Edison Recording Artists
E. (“Jep”) Bisbee born in the town of Ossian,
New York, on July 29, 1843, the youngest son of Alanson and
Mary C. (Bagley) Bisbee. In 1858, the family moved to Ionia
County, Michigan, and for several years Jep worked on the
farm, but it seemed that he had interests other than farming.
It is said that his older brother made him a fiddle from an
apple tree limb and horsehair, and he began to learn tunes
from his mother’s whistling.
Around the time of the Civil War, for three years, Jep traveled
around the country as part of a troupe giving public entertainment.
This may have been a fife and drum band, as Bisbee later said
he had been in Detroit in 1861 playing the drum.
From 1869 through 1918 Bisbee tried his hand at various types
of work, but music was never far away and always provided
a portion of his income and in some years probably most of
it. However, it wasn’t until Bisbee was 80 years old
that he cut his first record! On November 23, 1923, Thomas
Edison met the Bisbee’s at the rail station in Newark,
NJ and the group went straight to the Edison complex. In the
session on the first day, son Earl joined Bisbee on his three-stringed
bass viol and his daughter Beulah on the piano. These, however,
were not released. Those that were released were the same
titles played the next day by Bisbee and his daughter on the
piano alone. He recorded “Opera Reel” adding his
own calls, “The Devil’s Dream” (see label above), “Money Musk with Variations”,
“The Girl I Left Behind Me”, “McDonald’s
Reel” and “College Hornpipe.” Edison later
said that Bisbee made more records in one day than any other
person, according to a statement in Bisbee’s obituary.
This seems doubtful, but in any case we cannot doubt the 80-year-old
Bisbee’s stamina. For each title, at least three takes
were recorded, so he must have recorded at least 18 sides
each day, not including the inevitable rejected takes.
The records turned out remarkably well especially “Opera
Reel” and “The Devils Dream” which were
the first to be released, in February 1924, and must have
sold reasonably well, given the number of copies that still
exist today. His last public appearance was on a Father Marquette
memorial observance program at Ludington, Michigan. Shortly
after playing, he suffered a heart attack and cerebral hemorrhage.
Taken to the local hospital, he died August 10, 1935, and
was buried in the West Cemetery near Paris Michigan.
little is known on this artist, who came to record for Edison
in early 1929. In fact, there was nothing in the Edison Artist
Files at West Orange when checked in 2001. On the basis
of the recordings covered here, she sings in a "babyish" voice,
very much like the better known entertainer, Helen Kane. A
1929 Edison Catalog supplement had this to say about her:
"A vivacious singer of ‘baby vamp’ songs is little
Miss Ermine Calloway, newly arrived in the Edison recording
family. She is a Texas product, a stage and radio star, and
‘radio’s only girl flyer.’ Be sure to hear
her first record [Good Little, Bad Little You], full of embarrassing
questions and naïve naughtiness. You’ll like her!" She
was known to still be alive in the mid-1970’s, and appeared
at one of the "reunions" of former Edison Artists which took
place. Her last known place of residence was Dallas Texas.
in Jefferson Texas with the rather dubious name of Marion
Try Slaughter, Vernon Dalhart spent his early life on a ranch
but in 1902, he went to New York seeking a career in music.
He took the name of Vernon Dalhart by combining the names
of two Texas towns. He sang with the Century Opera Company
in 1913-14, where he performed in HMS Pinafore at the Hippodrome.
It is believed his first recording was made in 1917 when he
recorded “Can’t Yo’ Heah Me Callin’
Caroline?” for the Edison Company. Throughout the rest
of the 1920's, Dalhart made numerous records under different
names (some reports state as many as 50 different pseudonyms),
and different styles, including vaudeville.
In 1924 Victor Records was ready to terminate him from their
roster of artists when he asked if he could record hillbilly
music. He chose “Wreck Of The Old ‘97”,
which had first been recorded the previous year by Henry Whitter.
It became country music’s first million-seller, eventually
exceeding six million. True to character, Dalhart also recorded
the song under pseudonyms for many different labels - including
a version for Edison. Dalhart followed up this success
with several topical songs written by, and performed with
his partner, Carson Robison. They include “The Death
Of Floyd Collins”, “The John T. Scopes Trial”,
and “Kinnie Wagner's Surrender”. In 1928, following
disagreements with Robison over royalties and musicians, Dalhart
pursued a solo career. However, cutbacks during the Depression
severely curtailed Dalhart’s career.
