The Phonogram Magazine, Now Online” by Mason Vander Lugt, National Recording Preservation Board, Library of Congress


(vol. 1, no. 10)

In May 1890, the representatives of the regional subsidiaries of the North American Phonograph Company met in Chicago to discuss the future of the phonograph business. In the preceding two years, the phonograph had developed from a curious toy into a useful tool, and the major patents had been consolidated into an enterprise that was positioned to make a fortune if conditions were favorable. Modeling after the telephone company, North American licensed rights to 28 regional sub-companies to exploit the technology in their respective territories. They were tasked with building an industry, and the opportunity must have seemed limitless.

1892 Convention 2_6

The 1892 Convention of the National Phonograph Association (vol. 2, no. 6)

Virginia H. McRae was a typewriter entrepreneur from Wilmington, North Carolina. By 1885, at 35 years old, she was running her own successful copying business in New York. The newspapers back home called her “plucky”, “energetic”, and “properly very proud of her independence”. When it was decided at the 1890 convention that a trade journal might benefit the association, Thomas Lombard, Vice-president of the New-York based North American Company was charged with investigating the prospect, and may have already had an editor in mind.

In The Phonogram’s first issue, published January 1891, McRae stated her purpose plainly:

The object and scope of the Phonogram […] is to familiarize the public with the good qualities of its namesake, to preserve the record of its growth while it moves forward to the achievement of the highest possible good, and to illustrate the part it performs in the work of human progress.

To understand the vision and influence of The Phonogram, it’s worth reviewing the basics. In January 1891, buying a phonograph to use at home wasn’t even an option. The spring-power mechanism that allowed the machines to be safe and efficient was still years in the future. The phonographs of 1891 were mostly powered by unwieldy and unreliable batteries, or treadle. Some were hand-cranked, some tapped into light sockets. One ill-fated model even used water-pressure.

Use of the machines could be generally categorized as business or entertainment. In a business setting, the machine mediated the process of dictating speech. Where before a speaker had to maintain a pace the stenographer could keep up with, or accept inaccuracies or losses, a phonographic secretary or reporter could quietly repeat what they heard into the recording tube while an assistant maintained continuity between two machines. The recordings would likely still be transcribed to type, but it made the process more natural and more reliable for speaker and stenographer alike.

Early Adopters

“These early adopters have got electric light, a telephone, a phonograph and a typewriter” (vol. 3, no. 1)

In an entertainment setting, the most common model was the public exhibition, made possible by the invention of the automatic, or ‘nickel-in-the-slot’ machine. At first, machines were placed one at a time in drugstores, saloons, hotel lobbies and train stations. Patrons would place stethoscopic ‘listening tubes’ in their ears, put a coin in the slot, and the phonograph would play the recording of the day – instrumental solos or ensembles, popular songs, bands, as well as humorous and dramatic recitations, or reenactments of historic speeches . As this practice gained popularity, exhibitors rented booths or rooms at fairs, and eventually entrepreneurs would devote entire parlors to phonograph (and eventually kinetophone) entertainment.

Another business model for entertainment was the phonograph concert. Like the medicine show before it, a traveling phonograph exhibitor would advertise events, usually in more suburban and rural areas where patrons wouldn’t encounter automatic machines in public. They would sell tickets to the event, held in a town hall, clubhouse, church or fairground, and the audience would hear recordings brought from all over the country. Sometimes recordings would be made on the spot and reproduced for the audience.

