Brunswick Introduction

Brunswick Records: A Discography of Recordings, 1916-1931, compiled by Ross Laird.

The Brunswick label—which was to become one of the major labels of the 1920s, rivaling the much longer established Victor and Columbia—was first produced by Brunswick-Balke-Collender Co. in 1916 for sale only in the Canadian market. These discs were vertical-cut recordings and their very limited distribution means that they are extremely rare today.

The first Brunswick records distributed in the United States were not released until January 1920. These (and all subsequent Brunswick records) were lateral-cut recordings. Despite Brunswick's late entry into the record business, the label was highly successful and within three years it was firmly among the majors in terms of sales.

Many of the early popular recordings were made by artists who recorded widely for many labels, but there were several important dance orchestras under contract to Brunswick, including Isham Jones' Orchestra, The Oriole Orchestra, Abe Lyman's Ambassador Hotel Orchestra and Ray Miller and His Orchestra. Marion Harris and The Brox Sisters were early highlights of the popular vocal catalog and a small but influential classical catalog featured Florence Easton, Mario Chamlee, Tino Pattiera, Marie Morrisey, Giuseppe Danise, Claire Dux, Sigrid Onegin, Maria Ivogun, Karin Branzell, Elisabeth Rethberg, Giacomo Lauri-Volpi, Michael Bohnen, John Charles Thomas, Fredrich Schorr and such instrumentalists as Willem Willeke, Leopold Godowsky, Bronislaw Huberman, Max Rosen, Elly Ney and Josef Hofman.

Building on a solid basis of repertoire and artists, the record division was assisted in penetration of the market by the company's range of phonographs, an energetic in-house publicity machine and a willingness to utilize new developments such as radio. By 1923 Brunswick was the third largest record manufacturer in America.

In July/August 1923 Brunswick carried out the first of many field recording expeditions to the West Coast, visiting Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle and Portland before swinging back to New York via Chicago. Although very few issued recordings resulted from the Chicago part of this first field recording expedition, further recordings were made in that location on a regular basis beginning in January 1924 and in Los Angeles beginning in May 1924. In October 1924 Cleveland and St. Louis were also the sites of further recordings. Most of these locations joined New York as regular recording locations over the next four years, but permanent recording studios were not established in Chicago and Los Angeles until later in the 1920s.

On November 29, 1924 the Brunswick-Balke-Collender Co. acquired the Vocalion label. This acquisition further strengthened Brunswick's position as a record producer and by 1925 Brunswick was briefly in a position to challenge even Victor for dominance. In December 1924 a new master series was established for recordings intended for the Vocalion catalog (and some earlier Brunswick recordings were allocated master numbers in this series when they were selected for re-release on Vocalion). A few Vocalion artists (such as Ben Berni·and His Orchestra) were moved across to the Brunswick label.

During the mid-1920s the Brunswick roster of recording artists grew in number and included such well-known names as AI Jolson, the Mound City Blue Blowers, Ohman and Arden, Frank Munn, Elizabeth Lennox, Nick Lucas, Morton Downey, Vernon Dalhart, Wendell Hall, Esther Walker, Ben Bernie and His Orchestra, Vincent Lopez and His Orchestra, Lee Sims, The Yacht Club Boys, Red Nichols and His Five Pennies and many others in the popular music field. The classical artist list had also been expanded to include such as Mauritz Melchior, Richard Bonelli, Albert Spalding, Kathryn Meisle, Rosa Raisa, Giacomo Rimini, Walter Gieseking, the Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra, The Cleveland Orchestra, and the New York Philharmonic Orchestra.

In October 1925 Brunswick began a sales campaign to promote its new electric recordings and the Brunswick Panatrope, which had been developed to play the new process records.

In 1926 a race record division was formed headed by the young Jack Kapp. The initial releases were on the Vocalion label and the artists featured included King Oliver's Dixie Syncopators, Viola McCoy, Rosa Henderson, Jelly Roll Morton, Alberta Hunter, Rev. J. M. Gates, Duke Ellington, Furry Lewis and many others. The Brunswick race series was not introduced until 1927 and it featured such artists as Clarence Williams, The Five Harmaniacs, Bill Brown and His Brownies, Johnny Dodds, Lionel Belasco's Orchestra, "Banjo" Ikey Robinson and Jabbo Smith.

