Dan W. Quinn -- Tenor

By Tim Gracyk

Excerpt from: Another Book About Popular American Recording Pioneers: 1895-1925: The Unpublished Entries


Quinn, Dan W. (1859? - 7 November 1938)

The singer was born in San Francisco, perhaps in 1859 since Jim Walsh reports in the December 1961 issue of Hobbies that Quinn was 79 years old when he died. Posing with other Edison artists of 1900, Quinn appears to be around 40 years old in a photograph that is reprinted in the January 1971 issue of Hobbies. He was occasionally identified as a baritone but most often as a tenor.

Quinn was a boy soprano in an Episcopal choir and was evidently a vaudeville performer when he was a young man. His photograph is on the cover of sheet music of the 1890s.

He recounted how he began recording in a letter sent to Walsh, who quotes it at length in "Reminiscences of Dan W. Quinn," published in the July 1934 issue of Music Lovers' Guide: "In January 1892, I was engaged to entertain a political club in Hoboken. One of the features was a man who gave a phonograph exhibition and invited everyone to make a voice test...The phonograph was a great novelty at the time, and these records created a lot of amusement, though most of them were terrible. I was loath to make an attempt, but they all begged me, and finally I did. I was lucky enough to have a voice and style of singing that were just 'made' for recording...I don't know what it was about my voice that made it 'go,' as I always sang quietly. There must have been some latent penetrating power. Anyway, the operator urged me to go one of the laboratories and make a real test. In a short time I went to the New York Company, located at 257 Fifth Avenue. Richard Townley Haines was the manager and he was so much taken by my singing that I did a lot of work for him. I'll never forget one of the first records I made. It was 'Down Went McGinty'...In a little while I began to hear of other phonograph companies, so I graduated to the New Jersey [Phonograph] Company at Newark....I was new, and my fund of material interested them greatly."

Quinn explained why he was among the most successful recording artists of the 1890s: "It was while working for Vic Emerson [a Columbia executive in the 1890s] that I began to work like a good fellow and went after all the latest songs. I learned everything, whether it naturally suited my style or not. The good singers--I mean fellows like John W. Myers and George Gaskins [sic]--were slow getting up their stuff, and I, being a sight reader, just couldn't keep from learning every new number. I sang the hits of 'The Geisha,' 'San Toy,' 'The Runaway Girl,' and every other Broadway success then in vogue. I was the first to make records of 'Sweet Rosie O'Grady,' 'The Sidewalks of New York,' 'Daisy Bell,' 'Little Annie Rooney,' 'The Bowery' and "The Cat Came Back'....But I didn't stick altogether to comic, sentimental and topical numbers. Mr. Emerson and Mr. Tewksbury, his assistant, wouldn't allow anybody else to sing the Moody and Sankey hymns, such as 'I Need Thee Every Hour' and 'Throw Out the Life Line'....It took me back to my boyhood days when I was a boy soprano in an Episcopalian choir."

Quinn recorded regularly from 1892 to 1905. He made recordings for the Phonograph Record and Supply Company ("Laboratory, 97, 99 & 101 Reade Street, New York"), which included in its supplementary list dated August 1896 these titles sung by Quinn concerning that year's presidential race between William McKinley and William J. Bryan: "A Presidential Boom (Negro)" (380), "The Campaign Cry of Freedom" (381), "McKinley Is Our Man" (383), and "We Want You, McKinley" (384).

Columbia's November 1896 catalog, which lists over 60 Quinn titles, states, "Mr. Quinn's reputation as a vocalist is so well established that the mere announcement of his name is a guarantee of the record."

He was one of Berliner's most important artists, recording nearly a hundred titles for America's first disc company. The only singer to cover more titles for the disc company was tenor George J. Gaskin. Perhaps the earliest Quinn discs to be issued were "Girl Wanted" (935), recorded on November 3, 1895, and "Henrietta, Have Your Met Her?" (151), also recorded in November 1895.

An April 1899 catalog issued by the National Gram-o-phone Company, maker of Berliner discs, identifies Quinn as "The King of Comic Singers."

Berliners made by Quinn featuring show tunes include a "popular Hebrew dialect song" (as the National Gram-o-phone catalog characterizes it) titled "Ikey Eisenstein," from the show An American Beauty (1737--it was also recorded as Edison 1039) and, from the show Hurly Burly, "Little Old New York Is Good Enough For Me" (030), recorded on April 4, 1899.

In contrast to singers who recorded standards, Quinn as a Berliner artist covered new songs, nearly all of them quickly forgotten, few being cut by other artists for rival companies. They include "Down in Poverty Row" (Berliner 161), "I've Been Hoodoed" (198), "The Irish Cake Walk" (1822), and "Then Pour Us A Drink Bartender" (1600), recorded on November 11, 1896. Songs recorded by Quinn that were genuine hits of the day, as evident by the variety of singers who recorded them, include "The Belle of Avenoo [sic] A" (184) and Dresser's "Just Tell Them That You Saw Me" (189). Quinn confirms in his letter to Walsh that he recorded mostly topical numbers though he wished to sing more hymns: "I made my living in the frivolous field, but my heart was in the other."

