in New Mexico, Texas and Arizona.
The US was divided regarding war. Wilson had been re-elected in 1916 on a platform of maintaining neutrality. Almost ten percent of Americans were either German immigrants or born to German immigrants and many were opposed to a war with Germany.
We’re Going to Hang the Kaiser Under the Linden Tree (Kendis-Brockman), 1917; 7-in. Emerson 7308, v. Harry Evans w. Orch., rec. 1917. Label states: “The song that real Americans are applauding.” Song is representative of many similar patriotic songs that were written following America’s entrance in World War I. The statement “the song that real Americans are applauding” was meant to distinguish patriotic Americans, “real Americans,” who wanted the downfall and death of the Kaiser from those who disagreed with the war and were un-American.
Lyrics: “Somebody has been fooling with the deck, Somebody’s going to get it in the neck; We’re going to hang the Kaiser under the Linden tree…Over in Germany.” The Emerson Phonograph Co. was founded in 1915 by Victor Hugo Emerson, who became its president. The 7-inch records were produced from 1915 to 1919 and sold for $.35 (about $8 in 2021 money).
Kaiser Wilhelm II never did hang from a Linden tree; nor any tree for that matter. Near the end of the war, he was forced to abdicate by his generals and was exiled to the Netherlands, which had remained neutral during the war. The Dutch refused to extradite him to Great Britain for prosecution of war crimes, and he died in the Netherlands in 1941.
Just Like Washington Crossed the Delaware, General Pershing Will Cross the Rhine (Johnson-Meyer), 1918; Nation’s Forum 69333, Gen. J.J. Pershing, “From the Battlefields of France (Speech),” rec. April 4, 1918 General John J. Pershing was Commander of American Expeditionary Forces on the Western Front. His “From the Battlefields of France” speech was recorded for the Nation’s Forum label in Paris near the battlefields. He appealed to Americans to “invoke the spirit of our forefathers” and asked for their “unflinching support” while an American army “fought for them three thousand miles from home.” On the record’s reverse side, James Gerard, former US Ambassador to Germany, spoke of “Loyalty” and warned potentially disloyal German-Americans.
Nation’s Forum was a label produced by Columbia Records from 1918 to 1920 to preserve the voices of statesmen and prominent leaders.
Anti-German hysteria flourished in the US after the declaration of war. The loyalty of German-Americans (“hyphenated Americans”) was questioned, and many who spoke against the war were arrested for espionage. The German language itself was regarded as unpatriotic, and German ceased to be offered in grade schools. Many streets with German names were changed, and some Lutheran churches stopped using German in their services. The New York Metropolitan Opera stopped presenting Wagnerian operas. Wagner was not presented at the Met again until 1920—but in English because the German language was still considered offensive.
Oh! What a Time for the Girlies When the Boys Come Marching Home (Lewis-Young-Ruby), 1918; and How ‘Ya Gonna Keep’Em Down on the Farm (After They’ve Seen Paree?) (Young-Lewis-Donaldson), 1919.
World War I ended on Nov. 11, 1918 (Armistice Day), and both these songs emphasize that life will never be the same! “Oh! What a Time for the Girlies, etc.” has a drawing of a short-skirted girl throwing herself at a surprised-looking soldier. Lyrics: “They [the “girlies”] will get the kissing, That they’ve been missing…Think of all the loving they will get, Two long years they’ve been without a pet.”
“How ‘Ya Gonna Keep’Em Down, etc.” shows a serious older farmer amidst gleeful soldiers sitting next to a girl in a tractor and another girl doing the Can-Can on the hood!
Lyrics: “How ya gonna keep ‘em away from Broadway, Jazzin around and paintin the town;
They’ll never want to see a rake or plow, And who the deuce can parleyvous a cow?”
Songs are indicative of the many cultural and role changes after the war: women eagerly awaiting men’s return and not shy about offering affection; men interested in partying and not as dedicated to work; women’s skirts and hair getting shorter and other fashion changes; women assuming more independent and unconventional roles, such as smoking in public and going to nightspots together unattended by men; development of the “Flapper Girl;” Jazz Era beginning in earnest, etc.
Alcoholic Blues (Some Blues) (Laska-VonTilzer), 1919; Columbia Gold Band Label A2702, v. Billy Murray, rec. Jan. 24, 1919
Soldiers had barely returned from overseas when Congress passed the 18th Amendment establishing Prohibition—three months after the war’s end in January 1919. However, it didn’t go into effect until one year later in January 1920 with passage of the Volstead Act.
“Alcoholic Blues” is a Prohibition-protest song in which a soldier claims that staying in the trenches was preferable to coming home without alcohol. The sheet music has a drawing of an inebriated-looking owl sitting on the moon with a cat.
Lyrics: “Good-bye whiskey, you used make me frisky; So long high-ball, so long gin, Oh, tell me when you comin’ back again; Blues, I’ve got the blues, Since they amputated my booze…I wouldn’t mind to live forever in a trench, Just if my daily thirst they only let me quench.”
Another anti-Prohibition song and recording, which are also in the BGSU Jerome Library collection, is “Sahara (We’ll Soon Be Dry Like You)” (Atteridge-Romberg-Schwartz),1919. The title says it all! It was recorded by vocalist Esther Walker on Victor 18613.
Prohibition remained in effect until it was repealed by the 21st Amendment in December 1933.
Jazz Baby (Merrill-Jerome), 1919; Victor Wing Label 18555, v. Marion Harris,
rec. April 19, 1919
The Jazz Era goes into full swing following World War I. Marion Harris (1896-1944) establishes herself as as an early white singer of the jazz medium.
Lyrics: “I’m a Jazz baby, I want to be jazzing all the time; There’s something in the tone of a saxaphone, That makes me do a little wiggle all my own.”
