Carl Fenton (Gus Haenschen & Reuben Greenberg)
- by Tim Gracyk
Gus Haenschen was the musician who originally used the name Carl Fenton. Beginning in 1927, Reuben Greenberg used the name.
I am grateful to Richard Haenschen for providing information about his father. Richard was born in 1930, a few years after Gus Haenschen stopped using the name "Carl Fenton."
I am also grateful for information sent by Marty Olson, grandson of Reuben Greenberg. In 1932, Reuben Greenberg legally changed his name to Carl Fenton.
Excerpt from POPULAR AMERICAN RECORDING PIONEERS: 1895-1925, by Tim Gracyk. The book was published in late 2000.
"Carl Fenton" (at first Walter Haenschen, later Reuben Greenberg) was among the most important recording directors of the 1920s, functioning for the popular Brunswick label as Nat Shilkret did for Victor. Fenton shaped Brunswick's sound of that era more than any other Brunswick musician and remained an important figure in the music world for decades, becoming important on radio shows after he left the recording business. He worked with most of America's best musicians from 1920 through the 1940s.
In the 1920s, no musician was actually named Carl Fenton though that name appeared on many Brunswick labels of the decade. Finally, in 1932, Reuben Greenberg changed his name to Carl Fenton. See the end of this article for more information about Greenberg.
Carl Fenton's Orchestra was originally led by conductor-arranger Walter Gustave ("Gus") Haenschen, whose own name was ill-suited for commercial records. German names were not likely to sell dance records in America immediately after World War I (loosely translated, the German name "Haenschen" means "little chicken"); moreover, "Haenschen" was difficult to spell. Talking Machine World at various times gave his name as Haenchen, Hanschen, and Henchon. During his long career, Haenschen did not use the name Carl Fenton except from 1920 to 1927 as a simple name to put on record labels.
In 1973 he was interviewed by Cecil Leeson (1902-1989), a concert saxophonist who in the 1970s taped conversations with musicians who had been active a half century earlier. Haenschen explained that when searching for a suitable recording name at the beginning of his tenure with the Brunswick-Balke-Collender Company, he thought of the town Fenton, Missouri, which is on the Meramec River and near his hometown, St. Louis. The name was randomly picked. He told Leeson, "How do you find a name? Just pull it out of a hat." He recalled that "Carl" may have been suggested by "the girls in the [Brunswick] office...somebody thought it sounded good."
Haenschen had Swedish ancestors, but at some point the family had moved to Germany, then to America. Walter was born in St. Louis. He had a sister named Alice. His father abandoned his wife and two children when Walter was 13, and he soon helped provide for the whole family. Among other early jobs as a musician, he worked in silent film houses. He provided piano accompaniment and, as he recalled later in life, always hit a drum to create the sound of bullets of movies featured shoot-out scenes.
Many St. Louis citizens were of German descent. One was Augustus Busch, who ran a famous brewery in the city. He took a liking to the young Walter (he was not known by his middle name "Gus" at this time) and helped the budding musician find work at country club dances, weddings, and similar social events. Later his band played between innings at St. Louis Cardinals baseball games.
The January 15, 1920, issue of Talking Machine World states that Haenschen graduated from Washington University in St. Louis in 1912. He recalled for Leeson in the 1973 interview, "I had a typical college orchestra which got pretty popular. So I was quite a busy guy in the dance field in those early days and there was a transition about that time from the old waltz and two-step era to the more modern, let's call it a jazz era, which then in those days we didn't dare to use the word--the word was rather taboo in circles. But St. Louis had a very large black population and among them were lots of tremendous musicians...I knew Scott Joplin...Having met some of these men, I frequented some of the so-called dives where these men played and [I] learned, as probably one of the earlier white boys, how to play 'rags' and get the feeling of that rhythm."
His acquaintance with Scott Joplin, who lived in St. Louis for a few years before moving to New York City in mid-1907, evidently inspired Haenschen, as leader of W. G. Haenschen's Banjo Orchestra, to cut "Maple Leaf Rag" for a Columbia Personal Record around 1916.
