- by Tim Gracyk
Excerpt from POPULAR AMERICAN RECORDING PIONEERS: 1895-1925, by Tim Gracyk. The book was published in late 2000.
This tenor was incredibly popular as a solo artist and was also important as a member of various duos, trios, and quartets. He probably recorded more titles than any other singer of the acoustic era. Not surprisingly for a singer who recorded thousands of titles, he was remarkably versatile. He was as deft with an upbeat tune such as "I Didn't Raise My Boy To Be A Soldier," sung with the Peerless Quartet (Columbia A1697), as with a sentimental favorite such as "In the Shade of the Old Apple Tree," but he won fame for singing the latter type of material.
He was born Harry Haley McClaskey in St. Stephen, New Brunswick, Canada, on January 15, 1882. He was raised in a house at 10 Armstrong Street. In 1895, at age 13, he was known well enough as a boy tenor to be engaged for appearances with the St. John Artillery Band at the opening of the city's annual Exposition. He attended Mt. Allison Academy at Sackville, New Brunswick. His father, Alfred McClaskey, was a candy and tobacco dealer.
His first important concert appearance was on April 14, 1901, when he appeared at the St. John Opera House with Scottish soprano Jessie Maclachlan. On September 30, 1901, Metropolitan Opera baritone Giuseppe Campanari arrived in McClaskey's part of Canada to perform at the St. John Opera House. Asked to listen to McClaskey's beautiful voice, Campanari--who was later a recording artist for Victor, Columbia, and Edison--insisted that the young man go to New York for musical training. The singer quit working at his father's business and traveled to New York for further voice instruction. While a student, McClaskey rose to tenor soloist with the Grace Methodist Episcopal Church choir. Promotional literature reprinted in Ronald Dethlefson's Edison Blue Amberol Recordings 1912-1914 states that the singer (called Irving Gillette on Edison records) "toured Canada in Scotch repertoire. For the last ten years [he] has been tenor soloist at the Church of the Incarnation, New York."
Henry studied with noted teacher John Dennis Meehan (sometimes spelled Mehan) and later Miss Ellen Burr. He adopted the latter's name in tribute when he began making records for Columbia.
Burr began his recording career with Columbia, probably in 1902. At this time Columbia did massive re-recording to take advantage of improved technology. Some Columbia discs bearing Burr's name have master numbers suggesting that they were made in 1901, but the Burr performances were remakes of numbers originally sung by others. Tim Brooks reports that the earliest master that seems to be originally by Burr is 1351, "My Dreams," from mid-1903. In 1903 he recorded a song associated with Lillian Russell on the stage, "Come Down Ma Evening Star" (Columbia disc 1405 and cylinder 32174; Mina Hickman had earlier recorded this for Columbia disc 955), and he cut Neil Moret's popular "Hiawatha" (disc 1406; cylinder 32175). Another successful early Columbia disc was "The Holy City" (60). Harry Macdonough is on the earliest pressings of "The Holy City," Albert Campbell on some later pressings, and Burr on still later pressings though the Burr recording was made early enough to feature a spoken announcement (J.W. Myers also recorded "The Holy City" for the company but this version was issued as Columbia 149). Other Columbia disc made early enough to feature spoken announcements are "Old Folks At Home" (174) and "Silver Threads Among the Gold" (1810).
His earliest record for Edison's National Phonograph Company was Standard 8827, issued in November 1904. The Edison company consistently used the pseudonym Irving Gillette for the tenor, and some other companies used this name at times, including Columbia and Rex. The October 1904 issue of Edison Phonograph Monthly states, "'Shine On, Oh Stars' is a ballad of the higher order in which Irving Gillette makes his bow to the Phonograph public. Mr. Gillette has a cultivated voice of a fine tenor quality as all who hear this Record will admit." At this time Edison also issued Irving Gillette on Standard 8853, "The Star of Bethlehem."
