Dan Quinn’s First Documented Performance

Yesterday we posted the cover art and sound samples for our upcoming release of songs by recording pioneer, Dan W. Quinn, called Anthology: The King of Comic Singers, 1894-1917. If you haven’t had a chance to look and listen, you can do so here.

We’ve done a lot of original research for this project and have a number of new revelations to share about Quinn: the place and year of his birth, the identity of his parents and siblings, and his trade, among other things. It’s exciting to make a positive contribution to the biographical record of one of the first *stars* of the recording industry.

Here’s one of the most exciting discoveries. We poured through newspaper databases looking for the earliest mentions of Quinn, who was living in New York City at the time he debuted before the phonograph—in January 1892, according to Quinn himself. So what was he doing before that time?

Well, for almost the entire decade of the 1880s, it appears that Quinn was a laborer by day and a singer by night, aspiring to become a professional entertainer for some years before he finally made his breakthrough. It would seem that the responsibilities of marriage and child-rearing probably kept him in his station longer than he would have liked. Meanwhile, he got the odd evening engagement singing before men’s social clubs, lodges, and the like.

But before he married and had children, we find 19-year-old Dannie in a public appearance that as yet stands as the earliest press mention of the singer who would go on to record thousands of records. It’s from late August 1880, in the Jersey City Evening Journal, reporting on the weekly entertainment at the Doutney Gospel Temperance Tent: “Mr. Daniel W. Quinn, of New York, sang several comic songs. He has a good voice and every word is plainly uttered and his songs were greeted with peals of laughter.”

(Jersey City Evening Journal, August 27, 1880)

 

The notice doesn’t indicate the location of the tent, though by 1882 it was a fixture at the corner of Flatbush and Fifth in Brooklyn. Thomas J. Doutney, “a converted liquor seller and reformed inebriate” (Brooklyn Eagle 26 May 1882, p. 4), took on the cause of Temperance and committed to saving poor souls not through dull, monotonous meetings but, rather, through peppy encouragement and attractive entertainments. His stable of performers included his wife, a soprano; an elocutionist, Miss Florence K. Bacon; and a group of jubilee singers.

Everybody who knew Quinn said the Irishman was a straight arrow. His first biographer, Jim Walsh, joined Quinn’s contemporaries in celebrating the Irishman’s “clean living.” Giving his time and his voice in support of the Temperance movement would seem to fit that mold.

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