In 1912 a Haenschen composition titled "The Maurice Glide," named after dancer Maurice Mouvet, was published. It was recorded by the Victor Military Band (Victor 17592) and perhaps others.
A skilled pianist, he made private records with other St. Louis musicians a few years before working for Brunswick. A single-sided disc in Columbia's Personal Record series is "Sunset Medley" (60782) played by W. Gus Haenschen on piano and T. T. Schiffer on drums, the date May 1916 printed on the label. Another selection from this session is "Country Club Melody" (60781). Later in 1916, W. G. Haenschen's Banjo Orchestra recorded at least four titles in the Personal Record series: "Honky Tonky" (61068), "I Left Her On The Beach" (61069), "Maple Leaf Rag" (61070), and "Admiration" (61071). The label for the disc featuring W. H. Tyers' "Admiration" states, "Made by W. G. Haenschen's Banjo Orchestra, St. Louis, MO." "Fox-trot" is added under the title. The four titles were possibly cut in early September 1916 when Haenschen and his musicians were in New York City to make test records for the Victor Talking Machine Company (nothing was issued by Victor).
Page 52 of the August 1916 issue of Talking Machine World includes an article about Haenschen, then a manager of the Victrola department of a prominent St. Louis store. The article refers to records made by Haenschen, and these are probably the ones made in May 1916: "Another feature of Mr. Haenchen's [sic] business career is that he sells records made by himself. Recently he and a part of his orchestra had several records made by the Columbia personal service department and he has had quite a run on these. They are chiefly his own compositions, several of which have enjoyed good sale throughout the country." The article states that he was "the newest recruit to the talking machine selling game in St. Louis...he is manager of the Victrola department of the Vandervoort Music Salon."
The January 15, 1920, issue of Talking Machine World again identifies Haenschen as a composer: "He has composed several songs, one of which was the sensation of the 1914 Follies, where it was known as 'Underneath the Japanese Moon.'" The song was recorded by a few artists in 1914, including Irving Kaufman (Victor 17699).
Haenschen recalled in the 1973 interview that in the 1920s he had compositions published under pseudonyms because intense company rivalry meant that any song credited to Haenschen would have been "shunned" by competing record companies. A popular song in 1921 was "Na-Jo," with music credited to saxophonist Rudy Wiedoeft and "Walter Holliday," one of Haenschen's pseudonyms (lyrics were supplied by George O'Neil). The Benson Orchestra of Chicago recorded it on April 15, 1921 (Victor 18779), and others recorded it. A song that gives composer credit to "Haenschen" is "Read 'em and Weep," included in the show Come Seven. Al Bernard, the song's lyricist, recorded it for Edison Blue Amberol 4164, issued in January 1921, and Actuelle 022437.
Haenschen stated to Leeson, "One of the things that still sells is a tune called 'Rosita,' which I did under the name of Paul Dupont, and I still get royalties from that thing, after all these years."
"La Rosita" (words by Allan Stuart, music by Paul Dupont) was published by the Sam Fox Publishing Company in 1923. It enjoyed success by late 1923 because it was played in motion picture theaters during showings of a film by that name directed by Ernst Lubitsch and starring Mary Pickford. The song was recorded by many, including the International Novelty Orchestra in late 1923 (Victor 19218), D. Onivas and His Orchestra in 1924 (PathÅ Actuelle 036057--"D. Onivas" was PathÅ musical director Domenico Savino), Victor Red Seal soprano Rosa Ponselle in 1925 (HMV DB872), Lee Morse in 1927 (Columbia 1082-D), organist Emil Velazco in 1927 (Columbia 1627-D), Eddie South and His Alabamians in 1927 (Victor 21151), Tommy Dorsey and His Orchestra in 1939 (Victor 26333), Benny Goodman and His Orchestra in 1941 (Columbia GL-523), Jimmy Dorsey and His Orchestra in 1941 (Decca 3711), and the Four Aces in 1953 (Decca 28393).