For the next few years the Edison company issued Gillette cylinders regularly. Although he became increasingly popular, he worked less often for the company by the time the company marketed Diamond Disc and Blue Amberol products. As a solo artist, Burr was issued on only one Diamond Disc: "Sing Me The Rosary" (80132). The team of Campbell and Gillette was issued on several Blue Amberols but not on Diamond Discs. After a disagreement with Edison executives, Burr never sang for that firm again. The final Gillette recording for Edison was "When The Angelus is Ringing" (Blue Amberol 2428), issued in October 1914. At this time the final Campbell and Gillette duet on Blue Amberol was issued: Fisher's "When It's Moonlight on the Alamo" (2422).
His first Victor session was on January 4, 1905, and two performances from that session were issued in March: "Loch Lomond" (single-sided 4240, later issued on double-sided 16062--Burr redid this for Victor in early 1919) and "Daddy" (single-sided 4239; Burr redid it on February 24, 1909 and this was issued on double-sided 16314). His next Victor session was four months later, on April 7, and especially popular from this session was Van Alstyne's "In The Shade Of The Old Apple Tree" (single-sided 4338; Burr redid it for Victor on June 5, 1908--decades later one of the Victor takes was issued on Montgomery Ward #M-8128 and falsely labeled "electrically recorded"). Months earlier, Burr had recorded this for Edison, and Standard 8958, issued in April 1905, was a popular cylinder.
Victor valued Burr in early sessions for singing airs of Scotland. In the three Victor sessions of 1905, he recorded, along with "Loch Lomond," the songs "Ye Banks and Braes o' Bonnie Doon" (4426), "John Anderson, My Jo" (4557), and "Scots, Wha' Hae' wi' Wallace Bled" (4558).
Burr appeared on virtually all American labels of the acoustic era, including the early disc labels Talk- o-phone, Imperial, Busy Bee, and American. The July 1906 Zon-o-phone catalog shows Burr singing "Please Come and Play in My Yard" (21) and the popular "Teasing" (24). As a solo artist he made a couple of dozen U.S. Everlasting cylinders. He cut duets for that company with not only Albert Campbell but John H. Meyer, who used the pseudonym John Wilbur.
Burr was a successful recording artist from the onset, becoming especially important to Columbia around the time another tenor's career was in rapid decline--George J. Gaskin's. In 1905 the Talking Machine News, a trade journal published in London, praised one of Burr's gospel hymns and added, "We count Mr. Burr one of the foremost recorders of today."
He was a member, with Frank C. Stanley and Elise Stevenson, of the Metropolitan Trio and the Manhattan Mixed Trio.
Around 1903 Burr replaced second tenor James K. Reynard in the Columbia Quartet, which then also consisted of first tenor Albert Campbell, baritone Joe Belmont, and bass Joe Majors. Belmont and Majors left around the time Reynard did, so for a few years after 1903 the quartet was Campbell, Burr, baritone Steve Porter, and bass Frank C. Stanley. In late 1906 the quartet began recording for other companies in addition to Columbia, and called itself the Peerless Quartet, which became probably the most successful vocal group of the acoustic era, with only the American Quartet rivaling at times the Peerless in popularity. Until his sudden death of pneumonia in late 1910, bass Frank C. Stanley managed the Peerless Quartet. Burr then managed the group.
For several years after Stanley's death the Peerless consisted of Albert Campbell, Henry Burr, Arthur Collins (who replaced Porter in 1909 when that baritone joined the American Quartet), and John H. Meyer (Stanley's replacement). Campbell reported to Jim Walsh that Collins finally left (probably in early 1919) because the baritone and Burr could no longer get along. Collins sometimes sang lead on Peerless recordings, which added variety to the quartet's records, but after Collins left, Burr sang lead on nearly all Peerless recordings. Frank Croxton joined the Peerless soon after Collins' departure, taking the bass part. John H. Meyer, who had been singing bass, assumed the baritone part. The American Quartet had been going through changes in personnel around this time, and from 1920 onwards the Peerless and American quartets were identical aside from second tenor Burr in the Peerless and second tenor Billy Murray in the American.
