Charles Hart -- Popular Tenor (Also Singer in Crescent Trio and Shannon Quartet)

By Tim Gracyk

Excerpt from Part 2 of Popular American Recording Pioneers: 1895-1925: The Unpublished Edition


Charles Hart (16 May 1884 - 18 December 1965)

He was born on South Halsted Street in Chicago to parents who had emigrated from Germany, Henry and Elsabe (Timm) Hart. Henry, a civil engineer, was an alcoholic and he deserted his family when Charles was four. The tenor took his father's name when he began singing professionally, calling himself Charles Henry Hart, which is why some labels give his name as Charles H. Hart. His mother provided for the family by working as a cook in upper class homes. The young Charles sang in choirs and later attended the Chicago Musical College (run by the father of Flo Ziegfeld), where he performed in amateur productions in 1902.

He worked with cattle in North Dakota in 1902 and then attended the Armour Institute of Technology, but he did not pursue a career in engineering. Instead, an acquaintance with Flo Ziegfeld led to appearances in stage productions in 1904, and a singing career followed. Not especially successful in his early years, he sometimes earned small amounts by singing illustrated songs in nickelodeons. By 1912 or 1913 he enjoyed moderate success on the stage, playing a supporting role in the popular The Spring Maiden, which starred Christie MacDonald and Tom McNaughton.

In an article Hart contributed to the December 1958 issue of Hobbies, the singer indicates that his first recording sessions were with small companies around 1915-16, including the short-lived Perma, managed by Fred Hager. He then joined a quartet which was managed by bass James Stanley (Stanley switched to baritone when he joined the Peerless Quartet in 1925) and which made Pathe records.

Working as a solo artist, Hart had his first session with a major company on April 23, 1917. For Victor, Hart cut two songs issued in July: "Thou Shalt Not Steal (a Heart Away)" (18294; the reverse side featured the American Quartet) and "It's Time for Every Boy to be a Soldier" (Victor 18300; the reverse side featured the Peerless Quartet). A month later, Hart performances were issued on Victor 18319: "A Tear, A Kiss, A Smile" and "That's Why My Heart Is Calling You." Victor's August supplement features a photograph of Hart. A Victor disc with a lower record number than the above was issued in November 1917: "'Forever' Is A Long, Long Time" (18283), recorded on June 29. For "Give Me the Moonlight, Give Me the Girl," issued in February 1918 on Victor 18410, Hart was given a pseudonym ("Henry Jordan"), which is curious since the material and delivery are typical for Hart.

Victor's July 1918 supplement includes a photograph of Hart holding a baby daughter. The August supplement features a photograph of Hart pushing a cart, a caption reading, "Charles Hart likes to mow his own lawn." The supplement states, "[H]e returned from the West to study electrical engineering at the Armour Institute of Technology in Chicago. His voice proved so effective in entertaining his friends, however, that he moved over to the Chicago Musical College, and developed his powers as a singer. Soon after he joined an opera company..."

He was an original member of Victor's popular Shannon Four, which began recording in mid-1917 and consisted of Hart, Harvey Hindermyer, Elliott Shaw, and Wilfred Glenn. The first Shannon Four disc was issued in September 1917, "I May Be Gone For A Long, Long Time" (18333), followed in October by "Wake Up, Virginia" (18355). Some discs were credited to "Charles Hart and the Shannon Four," such as two titles issued in May 1918: "A Little Bit of Sunshine" (18453) and "The Last Long Mile" (18455).

He was also a member of the Crescent Trio, which usually consisted of Hart, Shaw, and James. Lewis James was a duet partner at many sessions, and until late 1923 Elliott Shaw was another. Announcing the release of "My Belgian Rose" on Victor 18479, Victor's August 1918 supplement states, "Elliott Shaw and Charles Hart are a new combination of Victor artists, and their first record is a fine one." Elliott Shaw had been making recordings since 1917 as member of the Shannon Four, but this was the first time that his name was on a label. The two soon recorded for other major companies as well as many small ones. Pathe often credited Hart and Shaw duets to "Arthur Wilson and Frank Sterling."

Working under the curious team name "Bailey and Bent," Hart and fellow tenor Harvey Hindermyer made Edison Diamond Disc 51219.