At least for part of the 1910s he juggled a performing career with his job as manager of the talking machine department of the large Scruggs, Vandervoort & Barney store in downtown St. Louis, making enough of a reputation for Talking Machine World to note in its September 1918 issue that "Gus Hanschen [sic]...enlisted in the engineering department of the army recently." The article gives the following background information on the musician who would become a key Brunswick executive within two years: "Mr. Hanschen is a graduate engineer, but had never followed that business. After he left school he continued his music studies, and before he entered the talking machine business he was locally famous as an exponent of ragtime music and he managed and led an orchestra that was extremely popular during the dancing revival. For the last two years his orchestra supplied music for the open air dances given by the city in the parks."
In 1919, Brunswick executives judged the time ripe for the company to introduce its own discs in the American market. The huge Brunswick-Balke-Collender Company was famous as a maker of billiard and bowling products; in 1916 the company entered the talking machine industry only as a maker of phonographs.
Haenschen was hired to manage the Popular Records Department. Frank Hofbauer, who had earlier worked for Edison, was director for recording rooms, located on Seventh Avenue between 51st and 52nd Streets. Walter B. Rogers was General Musical Director. Haenschen later recalled in his 1973 interview being offered the position around July 1919: "I went into the Navy and I was away for almost two years and when I came back I was met in New York by the head of the Brunswick group and was offered the job."
He led Brunswick's house band consisting of studio musicians, with personnel varying from session to session, and his group of musicians was among the first to record for Brunswick, cutting sides in October 1919. "Karavan" and "Romance" were issued in 1920 on Brunswick 2011, one of the first in Brunswick's popular music series, which began at 2000. "La La Lucille" and "My Cuban Desire" were issued on Brunswick 2012.
Early Brunswick record catalogues included a small photograph of the Carl Fenton Orchestra. On records and in catalogs, the band was called either the Carl Fenton Orchestra or Carl Fenton's Orchestra, never Carl Fenton and His Orchestra. Haenschen states in the 1973 interview that in the early 1920s "almost all of [the] orchestras of Brunswick were pretty much the same men...We did the dance tunes always with the same pick up group. One or two men changed maybe--a different trumpet to give it a different style. We had names that were called Fenton's Orchestra when it was Rudy Wiedoeft's Orchestra, with usually the same men, or Bennie Krueger and that name would be put on."
Carl Fenton's Orchestra occasionally played in public, usually to promote new Brunswick retail establishments. The first page of the August 1921 issue of Talking Machine World announces the opening of a store in Lowell, Massachusetts, and adds, "Carl Fenton's Orchestra, exclusive Brunswick artists, and one of the country's leading dance orchestras, appeared at the opening of the Bungalow Shop, and played to capacity audiences throughout the day." In the 1973 interview, Haenschen states that violinist Rudy Greenberg led the orchestra in public.
In the interview he indicates why musicians in Ray Miller's orchestra at the time it began recording for Brunswick in 1923 differ from musicians used by Miller for earlier Okeh and Columbia records: "You want to hear something about Ray Miller? That was my orchestra too...I put every man in there...Ray was a good drummer, but that's where it stopped. We hired--this is all Brunswick now, when I say 'we,' it's Brunswick-- we hired all the men and they stayed with Ray for several years. Even very popular players would make that their permanent stock and he did an awfully good job for Brunswick. I mean we sold a lot of Ray Miller records."
In the early 1920s Haenschen did arrangements for several Brunswick recording groups though pianist Tom Satterfield was arranger for the Ray Miller Orchestra and trombonist Carroll Martin was arranger for the Isham Jones Orchestra, Brunswick's top dance band.
He worked closely with many record artists. The label for "Jean," performed by Isham Jones Rainbo Orchestra on Brunswick 5012, states, "Piano Passages by Alfred Eldridge and Carl Fenton." Other early Brunswick labels state, "Orchestral arrangement by Walter Haenschen." Some Brunswick labels of the mid-1920s state, "Under direction of Walter Haenschen." An article by David Wallace on the Happiness Boys in the February 1937 issue of Popular Songs credits the Brunswick recording manager for bringing together the two singers: "It was Gus Haenschen, now a noted orchestra leader but then recording manager for Brunswick records, who suggested that Billy Jones and Ernie Hare pool their talents." That was probably in late 1920.