He attempted a comeback in 1939 but, despite his past popularity,
he could not satisfy the public. He stopped performing altogether,
although he did give singing lessons and worked as a night
clerk at a hotel in Bridgeport, Connecticut. It was there
he died following a heart attack in 1948.
The Georgia Melodians
the several obscure bands recorded by the Edison Company,
the Georgia Melodians is one of more than passing interest,
and not only for the quality of its recorded output. It has
long been thought the band was no more than a "studio group",
formed for recording purposes only. Far from it; they enjoyed
steady work in New York for most of 1924 and had been in existence
for about a year prior to that.
The full story of the band is not yet known. A note in the
Edison files states they were from Savannah, Georgia and the
joint leaders were Ernie Intelhouse and Hill Hutchins. After
two weeks of full-time rehearsal during the Spring of 1923,
they took up a residency at a North Carolina coastal resort
for the summer season, playing in a ballroom at nights and
giving concerts at the beach on Sunday afternoons. After this
engagement, the band played a series of college dates while
working their way up the coast to New York, where they arrived
in about February, 1924.
The band broke up (for reasons unknown) towards the end of
1924, and they had apparently left the Strand Roof before
Christmas of that year. Their last booking was a New Year’s
Eve Ball at the Hotel Alamac in New York. The Edison file
for a recording by Dave Harmon’s Orchestra on January
5th, 1925 carries a brief note "... the Georgia Melodians,
for whom you selected this title is disorganized and owners
out of town." Despite the break-up of the band, Edison continued
to issue records under their name until April, 1926. Why he
did so is not clear, but presumably Edison dealers requested
further recordings by the group.
The Golden Gate Orchestra
the first few years of the "dance craze" that swept across
America beginning in 1918, popular music was mostly recorded
by small (usually five-piece) groups. In the early 1920’s,
however, it became apparent that there was a growing demand
for somewhat bigger orchestras that could capably handle the
"Latest Hits" of the day. In November 1921 a nine-piece group
assembled in the Vocalion recording studio to cut two such
titles, which were issued by a group called "The California
Ramblers". Under the direction of bandleader Ed Kirkeby -
this group recorded for virtually every label in existence
during the 1920's; both under the moniker listed above as
well as "The California Ramblers". Kirkeby began his musical
career in 1921 as the A&R manager for the Canadian Branch
of the Victor Talking Machine Company. He formed the "Ramblers"
in 1922, whom he promoted and recorded with extensively throughout
the rest of the decade. By late 1929, however due to the Great
Depression and a change in the public's taste in music, the
group's popularity quickly faded, and they disbanded shortly
thereafter. Kirkeby continued in the musical field - eventually
becoming Fat Waller's personal manager in 1938. He retired
full-time from music in 1958.
photograph of Mal Hallet, who at Six and a half feet tall,
waxed moustache, and wavy hair, was an impressive band leader;
a graduate from the Boston Conservatory of Music. During WWI,
he toured France as a member of the Al Moore Orchestra. He began
his career as a bandleader recording for Edison in 1929 shortly
after Edison began producing lateral-cut discs. In the 1930’s,
his orchestra toured all over the New England states, usually
in one-nighters. He was pioneering a "swing band" before swing
bands had been invented, and included many accomplished musicians
who would later achieve fame as great sidemen. Among these
are: Gene Krupa, Toots Mondello, Jack Teagarden, and Frankie
Carle. Mal Hallet died in 1952 in Boston, MA.
The Fletcher Henderson Orchestra
the most popular African American band of the 1920’s.
The smooth, carefully arranged sound of Henderson’s
orchestra was a huge influence on the Swing style of the next
decade. The Orchestra played at the Club Alabam on West 44th
Street in New York from 1922 to July of 1924 and then moved
to the Roseland Ballroom when Armand J. Piron’s Orchestra
vacated and returned to New Orleans.
In 1924 Henderson hired Louis Armstrong to replace Joe Smith
on trumpet. Armstrong’s thirteen months in the band
caused quite a stir among New York Jazz musicians who had
never heard anything like him. The orchestra also featured
Coleman Hawkins on tenor saxophone, Buster Bailey on clarinet,
and Don Redman on alto saxophone and also contributing arrangements.
The orchestra recorded for dozens of record companies under
a number of different names and pseudonyms.