When the Peerless members worked as a minstrel troupe on records Burr played a stuttering minstrel and was addressed by the other performers as "Harry," his real first name. Labels did not actually use the Peerless name but the four quartet members made many minstrel records, especially from 1908 to 1913. Typical examples are "Virginia Minstrels" on Victor 35095, "North Carolina Minstrels" on Victor 35307, and "Missouri Minstrels" on Victor 35321.
From around 1906 to 1910, Burr cut many duets with Stanley, who had earlier used tenor Byron G. Harlan as a recording partner--presumably the success of Collins and Harlan brought an end to pairings of Harlan and Stanley. In the 1909-1910 period, Edison issued a new Stanley and Gillette duet almost every month. Stanley's death in late 1910 led to Burr joining, for a few years, baritone Edgar Stoddard, who was really Andrea Sarto, for Columbia recordings. One successful recording was "There's a Girl in the Heart of Maryland" (Columbia A1360; 1913).
After Stanley's death, Burr also began working regularly with fellow tenor Campbell, and the team of Campbell and Burr enjoyed a popularity matched by few other duos of the acoustic era (years earlier they had cut a duet--"While the Old Mill Wheel Is Turning" was issued on Columbia 3453 in October 1906). Notable performances include "Take Me To Roseland, My Beautiful Rose" (Victor 17339), "Piney Ridge" (Columbia A1827), "Always Take A Girl Named Daisy" (Victor 17438), "Carry Me Back To My Carolina Home" (Victor 18975), "Those Days Are Over" (Victor 18877), "Angel Child" (Victor 18903), and "At The End Of The Road" (Victor 19530). The final Campbell-Burr duet recording appears to be "I Need Thee Every Hour," recorded in the early months of electric recording, probably on July 2, 1925 (Burr and Campbell were in Victor's Camden studio on this day as members of the Peerless Quartet and Sterling Trio). The new take of "I Need Thee Every Hour" was issued on Victor 19884, replacing their old take of the Lowry hymn on Victor 16255.
Campbell and Burr normally recorded sentimental numbers. An unusual selection for the duo was "Theda Bara, I'll Keep Away From You," issued on PathÅ 20021 in late 1916. They were the only artists to record this song about the silent film star, who became famous as a "vamp" in the 1915 motion picture A Fool There Was.
Burr recorded duets with many other artists such as Elise Stevenson, Ada Jones, Helen Clark, Marcia Freer, Frank Croxton and John H. Meyer. Despite a long association, Burr recorded with Billy Murray only one duet issued in the United States: "I Wonder Where My Baby Is Tonight?" It was recorded on December 12, 1925. The label of Victor 19864 calls the performance a "duet with piano" but adds that Burr and Murray are "assisted" by tenor Carl Mathieu (the reverse side features the tenor who was quickly eclipsing Murray and Burr in popularity--Gene Austin). In 1919, during a Canadian tour, Burr and Murray harmonized beautifully in a studio on "They're All Sweeties," issued only on Canadian Victor 216068.
On November 18, 1913, Campbell and Burr joined Will Oakland to record the successful "I'm On My Way To Mandalay" (Victor 17503). On June 24, 1914, the tenors cut an additional three titles for Victor. Labels identify the trio as "Oakland-Campbell-Burr."
The popular Sterling Trio, consisting of Meyer, Campbell and Burr, recorded for many labels from 1916 to mid-1920, then exclusively for Victor from late 1920 to 1925. The trio's final Victor disc was issued in October, 1925: "Down Deep in an Irishman's Heart" (19749). It was backed by Burr singing "Sweet Little Mother of Mine." When Burr, as manager of the Peerless Quartet, dropped Campbell and Meyer in the fall of 1925, the latter two singers took the name The Sterling Trio and made recordings for Gennett in 1926, using another tenor instead of Burr. The new Peerless Quartet consisted of first tenor Carl Mathieu (1894-1973), second tenor Burr, baritone James Stanley (1881-1963), and bass Stanley Baughman (1892-1963). This was the Quartet featured with the Eight Popular Victor Artists that toured from 1926 until it disbanded around 1928.