Country music was also a major area of recording activity from 1927, and both Vocalion and Brunswick had specific series devoted to what was then known as hillbilly music. In the Brunswick "Dixie" series featured artists included Vernon Dalhart, AI Hopkins, McFarland and Gardner, Uncle Dave Macon, "Dock" Boggs, Dyke's Magic City Trio, Buell Kazee, Frank and James McCravy among others. The Vocalion 5000 series featured Uncle Dave Macon, Am Stewart, Sid Harkreader, George Reneau, Charlie Oaks, Vernon Dalhart, Sam McGee and other pioneering performers.

Other areas where Brunswick developed catalogs of unique recordings were in those series directed at the various ethnic communities. There were special recordings made for sale to the Jewish, Spanish-speaking, French-Canadian, German, Polish, Russian. Ukrainian, Italian and other ethnic groups. As well there were series containing recordings of Hawaiian, Irish and "International" material.

Much of the material included in the various race, country and ethnic series was recorded outside the three main locations used by Brunswick (New York, Chicago and Los Angeles). In many cases, these expeditions used portable recording equipment, which travelled to all parts of the United States and beyond. Although similar mobile recordings had been made in Los Angeles, Chicago and other locations since 1923, it was not until early 1928 that the more remote areas were visited in any systematic way.

In February 1928 a recording unit was sent to Ashland, Kentucky and Atlanta, Georgia to record mainly country and race material. This was the beginning of a long series of similar expeditions to be made by Brunswick over the next four years. While other record companies also sent mobile recording equipment to the same or similar locations during this period, the recordings made by Brunswick are in many cases the only ones by some of the featured artists. As a whole this series of recordings represents a unique documentation of styles of music which no longer exist or which have evolved in ways which make the pioneering records issued as a result a valuable resource for anyone interested researching the original sound of American music produced during the period 1926-1931.

Between early 1928 and the end of 1931 numerous recording expeditions visited many parts of the United States including Ashland, Atlanta, Birmingham, Dallas, Detroit, El Paso, Honolulu, Indianapolis, Kansas City, Knoxville, Memphis, Minneapolis, New Orleans, Omaha, Plattsburgh, St. Louis, San Antonio and West Point.

Beginning in May 1928 several expeditions went further afield to Havana, Mexico City, Montreal, Toronto and even as far away as Manila in the Philippines, and Canton, Hong Kong and Amoy in China.

In 1928 Brunswick began manufacturing radios and by 1929 was a major force in the radio receiver industry. Although the Brunswick-Balke-Collender Co. pioneered major record industry involvement in radio programming in the mid-1920s with its "Brunswick Hour" programs, it was not involved at this time in the manufacture of radio receivers, and any interest in radio seems to have lapsed for a couple of years. In late 1928 Brunswick was approached by the National Radio Advertising Co. to produce pre-recorded radio programs sponsored by one of their clients and this soon developed into a major part of Brunswick's business. The Brunswick-Balke-Collender Co. itself produced a series of pre-recorded radio programs promoting its recording artists under the title "Brunswick Brevities." These programs were broadcast from August 1929 into early 1930.

On April 9, 1930 Brunswick-Balke-Collender sold its radio and phonograph interests to Warner Brothers' Pictures Inc. and a new corporate entity was formed as the Brunswick Radio Corp.

During this period the Brunswick artist list featured Ozzie Nelson and His Orchestra, Cab Calloway, Seger Ellis, Bing Crosby, The Boswell Sisters, The Casa Loma Orchestra and many fine studio orchestras (as directed by Bob Haring or Vincent Young). The classical artist roster had been allowed to run down and few classical recordings were made in the United States by Brunswick after 1929. Under an agreement signed with Deutsche Grammophon in December 1926 Brunswick had access to European recordings which appeared on Grammophon and Polydor. Most classical recordings released by Brunswick from 1929 onward were derived from this European source.

On December 12, 1931 Warner Brothers sold the rights to the Brunswick label (together with the rights to the Brunswick subsidiary labels Vocalion and Melotone) to the American Record Corp. (A.R.C.) under certain terms and conditions. A.R.C. formed a new corporate entity, Brunswick Record Corp., to manage the former Brunswick labels.

This brief overview of the corporate history and activities of the Brunswick label is intended to give some indication of the place of this company in the record industry during the period covered by this discography. The importance and significance of the recordings made for Brunswick and its associated labels cannot be over-estimated, and these volumes are intended to provide a guide to the wealth of material across a wide range of genres in the Brunswick catalogs.

For more details on the background and operations of Brunswick see the company history in Volume 1.


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Brunswick Records: A Discography of Recordings, 1916-1931  (4 vols). Compiled by Ross Laird. Reprinted by permission.