Another tune recorded by Marion Harris, which is also in the BGSU Jerome Library collection, is “Take Me to the Land of Jazz” (Kalmar-Leslie-Wendling). She recorded it on Victor 18593 on June 11, 1919.
Lyrics to this song: “It was down in Tennessee, that the jazzy melody, originated…” This is a reference to W.C. Handy’s “Memphis Blues,” regarded by many as the first jazz composition in 1912, containing the first jazz break. Additional lyrics: “Let me give you a warning, We won’t be home until morning; Cause everybody’s full of Jazzbo, in the lovin’ Land of Jazz.”
The Phonolamp Record
The end of World War I saw an economic boom that led to a proliferation of phonograph companies and record labels. In 1920 there were over 200 phonograph companies in the US! By 1925 most were gone due to an economic downturn and oversaturation of the market.
One of the more interesting and outlandish representations of the time was the combination of a lamp and a phonograph, called a Phonolamp. The phonograph’s reproducer and turntable were located in the lamp’s base and accessible through doors in the base. The tone was carried up the lamp’s stem and reflected at the top by a globe. It was produced by the Electric Phongraph Corporation of New York City. The turntable had an electric motor, but Phonolamp records were recorded with an acoustic process and were typical for the time.
The record sleeve advertises: “Electric light with or without music” and “Music with or without electric light”…”No Grinding… No Winding.”
Phonolamp records were produced by Grey Gull Records of Boston and were given to buyers of the phonograph-lamp combinaton. They are not know to have been sold separately. The few known records on the Phonolamp label are also found on the Grey Gull label.
The rare Phonolamp records were produced only in 1921, but the Phonolamp device was sold for a number of years.
St. Louis Blues (Handy), 1917; Puritan Label 11098, Handy’s Memphis Blues Band, rec. January 1922
Sheet music has an early photo of downtown St. Louis from across the Mississippi River. There is an insert photo of W. C. Handy playing the cornet. Sheet music credits “The Memphis Blues,” written by him in 1912, as having the “the first jazz break ushering in Modern Jazz.”
Puritan records were manufactured from 1918 to 1927. Their output included popular music and jazz and blues with artists such as King Oliver and the Original Memphis Five.
W. C. (William Christopher) Handy was a Black composer and musician born in Florence, Alabama, in 1873. He died in New York City in 1958. He is known as the “Father of the Blues,” and frequently incorporated melodies from Black folk songs into his compositions.
His first published composition was “The Memphis Blues” (1912), and he composed many other blues titles, including “Yellow Dog Blues” (1914),” “Hesitation Blues” (1915), “Beale Street Blues” (1917) and “Aunt Hagar Blues” (1920).
Nat King Cole portrayed W. C. Handy in the 1958 movie St. Louis Blues.
Race Records: Paramount Picture Label 12098, “Dream Blues,” v. “Ma” Rainey, rec. March 1924; and Brunswick Label 3568, “After You’re Gone,” Johnny Dodd’s Black Bottom Stompers, rec. Oct. 8, 1927
Although the term “Race Records” for recordings made by Black artists might seem offensive today, it apparently was not derogatory when the term originated in the 1920s. Black-owned newspapers serving primarily Black communities used the term “race” in a polite fashion for Black men and woman, referring to them as “race men” and “race women.”
Okeh records was the first to use the term in 1922 with 40 records in their “Race series.” Most major record companies, including Victor and Columbia, had Race catalogs. Race records in the mid-1920s accounted for about five percent of total record sales. Following World War II, most record companies dropped their race series as Black artists became mainstream and their blues and jazz records were purchased by white buyers.
“Ma” Rainey, 1886-1939, was an American blues singer whose real name was Gertrude Pridgett. She began recording for Paramount records in 1923 and was a main singer for their “Popular Race Records.” The race sleeve describes her as “Madam ‘Ma’ Rainey, the Mother of the Blues.” She was portrayed by Viola McCoy in the 2020 film Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom.
Johnny Dodds (1892-1940), born in New Orleans, was a prominent and influential jazz clarinetist. His “Black Bottom Stompers” at times included Louis Armstrong, Barney Bigard, and Earl Hines. The term “black bottom” referred to areas of cities with rich, black soil in low-lying areas predominately settled by Blacks. It was was also a dance popular in the 1920s.
Note: The Paramount “Ma” Rainey picture-label record is in the author’s private collection.
There’s a New Star in Heaven To-Night (Rudolph Valentino) (Brennan-Mills-McHugh), 1926; Brunswick 3300, v. Frank Munn, rec. August 27, 1926
The death of Rudolph Valentino (1895-1926) on August 23, 1926, caused near hysteria among some of his female fans. Nearly 100,000 fans caused a riot in Manhattan for his funeral, and several suicides among women were attributed to his death.
The matinee-idol and sex-symbol, termed the “Latin Lover,” died at age 31 following an infection (peritonitis) from perforated ulcers. He had established his reputation in a series of silent films including The Sheik (1921), Blood and Sand (1922) and Son of the Sheik (1926).
Songs were hastily written following his death. In addition to the one shown above, which was recorded only four days after his death, others included “Rudolph Valentino, the Great Director Has Called You” and “We Will Meet at the End of the Trail” with words and music by “Jean Acker (Mrs. Rudolph Valentino).” Jean Acker, an actress who called herself “Mrs. Rudolph Valentino,” and Valentino were married in 1919. She reportedly locked him out of their bedroom on their wedding night because she had a same-sex orientation, and the marriage was never consummated. They were divorced at the time of his death—and he had remarried—but she won a legal action allowing her to still use her former married name.
Frank Munn (1894-1953), the vocalist on the record, was a well-known recording and radio tenor called the “Golden Voice of Radio.”