In 1910 the Columbia Phonograph Company issued a ten inch demonstration disc ("This Record is NOT For Sale") that emphasized the superior tone quality of Columbia double-sided discs. One side featured the Columbia Male Quartette singing Geibel's "Kentucky Babe" with Burr as second tenor, and Frank C. Stanley spoke on the other side, praising the quality of Columbia "double-disc" records. In 1913, the newly named Columbia Graphophone Company issued a second demonstration record, and this is among the most common discs featuring Burr. One side featured solo artist Henry Burr singing J.C. Macey's "Good Night, Little Girl, Good Night," the reverse side featuring an unidentified man giving a briefer version of Stanley's 1910 talk. He states about the Burr performance, "The other side of this sample Columbia record affords the best possible evidence of the quality of Columbia recordings." The 1913 promotional item was priced at 25 cents.
Burr was issued on many small diameter discs of the World War I period. Although seven inch discs had been common when discs were first marketed, they had been phased out by 1906, with the ten inch disc becoming standard for popular music. The Little Wonder Record Co. of New York, founded by Henry Waterson (of the music publishing firm Waterson, Berlin & Snyder), introduced single-sided 5 1/2 inch discs in October 1914. They sold for ten cents. The first Little Wonder featured Henry Burr singing the 1848 song "Ben Bolt." He had recorded this over a decade earlier as a Columbia artist, with that early recording featuring piano accompaniment. On the Little Wonder disc, Burr is backed by an orchestra. Little Wonder discs were pressed by Columbia but they are not Columbia dubbings--songs were recorded specially for Little Wonder release.
Victor most often used the name Henry Burr for the tenor but sometimes identified him as Harry McClaskey. Columbia used the name Burr most often but also used the names Irving Gillette (usually for duets with female singers, including Ada Jones, Helen Clark, and Frances Fisher) and Harry McClaskey (not surprisingly, this was used for some songs with Irish themes, such as "The Lament of the Irish Emigrant" and "What an Irishman Means by 'Machree'"). Most companies issued the tenor as Burr but Allan Sutton's A Guide to Pseudonyms on American Records, 1892-1942 (Greenwood Press, 1993) indicates that other names used were Henry Gillette (Crescent), Alfred Alexander (PathÅ), Shamus McClaskey (Emerson), Robert Rice (Emerson) Harry Barr (Harmony), Frank Knapp (Harmony), Harry Haley (Banner and Cameo--"Haley" was the tenor's middle name), and Al King (Oriole).
In mid-1916 Burr formed with Fred Van Eps the Paroquette Record Manufacturing Company. Beginning in December 1916 it released hill-and-dale cut, etch-label double-faced Par-o-ket records. These seven inch discs sold for 25 cents. Advertisements advised that the records "should be played with sapphire needles to secure the best results" and "should be played at a speed of 80 revolutions per minute." The company also made and sold attachments that allowed the records to be played on machines designed to play only lateral-cut records. Artists included Rogers' Military Band, Campbell and Burr (sometimes singing as "Webster and Gillette"), Collins and Harlan, Louise and Ferera, John H. Meyer, and the Van Eps Banjo Band. Burr naturally recorded many titles for the company, sometimes as Irving Gillette, but he continued to record heavily for other companies as well.
The company's business office was at 47 West 34th Street, New York City. Page 76 of the January 1917 issue of Talking Machine World reports, "The company's factory and laboratory are located in the Bush Terminal Building, Brooklyn, N.Y., and although 6,500 square feet of space have been occupied for some months past, it has been found necessary to considerably enlarge the general manufacturing facilities..."
To run the Par-o-ket laboratory, Burr and Van Eps turned to an associate with much experience in the industry, John Kaiser. In the late 1890s Kaiser managed the New York brown wax cylinder firm Harms, Kaiser and Hagen; he made recordings, notably "Casey" monologues, for a few companies from the mid-1890s through the turn of the century; and beginning around 1909 he helped manage the U.S. Phonograph Company, maker of U-S Everlasting cylinders. Walter B. Rogers, after several years working as Victor's musical director, served as Paroquette's musical director. The company recorded and pressed its own records.