Sullivan 3_2

(vol. 3, no. 2)

The Phonogram was only in publication from January 1891 to April 1893, but in this short time it reflects the symbiotic growth and (growing pains) of the industry and culture of sound recording from the ground-level view of the practitioners. In a time when North American’s administration saw a cheap stenographer, The Phonogram and the local companies behind it explored every possibility, including:

  • Home phonographs and records
  • Music by phone
  • Records by delivery
  • Audio news by delivery
  • Voice-letters by mail
  • Educational lessons, especially of language
  • Ethnographic field recording
  • Preserving family’s voices
  • Recording telephone conversations, and answering-machine functions
  • Audio books
  • Speaking toys
  • Speaking clocks, including alarm clocks
  • Sermons
  • Weddings and funerals
  • Comforting the dying
  • Scientific recording, including field recording
  • Transposing sounds outside the human audible range (insects)
  • Recording secretly for legal evidence

In addition to brainstorming phonograph applications, the magazine documented developments in the typewriter, telephone, electrics, and in later issues, motion picture (2:10). It provided a venue for opinion articles, like “Give Every Family the Chance to Use the Phonograph” (1:5) “The Phonograph Aids in the Progress of Women” (2:6), or “Typewriter Mechanics: Shift-key or No Shift-key – Which?” (1:4).

Transcribe 2_4-5

(vol. 2, no. 4-5)

It announced news that would impact the local companies, such as North American president Jesse Lippincott’s assignment (1:4), and Edison’s appointment as president (2:7). Events of interest to its readers, like Electric Light Conventions in Montreal (1:8) and Buffalo (2:2), or celebrity recording sessions, as of Pope Leo XII (3:3-4), Sarah Bernhardt (2:11), and the Queen of Italy (3:2) also found a place.

Buffalo Light 2_2

Electric Light Convention at Buffalo (vol. 2, no. 2)


It reprinted the programs of phonograph concerts (1:5, 2:4-5, 3:1, 3:2) and lists of recordings by the various local companies, which are otherwise virtually unknown today. It featured the successes of local companies, including Columbia (1:4), Louisiana (1:6-7), Ohio (1:11-12) and Chicago (2:4-5). Essentially, it filled in the gaps between annual conventions, and let the public in on the fun. Considering only 2-3% of recordings from this era survive¹, contemporary literature such as Phonogram and the transcripts of the annual conventions may be the best source for understanding the culture and industry of recorded sound in these formative years.

US Marine Band 1_10

The U.S. Marine Band recording for the Columbia Phonograph Co. (vol. 1, no. 10)

Phonogram is also rich with photos and illustrations. Some of my favorites are below, but I encourage you to take a few minutes to browse the issues on for more.

So what happened? When the last issue I could find (Vol. 3, no. 3-4) was published in the spring of 1893, people may have been a bit preoccupied by the World’s Fair in Chicago, but North American was in an upswing, and the magazine had never looked better. There’s no mention in the issue of plans to cease publication, it’s not discussed at the 4th convention in Sept. ’93, and I couldn’t find any mention in the Edison Papers Digital Edition. I don’t have an answer, unfortunately, but I may have found a clue. I scanned Phonogram from two microfilm sources. One of the reels was shared with another publication titled Phonogram (Phonogram II, or ‘New Phonogram’), published by Edison from 1900-1902 (also online). In issue 9 of Phonogram II there’s a list of ‘Edisonia’ in the library of the editor that includes a volume 3, number 5 of the original series. Maybe, if it exists, it’s explained there.

(Phonogram (II), no. 9)

The North American Phonograph company, from 1888-1894 to me represents the ‘wild-west’ of the media frontier, and The Phonogram a contemporary, first-hand account of its players and events. In the following years, technical developments and industry consolidation allowed the phonograph to become a viable consumer good. The wax cylinder remained the dominant format, while the stage was set for the seemingly inevitable takeover by the disc format. To read more about this next chapter, browse Phonoscope, uploaded by the Library of Congress and Media History Digital Library in 2014.

The National Recording Preservation Board has begun scanning historical audio serials for inclusion into the Media History Digital Library and for public access. An index will be available soon at the Media History Digital Library web site, but for now you can view the issues on Thank you to media historian Patrick Feaster for lending the microfilm reels that made this project possible.




Ernestine Washington, Arco label.