Talking Machine World articles confirm that Haenschen worked closely with various Brunswick artists. Before Paul Ash and His Syncopated Orchestra made Brunswick discs in August 1923 in San Francisco, Haenschen traveled to the West Coast to supervise sessions. That month's issue of Talking Machine World discusses on page 130 this special recording arrangement and gives his name as "Henchen."
The April 1924 issue states on page 104 that Haenschen was in St. Louis, along with Brunswick recording engineer C. Hancox, "for the sole purpose of recording the inimitable Jolson with Gene Rodemich's Orchestra, and also Isham Jones' Orchestra, which journeyed from Chicago to record with Al. There were also several new numbers recorded by the [Mound City] Blue Blowers." Jolson recorded with Rodemich on March 13 and with Jones on March 14; the Mound City Blue Blowers cut "San" and "Red Hot" on these two days (Frank Trumbauer, who had a home in St. Louis, attended the sessions). Various discographies cite Chicago as the recording site, but the sessions clearly took place in Haenschen's home city of St. Louis. Jolson was in the city appearing in Bombo at the Jefferson Theatre.
The January 1925 issue reports on page 28 in an article on Nick Lucas, "In his recording work Mr. Lucas has been coached by Walter Haenschen, musical director of the Brunswick recording laboratories, and his first record shows that this training has been of great value." Haenschen's name is cited frequently in the journal--Haenschen himself probably supplied the trade journal with information about Brunswick artists. Page 67 of the December 1924 issue of Dominant Orchestra Monthly gives credit to Haenschen when discussing how banjoist Harry Reser, of Dayton, Ohio, became a recording artist: "His marvelous ability on the family of plectrum instruments attracted the attention of Mr. Gus Henschen [sic], recording manager of the Brunswick Phonograph Company, and Mr. Henschen brought Mr. Reser east to record for this company."
Page 140 of the May 1925 issue of Talking Machine World reports, "Walter Haenschen, one of the chiefs of the Brunswick recording laboratories, surprised his friends recently by deserting the ranks of bachelors and 'committing' matrimony. Mr. Haenschen was married to Miss Rose Anna Genevieve Hussey, and they are now away on a honeymoon trip to California. It is understood that this trip will also be utilized by Mr. Haenschen in the interests of Brunswick recordings, and it is expected that when he arrives on the Coast he will arrange for new recordings by Abe Lyman and other orchestras..."
His wife had been on the Brunswick staff as executive assistant to Milton Diamond. Walter and Rose (she later changed her name to Roxanne) had three children: Barbara (whose married name is Mulliken); Betty (whose married name is Martin); and Richard, who was born in 1930 and resides in Chatham, New Jersey.
In early 1925 the Brunswick-Balke- Collender Company was left out when Western Electric granted patent rights for its new electrical recording method to the Victor Talking Machine Company as well as the Columbia Phonograph Company. Victor began making electrical test recordings in late February 1925. Brunswick engineers, aware that such technology would give a marketing advantage to competitors, collaborated with engineers of the Radio Corporation of America, the General Electric Company, and the Westinghouse Electric and Manufacturing Company to adapt a "Light-Ray" electrical recording method for phonograph records. Haenschen was in the studio often when Brunswick experimented with electric recording throughout April and early May, 1925.
The first electric recording to be recorded and then eventually issued in the company's popular series was Brunswick 2881, cut on April 15 and featuring Brunswick Hour Orchestra performances. The "Advance Record Bulletins" in the June 1925 issue of Talking Machine World establishes that 2881 was issued in July and notes, "Under Direction of Walter Haenschen." Record buyers at that time would not have known that this was cut by an electric process. Labels did not identify early electric discs as being improved products, and since equipment designed for playing electric discs would not be marketed until late 1925, no announcements about electric discs were made in the summer of that year.