Related to Par-o-ket records was the Angelophone Record, also a vertical cut seven inch disc. As the name suggests, only sacred numbers are on Angelophone, with perhaps all titles sung by Burr himself (one example is #63, "How Can I Keep From Singing"--curiously, Burr is identified as a baritone). Few machines were equipped to play these vertical cut records, so it is not surprising that the Paroquette firm soon suspended operations. The December 1917 issue of Talking Machine World is the last issue to list new Par-o-ket releases. The May 1918 issue of the trade journal announced a public auction of the firm's assets, including 30,000 Par- o-ket discs, to be held in Brooklyn on May 22.
Burr was briefly a music publisher. The January 1919 issue of Talking Machine World reports, "The talking machine trade will be interested to know that Henry Burr...has organized the Henry Burr Music Corp., with offices at 1604 Broadway, New York. Associated with Mr. Burr is Lieutenant Gitz-Rice, the very successful song writer who has recently been responsible for 'Keep Your Head Down, Fritzie Boy,' and other hits."
For the first two decades of Burr's recording career he worked for virtually every record company. In late 1920, when he was arguably at the height of his career, Burr became exclusive to a company for the first time. This followed Billy Murray making a similar arrangement with Victor earlier in the year. He was exclusive to Victor from July 1, 1920 to July 1, 1927. Page 62 of the November 1920 issue of Talking Machine World states, "Of great interest to all Victor dealers and Victor record enthusiasts is the announcement made by the Victor Talking Machine Co. that the popular record artists Albert Campbell, Henry Burr, John Meyer and Frank Croxton will, after November 1, be exclusive Victor artists. These singers have scored a tremendous success through their records and in person in almost every large city in the country, singing as the Sterling Trio, the American Quartet and the Peerless Quartet." Possessing unissued Burr performances from previous sessions, a few companies released new Burr titles after he became exclusive to Victor. Columbia had recorded enough of Burr, the Sterling and the Peerless to continue releasing new titles into mid-1921. Okeh 4537, featuring Burr singing "Little Town in the Ould County Down," was issued in April 1922.
Burr enjoyed success as touring artist and leader of the group known in 1918 as the Popular Talking Machine Artists, in 1919 as the Peerless Talking Machine Artist as well as the Eight Victor Record Makers, in 1920 as the Eight Famous Victor Artists, and in 1923 as the Eight Popular Victor Artists. The final name change, from "Famous" to "Popular," was made in the summer of 1923. The July 1923 issue of Talking Machine World is the last with an advertisement for the Eight Famous Victor Artists. The August issue includes an Eight Popular Victor Artists advertisement. The name was probably changed from "Famous" to "Popular" so audience members realized in advance that the group did not include Red Seal artists. The first touring group to include Burr was formed sometime around 1915 and also consisted of Albert Campbell, John H. Meyer, Arthur Collins, Billy Murray, Byron G. Harlan, "Banjo King" Vess Ossman and pianist Theodore Morse. Appearances were carefully coordinated with Victor dealers throughout the country.
A program that survives of the Peerless Record Makers appearing at the Williamsport High School Auditorium in Pennsylvania on April 17, 1917 names Ira Hards as manager. An advertisement on page 80 of the January 1918 issue of Talking Machine World cites Clinton Woodward as manager, but until 1925 most advertisements for the ensemble list Philip W. Simon, owner of the P.W. Simon music stores, as manager.
A full page advertisement on page 50 of the August 1918 issue of Talking Machine World cites Burr as manager: "Write for particulars, H.H. McClaskey, Mgr., 102 West 38th Street, New York City." It seems Burr and Simon were co-managers, at least for some years. The group's singers in later years referred to Burr as its manager. Burr clearly functioned as musical director and may have eventually managed the touring group without Simon. Jim Walsh writes in "The Funny Side of the Phonograph World" published in the May 1952 issue of American Record Guide, "The organization was managed by Henry Burr...Usually, when traveling by train from one engagement to another, the elephantine Mr. Burr kept much to himself, worrying about how his genuinely beautiful voice would sound that night." Walsh adds later in the article, "But he was not a good public speaker. His manner was hesitant and he was easily flustered."
