Show Music on Record
A searchable database based on the book by Jack Raymond
Author's Preface by Jack Raymond
How different our perceptions, our attitudes, and indeed our very culture would be if we could turn to the phonograph for the voice of George Washington or Shakespeare. The original Globe Theatre production of Hamlet. The sermons of Christ or Mohammed. Bach playing his organ.
In the year 2500, people will be able to listen to speeches by Theodore Roosevelt, but not by Abraham Lincoln. They will be able to hear John Barrymore but not Edmund Kean, Cole Porter but not Stephen Foster.
In the cultural history of mankind, technological advances provide the chapter breaks. The invention of the printing press is one. The invention of sound recording is another. Mark it well: December 1877. It is so recent that the significance may be blurred to our eyes. But the date will go down in history as a knife edge, before which voices spoke, sang, and vanished, and after which some voices remained.
Centuries from now, people will look upon the early phonograph records as we look upon the early cuneiform tablets, or incunabula in the field of printing. The sounds of the 1890s will forever be the earliest sounds anyone can hear.
Castles in the Air and Ship Ahoy, both 1890 New York productions, are among the earliest American musical shows from which original cast recordings exist. DeWolf Hopper (of "Casey at the Bat" fame) was the star of the first, and Edward M. Favor was in the second. Each recorded one song from his show on a cylinder.
Chauncey Olcott recorded "My Wild Irish Rose" and "When Irish Eyes Are Smiling", two songs that he introduced in musical shows in 1899 and 1913 respectively. The seventeen-year-old Kate Smith can be heard singing two songs from Honeymoon Lane, the show in which she made her debut in 1926.
Tastes of the times are revealed in the material that was recorded: Consider The Bird of Paradise, a 1912 show with titles such as "Press Me to Thee," "I Love but Thee," and "My Love Is Like a Blooming Rose." Seventeen songs from the show were recorded by the cast, which is more than are in the original cast album of Oklahoma!.
In the early years the British did a consistently better job than Americans in recording show music, and a few London shows at the turn of the century were recorded almost as fully as shows today. Florodora opened in London in 1899, and members of the cast recorded fourteen numbers from the show. Despite the show's great popularity in America, only one song from the show was recorded over here: three Florodora Girls of the 1900 New York production sang "Tell Me, Pretty Maiden" for Columbia Records.
In 1943, the original cast album became a commercial success with the issue of Oklahoma! by Decca; but that was not the first original cast album. Six years earlier, Musicraft had issued virtually the complete score of The Cradle Will Rock performed by the original cast with composer Marc Blitzstein at the piano, and the material on that album is nearly twice the length of Oklahoma! To go back even further, in 1932 and 1933 Brunswick issued albums of Blackbirds of 1928 and Show Boat that featured stars of the original productions.
Some early show material was recorded by original cast members but not released at the time, and most of those unissued recordings have not survived. Nora Bayes and Jack Norworth recorded "Shine On, Harvest Moon," a song they wrote and sang in the 1908 Ziegfeld Follies. The master was never issued, and it seems that no copy of the recording exists today. Irene Bordoni recorded the Cole Porter song "Two Little Babes in the Wood," which she introduced in Paris in 1928. It, too, has been lost. Yet lost things turn up occasionally. In an early edition of this book Evelyn Herbert's record of "Wanting You," from Romberg's The New Moon, was listed among the missing. Since then a test pressing has surfaced, more than 60 years after the song was recorded.