Lindbergh (The Eagle of the U.S.A.) (Johnson-Sherman); Victor Orthophonic Label 20674, v. Vernon Dalhart, rec. May 23, 1927
This recording, sung by Vernon Dalhart (1883-1948)—a prolific recording artist who recorded under multiple pseudonyms for numerous labels—was recorded and released only two days after Charles Lindbergh’s record-breaking flight! He flew from Long Island, New York, to Paris in 33.5 hours during May 20 to May 21, 1927. It was the first solo transatlantic flight.
Lyrics: “Like a bird on high, out to do or die, on his journery Over There; Many million hearts, beat with him, and the whole world said a prayer…In the far-off west, one he loved the best, breathed a prayer to heaven above; And she guided him, and helped him, with a mother’s love.”
Making use of the reference to his mother, there is a picture of her in the upper left corner of the sheet music. Lindbergh was 25 years old and unmarried at the time. His mother lived in the the “far-off west,” California. The sheet music shows his plane, named the “Spirit of St. Louis,” a single-engine, Ryan monoplane.
Charles A. Lindbergh (1902-1974) would be in the news again in 1932, but for an entirely different reason and purpose: the kidnapping and murder of his infant son in what the media termed the “Crime of the Century.”
Ol’Man River (Hammerstein II-Kern), 1927; 12-in. Brunswick Label 20114, v. Paul Robeson w. Victor Young and the Brunswick Orch., rec. July 31, 1932
Show Boat was a 1927 landmark book-musical that provided not only great music by Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II; it was also the first Broadway musical to address important social issues of interracial relationships and the plight of Blacks in the post-slavery era.
“Ol’ Man River” is written in a style resembling a Negro spiritual. The original lyrics contain the “N-word” in the opening bars, which evoke a powerful image of racial inequality: “N……all work on de Mississippi, N……all work while de white folks play.” It is sung by “Joe,” a Black dock worker.
Chorus: “Ol’ man river, that Ol’ man river, He don’t say nothin,’ but he must know somethin;’ He just keeps rollin,’ He just keeps rollin’ along.”
Paul Robeson (1898-1976), a phenomenal Black actor and singer—and an attorney and All-American football player—sang the role of “Joe” in the 1928 London production and the 1932 Broadway revival. He refused to say the “N-word,” and on the above recording sings: “There’s an ol’ man called the Mississippi, Dat’s the ol’ man I would like to be.” His recording of “Ol’ Man River” was selected by Time Magazine as one of the 100 most extraordinary English-language popular recordings from 1923 (the year Time was founded) to the current decade.
Ain’t Misbehavin’ (Razaf-Waller-Brooks), 1929; Okeh Label 8714, Louis Armstrong and His Orch., rec. July 19, 1929
The musical-revue Hot Chocolates opened at Broadway’s Hudson Theater on W. 44th St. on June 20, 1929, and ran for 219 performances. It was an all-Black revue similar to those that were heard in Harlem and was praised for its dancing and music. But it wasn’t the first all-Black musical on Broadway. That honor goes to Shuffle Along that opened in 1921 and gave us “I’m Just Wild about Harry” (Noble-Sissle). Shuffle Along was also the first Broadway show that allowed Blacks to sit in orchestra-level seats rather than be segregated to the balcony.
Louis Armstrong (1900-1971) played in the orchestra for Hot Chocolates. A feature of the show was to have him come from the pit to play a trumpet solo for “Ain’t Misbehavin.’” At the time, Armstrong was virtually unknown to the largely white Broadway crowd. On Okeh 8714, Armstrong plays a great solo, and probably sounds much as he did in the Broadway production.
Okeh 78-rpm records were produced from 1918 through the 1950s. They changed from an acoustic to an electrical-recording process in 1926, when “Electric” appeared on their labels.
If I Had a Talking Picture of You (DeSylva-Brown-Henderson), 1929; Victor Orthophonic Label 22124, Johnny Hamp’s Kentucky Serenaders, v. Don Howard, rec. Sept. 13, 1929
The “talkies”were only two-years old in 1929 when the vocalist on this record, Don Howard, muses how marvelous it would be to have a sound movie of his sweetheart. It would have been beyond anyone’s imagination to think that video recorders would make “talkies” of sweethearts commonplace in less than 50 years.
“If I Had a Talking Picture of You” is from the 1929 Fox-Movietone film Sunny Side Up, an early “all-sound” film starring Janet Gaynor and Charles Farrell (see next entry).
Lyrics: “If I had a talking picture of you, I would play it every time I felt blue; I would sit there in the gloom of my lonely little room, And applaud each time you whispered, ‘I love you; love you’…I would give ten shows a day, And a midnight matinee, If I had a talking picture of you.”
Johnny Hamp’s Kentucky Serenaders was an excellent small orchestra with an early big-band sound capable of playing “hot.” They recorded extensively for Victor from the mid-1920s through the ‘30s. The partially shown record sleeve has multiple sketches of artists and their Victor catalog numbers under the heading “Victor Records You Will Like.”
I’m in the Market for You (McCarthy-Hanley), 1930; Victor Orthophonic Label 22189, Eddie Cantor’s Tips on the Stock Market (monologue), rec. Oct. 29, 1929
The stock market crash of 1929 is the subject of this song and the Eddie Cantor monologue.
Amazingly, the humorous monologue by the great commediane Eddie Cantor (1892-1964) was recorded on Oct. 29, 1929, “Black Tuesday,” the day the market crashed! According to Internet sources, he was in the recording studio when the market crashed and began telling jokes to lighten the mood. Studio personnel convinced him to put his jokes on a recording.
Monologue in part: “My uncle, he got a good break. He died in September; The poor fellow had diabetes at 45. That’s nothing, I had Chrysler at 110; If the market takes another slump, I know thousands and thousands of married men who will have to leave their sweethearts and go back to their wives; Nowadays when a man enters a hotel and asks for a room on the 19th floor, the clerk asks, ‘For sleeping or jumping?”
