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Edison Recording Artists Selected Biographies


Jasper Bisbee label
Jasper Bisbee
Jasper 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.

Ermine Calloway
Ermine Calloway

Very 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.

Vernon Dalhart
Vernon Dalhart
Born 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 Georgia Melodians

Of 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 Golden Gate Orchestra

In 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.

Mal Hallet
Mal Hallet

This 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 Fletcher Henderson Orchestra

Probably 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.


Rosa Henderson
Rosa 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 Department Store.
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 Accompanists.

Bud Lincoln's Orchestra

Brother 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 of Harmony
One 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 "Teasin' Rag".

Original Memphis Five
Original Memphis Five

The 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 "Memphis Blues".

Allen Sisson
Allen Sisson
Born 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
Wilbur Sweatmans Brownies
One 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!

Eva Taylor
Eva Taylor
Eva 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
Clarence Williams
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.


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© 2007 American Sound Archives