“My Record Will Be There : Regis-Manor-Arco in a Spreadsheet,” by David Neal Lewis

One label I’ve always found rather baffling is Manor, a 1940s New York-based outfit that issued some of Dizzy Gillespie’s first records as a leader, black vocal groups, gospel, jump, western swing and other stuff. Through studying discs and old Billboard reportage, I discovered for myself that Manor was the dominant imprint among three 78 rpm labels, of which the other two were Regis and Arco. Regis predated Manor and Arco ran alongside, and later postdated the main label. Regis began during the recording ban making vocal-only discs in 1943 and Arco finally closed its doors in 1953, apparently never making a 45 rpm single, though Regis/Manor did market at least one 78 rpm album set, and Arco eight known 10″ LPs. In addition there was a Kay-Ron label, of unknown origin or purpose, that reissued at least six Regis-Manor-Arco masters on 45 rpm records in 1953. From the information I have gathered in the table below, it appears that Regis-Manor-Arco handled just around a thousand masters in those ten years, though only about half of that output was released, and some masters were sourced from outside. In order to make sense of the three labels together I have assembled a spreadsheet of known releases. There are few dates, and I don’t have all of the matrix data; I am likewise missing a couple of artist and title entries for records known to have been released. I invite ARSC members and interested others to fill in these missing details as they uncover them, facilitating the recovery of information relating to this significant label group.

Regis AdRegis Records was founded in 1943 by Irving Berman out of the G&R Record Shop in Newark, New Jersey, listed at 162 Prince Street; the first mention of it in Billboard in February. Regis was a very, very small operation and some of the earliest matrices issued on Regis have the sound of home disc cutting equipment; Berman promoted his brand through local radio advertising and charged 53 cents a disc. In 1945, Berman’s company either moved to New York City (313 W. 57th), or at least took out a post office box there, and Manor was launched. While exact circumstances remain unclear, it appears that Manor was a better capitalized outfit than Regis had been. Many Manors bear the legend “Clark Record Co., Newark, N.J.” According to David Diehl, Clark was already operating for some time before Regis appeared; it supplied biscuits in the 1930s and offered shellac substitutes during the Second World War. Eli Oberstein also pressed some discs through Clark after he had an interruption of service with the Scranton facility; according to Diehl he moved all of his masters to Clark after US Record Corp. went out of business. Apparently the association with Clark was downplayed, if not altogether discontinued, around 1947. Labels read both “Manor Record Co., Newark, N.J” and “Manor Records Company, General Office, New York 19, N.Y., U.S.A” and some point the label ink changes from gold to silver.

The company reorganized at least once; by 1949, Regis had long been discontinued and Arco is instituted, and the company’s address moves back to New Jersey. The Manor imprint is retired around 1950, and Arco continues alone until 1953 when its last releases, and the Kay-Rons, roll out. Arco records are credited to the “American Record Company, Newark 7, New Jersey” but bear the same staff and notes device that decorated Manor. At its end, Arco issued eight known 10″ LPs, all drawn from previously issued catalog; AL 4, “Irving Berman Presents Jazz At Carnegie Hall Volume One – An American Jazz Festival” utilizes a concert recorded by Norman Granz and replaces Granz’ name with Berman’s as producer and presenter.

Known matrix numbers start at 1065 and run to highest known 1855 with a few odd discs in other number series. The matrices are variegated by a system of letter prefixes, which — when removed, as in the “Mx no letter” field in the spreadsheet — reveal that for the most part the number sequence does not duplicate, though around 1400, they do — the “B” and “I” matrices conflict a little. Also, two titles claim mx. E1265; “You’re Heaven Sent” is used on Manor 1009. Overall though, this indicates that the letters refer to specific studios where the recordings were made, the letters employed being: A, B, C, D, E, F, H, HS, I, M, MG, N, S, U and W. This was a strategy used by other New York labels of the period such as Hit/Majestic; “C” may mean “Chicago;” the three masters by gay pianist Rudy Richardson were made in Chicago, where he was based. “W” — if the same use at Hit/Majestic holds true for these labels as well — was for World Transcriptions, though Eli Oberstein also used it for recordings made away from the prying eyes of the AFM. “MG” is a prefix commonly used by Mercury Records; as Norman Granz used the Regis label to issue JATP material, a backdoor connection to Mercury is not wholly out of the question. “N” appears to stand for “Norman Granz.” “E” indicates the Empire Recording Studio, located in the Empire State Building and used by Joe Davis, among others. Columbia Records re-released a couple of Manor sides in their 30000 series around 1950, and substituted their own matrices for Berman’s. These Dizzy Gillespie titles continued to surface on Columbia and Epic reissues into the 1960s. Adjacent releases by The Four Tunes and Savannah Churchill may have originated with Manor, but have no known equivalent release, appearing only on Columbia. Most Regis-Manor-Arco matrices repeat the letter code after the matrix number, i.e. “S-1117-S”. I have elected to eliminate the repeat of the initial letter.