The song, “I’m in the Market for You,” compares love to a rising stock market. The stars of the 1930 film High Society Blues, Janet Gaynor and Charles Farrell, made twelve films together and delighted audiences with their on-screen romances—apparently mirrored in real life.
Blue Bird of Happiness (Heyman-Harmati), 1934; 16-in. World Transcription
500-622, v. Paul Robinson (Jan Peerce), rec. 1934
Tenor Jan Peerce (1904-1984) introduced “Blue Bird of Happiness” in a skit dressed as an organ grinder at Radio City Music Hall in 1934. The Depression-era song, with its cheery philosophy, became a hit at Radio City and was repeated by Peerce in a number of vignettes.
Lyrics: “And if things don’t look so cheerful, show a little fight; For every bit of darkness, there’s a little bit of light; For every cloudy morning, there’s a midnight moon above…Somewhere there’s blue bird of happiness.”
Peerce’s first recording of “Blue Bird” was in 1934 on a World transcription using the pseudonym Paul Robinson. Transcriptions were not for private sale and were used for radio programing. The “Robinson” transcription achieved wide popularity with radio audiences and was played by Tokyo Rose in World War II to remind soldiers what they had left behind.
Peerce became a leading tenor with the NY Metropolitan Opera from 1941 to 1968. He made a recording of “Blue Bird” in 1945 on a 12-in RCA Victor Red Seal that became one of the best-selling Red Seal records. He recorded it again for RCA Victor in 1955 and 1958.
See E.R. Pinta, “Tracking Peerce’s Bluebird,” Victrola and 78 Journal, Summer 1995, p.31.
Note: The Robinson World transcription is in a separate collection of Jan Peerce recordings and memorabilia donated by the author to the BGSU Jerome Library in 2018.
Mickey Mouse’s Birthday Party (Tobias-Rothberg-Meyer), 1936; Decca Sunburst Label 954, Ted Fio Rito Orch., v. The Debutantes and Muzzy Marcellino, rec. Sept. 24, 1936
If you wanted to have a birthday party in 1936 for no apparent reason, you could have one to celebrate the eighth birthday of Mickey and Minnie—and many did! Sheet music shows Donald Duck cutting a huge birthday cake with eight candlces. Big Bad Wolf is giving Fiddler of “The Three Pigs” a piggy-back ride as Piper, Practical, Mickey, Minnie and Pluto look on. The song mentions all the Disney characters in the drawing.
According to Internet sources, Walt Disney, Inc. officially recognizes the “birthday” of Mickey and Minnie as Nov. 18, 1928, the date of their first cartoon appearance. The only other Disney character to have an official birthday is Donald Duck, born on June 9, 1934. Pluto first appeared in 1930 and the Three Little Pigs (Piper, Fiddler and Practical) and the Big Bad Wolf in 1933.
Decca Records was established in the US in 1934 and became one of the industry’s major labels during the Great Depression and after. It sold for $.35, when Victor and Columbia were $.75 for standard popular tunes. It’s first label design was the attractive “Sunburst” label, giving the record a three-dimensional look.
A number of major artists climbed aboard the new company including Bing Crosby, Guy Lombardo, Jimmy Dorsey, Louis Armstrong, Judy Garland and the Andrew Sisters.
Amelia Earhart’s Last Flight (McEnery), 1939; 4-in. Silvertone Record, v. Amelia Earhart (Spoken Dialogue), rec. May 22, 1932
On July 2, 1937, Amelia Earhart (1898-1937) disappeared over the Pacific Ocean on an around-the-world flight. Many theories exist, but she has never been found.
The Silvertone 78-rpm is a rare voice recording of the aviatrix after an earlier flight. It’s an “off-the-air” pickup by Silvertone of a London broadcast of May 22, 1932, following her solo transatlantic flight—the first solo flight by a woman across the Atlantic. In her broadcast, she refers to a broken altimeter and the difficulty of flying in fog and icy condtions without knowing her altitude.
“Amelia Earhart’s Last Flight” was written two years after she was missing. By then she was presumed dead after one of the most extensive searches in history by the US military.
Lyrics: “There’s a beautiful field faraway, In a land that is fair; ‘Happy Landings’ to Amelia Earhart, farewell, First Lady of the Air.”
“Dawn of a New Day” (Song of the New York World’s Fair) (I. Gershwin-G. Gershwin); Brunswick 8313, Horace Heidt and His Musical Knights, v. Charles Goodman, rec. Jan. 26, 1939
The New York World’s Fair of 1939-1940 opened in Flushing Meadows, Queens, on April 30, 1939, amid much excitement and anticipation. The music for the Fair’s song, “Dawn of a New Day,” was from an unpublished composition that George Gershwin had written before his death in 1937. The optimistic words by his brother, Ira, emphasized a world of the future with exciting new technology. Lyrics: “Sound the brass, roll the drums, To the world of the future we come; See the sun through the gray, It’s the dawn of a new day.”
There were two 1939-1940 Fair seasons: the season of April to October 1939; and the season of April to October 1940. Events in Europe casted a dark shadow over both. Prior to the opening of the first season, Hitler had invaded Czechoslovakia in March 1939 and declared the Czech lands to be a “German Protectorate.” He demanded that the Czechoslovak Pavilion be sold and its items returned. The “German Protectorate” was not officially recognized by the US and his demands were not met.
In Sepltember 1939 before the end of the first season, Germany and the Soviet Union had invaded Poland, and World War II had begun. However, both the Czech and Poland exhibits managed to remain open through both seasons with private contributions and sales of souvenirs from their exhibits. This helped gain support among fair-goers for the plights of their people.
“Dawn of a New Day” seemed no longer appropriate as the World’s Fair song, and a new song was written for the second season (see next entry).