He estimated cutting some 2,500 titles during his more than 20 years of recording experience. He listed for Walsh some companies that issued his records: "During my active days I recorded for practically all American companies: Edison, Victor, Columbia, United States, New Jersey, Chicago, Ohio, Boston, Gramophone, Gennett, Leeds-Catlin, and a number of others."

He even remembered recording hundreds of titles during a two-week period in September 1894 for the Columbia and New England cylinder companies in Washington, DC, and Boston, respectively. He recalled making Berliner tests while in Washington--the company was, like Columbia, on Pennsylvania Avenue--though it appears nothing was issued. He traveled to these cities by train and recorded as many titles as his voice would allow in the short time he was there.

Columbia moved its headquarters to New York City in 1897. An 1899 cylinder catalog duplicates an agreement dated May 1, 1898, establishing that Quinn, along with more than a dozen others, was exclusive to Columbia. The arrangement lasted a year. His last session for Berliner, before his exclusive contract with Columbia began, was on March 31, 1898. He next recorded for Berliner on April 4, 1899.

Quinn usually worked as a solo artist. Exceptions include minstrel records and these two duets with Helen Trix recorded for Victor on October 17, 1906: Peters' "Is Marriage A Failure?" (4914), from The Mayor of Tokyo, and Bratton's nonsense song "Fol-De-Iddley-Ido" (4959), from The Pearl and the Pumpkin.

He was among the few artists who recorded for Eldridge R. Johnson's talking machine and disc company when it was briefly known as the Consolidated Talking Machine Company (it became the Victor Talking Machine Company). Numbers cut on June 29, 1900, for the new company include "Strike Up The Band" (seven-inch A-9) and the Edgar Smith and John Stromberg song "King Gilhooley" (A-10). Also from this period is "The Mick Who Threw The Brick" (seven-inch A-17). The issued take on Johnson's rare Improved Gram-o-phone label, Quinn's third take, was recorded on October 29, 1900. He was prolific during Victor's ten-inch Monarch period, making many discs in the 3000 series, which is pre-matrix.

A comic number from Victor's Grand Prize era is the 1905 "Football" (4603), one of the earliest songs about the sport (George Graham recorded "A Foot Ball Game" for Berliner as early as 1897 but this is a spoken performance).

During most of his recording career, Quinn was a free-lance artist, singing for practically all American companies. He made a few records in 1906 and then retired for a time (Gaskin likewise stopped recording around 1905, returning a decade later). This hiatus began just before the advent of double-faced discs. He continued to perform in vaudeville and operated a theatrical booking agency almost to the day of his death. In "Reminiscences of Dan W. Quinn," Walsh gives the address as 312 West 20th Street, New York City. Quinn was obviously semi-retired by the 1930s and had his booking office in his home.

Though nearly 60, he attempted in 1915 a recording comeback, beginning with a Columbia session on September 23, 1915. Columbia issued three discs with Quinn on one side, a different artist on the other: "Beatrice Fairfax, Tell Me What To Do" (A1847), "Hello! Boys, I'm Back Again" (A1868)--the title of this comic song by Mahoney and Von Tilzer was appropriate for a comeback attempt--and, in June 1916, "I Can Dance With Everybody But My Wife" (A2004). In April 1916 Victor issued "Hello! Boys, I'm Back Again" backed by "At the Fountain of Youth" on 17935, which remained available until 1919. He had cut the latter song for Columbia on November 23, 1915, but it went unissued.

He then cut a handful of titles for small companies, including Gennett and Paramount. Operaphone 1937, featuring Quinn singing "Here Comes The Groom," was issued in May 1917. Seven-inch Majestic 134 features "If I Knock the 'L' Out Of Kelly" backed by "Pat Malone Forget That He Was Dead." "If I Knock the 'L' Out Of Kelly" backed by "Some Little Bug Is Going To Find You" was issued as seven-inch Emerson 764 in September 1916. The Bert Grant composition "If I Knock the 'L' Out Of Kelly" appears yet again on Operaphone 1087, backed by Quinn singing Jentes' "At the Fountain of Youth." Perhaps the last Quinn title to be issued was the Golden-Burt song "Life Is A Merry Go Round," released as hill-and-dale Paramount 2053 on May 20, 1918. It is backed by Byron G. Harlan singing Norton's "Round Her Neck She Wears A Yellow Ribbon."

In the July 1934 issue of Music Lovers' Guide, Walsh quotes these words of former Columbia executive Frank Dorian regarding Quinn: "It's good to know that he's comfortably well off. He and Billy Murray are outstanding among the limited number of old-time recording artists who have taken care of their money and become men of prominence and influence in their communities." Quinn himself wrote to Walsh that he and his wife celebrated their fiftieth anniversary on May 5, 1933. They had five children, the youngest of whom, Frank Banta Quinn, was named after the singer's accompanist on Edison cylinders (Frank P. Banta died in 1904). The singer died of intestinal cancer in his home at 312 West 20th Street, New York City.