In 1929 the band traveled to Philadelphia to play the music
in a musical revue called Horseshoes. During rehearsals for
the show a dispute over White musicians role in the production
fractured the band and half of the orchestra quit. Henderson
put together another version of the band, but things were
never the same and the band never resumed the level of popularity
that it had enjoyed throughout the 1920’s.
Henderson (born Rosa Deschamps) was born November 24, 1896
in Henderson County Kentucky. She left home at an early age,
joining her uncle’s carnival show, and toured through
the South around 1913. In 1918 she teamed up with Slim Henderson
(whom she married later that year) and worked with him as
a Duo in Vaudeville. In 1922 she commenced working in New
York Black Revues, Vaudeville, a few Radio Broadcasts and
recording. In 1928, Slim Henderson died suddenly. His death
greatly affected her, and although she continued to work in
Vaudeville etc. up to about 1932, without him she had little
interest in continuing. From 1932 until the 1950’s she
is believed to have worked entirely outside the entertainment
world, including several years as an assistant in a large New York
She was re-discovered by Len Kunstadt of "Record Research"
in the late 1950’s, and made guest appearances at one
or two events attended by other veteran singers of the 1920’s.
Despite long and loud applause on being announced, she politely
but firmly refused to perform for the gatherings. There was
discussion of a possible LP album by her, but by the early
1960’s she was in very poor health, and died April 6, 1968 after
a long period of illness.
NOTE: Rosa was in no way related to Fletcher Henderson, the bandleader
who often accompanied her on recordings. Also she was not
related to any other singer named Henderson. Her date with
Edison was organized by Joe Davis, who also organized the
Bud Lincoln's Orchestra
of veteran trombone player Abram Lincoln, Bud Lincoln played trumpet, and led his own
band in his home town of Lancaster, PA. Abram played with
this band circa 1925 and 1926, and was present on the rejected
sides cut for the Victor Company in February 1926. Bud Lincoln’s
band played at local venues, and dance halls in Scranton and
Philadelphia. According to Abram, his brother would have become
well-known as a player had he not had a fatal accident while
still fairly young in years.
One odd point about all this...someone supplied Abram with
a tape of the rejected Edison sides a few years before he
died. On listening to the tape, Abram denied vehemently that these recordings
were by his brother’s band!
However, the Cash Books at the Edison Site clearly list these
sides as being by the Bud Lincoln Orchestra, and the sheet
in the "Payment To Artists" Ledger shows them as "Bud" Lincoln
and his Orchestra, with the Manager named as V. J. Lincoln.
Make of this what you will!
Lopez & Hamilton-The Kings
does not normally associate Vincent Lopez with Jazz, but at
the outset of his career, he co-led with clarinetist Billy
Hamilton a successful five-piece Jazz band at the Tokio Cafe
in New York City. Emulating the Original Dixieland Jazz Band,
even down to the titles chosen for recording, they turn in
a creditable performance of the ODJB’s "Dixieland One-Step"
(entered in the Edison recording logbook simply as "Dixieland").
This title was unissued, the Edison files giving the reason
as "Unable to gain copyright approval." This was undoubtedly
because the ODJB’s composition was the subject of a
legal case, as the third strain was lifted from Joe Jordan’s
Original Memphis Five
Original Memphis Five was founded in 1917 by Phil Napoleon
and Frank Signorelli after playing in dance bands together
at Coney Island in New York. They were one of the most prolific
of the early White Jazz bands. Their first record was actually
released as an Original Dixieland Jazz Band record with the
blessing of Nick La Rocca. The Original Dixieland Jazz Band
had just broken up after La Rocca’s nervous breakdown
in 1922. Frank Signorelli was the only member of the Original
Memphis Five who had been in the ODJB. They recorded under
a variety of other names including Ladd’s Black Aces,
Bailey’s Lucky Seven, The Southland Six, and The Cotton
Pickers. None of the band members where from Memphis or even
the south! The band was named after WC Handy’s song
in the North Georgia mountains, Robert Allen Sisson was influenced
at a very young age to play fiddle by his uncle, Ira Arnold
Sisson, a well-known fiddler in his own time. It was said
that Allen began playing the fiddle while still just a small
child, and by age twelve, he was regarded as the best fiddler
in North Georgia. In 1921, Sisson was named the Tennessee
State Fiddle Champion.