For Peace and Freedom (Official Song of the World’s Fair of 1940) (La Barre), 1940; RCA Victor Special Pressing matrix CS-050512, v. Jan Peerce, accompanied by Charlie Barber Orch., rec. April, 1940
“For Peace and Freedom,” the song of the second season of the New York World’s Fair (April to October 1940), emphasized hope for the future. It was written by Eugene La Barre, director of the New York Police Department Band, which appeared regularly at the Fair.
Lyrics: “May our peace and freedom show their worth, To all other nations on this wondrous earth; It would please Him of supreme command, To have peace and freedom in every land.”
At the beginning of the second Fair season, Europe was at war and the international exhibits were in a state of turmoil. The German invasion of Norway and Denmark had begun, and the Soviet Union had pulled its Fair exhibit after being expelled from the League of Nations for invading Finland. Germany did not have an exhibit in either Fair season, citing excessive costs as the reason. The United States did not become a combatant in World War II until after the bombing of Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941—over a year after the Fair ended.
Note: RCA Victor special pressing “For Peace and Freedom” is in a collection of Jan Peerce recordings and memorabilia donated by the author to the BGSU Jerome Library in 2018.
Strange Fruit [photocopy] (Allan), 1939; Commodore Label 526, Billie Holiday and Her Orchestra w. Piano by Sonny White, rec. March 20, 1939
“Strange Fruit” is one of the most powerful social protest songs of the twentieth century. It protests bigotry and racism by creating the image of a lynched black man hanging from a tree. The song sets to music the 1937 grim poem by white poet Lewis Allan (pseudonym for Abel Meeropol).
Lyrics: “Southern trees bear a strange fruit, Blood on the leaves and blood on the root…Here is a fruit..for the sun to rot, For a tree to drop; Here is a strange and bitter crop.”
“Strange Fruit,” and Billie Holiday’s insistence to sing it, is a central theme in the Award-winning 2021 movie The United States vs. Billie Holiday with Andra Day in the title role.
Billie Holiday (1915-1959) was an American blues and jazz singer. She was one of the few Black singers to be a vocalist with white orchestras in the 1930s, such as the Artie Shaw and Benny Goodman orchestras. The Commodore record label was an independent jazz label that existed from 1938 to 1954. It recorded many well-known jazz artists in addition to Holiday, including Coleman Hawkins, Lester Young and Fats Waller.
Billie Holiday’s version of “Strange Fruit” on Commodore 526 was selected by Time Magazine as one of the 100 most extraordinary English-language popular recordings from 1923 (the year Time was founded) to the current decade.
I’ll Never Smile Again (Lowe), 1939; Victor Label 26628, Tommy Dorsey Orch, v. Frank Sinatra and the Pied Pipers, rec. May 23, 1940
Frank Sinatra (1915-1998) was 24 years old when he made this hit record with the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra, and “Sinatramania” was on its way. The moody, slow tempo tune was Number One on the charts for seven weeks and remained in the Top Ten for 16 weeks. Lyrics: “I’ll never smile again, Until I smile at you; I’ll never laugh again, what good would it do.”
Of interest is an advertisement on the record sleeve for the “Magic Brain RCA Victrola [V-225]” that played both sides of records without turning them over! RCA boasted a playing time of two hours when the automatic changer was stacked with twelve, 12-inch records.
The device achieved this by having a turntable about the size of the record label. Once the top side was played, the record reversed itself and a bottom tone arm played the bottom side. After the bottom side was played, the turntable tilted and the record slid into a padded storage space in the record cabinet. The turntable returned to its original position and the next record fell.
Breakage did not appear to be a problem when this device was introduced in 1941. However, after the start of World War II a shortage of shellac caused records to be more brittle and breakage became a problem. Consequently, it was only produced in 1941 and 1942.
To see one of these remarkable machines in action, go to YouTube and enter: Victor V-225 Record Changer-Magic Brain (last accessed June 2021).
Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy (Raye-Prince), 1941; Decca Label 3598, Andrew Sisters w. Vic Shoen Orch., rec. Jan 2, 1941
Similar to World War I, the US found itself in another period of neutrality while World War II raged in Europe. US neutrality began on Sept. 1, 1939, when Britain and France declared war on Germany, and ended on December 8, 1941, when the US declared war on Japan following the bombing of Pearl Harbor. War was declared on Germany and Italy several days later.
“Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” was written and recorded during the period of neutrality—and several months after the first US peacetime draft in September 1940. The song is about a trumpet player “whose number [draft number] came up, and he was gone in the draft; He’s in the Army now, a blowin’ reveille, He’s the boogie woogie bugle boy of company B.”
The Andrew Sisters (LaVerne, Maxene, and Patti) were the most popular vocal trio of the 1930s and ‘40s. They had a long series of big hits on the Decca label and appeared in 15 feature films from the 1940s. “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Song in 1941. Bette Midler had a successful revival of the song in 1973.
The Andrews Sisters’ version of this song was selected by Time Magazine as one of the 100 most extraordinary English-language popular recordings from 1923 (the year Time was founded) to the current decade.
Remember Pearl Harbor (Reid-Kaye), 1941; Columbia CBS Label 36516, President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s War Message to Congress and the Nation,
rec. Dec. 8, 1941
President Roosevelt’s message to Congress and the nation aired one day after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. He began, “Yesterday, Dec. 7, 1941, a date that will live in infamy, the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by the naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan. The United States was at peace with that nation…” The period of neutrality was over. The US entered World War II!
“Remember Pearl Harbor” was written in the week following the Pearl Harbor attack.
Lyrics: “Let’s remember Pearl Harbor as we go to meet the foe, Let’s remember Pearl Harbor as we did the Alamo; We will always remember how they died for liberty, Let’s remember Pearl Harbor and go on to victory.”
