Arthur Fields (6 August 1888 - 29 March 1953)
- by Tim Gracyk
The following is an entry from THE ENCYCLOPEDIA OF ACOUSTIC ERA RECORDING ARTISTS. .
He was born Abe Finkelstein in Philadelphia to Mortimer and Elizabeth Finkelstein. He spent most of his early years in Utica, New York, singing solos as a boy in church. He was a professional singer by age 11 or so, singing illustrated songs with Ray Walker at Wackie's moving picture house, Coney Island. Around age 17 he toured with the Guy Brothers Minstrel Show.
His friend George Graff, the successful lyricist, wrote to Jim Walsh in 1953, "Around 1907-08 [Fields] helped form a vaudeville act--Weston, Fields and Carroll--one of the earliest, and possibly the first, Rathskeller acts. Eddie Weston was a veteran performer and a few years older than Arthur and Harry Carroll, who were about 19 at the time. The act was a great success and headlined the Keith Circuit until Weston died. Fields and Carroll worked together for a while. They were both writing songs and Carroll had a couple of pretty big hits." With partners other than Fields, Carroll wrote "The Trail of the Lonesome Pine," "By The Beautiful Sea," "I'm Always Chasing Rainbows," and other popular numbers.
Perhaps the first genuine hit of Fields the songwriter was the 1912 "On The Mississippi." Fields wrote the music with Harry Carroll; Ballard MacDonald supplied lyrics. It was recorded by the American Quartet for Victor, Billy Murray for Victor, and Collins and Harlan for Columbia.
Fields sometimes composed music for a song and other times provided lyrics. In 1914 he supplied lyrics for "Aba Daba Honeymoon" (music by Walter Donovan), his most popular song. It was revived in the 1950 M-G-M film Two Weeks With Love, soon followed by the release of a popular Debbie Reynolds and Carleton Carpenter M-G-M record (30282), and Fields earned around $10,000 in royalty fees in 1951. The song was first popularized on records made in late 1914 by Collins and Harlan (Victor 17620, Edison Diamond Disc 50192, Blue Amberol 2468).
Another huge seller for Collins and Harlan was a Theodore Morse tune with lyrics provided by Fields: "Auntie Skinner's Chicken Dinner." Various versions recorded by the duo--for Victor, Columbia and Edison-- sold well. The song was reworked into "Mammy Blossom's 'Possum Party," with similar lyrics and the same basic melody, Fields and Morse again credited as the song writers. It was recorded by Collins and Harlan for various companies, including Edison and Paramount.
Fields also supplied lyrics to "It's A Long Way to Berlin But We'll Get There" (music was by Leon Flatow), which he recorded for Edison and Columbia. The Columbia label (A2383) gives only Flatow credit for writing the song, following the practice of listing composer but not lyricist. The cover of the November 1917 issue of Edison Amberola Monthly features a photograph of Fields, and page 12 states, "At a recent benefit performance at the New York Hippodrome three copies of 'It's a Long Way to Berlin but We'll Get There,' by Arthur Fields, brought $500, $50 and $50. The proceeds were turned over to a relief fund."
Fields collaborated with Morse on "When I Get Back To My American Blighty," sung by Fields on Victor 18495, issued in October 1918. Another decade passed before Fields was listed as a songwriter on records, one song being "I Got A Code In My Dose," written with Fred Hall and Billy Rose. It was recorded by Fred Hall and His Sugar Babies for Okeh in 1929, Fields providing vocals.
In late 1914 Fields began his recording career. He cut mostly Berlin songs at first, which suggests that the two songwriters were friendly. He made his debut with Berlin's "Along Came Ruth" (Victor 17637), a ballad interpolated into Holman Day's play of that name. The song was cut on September 2 and issued in November 1914. On September 19 he recorded it for Columbia, issued as A1612 in December, and at some point in the Columbia studio, perhaps on the same day, cut a shorter version for Little Wonder 21. He also cut it around this time as Indestructible cylinder 3346. His one other Indestructible cylinder was 3344, featuring "Stay Down Where You Belong." He cut this Berlin tune for Columbia A1628 on October 26, 1914 and--probably during the same session--for Little Wonder 46. He cut Berlin's "If I Had You" for Little Wonder 43 but not for Columbia (Henry Burr sings it on Columbia A1562), an instance of an artist cutting a song strictly for Little Wonder release.