In 1925, Allen Sisson was invited to the Edison studios to record ten tunes he had written. On February
25, 1925, Sisson recorded “Walking Water Reel”,
“Kentucky Wagoners” and “The Rocky Road
To Dublin”. The following day he recorded “Grey
Eagle”, “Katy Hill Reel”, “Cumberland
Gap”, “Farewell Ducktown”, “Kaiser’s
Defeat Jig”, “Sally Brown” and “Rymer's
Favorite”. This was Sisson's only venture into recording.
When Sisson returned home from New Jersey, he brought the
first radio to the area. People would come from all around
to hear both the radio and Allen's fiddling.
Although almost forgotten today, The Sisson family tradition
still lives on. In June of 2000, a Sisson family gathering
was held in Florence, KY, and all of Allen's tunes were played
in remembrance. The invitation advised all comers to “be
sure and bring your clogging shoes".
Wilbur Sweatmans Brownies
of the first African Americans to record Jazz was Wilbur Sweatman.
His first recordings on Columbia were made less than two months
after The Original Dixieland Jazz Band’s "Livery Stable
Blues" which is generally considered to be the first Jazz
recording. His recordings of "Darktown Strutters Ball" and
"Goodbye Alexander" are now jazz classics. By 1924, when Sweatman
appeared at the Edison studios his star had already fallen,
although this unissued take of "It Makes no Difference
Now" certainly shows the band still had it!
Taylor was a talented entertainer and Blues singer and was
one of the first African American singers to be heard on radio.
Eva Taylor was born, as Irene Gibbons on January 22, 1895
in St. Louis Missouri. She started out as child actor in a
traveling revue that toured the world visiting Europe, Australia,
and New Zealand. In 1920 she moved to New York City, where
she became a popular singer in the night clubs of Harlem.
The following year she married pianist, bandleader and composer/publisher,
Clarence Williams. The couple collaborated on many projects,
including dozens of songs, a musical revue, recordings, and
radio programs. They remained married until Williams’
death in 1965.
In 1922 Taylor made her first record for the African-American
owned, Black Swan label, who billed her as "The Dixie Nightingale".
She would continue to record dozens of Blues, Jazz, and popular
sides for Okeh, Columbia, and Edison through-out the 1920’s
as well as having her own radio show on NBC in New York. She
was also the lead singer on several of her husbands classic
"Blue Five" recording dates, including the famous sessions
that brought Louis Armstrong and Sidney Bechet together in
1924. During the late 1920’s Eva had her own radio show
on NBC and continued recording for Edison who had just recently
switched to lateral-cut recording methods. She retired from
show business in the early 1940’s, but continued to
entertain in local hospitals, charity events, and made occasional
concert and night club appearances.
In the mid-1970’s (at the age of 80!) Eva Taylor revived
her career and appeared several times in Sweden, where she
recorded with local bands. Sadly, in about 1976 she developed
Cancer, and died October 31, 1977 in Nassau County Hospital.
Clarence Williams was born on the outskirts of New Orleans,
in Plaquemine, Louisiana, on October 8, 1898. He was of Choctaw
Indian and Creole heritage. As a child, Williams began his
musical education performing in the family hotel and singing
in the streets. At the age of twelve, he left home and joined
Billy Kersands famous minstrel show as a singer. Shortly thereafter,
he became the troupe’s master of ceremonies.
In 1920, Williams moved to Chicago, and opened a music store
near the Vendome Theater (located at 4404 South State Street),
and proved so lucrative that he eventually owned three more
stores in the city, but Williams did not confine his energies
to mere proprietorship. 1920 was the year Mamie Smith recorded
her first sides. When the public got their first hearing of
a black woman’s voice singing the blues, they wanted
more, and Williams’ entrepreneurial skills enabled him
to profit from this next phase in the entertainment business:
selling recordings of black female blues singers.
From 1923 to 1928, Williams was the artist and repertoire
director for Okeh Records, and from this powerful position
he was able to seek out and develop new talent. During this
time, he organized numerous sessions which advanced the careers
of many early jazz greats such as Louis Armstrong and Sidney
Bechet. He also employed a number of other jazz musicians
including Don Redman, King Oliver, and Coleman Hawkins.
From the late 1930's until he lost his sight after being hit
by a cab in 1956, Williams spent most of his time composing.
He died in Queens, New York, on November 6, 1965. During his
lifetime, he had been a composer, pianist, vocalist, record
producer, music publisher, and agent. He may not have been
the inventor of jazz (as he sometimes claimed), but he was
influential enough in his day to be forgiven that one exaggeration.
Proprietary Rights: Lawrence Tedder
© 2007 American Sound Archives