The song, recorded by bandleader Sammy Kaye who co-wrote the music, was a Top Ten Hit for four weeks early in 1942. In December 2017, President Donald Trump honored veterans of the Pearl Harbor attack at the White House. One of the veterans spontaneously burst into song remembering the above verse after 75 years.
Here’s to You, MacArthur (Burton-Kent), 1942; Mutual Broadcasting System Recording (unnumbered), General MacArthur Speaks (Broadcast of Address of General MacArthur on Arrival in Melbourne, Australia, Aired March 21, 1942)
General Douglas MacArthur (1880-1964) had retired from the military in 1937 and was living with his family in the Philippine Islands where he was a military advisor to the Commonweath of the Philippines. He was called back to military duty in 1941 when war looked imminent.
The first Japanese troops arrived at the Philippines on Dec. 10, 1941, three days after Pearl Harbor. MacArthur and a small force of American and Filipino soldiers resisted, but when it became evident that the invasion would not be held off, President Roosevelt ordered MacArthur to secretly evacuate so he would not be captured or killed. MacArthur and his family left on PT (Patrol-Torpedo) Boats on March 11th for a perilous 35-hour trip among enemy warships. He reached Australia, where he was appointed Supreme Commander of the Pacific. His speech from Melbourne on March 21, 1942, contains his famous “I shall return” message.
“Here’s to You, MacArthur” was in support of the decision for MacArthur to leave the Philippines, something not everyone agreed with and some saw as cowardice. Lyrics: “Rise or fall, we’ll sing your praises throughout our history, For it’s men like you that make us great; You’ve got the stuff and you’re just as tough as your dad in Ninety Eight (a reference to a battle his father, Gen. Arthur MacArthur, Jr., fought in the American-Philippine War).”
Der Fuehrer’s Face (Wallace), 1942; Bluebird Label B-11586, Spike Jones and His City Slickers, rec. July 28, 1942
Donald Duck and Walt Disney entered World War II with this song from the animated 1942 film-short Der Fuehrer’s Face. The Disney short was originally called Nuttsey Land, a quip on “Nazi Land,” which appears on the record label. The song is given great comic treatment by the master of instrumental nonsense, Spike Jones (1911-1965).
Lyrics: “Ven der Fuehrer says ve iss de Master Race, ve Heil! Heil! Right in Der Fuehrer’s face; Not to love der Fuehrer is a great disgrace, So ve Heil!Heil! right in Der Fuehrer’s face.”
Bluebird may have been in a hurry to make the recording before the deadline of Aug. 1, 1942, when a recording ban by the American Federation of Musicians (AFM) went into effect. The fiery president of the AFM, James C. Petrillo (1892-1984), had waged war against all forms of recorded music that displaced musician’s jobs in bars, nightclubs, movie theaters and on radio. In June 1942, Petrillo announced that a recording ban by the musician’s union would begin on Aug. 1, 1942. The AFM strike lasted 27 months for most record companies, ending in Nov. 1944.
The Bluebird label was a Victor subisidiary in existence from 1932 to 1950. It sold for $.35 and was competitive with similar low-priced labels such as Decca during the Depression. The Spike Jones recording was selected by Time Magazine as one of the 100 most extraordinary English-language popular recordings from 1923 (the year Time was founded) to the current decade.
Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition!! (Loesser), 1942; Columbia CBS Label 36640, Kay Kyser and His Orch., rec. July 31, 1942
“Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition” was based on a true incident in which a chaplain on a US Navy Ship, during the bombing of Pearl Harbor, said words of the title while passing along ammunition for a battleship gun. The song was immediately very popular and, according to Internet sources, sold 450,000 copies of sheet music in its first two months!
Frank Loesser (1910-1969), who wrote the words and music, was a well-known songwriter who wrote the words and music for the Broadway musical Guys and Dolls. Kay Kyser (1906-1985) was a popular big-band leader who had his own television program from 1949 to 1951.
Similar to the last entry, the above recording was made just before the AFM recording ban took effect on August 1, 1942. The ban, which lasted 27 months during World War II, was extremely unpopular with the public, who believed the absence of recorded popular and other music undermined morale during those stressful times. However, the head of the AFM, James Petrillo, refused President Roosevelt’s request to end the ban. It ended when record companies agreed to pay royalties—one-quarter of a cent to 5 cents for each record made based on price—into an “AFM Welfare Fund” that paid unemployed musicians for free public concerts.
See E.R. Pinta, “Efforts by Record Companies, the American Federation of Musicians, and Truman’s Cabinet to Resolve the 1948 Recording Ban.” Association for Recorded Sound Collections Journal, 41:1, 2010, pp.24-41.
As Time Goes By (Hupfeld), 1931 from 1942 film Casablanca; Decca Label 4006, v. Dooley Wilson, rec. Oct. 11, 1943
An iconic song from an iconic film! Who knew that someone named Herman Hupfeld wrote the words and music? Song became Warner Bros. signature song, and for years a few bars were played whenever “Warner Bros.” credits apppeared on the screen. Lyrics: “You must remember this, A kiss is just a kiss, A sigh is just a sigh; The fundamental things apply, As time goes by.”
Song was recorded by Dooley Wilson (1894-1953), who as “Sam” introduced the song in Casablanca; however, his piano playing in the film was dubbed. Both the sheet music and the record sleeve have “Buy United States Savings Bonds” imprints,ubiquitous during the war.
This was among the first songs recorded after the AFM recording ban of 1942. Decca had reached an agreement with the AFM in September 1943, ending the strike over a year before most major record companies. However, the ban-free period didn’t last long. The Taft-Hartley Act, passed by Congress in 1947, outlawed several provisions of the AFM Welfare Fund. AFM President James Petrillo called another recording ban that went into effect on Jan. 1, 1948, lasting until Dec. 14, 1948. It took elaborate maneuvering by record companies, the AFM and Truman’s cabinet to legalize the fund. A major change was to have an independent AFM fund manager appointed by the Secretary of Labor. See previous entries.