Page 78 of the April 1919 issue of Talking Machine World, reporting on the success of a concert given on April 7 in Pittsburgh, suggests that Burr was musical director of the group while Simon attended to business matters: "One of the most important events in talking machine circles in Pittsburgh...was the appearance of the Peerless Talking Machine Artists, headed by Henry Burr...They were in western Pennsylvania for ten days and gave nine concerts, which were liberally patronized...Much credit is due P.W. Simon, the well-known Victrola dealer of Uniontown, Pa....Mr. Simon gave personal attention to the arrangements and bookings..."
Surviving concert programs of 1924 list Simon as manager, at 1674 Broadway, New York City. Later programs list Burr as manager (the same address is given) though an article titled "Victor Record Makers' Concert Company" in the March 1919 issue of Voice of the Victor gives Burr's address as 145 East Lincoln Avenue, Mount Vernon, New York.
By September 1925, the personnel changed dramatically though the change was not announced in Talking Machine World until January 1926. The new touring group consisted of old members Burr, Murray, Silver, and Banta along with new members Carl Mathieu (first tenor), James Stanley (baritone), Stanley Baughman (bass) and Sam Herman (xylophone). This new Peerless first recorded on October 23, 1925 (Victor 19827). Campbell, Meyer, and Croxton were joined by Charles Harrison to form another Peerless Quartet--and Campbell, Harrison, and Meyer sang as the Sterling Trio. An advertisement for this alternative Peerless was included in the September 1925 issue of Talking Machine World, with Croxton identified as manager. To compete with Burr's touring group of eight performers, Croxton lined up several artists and called this group the Peerless Entertainers. This new group, available for bookings in the New York City area, consisted of Croxton's Peerless Quartet, saxophonist Rudy Wiedoeft, pianist-composer Lieutenant Gitz Rice (he recorded "Fun in Flanders" in 1918 with Burr for Victor 18405), and baritone Arthur Fields.
For a brief period Burr shared ownership of a banjo factory with virtuoso Fred Van Eps. Page 158 of the June 1921 issue of Talking Machine World announces, "A new instrument firm to be known as the Van Eps-Burr Corp. has been formed under the laws of the State of New York with a capital of $50,000. The incorporators are H.H. McClaskey, M.T. Kirkeby and F. Van Eps."
Dance music was gaining in popularity, and Burr contributed a vocal chorus to some dance band records, including one of the earliest to feature a vocal refrain: "Mickey" (Victor 18532), featuring Joseph C. Smith's Orchestra. This was recorded on January 28, 1919. Later Burr sang refrains for Art Landry's "Sleepy Time Gal" (recorded on November 10, 1925; Victor 19843), Roger Wolfe Kahn's "Somebody's Lonely" (May 13, 1926; Victor 20059), Philip Spitalny's "When You Waltz With the One You Love" (October 6, 1926; Victor 20260), and Nat Shilkret and the Victor Orchestra's "Why Should I Say That I'm Sorry" (April 28, 1927; Victor 20615). But this style of singing was different from what had made Burr popular for over two decades.
Burr's popularity was in decline from the mid-1920s onwards, as evident by fewer recording sessions than in previous years, and by 1928 he recorded sporadically. As a solo artist he made few records in the electric era. The last Peerless Quartet title issued by Victor was "Old Names of Old Flames" (21079), recorded on November 11, 1927. On this day Burr's final recording for Victor as a solo artist was made, but "Mother, I Still Have You" was not issued. The last Victor disc to feature Burr's name on the label was a duet with Homer Rodeheaver: "Where The Gates Swing Outward Never" (Victor 21337). It was recorded on May 1, 1927 but was issued over a year later in June 1928. The Henry Burr Octet attended a Victor session on January 2, 1927 but nothing was issued.
