Irving Kaufman (8 February 1890 - 3 January 1976)

By Tim Gracyk

The following is an entry from POPULAR AMERICAN RECORDING ARTISTS, by Tim Gracyk.

Irving Kaufman Making Okeh Recordings

Irving Kaufman making Okeh recordings in 1927!


This incredibly prolific singer was born Isidore Kaufman in Syracuse, New York. His father was a Russian immigrant who made a living as a butcher. Youngest of five boys, Irving entered vaudeville with his brothers Phillip and Jack. The two older brothers also made recordings, but their output never matched the younger brother's. In fact, few singers made as many recordings as Irving Kaufman, who may have been the most recorded singer between 1914 to 1930, singing popular tunes of the day under his own name or pseudonyms. He contributed vocal choruses to countless dance band recordings for nearly all major and minor labels in the 1920s, sometimes credited, sometimes not. In the case of some dance band recordings, the simple phrase "with vocal chorus" is used.

In the 1920s Kaufman was sometimes issued under the pseudonyms Frank Harris (on Columbia discs), Noel Taylor (Okeh), George Beaver (also Henry Beaver--numerous small labels like Banner), Pete Killeen (Pathe, Perfect), Brian Watt, Marvin Young, others. Columbia files show that for Harmony he adopted the pseudonym "Confidential Charlie" for songs performed in the crooning style of Whispering Jack Smith.

Kaufman reported years later that the major companies gave permission for him to record for smaller firms as long as pseudonyms were used, and Kaufman rarely knew at the time he attended a session what pseudonym would appear on a label afterwards. Jim Walsh writes in the November 1962 issue of Hobbies that when Kaufman's wife would ask, "Well, who are you going to be today--George Beaver, Frank Harris, or who?" the reply was, "What do you care, as long as the check is made out to Irving Kaufman?" Kaufman himself said in a 1974 interview published in John and Susan Edwards Harvith's Edison, Musicians, and the Phonograph (Greenwood Press, 1987), "I had so many different voices that half of the time my wife would say, 'Who are you going to be today?' I would say, 'I won't know until I get to the studio.'"

Notwithstanding the many pseudonyms identified as Kaufman's, the name Irving Kaufman appears often on records issued by Victor, Aeolian, Gennett, and Harmony. It appears that Victor and Edison never used pseudonyms for Kaufman, but these companies recorded Kaufman early in his career-- pseudonyms became common for Kaufman later, especially from 1925 to 1930. When pseudonyms were used for Kaufman, they were less Jewish-sounding than his own name.

Before becoming a recording artist, he sang in movie theaters between films being screened. Announcing Kaufman as an exclusive Emerson artist, page 44 of the October 1919 issue of Talking Machine World gives this background information: "Irving Kaufman...started his career as an entertainer when only eight years of age. He was then a boy tenor with the 'Jenny Eddy Trio,' and a few years later was the principal soloist with Merrick's Band of fifty pieces, which accompanied the celebrated Forepaugh and Sells Circus." In 1911 he went to New York City and gained employment as a song plugger for the sheet music giant Leo. Feist, Inc.

His first record was a Blue Amberol cylinder issued in July 1914: "I Love the Ladies" (2328), composed by Jean Schwartz. In announcing Kaufman as a new artist, the May 1914 issue of Edison Phonograph Monthly states, "This record is the first that Irving Kaufman has made for Edison owners. Mr. Kaufman, born in Syracuse, N.Y., comes from a very musical family, being one of the famous 'Kaufman Bros.,' known in vaudeville throughout the United States and Europe. His clear tenor voice has received much careful training under Professor Samoiloff of Carnegie Hall, New York. His first stage appearance was at the tender age of seven, when with the 'Jennie Eddie Trio' he appeared in vaudeville. He was the leading soloist with Merrick's Band for some time, and has filled many other engagements." Notwithstanding the trade journal's claim that he received "much careful training," Kaufman late in life told Quentin Riggs that he had only two lessons from Samoiloff.