It is unclear what happened to this family of labels after 1953, or its vault, though the existence of Kay-Ron might provide a clue. A lot of interesting records came out on Regis-Manor-Arco, and the quality of pressings are often poor, made from recycled records or lesser grade shellac, though as David Diehl points out in regard to the “W” matrices, “I’ve heard sound pretty hi-fi under the grunge.” Late Arcos are made from a vinylite compound, rather than shellac, and deliver somewhat better sound. Despite enjoying some hits on the R&B charts, the Regis-Manor-Arco group never came close to enjoying the market share held by Mercury or King, but it did outlast many larger post-war indies, such as Majestic and Musicraft.

According to Jerry Zolten, the biggest artist on the Regis-Manor-Arco family of labels was Savannah Churchill, and this makes sense — she made more masters for them than any other artist, and these discs are the most common in the field. Zolten writes “to further attest to Savannah Churchill’s popularity, about a year ago I found a woman’s compact make-up kit circa 1940/50s shaped like a record with the Manor imprint and Savannah Churchill etched into the metal.”

Make-up Compact adorned with Savannah Churchill record label; photographs graciously supplied by Jerry  Zolten.

Manor DeekAnother major hit was scored by Deek Watson and the Brown Dots with the first, 1945 recording of the standard (I Love You) For Sentimental Reasons. Deek Watson was a founding member of the Ink Spots; being ousted after quarreling with Bill Kenny, Deek established the Brown Dots in 1944. Deek Watson’s tenure in his own group proved impermanent, and the Brown Dots continued without him under the name The Sentimentalists, and then The Four Tunes, backing up Churchill and later recording for Jubilee.

Gospel was very important to Regis-Manor-Arco and among the first Regis releases were records by The Coleman Brothers, a New Jersey-based jubilee that had previously recorded for Decca. Apparently all but the last two of their Regis records were made in 1943, but these were issued piecemeal throughout the forties. This seems to have been a strategy employed by the company as a matter of routine; stockpile a bunch of matrices with an artist, and then slowly let them trickle out over time. This has resulted in a wide variety of dates on recordings;, for example, lists the Coleman Brothers’ Manor discs in dates ranging from 1945-47, though according to the spreadsheet below, most must date from 1943.

Ernestine Washington, Arco label.

Ernestine Washington, Arco label.

The Wikipedia article for The Cats and the Fiddle lists their Regis-Manor-Arco discs by release date from 1946 to 1950, but they appear to have been made in 1944-45. And this might be regarded as a general rule, that products from Regis-Manor-Arco are generally earlier than thought to be, with the release sequence of little relevance to recording date. Regis-Manor-Arco also recorded Rev. Utah Smith, Ernestine Washington and the Dixie Hummingbirds in their gospel program; Does Jesus Care by the Georgia Peach was a big seller, and today is still relatively easy to find.