The baritone recorded many songs of a topical nature. "Stay Down Where You Belong" fit the country's anti-war mood in late 1914 and 1915 (in it, the devil urges his son to remain "down below"--in Hell-- rather than venturing up to the earth's surface, where Europeans were fighting viciously), and when America was later engaged in the European conflict, Fields cut songs that reflected that change. Interestingly, the popular "Let's Bury The Hatchet" on Columbia A2617 at first seems to call for peace until the title line is completed in the song's chorus: "Let's bury the hatchet in the Kaiser's head." This remained in Columbia's catalog even after the war was over.
Another example of a song with topical lyrics is Meyer's "San Francisco" (Columbia A1699), recorded in 1915 to promote the Pan-American Exposition.
On March 15, 1917, Fields recorded "Everybody Loves a 'Jass' Band," and when this was issued in July 1917 on Diamond Disc 50439, its disc jacket stated, "Do you love a 'Jass' band? Doubtless you would if you knew what one was. You'll know all about it when you have heard this song. 'Jass' bands are all the rage this year in the 'Lobster Palaces' along Broadway."
A song associated with the singer is Bob Carleton's 1918 tune "Ja-Da," which Fields recorded for Victor, Columbia, Edison, and other companies. Victor originally announced to dealers in an advance list of records printed on December 31, 1918, that "Ja-Da" would be issued in March 1919 on the "B" side of Victor 18522, with the "A" side featuring Fields singing a comic stuttering song titled "Oh Helen!" (the list calls it "a good successor to Geoffrey O'Hara's 'K-K-K-Katy'"). "Ja-Da" in fact was issued on 18522 but Billy Murray's "Alcoholic Blues" was on the "A" side. Victor executives obviously judged at the last minute that the song was potentially offensive since stuttering in the chorus reduces the name "Helen" to "hell" and the word "damsel" to "damn." Other companies did issue versions. Fields sings "Oh Helen!" on Edison Diamond Disc 50518 and Lyric 5138. Ray Cummings, who wrote much promotional literature for Edison, states on the Diamond Disc jacket for the song, "There something the matter with you if you can't laugh at it. And I don't very well see how anyone could be offended at it either for it isn't profane and it isn't vulgar."
In 1918, as America suffered its heaviest casualties in Europe, Fields recorded mostly songs that reflected America's involvement in the European conflict. They were incredibly popular and remained available into the 1920s, a few available as late as 1925. Fields had enjoyed moderate success as a recording artist from 1915 to 1917 but was prominent in 1918 and 1919. Whereas the May 1918 Victor catalog listed only Fields' "Along Came Ruth" and offers no biographical lines, the 1919 catalog lists five more selections, including "When I Send You A Picture of Berlin" (18474) and "Oui, Oui, Marie" (18489). Irving Kaufman recorded a competing version of "Oui, Oui, Marie" on Columbia A2637, but Fields' version proved the more popular. Fields also recorded it for Pathe 20424.
Victor's 1919 catalog states, "When America entered the war, [Fields] promptly placed himself at the service of his country, and did great work in recruiting the old Seventy-first Regiment." He became exclusive to Emerson beginning in September 1919 and was never afterwards an important Victor artist, but Victor for a few years afterwards kept in its catalog the older Fields records that refer to the war. Victor's 1922 catalog lists fifteen titles sung by Fields and adds the cryptic line, "He has gained honestly the great reputation he now enjoys." The last Victor recording featuring Arthur Fields as solo artist was issued in December 1921, "Who'll Be The Next One (To Cry Over You)?" (18821).