Burr's photograph rarely was featured on sheet music covers but in 1927 a color photograph of Burr was published on the cover of "The Daughter of Sweet Adeline," with words by Al Dubin and Willie Raskin, music by Ted Snyder. The sheet music was published by Henry Waterson Inc. The song was never recorded.
Burr ceased being exclusive to Victor by mid-1928 and he made a few children's records for Brunswick, with titles including "The Night Before Christmas" (4093), "Jack and the Beanstalk" (4094), "The Three Bears" (4094), and "Wagsey Watermelon" (4095). He sang "Memories of France" and "Out of the Dawn" on Brunswick 4045, issued in October 1928. A Columbia recording was issued in February 1929: "Cross Roads" backed by "Love Dreams" (1649-D). He made a few records issued on Columbia's budget label (Harmony), Cameo, and Banner. He continued to tour with the group known by the mid-1920s as the Eight Popular Victor Artists, and that group even made two M-G-M Movie-Tone short films in late 1928 or early 1929, probably shot on the same day. For copyright purposes, two prints of At The Club were deposited with the Library of Congress on February 4, 1929. A surviving script shows that after some introductory material, James Stanley performs "Gypsy Love Song" and then pianist Frank Banta plays "Novelette." The group disbanded around 1929.
On January 28, 1929 he contributed to a twelve inch Victor disc featuring the "Minstrel Show of 1929" (35961), credited to the Victor Minstrels (labels state "Male voices with orchestra"), which consisted of Burr, Billy Murray, Frank Crumit, James Stanley, and others. Burr sings the chorus of "By The Light Of The Silv'ry Moon." It may be his final recording but his voice shows no sign of deterioration.
Burr performed on radio during its infancy, his first radio broadcast made in 1920 from Denver. Burr sang into a microphone improvised from a wooden bowl containing an inverted telephone transmitter. The fact that the broadcast was heard in San Francisco made newspaper headlines on the West Coast. Even before this, Burr was credited for making the first "transcontinental broadcast"--he sang from New York and telephone wires carried his voice to diners wearing headphones at a Rotary dinner in California.
The Eight performed on radio for a year or so on the Goodrich Zippers program, and Burr spent two and a half years in charge of the Cities Service broadcast.
The August 10, 1935 issue of Stand By!, a radio weekly, featured Burr on its cover and stated, "Feeling there was a place and a need for greater showmanship in radio, Henry formed 'Henry Burr, Inc.' in 1928. This organization produced many of the big commercial network programs of the time...Henry also originated the Cites Service program and produced it for two years."
His days as a recording artist basically over, he started on November 25, 1929 a job as director of the Artist's Bureau of the newly organized Columbia Broadcasting Company, in New York. He had lost a considerable amount of money in the stock market crash. He later returned to the radio field, performing as a member of the WLS (Chicago) National Barn Dance troupe, which was broadcast over NBC every Saturday evening. He soon became one of the featured artists, remaining with the show five years up until about six weeks before his death.
He married Cecilia Niles in 1910. During Burr's early years in New York he rented a room in the home of Dr. and Mrs. Niles. While Burr was living with them, the Doctor passed away. Some time later, on June 6, 1910, Burr married the widow, Cecilia Niles, who was 15 years older than the singer. Despite the difference in their ages, Burr was devoted to Cecilia. The August 10, 1936 issue of the radio weekly Stand By! stated, "Many listeners will recall the anniversary program which was broadcast in honor of the Burr silver wedding day, June 6, 1935." Burr was equally devoted to his step-daughter, Marguarite. Burr was on tour when his step-daughter died, and upon learning the news, he canceled the rest of the Eight Famous Victor Artists tour and rushed back home.
After suffering for months from cancer, Burr died in Chicago on April 6, 1941, and was buried three days later at the Kenisco Cemetery, Westchester County, New York. Cecilia died in Chicago on September 17, 1954 and is buried near her husband. Also buried there is step-daughter Marguarite, a small flat stone marking her spot.