Haenschen remained with Brunswick until mid-1927. The March 1927 issue of Talking Machine World reports the success of a March 4 radio broadcast of the Brunswick Hour of Music and notes, "The Brunswick Concert Orchestra, under the direction of Walter G. Haneschen [sic], accompanied the vocal and instrumental solos." He began working in radio with the Brunswick Hour of Music in 1925. In 1926 he conducted on WJZ's Gold Strand Hour, featuring such singers as Frank Munn and Gladys Rice.
Page 100 of the July 1927 issue of Talking Machine World announced his resignation from the company: "Walter G. Haenschen, musical director of the Brunswick Recording Laboratories, New York, since 1920, resigned from the Brunswick organization July 1. Mr. Haenschen is one of the most popular members of the recording and musical fraternities, and is also well known in the radio broadcasting field, having inaugurated in 1925 the 'Brunswick House of Music.' He is planning to take a complete rest during the Summer and will announce his future plans in September." Page 19 of the January 1928 issue of Talking Machine World announced the appointment of William F. Wirges "as recording director of the Brunswick Laboratories in New York." Louis Katzman became musical director and was promoted to recording laboratory manager in January 1929.
The October 1927 issue of Talking Machine World announced that Haenschen had become "recording director" of the Sonora Phonograph Company, recently purchased by former Brunswick director P. L. Deutsch. Deutsch's departure from Brunswick after a corporate shake-up contributed to Haenschen's decision to resign--the two men were close, and Haenschen wished to work for Deutsch (new opportunities to conduct during radio broadcasts probably also influenced Haenschen to resign from his position as a Brunswick recording director). It adds, "There will also be established at the New York offices modern and thoroughly well-equipped recording laboratories under the direction of Walter G. Haenschen, who was for many years identified with Brunswick recording and who is recognized internationally as one of the most prominent authorities on present-day recording." Nothing came of the announced plans to issue discs on a new Sonora label.
Sometime after April 1927 violinist Ruby Greenberg, who had played as a member of Carl Fenton's Orchestra and other Brunswick house orchestras, purchased the rights to use the Carl Fenton name and recorded a number of sides for Gennett Records in 1927, 1928, and 1929.
Haenschen remained active in the musical field, devoting his energy to radio work, always using the name Gus Haenschen (never "Carl Fenton"). From December 1927 to mid-1931, he was musical director of NBC's The Palmolive Hour (soprano Virginia Rea used the name "Olive Palmer" on this show, and tenor Frank Munn also adopted a name that sounded like the sponsor--he was "Paul Oliver"). In the late 1920s he served as musical conductor on "Voice of Firestone" broadcasts.
By 1929 he also was musical director for Sound Studios of New York, Inc. (50 West 57th Street, New York City), maker of World Broadcasting Company transcription records. The first recorded syndicated radio program series began in 1928, and Sound Studios was formed to meet a new demand for transcription records.
Page 619 of Thomas Calvert McClary's article "Electrical Transcription For Broadcast Purposes" in the January 1932 issue of Radio News states, "Gustave Haenschen and Frank Black, vice- presidents of Sound Studios, high priests of the broadcast program and creators of such outstanding achievements as the Palmolive, General Motors, Chase & Sanborn...and many other famous national broadcasts, are credited with having been largely responsible for the high quality of art in the better electrical transcription field."
He continued to make World Broadcasting transcriptions for around two decades. He also continued to serve as a musical conductor on radio shows, remaining in constant demand even in the worst years of the Depression. He helped advance the careers of Frank Munn, Jessica Dragonette, Kay Arman, and others.
He led an orchestra for the popular American Album of Familiar Music, broadcast over NBC for many years beginning in October 1931. In the mid-1930s he also led an orchestra for Show Boat, sponsored by Maxwell House and derived from the Jerome Kern musical show of that name. In 1937 and 1938 he conducted for The Song Shop. In the 1940s Gus Haenschen and the Emil CotÅ Serenaders provided music for a musical variety program Saturday Night Serenade, sponsored by Pet Milk (this show introduced Vic Damone to large audiences). This evolved into The Pet Milk Show, on the air from October 1948 through September 1950.