Fields recorded for Columbia from 1914 to 1919, and Columbia kept his discs in its catalog for a few years after he ceased recording for the company, offering fifteen titles sung by Fields in its 1921 catalog, two of which duplicated titles that Fields also cut for Victor--the popular "Ja Da" and Irving Berlin's "Oh How I Hate To Get Up In The Morning."
Columbia identified the singer as Eugene Buckley when it issued in July 1918 his performances of "K- K-K-Katy" and "Good Morning Mr. Zip-Zip-Zip" on A2530, the label identifying each song as a "camp song," the two songs being genuinely popular among soldiers. Columbia's use of a pseudonym for the singer at this time is puzzling since in July it also issued "The Yanks Started Yankin'" coupled with "Hunting the Hun" (A2528), with credit given to Arthur Fields. The name Buckley was again used in February 1919 with the release of "Would You Rather Be A Colonel With An Eagle On Your Shoulder, Or A Private With A Chicken On Your Knee?" (A2669)--the reverse side is credited to Arthur Fields and the Peerless Quartet. (Field cut the same song for Pathe 22018, and credit is given to Arthur Fields.)
Earlier than Columbia's use of the pseudonym Eugene Buckley was Pathe's use of Roy Randal on some labels, such as for "It's Not Your Nationality" on 20103. Pathe months later used the name Eugene Mack for some of the baritone's releases (20200 and 20201, among others). In the 1920s dozens of names were used for Fields when he provided vocal refrains on dance band records.
He was among the first to record for the new Aeolian-Vocalion label. A catalog issued in 1918 by the Aeolian Company states, "Those who have enjoyed Arthur Fields' agreeable voice in vaudeville productions will be interested in his first Vocalion records, which include two clever patriotic song-hits of his own composition--'It's A Long Way To Berlin, But We'll Get There' (Fields-Flatow) and 'Throw No Stones" (Fields-Morse). Mr. Fields is a member of the 71st Regiment, and has been featuring these selections in a recruiting campaign for the State--assisted by several other enlisted stage favorites and fifty soldiers."
Fields provided vocals on some recordings made for Aeolian-Vocalion by Ford Dabney's band, such as on "Johnny's In Town" (12101), recorded in early 1919. Though black singers such as Bert Williams had recorded to the accompaniment of white musicians in recording sessions, this may be the first instance in a recording studio of a white vocalist singing to the accompaniment of black musicians. It is an early instance of a dance record featuring a vocal refrain.
Another song from the World War I era that Fields helped popularize was Walter Donaldson's "How 'Ya Gonna Keep 'em Down on the Farm?" (Victor 18537). Fields' Victor disc competed with Nora Bayes' version on Columbia. Victor backed Fields' "How 'ya Gonna Keep 'Em Down on the Farm" with a title that opens in a similar way: "How Are You Goin' to Wet Your Whistle?," a song about prohibition sung by Billy Murray.
Fields recorded many titles for Pathe, including Dreyer's "When I Send You A Picture of Berlin" (20413), Meyer's "If He Can Fight Like He Can Love, Good-Night Germany!" (20391), Moret's "Mickey" (22077), and "You'll Find Old Dixie Land in France" (20445).
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. Together, the three singers sang as "The Three Kaufields." The trio had begun making Emerson discs months earlier, one title being "Oh You Women" (Emerson 9205), issued in August 1919. A photograph shows the three signing contracts in the office of Arthur Bergh, Emerson's recording manager (when Victor Emerson left Columbia to begin his own company, he invited violinist Bergh to join the new company). The accompanying article states, "Arthur Fields is well known from coast to coast as he has appeared on every big-town vaudeville stage in the United States and Canada. He will soon start an extensive tour which will bring him into the leading vaudeville houses in the Eastern States, where he is a prime favorite."