Baby, It’s Cold Outside (Loesser), 1949; M-G-M Label 30197, v. Esther Williams and Ricardo Montalban, rec. March 1949
Famous Frank Loesser song introduced in Neptune’s Daughter by Williams and Montalban, and performed by many famous duos since. Even Kermit and Miss Piggy had a go at it! It became a million-seller and received an Academy Award for Best Song in 1949.
For years music fans have enjoyed the coy repartee in this song between a man and a woman who are obviously fond of each other. Woman: “I really can’t stay;” Man: “Baby, it’s cold outside;” Woman: “ I gotta go way;” Man: “Baby, it’s cold outside;” Woman: “My mother will start to worry;” Man: “Beautiful, what’s your hurry.” Today, however, some people see a sinister undercurrent to the song. They believe it covertly promotes rape in a situation where a man refuses to accept “No” from a woman. For Kermit and Miss Piggy’s sake, let’s hope they’re wrong.
As the listings on this record sleeve indicate, records now entered a ”War of Record Speeds.” Many musical selections were now available in three speeds: 33and 1/3 rpm; 45 rpm; and 78 rpm. This was brought on by the introduction of the Long-Playing (LP) by Columbia in June 1948 and the 45-rpm by RCA Victor in April 1949. Many smaller record companies, who could not afford new equipment for the new formats, went out of business; and consumers had to buy new equipment to play records produced with the new technology. Eventually, new technology won out and most US companies stopped producing 78-rpm records after 1958.
Be My Love (Cahn-Brodszky), 1949; RCA Victor “Special Purpose” White
Label 10-1561, v. Mario Lanza with Orch., rec. June 27, 1950
Tenor Mario Lanza (1921-1959), with his marvelous voice and good looks, combined operatic
and popular singing into a highly successful movie and recording career in the 1940s and ‘50s.
“Be My Love,” from The Toast of New Orleans, is shown above on a special white RCA promotional label given to disc jockeys. It was recorded for public use on RCA Victor Red Seal 10-1561 and sold 2 million copies! It remained among the weekly Top Ten songs for 21 weeks and was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Song in 1950.
Lyrics: “Be my love, For no one else can end this yearning, This need that you and you alone create; Just fill my arms the way you’ve filled my dreams…and with your kisses set me burning.”
On the screen, Lanza sang popular songs and the “hit tunes” of opera, opening up the world of opera to many who had never been exposed to that genre. However, he had very little operatic experience on the operatic stage. He was never a member of an opera company; nor did he ever record a complete opera. He performed only one opera before a live audience—Puccini’s Madama Butterfly in New Orleans in 1948. He died prematurely at age 38 in poor health aggravated by a life-long pattern of weight gain, excessive dieting, alcohol and perhaps improper medical care.
See A. Cesari, Mario Lanza: An American Tragedy, Baskerville Pub., 2004.
Macy’s Label 141, “Korea Here We Come” (Henry), v. Harry Choates and His Fiddle, rec. c. July 1, 1950; and RCA Victor Label 20-5064, “Don’t Let the Stars Get in Your Eyes” (Willet), v. Perry Como w. the Ramblers, rec. Nov. 22, 1952
On June 27, 1950, President Harry Truman authorized US army and naval forces to assist South Korea from being invaded by North Korea, and the first military action took place in early July. The Korean War ended on July 27, 1953. Both the above recordings were made during the war with references to it.
“Korea, Here We Come” on the Macy label was recorded near the onset of the war. Lyrics: “So mothers don’t be sad, They’ve done made us mad; Korea, Korea, here we come.”
The Macy record label was a Houston label that existed for a short time from 1949 to 1951. It was named after the founders of the company, not the department store. Harry Choates (1922-1951) was a Louisiana-born Cajun Fiddler. He reportedly died of complications of self-injury and alcoholism in an Austin jail where he had been sent for failure to pay child support.
“Don’t Let the Stars Get in Your Eyes” on the RCA Victor label was written after Slim Willet, writer of the song, saw a letter from a soldier in the war asking his girl “to please wait for me.” However, not many who heard or played the song knew it was based on a Korean War theme. Lyrics: “Don’t let the stars get in your eyes…If I’m gone too long, Don’t forget where you belong, When the stars come out, Remember you are mine.”
Perry Como (1912-2001) was one of the most important recording and television stars of the 1950s. His RCA Victor version of the song became a big hit and his tenth million-record disc!
That’s Amore (Brooks-Warren), 1953; Capitol Label 2589, Dean Martin w. Dick Stabile Orch., rec. August 13, 1953
Film, record and TV star Dean Martin (1917-1995) thought “That’s Amore” was corny and disliked it so much that he refused to record it for Capitol records. So Capitol took it directly from the soundtrack of The Caddy.
Lyrics: “When the moon hits your eye, Like a big pizza pie, That’s amoré; When the world seems to shine, Like you’ve had too much wine, That’s amoré.”
After its release, “That’s Amore” climbed the charts to No. 2 and remained there for four weeks, selling over one-million copies. It is now forever associated with Martin and regarded as one of his best-loved songs. It was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Song in 1954.
The Capitol record sleeve advertises the “Famous ‘1600’ Series,” with several hundred previous Capitol recordings re-issued with 1600 catalog numbers. Several earlier Dean Martin releases are included. The Capitol “1600 series” existed from 1952 to 1955.
The Caddy, from 1953, was the tenth picture for Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis. They had a highly publicized break-up in 1956, when each went their separate professional ways.
See N. Touches, Dino: Living High in the Dirty Business of Dreams, Doubleday, 1992.