Hart recorded as solo artist for Okeh discs released in late 1918, when the label was new, and also made duets with Joseph Phillips. He recorded for the new Gennett label, beginning with "Just A Baby's Prayer At Twilight" and "The Dream of a Soldier Boy" (7646), issued in May 1918.

He began recording for Edison in 1917 as a member of the Shannon Four, later called the Lyric Male Quartet by the company. The first Edison record to list the name Hart was a duet with Arthur Middleton, who is given the pseudonym Edward Allen. "Life's Railway to Heaven," composed by Charlie D. Tillman and sung by Hart and Allen, was issued in April 1918 as Blue Amberol 3441 and Diamond Disc 80394. The first Edison recording featuring Hart as a solo artist was issued in March 1919: Hays' "Mollie Darling" (Blue Amberol 3682; Diamond Disc 80444). On Diamond Discs he sings duets with Leola Lucey, including "Kentucky Dreams" (80458), issued in July 1919, and "Call of the Cosey Little Home" (50556), issued in September 1919. As an Edison artist, he recorded several duets with Elizabeth Spencer, the last on May 8, 1924: "Love's Young Dream," issued as Diamond Disc 51376. He recorded a wide range of material for Edison.

He married soprano Esther Nelson. They recorded a handful of duets between 1922 and 1924, including "I'm Just A Little Blue" (Columbia A3791), "Alpine Echoes" (Diamond Disc 51154), and "Why Won't My Dreams Come True" (Diamond Disc 51160). On Gennett 10072, issued in April 1923, they perform Schubert's "Haiden-Roslein," and the label gives credit to "Mr. and Mrs. Charles Hart." The two singers were members of Edison's Metropolitan Quartet, which also included (at different times) Amy Ellerman, Vernon Archibald, Marie De Kyzer, and Donald Chalmers. The Harts had three children--all girls.

In late 1923 he left the Shannon Quartet (creating an opening for Franklyn Baur) because he had begun training his voice for opera. Since the vocal technique required for singing opera is different from that needed for singing first tenor in a male quartet, his voice no longer blended well in the quartet. Around this time he cut for Edison two opera arias translated to English, "Celestial Aida" and "Oh Paradise," issued in early 1924 on Diamond Disc 80774. He made other records in 1924, sometimes under the pseudonym Charles Dalton, such as on Banner 1368, issued in July. He soon passed up recording opportunities to pursue a career in opera. In late 1923 he was engaged by the Chicago Civic Grand Opera Company, and in 1924 he sang in light opera for the St. Louis Municipal Opera Company. On December 9, 1924, he contributed vocal refrains for two Broadway Dance Orchestra performances cut for Edison, one of the songs being "Tell Her in the Springtime" from Irving Berlin's Music Box Revue 1925.

Hart had several Columbia sessions in 1925, the last taking place on June 15. He then studied operatic singing in Germany, performed on German radio, and made records for Electrola, the German branch of His Master's Voice. When he returned to the United States, he was engaged by Lee and J.J. Shubert to play the role of Dr. Engel in The Student Prince, which had opened in December 1924 (Hart was not an original cast member--eventually nine companies toured with the wildly popular show). He also made his first electrical recordings, including some for Bell/Emerson. His first Columbia session after he returned from Europe was on September 22, 1926, when he added a vocal refrain to a Radiolites session.

Little of his session work in the late 1920s made use of his operatic training though he sang oratorio compositions ("King Ever Glorious" and "My Hope is in the Everlasting") in August 1928 for Diamond Disc 52324. Instead, he mostly contributed vocal refrains to dance band records, perhaps most often for performances issued on Harmony, which was a Columbia budget label, and on Edison.

His final Edison record was Diamond Disc 52324. Issued in August 1928, it featured hymns by organist-composer Sir John Stainer: "King Ever Glorious," which is the chief tenor solo from Stainer's oratorio The Crucifixion, and "My Hope is in the Everlasting," from Stainer's 1878 cantata The Daughter of Jairus. In 1929 he returned to Germany to sing in small opera houses (he made more Electrola records), which ended his American recording career.

He returned to the U.S. in October 1934 and sang often on stage in opera and musical comedy. Later, his singing career essentially over, Hart worked as a dramatic actor. In his last years he lived in a New Jersey actors' home near a daughter's home.