During the World War II years he conducted an all-string orchestra for a weekly show from Detroit sponsored by beer manufacturer Stroh's. The show was broadcast in the Mid-West (Stroh's was not sold in the Eastern states at the time). Singers included Margaret Daum and baritone Thomas L. Thomas.
In his 1973 interview with Leeson, Haenschen states, "When I left Brunswick...this very intense radio activity started. We had six or seven dates a week on radio and making records was sort of forgotten....I think one of the big mistakes in my life was that I sort of pushed that aside....I made very few records for myself and never put out a record with my name on it." He did conduct on a few records. For example, in 1946, on RCA Victor 11-9109, Gustave Haenschen's all-string orchestra provided accompaniment for Thomas L. Thomas, who sang "The Palms" and "Ave Maria." However, given the popularity of his orchestras on radio shows in the 1930s and 1940s, it is surprising that he did not make more records in those decades.
Beginning in 1963, he worked for G. H. Johnston Inc., producers of the Metropolitan Opera Broadcasts.
His obituary in the March 29, 1980, issue of the Norwalk Hour reports, "He received the honorary degree of Doctor of Music from Ithaca College in 1945, and, since 1948, served as a member of the Board of Trustees of the College. Upon completion of his 25th year of service to the college, he was honored by a special concert at the College's 1973 spring commencement. Haenschen himself was conductor, and the concert was narrated by longtime friend and Metropolitan Opera announcer, the late Milton Cross. His extensive scores, orchestrations and research materials have been donated to the college and during the 1973 commencement ceremony were dedicated as 'The Gustave Haenschen Collection.'"
On page xxi of Rosa Ponselle's autobiography titled Ponselle: A Singer's Life (Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Company, 1982), co-author James A. Drake identifies himself as a former professor and administrator at Ithaca College in New York "where the late Gustave Haenschen, a pioneer recording executive and popular musical director on radio, had commissioned a colleague and me to begin an oral history project for entertainment industry pioneers." Under the aegis of the Haenschen Collection, Drake and Haenschen in the mid-1970s recorded detailed interviews with over a dozen songwriters and performers active between the world wars, including Irving Caesar, Ben Selvin, Benny Goodman, Jan Peerce, and Elizabeth Lennox Hughes (under Haenschen's direction, contralto Elizabeth Lennox sang often on radio and records in the late 1920s).
He lived in Norwalk, Connecticut, for much of his adult life. He died in nearby Stamford Hospital. He was survived by his wife and three children. He is buried in the New Canaan Cemetery in New Canaan, Connecticut.
New information added January 2003--thanks to Marty Olson!
Reuben Greenberg was born in May 1896 and died as Carl Fenton in January 1942. He purchased the rights to the name Carl Fenton from Brunswick in 1927. He was under contract to Brunswick as a musician and conductor during the period 1919-1927 and became increasingly associated with the name Carl Fenton through public performances. In 1932, Reuben Greenberg legally changed his name to Carl Fenton.
He began his recording career as a violinist in Joseph C. Smith's Orchestra, adding violin to all of Smith's discs, which sold very well in the World War I years into the early 1920s. According to an article dated November 15, 1931 in the NYC North Side News, Joseph C. Smith ended up playing violin in the Cremo Orchestra led by Greenberg (also known as Carl Fenton).
Greenberg married Flo Whitehill, a vaudeville headliner.
In addition to recording for Brunswick as member of a dance orchestra in the 1920s, he spent two years with Gennett as musical director (1928-30). In 1931-32, he led the Carl Fenton Orchestra in a series of broadcasts over the CBS radio network. These were national broadcasts sponsored by Cremo Cigars, co-starring Bing Crosby, and are the earliest known radio recordings of the crooner. On Crosby's first national tour, Greenberg/Fenton led the orchestra under the name the Cremo Orchestra. He was musical director for the Stanley Broadcast Service from 1932 to 1934. Carl Fenton later served as Musical Director for WMCA radio in NYC (1934-41). During his career, he was musical director for numerous theatre productions.