(We’re Gonna) Rock Around the Clock (Freedman-DeKnight), 1953; Decca Label 29124, Bill Haley and His Comets, rec. April 12, 1954
Iconic song recorded by Bill Haley (1925-1981) that—more than any other song—marked the beginning of the “rock ‘n’ roll” era. Lyrics: “Put your glad rags on and join me hon’, We’ll have some fun when the clock strikes one; We’re gonna rock around the clock tonight, We’re gonna rock, rock rock till broad daylight…”
The song was released by Decca in May 1954 and was a mild success. In 1954, M-G-M was looking for a song for the movie Blackboard Jungle, which was released in March 1955. The film’s producers wanted a song with a strong beat and teenager appeal for the film about an inner-city, mixed-racial high school dominated by a small group of delinquents; and they bought the rights to use Haley’s version of “Rock Around the Clock.” The song is played with raw dramatic effect during opening credits and in several other scenes.
The film was a box-office success and caused a rush among teenagers to buy the record. Decca re-released the disc, and it became a Top-Charted single, selling over 2 million copies! In 1955, Decca sold several times as many 45-rpms of the song than 78s, signaling the coming demise of the 78-rpm record.
See J. Dawson, Rock Around the Clock: The Record that Started the Rock Revolution, Backbeat Books, 2005.
Emil R. Pinta, M.D. is a retired psychiatrist on the emeritus faculty of the Ohio State University College of Medicine. He has lived in Columbus since 1962 when he began medical school at OSU and has authored books and articles on the history of psychiatry, medical schools in Ohio, and forensic and correctional psychiatry. He and his wife, Susan Scritchfield, wrote a digital then-and-now “photo-walk” of Downtown Columbus that is currently (2021) an open-access link on the website of the Columbus Historical Society.
As a collector of vintage jazz, popular and operatic records, he is a long-time member of the Association for Recorded Sound Collections and was a member of their Archive Committee in 1986 and 1987. His published works on the history of recordings and the music industry have appeared in Record Research, New Amberola Graphic, Victrola and 78 Journal, Record Collector (England) and the Association for Recorded Sound Collections Journal. He published a discography of the operatic tenor Jan Peerce (1904-1984) in 1986 that was favorably received by the Peerce family.
In 2017, he donated a collection of 78-rpm records with matching sheet music and record sleeves to the William T. Jerome Library of Bowling Green State University. The collection consists of almost 230 such combinations from 1898 to 1957 and provided the basis for this digital book.
In 2018, he also donated a collection of over 300 sound recordings and memorabilia items of tenor Jan Peerce (1904-1984) to the Jerome Library. It is one of the most complete collections of commercial recordings, transcriptions and V-Discs by the famous tenor in any library or institution.
Additional Annotated References and Sources
For recording dates and personnel of jazz, dance-band and personality records prior to late 1942 (date of first AFM strike), the “bibles” for collectors have been the Brian Rust books:
Brian Rust, Jazz Records: 1897-1942, 2 Vol. (London: Storyville Pub.), 1970.
Brian Rust, The American Dance Band Discography: 1917-1942, 2 Vol. (New York:
Arlington House), 1975.
Brian Rust and Allen G. Debus, The Complete Entertainment Discography: 1897-1942
(New York: Da Capo Press)—2nd ed., 1989.
An excellent online source for recording dates for Victor, Berliner, Columbia, Okeh, Brunswick and Decca records—with the opportunity to hear many of the recordings!--is the University of California at Santa Barbara’s ongoing discographical project. Entries include titles, artists, matrix numbers, catalog numbers and recording dates, enhanced by a very user-friendly search program:
Discography of American Historical Recordings (DAHR), online at
http://adp.library.ucsb.edu; accessed June 2021.
For a history of record labels and record companies, an important resource is:
Allan Sutton and Kurt Nauck, American Record Labels and Companies: An
Encyclopedia (1891-1943) (Denver: Mainspring Press), 2000.
An excellent, detailed history of Victor records is:
Michael W. Sherman (in collaboration with Kurt Nauck III), Collector’s Guide to Victor
Records (Tustin, Calif.: Monarch Record Enterprises)—Revised ed., 2010.
For a history of the Columbia record label:
Michael W. Sherman and Kurt Nauck III, Note the Notes: An Illustrated History of the
Columbia Record Label, 1901-1958 (Tustin, Calif: Monarch Record Enterprises), 1998.
A source for sheet music that provides relative rarity and a list of sheet-music artists:
Anna Marie Guiheen and Marie-Reine A. Pafik, The Sheet Music Reference and Price
Guide (Paducah, Ky.: Collector Books), 1992.
An extensive four-volume reference book on performing artists and their recordings:
Roger D. Kinkle, The Complete Encyclopedia of Popular Music and Jazz
(1900-1950) 4 Vol. (New Rochelle, N.Y.: Arlington House Pub.), 1974.
Hit Parade’s Top Ten rankings are found in:
Eston Brooks, I’ve Heard Those Songs Before: The Weekly Top Ten Tunes for the Last
Fifty Years (New York: Morrow Quill Paperbacks), 1981.
Stanley Green, Encyclopedia of the Musical Theatre (New York, Da Capo Press), 1976.
Stanley Green, Encyclopedia of the Musical Film (New York: Oxford Press), 1981.
Tim Gracyk, Popular American Recording Pioneers 1895-1925 (New York: Haworth
Guy A. Marco, Encyclopedia of Recorded Sound in the United States (New York: Garland
Joseph Murrells, Million Selling Records from the 1900s to the 1980s: An Illustrated
Directory (New York: Arco Pub.), 1985.
Susan Sackett, Hollywood Sings! An Inside Look at Sixty Years of Academy-Award
Nominated Songs (New York: Billboard Books), 1995.
Emil R. Pinta