William F. Hooley--Bass Singer (Haydn Quartet and American Quartet)

By Tim Gracyk

Excerpt from: Another Book About Popular American Recording Pioneers: 1895-1925: The Unpublished Entries


William F. Hooley (16 April 1861 - 12 October 1918)

The bass singer was important as a solo artist and for anchoring the sound of both the Haydn Quartet (1898-1914) and American Quartet (1909-1918). Although the singer's son, William F. Hooley, Jr., told Quentin Riggs that his father was born in Cork, Ireland, evidence is strong that Hooley was born in London. John Bieling reported to Jim Walsh and Riggs that Hooley had told him that he had been born in London's Whitechapel district. Riggs reports that the 1900 census records show England as Hooley's place of birth, as does his death certificate. Hooley immigrated to the United States when he was around six and settled in Lynn, Massachusetts, later moving to Nyack, New York. Beginning in the late 1880s he sang in church choirs, glee clubs, and operettas.

He began recording around 1896 as a member of the Edison Quartet, which at that time also featured John Bieling, S. H. Dudley, and Jere Mahoney (the quartet would soon work for other companies as the Haydn Quartet). The August 1898 issue of The Phonoscope indicates that Hooley was one of the three principal artists for the Excelsior Phonograph Company, the other two being S. H. Dudley and Roger Harding. This New York City firm was established in November 1897, and Hooley succeeded Harding in August 1898 as the company's manager.

Soon afterwards he was president of the American Phonograph Company, maker of brown wax Perfection cylinders. The business was shared by fellow recording artists S. H. Dudley and Steve Porter, but it was not successful.

He made solo recordings as bass for Berliner as early as 1898. Faure's "The Palms" and Sullivan's "The Lost Chord" were recorded on September 30, 1898. His speaking voice was considered suitable for recitations and he recorded in December of 1899 monologues including "Sermon on the Mount," "Mother Goose Rhymes," and "Death and Burial of Cock Robin."

An 1899 catalog of cylinders made by the Babson Brothers of Chicago lists items by "the Original Lyric Trio," which consisted of John C. Havens, Estella Louise Mann, and Hooley (the January 1899 issue of The Phonoscope not only cites these three as comprising the Original Lyric Trio but includes a photograph of Estella Mann singing into recording horns). When Berliner and Victor issued numbers by the Lyric Trio in 1900, it consisted of Mann (or possibly by this time soprano Grace Spencer), Hooley, and Harry Macdonough. Victor recordings of the Lyric Trio made in 1901 through 1903 were by Hooley, Macdonough, and Grace Spencer.

He recorded for Eldridge R. Johnson's Consolidated Talking Machine Company--soon renamed the Victor Talking Machine Company--and often did announcements for the Haydn Quartet, Georgia Minstrels, and others. Recitations cut in June 1900 include "Lincoln's Speech at Gettysburg" and "Gladstone's Speech on Self-Help." Another recitation of sorts was "Ravings of a Maniac," cut on June 7, 1900.

He recorded numbers aimed for children during sessions for Eldridge R. Johnson's Consolidated Talking Machine Company. The first double-sided disc distributed in America was a children's record made by Johnson's fledgling company and featuring Hooley performances cut on November 6, 1900. "A Record for the Children" was on seven-inch A-490 and A491 (two record numbers were used), and copies of the disc were evidently given with Johnson's "$3" Gramophone, advertised as a toy. The Zon-o-phone catalog of May 10, 1901, lists eight recitations by Hooley, including "Little Red Riding Hood" (9445) and "Cinderella and the Glass Slipper" (9448).

He was bass of the Orpheus Quartet, which also featured tenors Harry Macdonough and Lambert Murphy along with baritone Reinald Werrenrath, and of the Heidelberg Quintet, which was the American Quartet personnel along with countertenor Will Oakland. He sang in various other Victor ensembles, such as the Victor Light Opera Company.

His final Victor session was on August 1, 1918. He died a few months later. Donald Chalmers then sang bass for two years in the American Quartet.

Some solo recordings remained in the Victor catalog for years after his death. "Wearing of the Green" (17348) remained available until 1925. The other side featured "Off to Philadelphia," sung by Wilfred Glenn, who may be regarded as Hooley's successor since he next became Victor's most prolific bass singer.

The record with a Hooley contribution to remain available for the longest period was a Victor Light Opera Company production on Victor 35386, "Gems From H.M.S. Pinafore," a medley from the Gilbert and Sullivan operetta. It was recorded in 1911 and remained in the Victor catalog until the mid-1940s.

Some of Hooley's other ensemble work remained in the Victor catalog until 1925, such as many Hayden Quartet performances (in fact, Hooley's photograph is grouped with those of other Hayden Quartet members in many Victor catalogs of the acoustic era). Some American Quartet records featuring Hooley's bass remained in the catalog until 1925--even a number originally issued in 1910 ("Casey Jones," 16483) and one recorded in 1911 ("Grizzly Bear," 16681). An especially fine performance from 1915 by the American Quartet with Hooley is "On the 5:15" (17704), which remained in the catalog until 1925. His bass voice is heard distinctly on this comic number written by Henry Marshall about commuter trains, including, ironically, on the line "Hubby's all excited singing baritone."