In the 1974 interview published in Edison, Musicians, and the Phonograph, Kaufman stated, "About 1911 I had been making the round of Victor, Columbia, and all the other seventy-five-cent record companies, and I couldn't get my nose into any one of those doors...So finally, as a last resort, I went to the Edison Company at 75 Fifth Avenue...and asked them if I couldn't make a test. They said, 'We don't need anybody now, but if you want to go ahead, you can go in the other room and have somebody play for you. Let's see what you can do.'" Days later an Edison executive phoned Kaufman to announce that Thomas Edison himself was impressed by the test record, reportedly saying, "You'd better sign that boy up; he's got a good voice."

Kaufman was a member of the Avon Comedy Four, a vaudeville act that was most popular around the World War I era. The ensemble, which consisted of Kaufman, Harry Goodwin, Charles Dale, and Joe Smith, sang and performed comic skits for Victor, Columbia, and Emerson. Victor catalogs claimed that the group "is well known in every city where there is a Keith's Theatre." (Benjamin Franklin Keith was creator of the vaudeville circuit, opening a number of theaters for vaudeville artists beginning in the 1880s, and though he died in 1914, B.F. Keith theaters thrived for years afterwards, with the B.F. Keith circuit booking vaudeville acts regularly into hundreds of theaters by the 1920s.)

Kaufman's earliest Victor record was "They Don't Hesitate Any More" (17561), recorded in early 1914. Other Victor records from 1914 include "Hands Off" (17589), "Fatherland the Motherland" (17636), and Irving Berlin's "Always Treat Her Like a Baby" (17636). Kaufman's last Victor record was "You're Just The Type For A Bungalow" and "Don't Throw Me Down" (18811), issued in December 1921. Some of his records remained available in the Victor catalog after the singer ceased making discs for the company. "California and You" (17613) was available from 1914 to 1925.

Columbia issued in September 1919 a disc of Kaufman singing "Take Your Girlie To The Movies" (A2756), the reserve side featuring Arthur Fields singing "Pig Latin Love." Kaufman and Fields were similar in being incredibly prolific in studios, recording for virtually all the same labels in roughly the same years (both started recording in 1914), each one adding vocal choruses in the 1920s to countless dance band recordings. On other Columbia discs, Fields is on one side, Kaufman on the other, such as Fields' "Jim, Jim, I Always Knew That You'd Win" coupled with a Kaufman performance of a song with one of the longest titles from the period: "You'll Have To Put Him To Sleep With The Marseillaise And Wake Him With An Oo-La La" (A2679).

The trio of Irving Kaufman, Arthur Fields, and Jack Kaufman recorded around this time as Three Kaufields. Among other songs, they recorded a 1919 composition by Jim Europe, Noble Sissle, and Eubie Blake titled "Good Night Angeline" (Emerson 10166). The trio also performed on stage. Page 152 of the May 1919 issue of Talking Machine World introduces the trio as the Kaufield Trio (records call the group the Three Kaufields) and explains how the trio was formed: "Their advent as a trio was somewhat of an accident. The three singers were in the recording room of the Emerson Co., while Harry Marker, chief recorder of the company, was waiting to make test records of some new singers. When he asked if the singers were ready, Mr. Field [sic] answered yes, and as a practical joke the three popular artists advanced to the horn without preparation, a song was decided upon on the spur of the moment and the test was recorded. When Mr. Marker saw what was taking place he continued the recording, put the wax master through as a test, and the result was so surprising and startling that the Emerson Co. immediately engaged the trio to sing a series of songs."

He left the Avon Comedy Four to work in the Lee and J.J. Shubert production of The Passing Show of 1918, replacing original cast member Charles Ruggles, but he left that show when brother Phillip died. That death had left Jack Kaufman without a partner (Phillip and Jack had recorded as the Kaufman Brothers), so Irving teamed up with Jack in 1919. Together, they made Emerson records into the early 1920s. Page 151 of the September 1923 issue of Talking Machine World shows the two men together in a full page Emerson advertisement. The partnership dissolved in late 1923 though they reunited briefly in 1928.

In early 1919 the tenor recorded several titles for the Indestructible Phonographic Record Company, including "K-K-K-Katy" (3441), "Mickey," "Chong" (3453), and "Alcoholic Blues" (3461). Kaufman appeared in the Winter Garden production of The Passing Show of 1919.