Jazz and R&B dominate the Regis-Manor-Arco roster. The Dizzy Gillespie sides sold well and were once considered coveted collector’s items, but their market value have been compromised over time by their poor sound and relative commonality. Luis Russell made only two Manors — he was recording more extensively with Apollo at the time — but his Garbage Man Blues sold well. The post-Jimmy Jimmy Lunceford Orchestra recorded for Manor, as did Big Sid Catlett, Erroll Garner, Oscar Pettiford and short-lived swing-to-bop pianist Clyde Hart. The labels also did a little bit of trading in straight blues (Lonnie Johnson, Ralph “Bama” Willis, Skoodle Dum Doo) and released some Calypso records, though its hard to determine if those discs originated with Manor or came from outside. While jazz, gospel and R&B remained the main fare at Regis-Manor-Arco, there were white artists represented on the label as well. Dance band pop, polka and some Jewish records appeared on Regis-Manor-Arco in addition to three country and western artists; among them, Whitey Carson was a disabled veteran of World War II that went into entertainment after his discharge, making his discs for Regis in 1944, though as usual they came out over a period of a couple of years, with some appearing on Manor.

Regis-Manor-Arco’s jazz program is rather similar to the short-lived one conducted by Don Gabor at Continental from 1944-47, and likewise the whole label’s focus is so similar to Apollo that one may wonder if Irving Berman was related in some way to Ike and Bess Berman that founded Apollo out of their record store across the Hudson. Apollo likewise pressed its own discs, and the composition of early Apollos is similar to that of Regis-Manor-Arco, though they moved to better material around 1946. A preliminary investigation into a possible family relationship between all three Bermans has only revealed that Ike’s original birth name was “Behrman,” so perhaps there was none. Moreover, David Diehl recalls seeing a Manor ad where they boasted three pressing plants were pressing their discs.

Guide to Spreadsheet

The spreadsheet can be accessed here:

Most of it is self-explanatory, with columns provided for parallel releases for Regis, Manor and Arco. The “Manor 2” field accounts for additional Manor releases of same titles, Regis discs that were likewise issued with two different stock numbers, the Columbia 78 issues and Kay-Ron items. “Albums” refer to inclusion of a disc within a 78 rpm album set or 10″ LP. Once you have added new matrix data, select the whole sheet minus the top row of field names and select “Sort” in the “data” menu; it should already be set to sort on “Column J.” Even if you don’t have a matrix to add, feel free to update titles and billing; some of that information may be truncated or in some way wrong. New discs, of course, are always welcome.

Dating is all from secondary sources, and I was careful not to interpose my own dates. Many of the dates here are derived from Manor release data and obviously are largely impossible for recording. One of my intentions with this project is to get a better sense of the true chronological sequence of these recordings. So there is an “Old Rec_Date” field which contains dates as received, and a “”New Rec_Date” field which is designed for more specific kinds of dates once they are established or discovered by contributors.

Special thanks to Jerry Zolten, David Diehl, Ty Settelmaier, Robb K. and Rebecca Forste for contributing to this project.

Uncle Dave Lewis
Hamilton, OH

Appendix A: Arco 10″ LP Releases

AL 1 Jazz at the Philharmonic Volume 2
AL 2 Jazz at the Philharmonic Volume 3
AL 3
AL 4 Irving Berman Presents Jazz At Carnegie Hall Volume One – An American Jazz Festival
AL 5
AL 6
AL 7
AL 8 Dizzy Gillespie and his orchestra

Appendix B: Artist Roster


Baron Bill (Bill Cook)
Bobby Ford
Boy Green
Albino Jones
Lonnie Johnson & Blind John Davis
Skoodle Dum Doo and Sheffield
Basil Spears
Ralph Bama Willis


The Calypso Troubadours
June Carlson with Roy Jordan
Lord Invader, Felix & his Internationalists
Lord Invader, Lord Beginner & Felix & his Internationalists
Felix [Mendelssohn] and his Internationalists
Vickey Williams’ Mango Men


Whitey Carson Texas Cowboys
Foggy River Boys
Bobby Gregory Cactus Cowboys


Dave Apollon
Les Benson
John Bock at the piano
La Motta Brothers Orch.
Johnny Layne Orch.
Betty Norton with the Manor Orch.


