Decca Introduction

The Decca Labels: A Discography - compiled by Michel Ruppli.

The Decca label first originated in England. The Decca Record Company, created in 1929, acquired the rights for material recorded in the United States under the Brunswick and ARC labels. Jack Kapp, one of Brunswick's executives, attempted a collaboration between Brunswick and English Decca. He left Brunswick in 1934 and, with financial support from England, formed the U.S. branch of Decca. The U.S. Decca label was born.

Kapp took with him such Brunswick artists as Bing Crosby and the Mills Brothers and started recordings for the new label. Even in the beginning, the fields covered were as varied as popular music, jazz, blues, and rural music (including what we call country music and blues today).

In 1935, Decca purchased the Champion trademark and part of the Gennett material, including some sessions originally recorded by Paramount. Some of these recordings were reissued on the Champion and Decca labels.

Recording activity grew over the years, using studios in Los Angeles, Chicago, and New York. Decca soon became one of the major U.S. recording labels, joining RCA Victor and Columbia. During World War II, the Petrillo recording ban in 1942-1943 reduced activity, but Decca purchased a number of transcriptions recorded by the World label. (The World material was later sold to the Circle label of New Orleans.) After the war, a new peak of activity occurred. Decca purchased material from the Signature label and started reissuing vintage material from

Brunswick, using a revised Brunswick logo. At the same time, the subsidiary Coral was started for newly recorded material in the pop field. Vocation, another subsidiary label, was created and used as a budget label for reissues.

In the meantime, Jack Kapp, who had headed the label since the beginning, resigned to form his own company and produce recordings under the Kapp label (not included in this set).

Another change, concerning country recordings, occurred after the war. In the late 1930s, field recordings resulted from yearly trips to cities in the South (El Paso, San Antonio, Charlotte, New Orleans, Dallas, Houston, among others). In 1945 recording began in Nashville, which was to become one of the greatest recording sites for the next 30 years. Many sessions took place in Owen Bradley's various studios and a great many Nashville recordings were made for Decca (and are collected in Volume 5 of this set).

In 1969, Decca was purchased by the MCA Communication Group, but continued to operate as before. In 1970, the Brunswick label was sold to Nat Tarnopol, who also headed Dakar Records of Chicago. (Later recordings on that label do not belong to the Decca era.) The deal also included the Brunswick masters recorded by Decca after 1967, which do not belong to MCA. However, these recordings were originally assigned Decca master numbers and, consequently are listed in the present set.

In early 1973, the name Decca was deleted, and all recordings, new and reissues, were issued on the MCA logo. (From 1969 on, Decca records were issued in the U.K. using the MCA label.)

Among the great popular artists recorded by Decca is Bing Crosby, who built most of his career on that label and was with Decca the best-selling artist of all time. Hoagy Carmichael, Dick Haymes, Deanna Durbin, Judy Garland, Al Jolson, Danny Kaye, and Peggy Lee were also recorded on that label. The following vocal groups also had big hits: The Mills Brothers, The Andrews Sisters, The Ink Spots, The Four Aces, and later, The Merry Macs and The Ames Brothers.

Dance bands on Decca included Guy Lombardo, Jan Garber, and Russ Morgan, and the more jazzy bands included the Casa Loma Orchestra, Jimmy Dorsey, Bob Crosby, and Tommy Dorsey.

Jazz artists and orchestras were a big part of the recordings over the years. The jazz section was directed during those years by Milt Gabler (who started in the business by heading the Commodore Music Shop and later his own Commodore recording label). Major jazz artists Louis Armstrong, Count Basie, Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, Lionel Hampton, Fletcher Henderson, Art Tatum, the young Nat King Cole and his Trio, Les Brown, Woody Herman, Louis Jordan, and Jimmy Lunceford recorded extensively for Decca. The Decca catalogue also includes reissues of the Brunswick recordings of the young Duke Ellington and Cab Calloway.

In the blues field, Kokomo Arnold, Amos Easton (Bumble Bee Slim), Peetie Wheatstraw, and Roosevelt Sykes were among the veterans on Decca. Later, many artists who recorded for the "race" series were backed by the house rhythm section, led by pianist Sam Price (Sister Rosetta Tharpe and Mary Knight, among others).

Mahalia Jackson started recording with Decca, and the catalogue also included various religious groups (such as the Five Blind Boys of Alabama and the Harmonizing Four).

During Decca's peak of activity, numerous recordings were made for children, many using the voice of Frank Luther. 

Many postwar recordings were in the country and rock fields. In the 1950s, several major rock stars appeared on Decca, among them Bill Haley, Brenda Lee, and Buddy Holly. In the country field, Decca recorded the pioneers (The Sons of the Pioneers, Milton Brown, the Carter Family, and Bob Wills). A thorough history of prewar country recordings, The Decca Hillbilly Discography, 1927-1945 by Cary Ginell (1989), was previously published in Greenwood's Discography Series and was used as a reference for the present set. In subsequent years, major recording artists included Ernest Tubb, Bill Monroe, Burl Ives, Kitty Wells, Patsy Cline, Webb Pierce, Loretta Lynn, among others.

Another important branch at Decca was the Classical Division, which produced records by great artists Jascha Heifetz, Sylvia Marlowe, and Andres Segovia) and orchestras (Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra and New York Pro Musica). A large part of the Classical catalogue came from distribution of the German Deutsche Grammophon label, including recordings by Dietrick Fischer-Dieskau, Wilhelm Kempff, and David Oistrakh. The catalogue also included many popular reissues from foreign labels (mostly European), among which were English Decca and Deutsche Grammophon.

This overview exemplifies the richness of the Decca label that resulted from the many fields covered and the nearly 40 years in which Decca operated.