Jack Kaufman, Irving Kaufman, and Arthur Fields signed a contract with Emerson on September 18, 1919 to record "exclusively for the Emerson record library for a period of three years," according to page 44 of the October 1919 issue of Talking Machine World. A photograph shows the three men signing contracts in the office of Arthur Bergh, Emerson's recording manager (he would later direct Okeh's recording laboratories, beginning in September 1923, and then Columbia's, beginning on November 15, 1925). An accompanying article states, "Irving, together with his brother Jack, has been engaged to appear in leading roles in the forthcoming 'Ziegfeld Follies of 1920.'"

Kaufman's status as an exclusive Emerson artist evidently had ended by the late summer of 1921. He contributed a vocal refrain to a Hackel-BergÅ Orchestra performance of "Yoo-Hoo" cut for Victor on August 31, 1921 and issued on Victor 18802 in November. As a featured solo artist, Kaufman recorded two titles for Victor in 1921--"Don't Throw Me" and "You're Just The Type" were issued on Victor 18811 in December--and curiously never made another Victor disc. For Columbia, Kaufman cut "Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes," issued on A3477 in December 1921. By late 1921 he was also working for Arto, Clarion, Aeolian, Gennett, and others. Though no longer exclusive to Emerson, Kaufman continued to record for that company.

At this time he worked regularly in vaudeville, notably on the Keith circuit. Page 146 of the January 1921 issue of Talking Machine World states, "Irving and Jack Kaufman are being headlined in the Keith circuit and have been honored by being brought back to New York territory eight times within the last three months." Emerson's February 1921 list of records states, "It certainly is significant when an act is 'headlined' and brought back to the Big City several times during a season, as is the case with the Kaufman act on the Keith circuit."

The brothers also did promotional work for Emerson. Page 26 of the May 1923 issue of Talking Machine World reports, "A clever tie-up was made recently by the talking machine department of Frederick Loeser & Co, big Brooklyn, N.Y., department store, when Irving and Jack Kaufman, popular Emerson artists, appeared at the store and sang a number of songs which they have recorded for the Emerson. On the platform with the artists was placed an Emerson phonograph and when the artists had completed a song a record of the same number was played on the instrument."

Page 159 of the October 1923 issue of Talking Machine World reports that on October 1, Kaufman signed to record exclusively for the Aeolian Company, maker of Vocalion discs, often called "Vocalion Red records" by the trade journal. He had made Vocalion discs as early as 1921, when he stopped being exclusive to Emerson, and he continued to make Vocalion records after Brunswick bought out the record division of the Aeolian Company in late 1924 (Vocalion discs were issued as Brunswick products beginning in early 1925). In a short time he would again record for various companies. Page 161 of the January 1926 issue of Talking Machine World states, "The Plaza Music Co., manufacturer of Banner and Domino records, announces that Irving Kaufman, well-known record artist, will in the future contribute monthly releases to these catalogs." The first Kaufman releases to follow this announcement were "Too Many Parties and Too Many Pals" on Banner 1668/Domino 3641 and "I Wish That I'd Been Satisfied With Mary" on Banner 1669/Domino 3637, all issued in February 1926.

Kaufman helped popularize many songs of the 1920s but was never closely associated him any particular song the way Wendell Hall was associated with "It Ain't Gonna Rain No Mo'" and Vernon Dalhart with "The Prisoner's Song." Nonetheless, recording companies relied heavily on this vocalist because he maintained a high level of professionalism despite a heavy working schedule, including his ability to add a strong vocal chorus to dance band numbers with a minimum of rehearsal or preparation, even for songs with which he had no prior acquaintance.

He could perform a song in the studio soon after being handed a copy of a song. This was despite a minimum of formal musical training. In his 1974 interview he speaks of only two lessons at Carnegie Hall with Russian vocal teacher Lazar S. Samoiloff, and he told Quentin Riggs the same. The cylinder slip for Kaufman's first Edison cylinder, "I Love the Ladies," may exaggerate his training in saying that Kaufman "received much careful training under Professor Samoiloff of Carnegie Hall, New York." The jacket for Diamond Disc 50524, "Don't Cry, Little Girl, Don't Cry," states, "Irving Kaufman possesses a beautiful, rich tenor voice which has received much careful training."

