Columbia Male Quartet (see also Peerless Quartet)

By Tim Gracyk

Excerpt from POPULAR AMERICAN RECORDING PIONEERS: 1895-1925, by Tim Gracyk. The book was published in late 2000.

The Columbia Quartet was the same as the Peerless Quartet though the Columbia name was used earlier than the Peerless name. The name was used on records by the beginning of the century, with the exact identification of singers on every record being difficult for the first few years. Later, from around 1906 through 1910, the Columbia Quartet was stable and consisted of Albert Campbell (first tenor--a higher tenor voice than the second tenor's), Henry Burr (second tenor), bass Frank C. Stanley, and baritone Steve Porter. (Before 1906, another baritone sang in the quartet--probably Arthur Collins on most records though Bob Roberts can be heard on "My Dinah," Columbia 452, later A500.)

The name Columbia Quartet is cited in spoken announcements on some very early Columbia discs but was not written on labels until 1905 or so. Instead, "vocal quartette" or some variation was written in catalogs, on the labels of discs, and on the rims of cylinders. The singers adopted the name Peerless Quartet around 1907 for non-Columbia sessions (the name Peerless Quartet was on Zon-o-phone discs by early 1907; some Victor discs bore the name Peerless Quartet beginning in 1908; and Edison's National Phonograph Company started to use the name Peerless in 1909).

For several years after the group adopted the name Peerless Quartet, labels on Columbia Phonograph Company records continued to identify the group as the Columbia Quartet instead of using the Peerless name. Variations on the name include Columbia Quartette and Columbia Male Quartet.

When formed in the late 1890s, one of the vocal groups that made records for Columbia and identified by a generic term such as "quartet" included first tenor Albert Campbell, second tenor James Kent Reynard, baritone Joe Belmont, and bass Joe Majors. There were important changes before 1904 though Campbell remained as first tenor. George J. Gaskin replaced Reynard; Gaskin was replaced by a young Henry Burr in 1902 or 1903. Steve Porter may have been the baritone from around 1906 to 1908.

At some point a bass named "Big Tom" Daniels replaced Joe Majors. Albert Campbell told Jim Walsh that Daniels sang in the quartet. Likely years were 1902 and 1903. Daniels was probably from England. After he sang in April 1901 at the Opera House in St. John's, Newfoundland, local newspapers praised his voice, saying Daniels was "acknowledged by the London critics to be England's coming basso." He evidently made no records in America after 1903. He may have returned to England or Canada.

Daniels was succeeded in late 1903 or early 1904 by Stanley, who had made records for other companies but never Columbia until late 1903. It is known that Stanley managed the Peerless, so it is likely that by 1907 he led the Columbia Quartet.

The name Columbia Quartet was not used for early Columbia discs known as Climax discs. Instead, the Climax Quartet sang on early discs. After the record company switched from its early Climax disc label to the Columbia label, the name Columbia Quartet was cited in spoken announcements. As late as 1908 or so Columbia used the generic "vocal quartette" on labels for performances that had been cut years earlier and remained in the catalog, but by 1906 for new performances the company sometimes put Columbia Quartette on discs.

The Climax Quartette, found on several Climax discs of late 1901 and 1902, such as "Steamboat Medley" (454), sometimes consisted of the singers who were later in the Peerless--in other words, this was essentially the Columbia Quartet. Other times the Climax Quartette consisted of the same singers who worked for Victor as the Haydn Quartet. Those singers became exclusive to Victor and Edison in 1902, which created more recording opportunities, at least at Columbia, for Albert Campbell, Steve Porter, Henry Burr, and eventually Frank C. Stanley.

Titles recorded by the Columbia Quartet were similar to those cut by the competing quartet known on Edison cylinders as the Edison Male Quartet and on Victor discs as the Haydn Quartet. For example, in 1907 the Columbia Quartet--consisting of Albert Campbell, Henry Burr, Steve Porter, and Frank C. Stanley--joined Billy Murray on "Alice, Where Art Thou Going?" (single-faced Columbia 3533; two-minute cylinder 33049). Around this time the song was also cut for Edison's National Phonograph Company (Standard 9474), but Murray was backed by the Edison Male Quartet, which consisted of John H. Bieling, Harry Macdonough, S. H. Dudley and William F. Hooley (this was the same as Victor's Haydn Quartet).

The Columbia Male Quartette sings "Kentucky Babe" on one side of a "Special Demonstration Double-Disc" record ("This Record is NOT For Sale") widely distributed by the Columbia Phonograph Company from late 1910 to late 1913. The quartet sings the same on Columbia A866. Beginning with the August 1912 release of "That Raggedy Rag" (A1177) the company began to use the name Peerless for some records but revived the Columbia name a few years later, possibly for times when Burr and Campbell were joined by non-Peerless members. A performance of "So Long Mother" (A2383), issued in late 1917, is credited to the Columbia Quartette. When George H. O'Connor recorded "Down Where the Sweet Potatoes Grow" on October 3, 1917, for Columbia A2411 (issued in early 1918), he was assisted by the Columbia Quartet. Irving Kaufman is assisted by the Columbia Quartet on "Hail! Hail! The Gang's All Here" (A2443), issued in February 1918.

Over a dozen titles credited to the Columbia Male Quartet remained available until 1925, including "Onward Christian Soldiers" (A244) and "My Creole Sue" (A866).

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