Albert Benzler -- on Edison & U-S Everlasting Cylinders

By Tim Gracyk

Excerpt from: Another Book About Popular American Recording Pioneers: 1895-1925: The Unpublished Entries


Benzler, Albert (13 November 1867 - 19 February 1934)

Albert Benzler was a cylinder artist--first for Edison's National Phonograph Company, later for the rival company U.S. Phonograph Company (maker of U-S Everlasting Cylinders). He is not known to have made disc records.

From the late 1890s to 1908, he recorded dozens of titles as chief xylophone and bells player for Edison's company. He was also one of Edison's house pianists, sharing duties with Fred Bachman, Frank P. Banta (he died in late 1903), and a few others. As an uncredited piano accompanist, he may be heard on various cylinders, but it was as a bells soloist that Benzler made his debut as a featured Edison artist. The July 1903 issue of Edison Phonograph Monthly credits the performance of "Alita" to "Albert Bengler [sic], another new entertainer."

However, Benzler worked for Edison long before making records credited to him. He is one of 42 Edison artists in a 1900 photograph reprinted in the January 1971 issue of Hobbies. Before Benzler made bells solos, the company issued similar records by Edward F. Rubsam (he later recorded bells for Columbia). After Benzler left the company, Charles Daab made Edison cylinders featuring bells.

Benzler cut some duets with chimes player H. Nesbit. He made Edison cylinders into the wax Amberol period, with "Light as a Feather" (Amberol 9) being the only wax Amberol cylinder credited to him. When issued in November 1908, it was described as "By far the most elaborate Bells solo ever attempted." His final bells solo record for Edison was "Two Old Songs" (Standard 10232), issued in August 1909.

He made some solo piano records for Edison, including "Believe Me, If All Those Endearing Young Charms" (Standard 9437), issued in January 1907. Around 1910 he recorded the same for the U-S Phonograph Company.

Benzler served as a musical advisor for Edison's National Phonograph Company and hoped to be promoted to musical director. When interviewed in 1968 by researcher Leo Kimmett, a former Edison employee named Clarence Ferguson recalled Thomas A. Edison and Benzler disagreeing over methods for picking which records to release. Edison insisted that ordinary folks had an instinct for what would satisfy the record-buying public. He let factory or office workers--that is, non-musicians--hear test records and then vote on whether numbers should be released. Benzler believed musicians should decide what is released, not what he called "the jackass committee."

If he had hoped to be appointed musical director, he must have been frustrated by announcements that famous composer Victor Herbert would act as musical consultant effective June 1, 1909. The June 1909 issue of Edison Phonograph Monthly states, "Mr. Herbert has just signed an exclusive contract with the National Phonograph Company, by which he will become the musical adviser and expert critic of all of the better instrumental compositions reproduced on Edison Records...He will go regularly to our recording laboratory, suggesting compositions for reproduction, taking part in making up the musical organization to play them and criticizing the making of masters as the work progresses."

Benzler left Edison's company in 1909 to serve as musical director for the new U.S. Phonograph Company, which began to market in mid-1910 cylinders called U-S Everlasting Records. Charles L. Hibbard also left Edison around this time to serve as the rival company's sound engineer. Based in Cleveland, the company had a recording studio at 662 6th Avenue in New York City, once a location for the Norcross Phonograph Company. From 1910 to 1913, more than a thousand U-S Everlasting Records titles were issued, with those distributed by Montgomery Ward and Company being called Lakeside cylinders.

Through Benzler's recruiting efforts, some Edison artists recorded for the U.S. Phonograph Company. The company ceased production in 1914, at which point Benzler evidently left the recording industry.

A significant (and rare) Benzler recording is "Black and White Rag," issued on U-S Everlasting 380 around 1909. It may be the first time in the United States that a true "rag," or ragtime composition, was recorded as a solo piano work (in 1901 C. H. H. Booth had recorded "Creole Belles" for Victor but this is more of a cakewalk novelty than a true rag). Ragtime was otherwise recorded by bands in this period, despite the many rags written for piano.

He was born in Newark, New Jersey, and also died in that city. Jim Walsh reports in the January 1954 issue of Hobbies that according to Benzler's death certificate states, he succumbed to "sudden death in a grocery store" of "hypertensive cardio-renal disease." He was sometimes called Albert W. Benzler but Walsh was unable to learn what the middle initial stood for.