Page 146 of the January 1921 issue of Talking Machine World states, "Arthur Fields is being headlined in the Loew circuit, a unique feature of his tour consisting of a film showing him making records in the recording studios of the Emerson Co. This film is exhibited in every house prior to and during his appearance." Though the October 1919 issue of Talking Machine World had reported that he was committed to Emerson for three years, his status as an exclusive Emerson artist must have ended in the summer of 1921 since he contributed a vocal refrain to "In My Tippy Canoe," cut by the Hackel-BergÅ Orchestra for Victor 18783 on June 21, 1921, and sings "Sunnyside Sal" on Arto 9075, issued in August 1921. As a featured solo artist, he cut "Anna in Indiana" for Victor 18774, issued in August.
Page 45 of the January 1923 issue of Talking Machine World announces, "The Arthur Fields Song Shop has been opened in the Hotel Theresa Building, 125th street and Seventh avenue, New York City. In addition to talking machines and records a full line of sheet music and musical instruments is carried. The formal opening on January 2." Briefly available in that year were Arthur Fields Melody Record records, which were lateral discs produced by the Fletcher Record Company. Labels states, "Made exclusively for Arthur Fields song shops--N.Y.C." Fields was the sole artist issued on this label, with material duplicated from Fletcher's Olympic label. One disc features Fields singing James Monaco's "You Know You Belong To Somebody Else" backed by "I Gave You Up" (1514). Another features him singing "Crying For You" backed by "Wanita" (1516).
The September 1923 issue of Talking Machine World states, "A petition in bankruptcy has been filed against the Arthur Fields Song Shop, talking machine dealer, with a store at 2094 Seventh avenue, New York City. The liabilities of the concern are placed at $14,973; assets unknown."
Talking Machine World advertisements establish that in early November 1925 Fields joined a newly formed group of artists called the Peerless Entertainers. Available for bookings in the New York City area, it consisted of the Peerless Male Quartet managed by Frank Croxton (the four singers were Albert Campbell, Charles Harrison, John Meyer, and Croxton), pianist-composer Lieutenant Gitz Rice, saxophonist Rudy Wiedoeft, and Fields. Croxton established the touring group soon after leaving Henry Burr's Eight Popular Victor Artists, but the group was not heavily engaged.
Fields sang over fifty selections issued on Edison Diamond Discs and Blue Amberol cylinders. His first Diamond Disc, "Honolulu, America Loves You" (50414), was issued in 1917 during a craze for songs about Hawaii. The craze for a different music is reflected in Fields' "Everybody Loves a 'Jazz' Band" (Diamond Disc 50439), issued in 1917 a few months after the Original Dixieland Jass Band recorded the first jazz record (Victor 18255).
In contrast to the relatively brief time Fields recorded for Columbia and Victor, he returned regularly to the Edison studio for over a decade. He made no Edison recordings in 1925, but from April 1926 to September 1927 he provided vocal choruses on one or both sides of 14 Diamond Discs.
Fields was nominal head of a band for some Perfect sessions, with the band called Arthur Fields and His Orchestra, probably featuring Fred Hall's musicians. Banner in 1929 recorded Arthur Fields and the Noodlers, really a Fred Hall group. Fields and Hall, whose real name was Fred Arthur Ahl, worked closely together, making many records beginning with "Lay Me Down To Sleep in Carolina, issued on Emerson 3068 in September 1926. It is possible they met at the Emerson recording studio since they both recorded often for Emerson in 1926. Hall's group at the time was Fred Hall and His Roseland Orchestra. As a singer of vocal refrains for Fred Hall ensembles, Fields was issued in the late 1920s on Bell, Okeh, Banner, Domino, and Duophone, among other labels.
Fields worked closely with Hall even on radio. Fields' wife Selma wrote to Jim Walsh on April 12, 1953 that Fields and Hall "did the first hill-billy radio show at N.B.C. for Rex Cole, sponsored by General Electric. It was called 'The Rex Cole Mountaineers.' Arthur always called it 'The Times Square Hillbillies.' He had a terrific sense of humor. After five years with Cole they did a morning show called 'The Streamliners.'" Hall and Fields wrote songs which they published as Piedmont Music.