Coleman Brothers
The Dixie Hummingbirds
Georgia Peach & Matchless Love Gospel Singers
Johnson Brothers Juvenile Quartet
Roy Jordan and the 4 DiLovelies
Kings Of Harmony Of Alabama
Sister Lillie Mae Littlejohn
Sister Lillie Mae Littlejohn & Skyline Singers
Matchless Love Gospel Singers
Prophet Powers and the Holy Mount Singers
Selah Jubilee Singers
Silver Echo Quartet
Sky Light Singers
Rev. Utah Smith, the Travelling Evangelist
Summit Gospel Singers
Ernestine Washington
Ernestine B. Washington & Dixie Humming Birds
Ernestine B. Washington & Heavenly Gospel Singers
Ernestine Washington & Southern Sons
Rev. Frederick Washington, preaching
The Willing Four


Tiny Bradshaw Orch.
Big Sid Catlett All-Stars
Sid Catlett Regis All-Stars
Charlie Brantley Orch.
Slim Gaillard & Bam Brown
Erroll Garner
Erroll Garner Trio (aka Slam Stewart Trio)
Dizzy Gillespie & All Stars
Dizzy Gillespie Orch.
Clyde Hart’s All Stars
Coleman Hawkins All Stars
Hoyt Hughes Orch. (Dizzy Gillespie)
International Sweethearts Of Rhythm
Jazz at Carnegie Hall
Jazz at the Philharmonic
Al Killian Orch.
Jimmie Lunceford’s Orch., dir. Eddie Wilcox
Manor All Stars
Don Michael, America’s Only One Arm Pianist
Joe Morris Orch.
Teddy Napoleon Trio
Teddy Napoleon Trio with Gwenn Bell
Milt Page Trio featuring Oscar Pettiford
Oscar Pettiford All Stars & Rubber Legs Williams
Trudy Richards & Pete Rugolo Orch.
Timmie Rogers Orch.
Luis Russell Orch.
Aaron Sachs and the Manor Re Bops
Slam Stewart Trio (aka Erroll Garner Trio)
Ben Ventura’s Bop City Five
Eddie Wilcox with the Jimmie Lunceford Orch.


Esy Morales Orch.
Castiros Vamurras Orch.


Robert Crawford & Scarletiers
Manor Military Band


Ted Black Orch.
Ted Black Orch., Dick Edwards, vocal
Gwenn Bell with Teddy Napoleon Trio
Lenny Herman Hotel Astor Orch.
Ida James with John Hunt Orchestra
Jack Segal and the Barbara Carroll Quartette


Paul Bascomb Orch.
Del Casino
The Cats and the Fiddle
The Cats and the Fiddle & Austin Powell
Savannah Churchill
Savannah Churchill & Benny Carter Orch.
Savannah Churchill & Five Kings
Savannah Churchill & Four Tunes
Savannah Churchill & Ralph Herman Orch.
Savannah Churchill & Al Killian Orch.
Savannah Churchill & Red Norvo Quintet
June Davis & The Cats and the Fiddle
Jack Fine with Tiny Bradshaw Orch.
The Five Kings
The Four Tunes
Manhattan Paul with Paul Bascomb Combo
Joe Medlin Orch.
Gail Meredith & Cedric Wallace Trio
Hal Mitchell and the Madmen
Gene Phipps and his Hot Five
King Richardson Trio
Rudy Richardson Trio
The Sentimentalists
Six Bips and a Bop
Tab Smith Orch.
Tab Smith Orch. & Trevor Bacon
Tab Smith Orch. & Jimmy “Baby Face” Lewis
Tab Smith Orch. & Margaret Watkins
Tab Smith Septet
Roy Stevens All Stars
Deek Watson & his Brown Dots
The Velveteers


“Silent Records, Silent Movies,” by David Drazin

(This is a revised and expanded version of the article that appeared in IAJRC Journal, Vol. 48, No. 4, December 2015)

Records appear in films from the silent era fairly often. One would think an image of records being played onscreen would be something to avoid in the era in which movies were accompanied by live musicians. On the contrary, records used, played and heard by actors in a motion picture could be everything from casual to a definite, and significant, placement in a picture.