About song preparation, Kaufman stated in the interview, "I knew nothing about what I was going to sing until I got to the studio. Then they'd hand me a copy of the song and say, 'This is what you're singing.'" He was paid a flat fee each time he recorded, never royalties.

He sang on some discs in the 1920s that interest jazz enthusiasts today because of instrumentalists used on sessions, including Bix Beiderbecke. Kaufman provided vocals on "There Ain't No Land Like Dixieland To Me"/"There's A Cradle in Caroline" (Harmony 504), and "Just an Hour of Love"/"I'm Wonderin' Who" (Okeh 40912). Beiderbecke played cornet on these numbers recorded on September 29-30, 1927. Saxophonist Frank Trumbauer was present at the sessions. Kaufman on March 3, 1928 again provided vocals for sides that today interest Beiderbecke fans: "Oh Gee! Oh Joy!" (Harmony 611) and "Why Do I Love You?" (Harmony 607). He provided vocals for such orchestras as Sam Lanin's, Bailey's Lucky Seven, Lou Gold's, Golden Gate Orchestra, the Ambassadors, the Clevelanders, Ben Bernie's, the California Ramblers, Joe Candullo's, and the Goofus Five.

Kaufman's voice was especially well-suited for the acoustic recording process since he could project his voice in the recording horn and make all words clear to listeners. With the introduction of the microphone to the recording process, a new crooning style of singing became popular, and Kaufman adjusted his voice accordingly. Examples of Kaufman holding back his normal voice can be found on "Buy, Buy for Baby" (Columbia 1661-D; 1928) and The Travelers' "Am I Blue?" (Okeh 41259; 1929). But singing in this manner was not what Kaufman did best, and he was in less demand by studios as they converted to the electric process. He was important to budget labels that converted late to the electric process, especially to Harmony and related Columbia labels.

In the 1930s Kaufman made few records but worked regularly on radio, a medium that made full use of his talent for changing voices and imitating dialects. During the mid-1940s Kaufman recorded numbers to be broadcast on the radio show Music Hall Varieties. Several dozen songs were pressed for the NBC-produced Thesaurus Orthacoustic, a radio transcription label, and distributed to stations (other artists included Joe E. Howard, Beatrice Kay, and Aileen Stanley). Identified as a baritone, he is accompanied by the Music Hall Varieties Orchestra, which used original arrangements. The songs were popular ones of the 1900 to 1920 period, few of which were actually recorded by the young Kaufman. Titles include "Alexander's Ragtime Band" (recorded on July 3, 1946 and pressed on Record 1362), "Bedelia," "Under The Bamboo Tree," "My Wife's Gone To The Country," and "Oh You Beautiful Doll." Because he was in top vocal form and the best available recording technology was used, Kaufman himself told Quentin Riggs that he would be happy if future generations judged him on these Thesaurus recordings.

Promotional literature for the radio show states, "Kaufman is well-remembered for a five year coast-to-coast network stint as 'Lazy Dan, The Minstrel Man' and his many characterizations on top network and local programs. He is a master dialectician specializing in Irish, Jewish, Scotch, Negro, Italian and Chinese."

He continued making the occasional 78 rpm recording until 1947, the last being "The Curse of an Aching Heart" coupled with "Think It Over Mary" (originally issued on the Sterling label, also issued on the Bennett label). Around this time he also recorded for Sterling some Yiddish comedy songs like "Moe the Schmo Makes Love" and "Moe the Schmo Takes a Rhumba Lesson."

As recording studios relied less on him, he worked more on radio, sometimes accompanied by his wife Belle Brooks on organ or piano. He continued performing on radio, in Broadway stage productions (including Kurt Weill's Street Scene in 1947), and in nightclubs until a heart attack in 1949 put a stop to these professional activities. In August 1974 he recorded in his California home eight songs for a two-album set that reissued some of his old recordings, which means Kaufman's recording career spanned six decades, from 1914 to 1974. Titled Reminisce With Irving Kaufman, the lp was only briefly available.

He died in Indio, California, a month before his 86th birthday.