From 1928 to 1932 Fields and musicians led by Hall often cut hillbilly material, some of it written by Fields and Hall. Typical are performances on Grey Gull 2334 (also Radiex 2334): "The Terrible Mississippi Flood" and "The End Of The Shenandoah." Names used for hillbilly material on records and radio broadcasts include Fred "Sugar" Hall & His Sugar Babies (a name also used for novelty as well as hot dance records), Jim Cole's Tennessee Mountaineers, Gunboat Billy and the Sparrow, Sam Cole & His Corn Huskers, and Buck Wilson & His Rangers.
Like Irving Kaufman, Fields in the 1920s sang vocal choruses on numerous dance band recordings, working with studio musicians such as Red Nichols and the Dorsey brothers. Bands include Bailey's Lucky Seven, the Vagabonds, the Alabama Red Peppers, Fred Hall and His Sugar Babies, Sam Lanin, California Ramblers, and the related Little Ramblers. These were issued on such labels as Gennett, Romeo, Pathe Actuelle, Perfect, and Harmony.
Sometimes using the name "Mr. X," he cut over 160 popular songs for Grey Gull/Radiex in its 2000 series and others. In 1927 and 1928 he probably recorded more for Grey Gull as a solo artist than for any other company. Radiex 2337 features Fields singing "Plucky Lindy," one of many tributes recorded around this time about aviator Charles A. Lindbergh (Vernon Dalhart had nearly a monopoly on such songs in recording studios though others who recorded Lindbergh titles include Irving Kaufman and Jack Kaufman).
He had three Gennett sessions in 1929, producing a total of 8 sides issued on Gennett, Champion, and Supertone. He also provided vocal refrains for a group called the Tin Pan Paraders.
His late work for Edison was released in the electric 52,000 Diamond Disc series as well as in the short-lived lateral cut series. Five late Edison discs are credited to Arthur Fields and His Assassinators, and they feature Hall on piano and musicians who normally worked with Hall. Not typical for the time, harmonica is played on some of these dance band recordings. The last Edison Diamond Disc featuring Fields as a solo artist was issued in November 1928: "King for a Day" coupled with "Yascha Michaeloffsky's Melody" (52406). Edison lateral cut "Needle Type" records were introduced in mid-1929, and two feature Fields and His Assassinators on both sides, 14061 and 14075. Edison promotional literature dated October 18, 1929, in announcing the release of 14061, speaks of "Art [sic] Fields himself doing the vocal honors." Promotional literature dated November 1, 1929 states about 14075, "Piccolo Pete is the biggest novelty dance hit of the day. The Assassinators have executed it in a murderous manner." The reverse side of Needle Type 14075 is "I Can't Sleep In The Movies Any More," written by Fields, Hall, and Van Cleve.
For Victor on May 13, 1932, he recorded six titles with Fred Hall, using the name "Gunboat Billy and the Sparrow." They were issued on Victor 23698, 23714, and 24024.
He made some recordings in the World War II era, including "Der Fuehrer's Face" on Hit 7043, credited to Arthur Fields and His Orchestra. Poking fun at the Axis powers in the 1940s must have seemed, to the man who sang "When I Send You A Picture of Berlin" and similar songs for an earlier generation, like old times. On Hit 7021, Fields sings "I Found a Peach in Orange, New Jersey."
George Graff wrote to Walsh that when Hall and Fields stopped working together around 1941, "Arthur started the Arthur Fields Publications...The hymns he sang back at Utica as a boy had made a great impression on him and we decided to write some sacred songs. This was a labor of love for both of us and we wrote and published forty or more hymns which we called 'Hymns of Happiness.'"
He moved around 1946 from New York to 1931 McKinley St., Hollywood, Florida. The illness of his wife Selma required the move to Florida. There he had his own radio program over WKAT, Miami, called the Arthur Fields Program. He died in a fire on March 29, 1953, at the Littlefield Convalescent Home at Largo, Florida. He had been admitted to the nursing home some time after suffering a stroke on March 11. His wife wrote to Walsh about Fields' final days as well as his early years in the entertainment field, and excerpts of her letter dated April 12, 1953, are in the June 1953 issue of Hobbies.