Buster Keaton takes a record off his Grafonola turntable and hangs it on the wall in The Scarecrow, a 1921 comedy short.

Buster Keaton in "The Scarecrow."

Scarecrow2     Scarecrow3 Scarecrow4








It appears to be a “Magic Note” Columbia label, though we never get close enough to see for sure.






In this case it’s irrelevant, as the point is that Keaton has turned his machine into a stovetop and an oven.





In The Navigator, Buster Keaton’s memorable 1924 comedy feature in which he and a  girl are marooned on a cast-adrift ocean liner, the record Asleep in the Deep, sung by Wilfred Glenn and Navigator2recorded in 1913 on Victor 17309, makes a strong showing. It looks like the song title on the record label was highlighted to direct our attention to it. Due to the rocking ship, the Victrola’s turntable is accidentally started. Though we know Keaton and the girl (played by Kathryn McGuire) can hear the record, we’re aided by the song’s lyrics being superimposed on the shot of the Victrola.

As this recording had already been around for ten years and the song was also recorded for all the other labels, not to mention being a common salon concert selection, presumably lots of people in the audience were familiar with it.


In 2004 I was hired by the Milestone Film and Video company to record scores for several comedy shorts to be included on their forthcoming Charley Chase DVD set.


The opening shot of Mama Behave, a 1926 Hal Roach comedy directed by Leo McCarey, is the label: The Original Charleston by The Knickerbockers, recorded in early 1925 on Columbia 355-D. Naturally, I imagined having the chance to play The Charleston by my idol and favorite hot pianist: James P. Johnson.

However, I was instructed not to play The Charleston as the cost of clearance would be more than the cost of producing the whole DVD set. “Just play something Charleston-esque,” I was told. My heart sank as I worried that anybody watching would think: “Why isn’t the piano guy on this DVD playing The Charleston?”



The record label sets the stage for this wild comedy in which Charley doesn’t want his wife to think he can do The Charleston, though in fact he’s an excellent dancer.









MyBestGirl2In Mary Pickford’s last silent film: My Best Girl, directed by Sam Taylor and released in 1927, the record Red Hot Mama by Ray Miller and his Orchestra, recorded in New York on August 5, 1924 and released on Brunswick 2681-B, plays an important part near the end of the movie. Pickford plays a shopgirl who’s afraid she’ll be rejected by her boyfriend’s (Buddy Rogers) father (the wealthy owner of the department store where she works) for being poor. She makes a last-ditch and ridiculous effort to convince Rogers that she’s a bad girl by playing Red Hot Mama on the Victrola and doing a naughty flapper dance, much to the bewilderment of her puzzled parents.

Ray Miller’s records are not too hard to locate to this very day. Perhaps his band’s popularity set the stage for public acceptance of another future bandleader named Miller.


Not all of the appearances of records in the silents are in comedies. One of the most remarkable films of the late silent era is The Crowd, directed by King Vidor for MGM in 1928. Near the final curtain of this film there is an emotional reconciliation between the characters played by James Murray and Eleanor Boardman with help from There’s Everything Nice About You, by Johnny Marvin accompanied by Andy Sannella on Victor 20612 and recorded in 1927, played on their portable wind-up machine.

(I wasn’t able to snip this image because this film has never had a DVD release and it’s not on You Tube.)


When Jimmy Finlayson sets a stack of records on top of a Victrola in front of his store in Libertya 1929 MGM Hal Roach comedy directed by Leo McCarey and starring Laurel and Hardy…

…we know what’s coming.

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Smashing records is funny, I suppose, though the first time I saw this I said “Oh no!” If only we could have had a chance to see, one disc at a time, those nice new records.

David Drazin is a pianist and composer who has acquired a national reputation for his piano improvisations accompanying silent films.