The middle CD of Waxing the Gospel is actually where the project began more than a decade ago. Our friend, “Cylinder Doctor” Michael Khanchalian, an avid collector of the extremely rare cylinders of evangelist Ira D. Sankey, asked us if we would be interested in issuing a collection of Sankeys. Little did we know when we set out on what seemed a simple and straightforward project that it would grow into such a thoroughly documented and expansive audio overview of sacred phonograms from the dawn of recording. CD 2 is a collection of celebrity sacred recordings.
But what is a “celebrity recording”? It’s a phonogram (i.e., disc, cylinder, or other type of recording) that is marketed and sold more for who made it than for the contents on it. Then as now, people have wanted to hear the voices of famous individuals. But there were almost always problems: either records of this sort were inferior specimens made by startup companies, or the celebrities themselves—neophytes to the recording process—gave poor performances, or they were distributed in tiny quantities, making them especially rare. The 32 selections here demonstrate these challenges.
For instance, how rare can it get? When Prof. John R. Sweney (music director at Ocean Grove and elsewhere, composer of “Beulah Land”) was in Washington in April 1892, Columbia made souvenir records of the famous choral leader. Probably no more than a handful were made, and the company would have used them as a way to attract more customers into their parlor. The Sweney cylinders were never issued commercially. We had the good fortune of meeting noted folklorist Joe Hickerson, the great-grandson of Sweney, and it was only through him that we were able to procure transfers of the Sweney records that had passed down in the family.
There are six different artists here: Sweney, the United States Marine Band, Dwight L. Moody, Ira D. Sankey, the Sankey Quartette, and the chimes of Trinity Church (Manhattan). All of these are prize-worthy trophies that collectors of early records dream about. Below is the tracklist and some commentary. Over on our website you can hear the sound samples.
Waxing the Gospel, CD 2: The Celebrity Recordings
- Only Remembered—Prof. John R. Sweney (Columbia, 1892)
Sweney played his own piano accompaniment on this gorgeous-sounding cylinder.
- Rock of Ages—United States Marine Band (Columbia, 1895)
For half a decade, the U.S. Marine Band was Columbia’s main attraction.
- The 91st Psalm—Dwight L. Moody (Gramophone, 1898)
This wasn’t known to exist until just a couple of years ago, when our friend David Giovannoni acquired it. Moody seems quite game, but he runs into trouble halfway through. You would think that would have disqualified the release, but not so!
- The Ninety and Nine—Ira D. Sankey (Biglow & Main, 1899)
Sankey at his finest, doing his signature song. Most Sankey cylinders exist today in only one copy, but this one comes to us in several takes.
- Jesus of Nazareth Passeth By—Ira D. Sankey (Biglow & Main, 1899)
- A Shelter in the Time of Storm—Ira D. Sankey (Biglow & Main, 1899)
Sankey made 53 records, and we present the 23 survivors on this compilation. Are there more out there?
- Saved by Grace—Ira D. Sankey (Biglow & Main, 1899)
Sankey announces it, “Fanny Crosby’s popular hymn, ‘Saved by Grace.’”
- Shall You, Shall I? —Ira D. Sankey (Biglow & Main, 1899)
In liturgies, this was often sung as a call-and-response number.
- My Ain Countrie—Ira D. Sankey (Biglow & Main, 1899)
Sankey doing a Scottish brogue. The personal favorite of your present producers.
- There’ll Be No Dark Valley—Ira D. Sankey (Biglow & Main, 1899)
Sankey made his masters at Leeds and Catlin, Edison reproduced them, and the hymn-publishing firm of which Sankey was president, Biglow & Main, released them.
- Jesus, Lover of My Soul—Sankey Quartette (Biglow & Main, 1900)
The Sankey Quartette did not include Sankey in it, but the name was clearly used to attract customers. Members are likely from Edison’s house quartet.
- I’ll Go Where You Want Me to Go—Ira D. Sankey (Biglow & Main, 1900)
Sankey recorded for only about a year—probably less. He started in the summer of 1899 and probably wrapped up in early 1900. We surmise that cylinders showing a weaker-sounding Sankey (he was an ill man) or that demonstrate increasing carelessness in the recording and manufacturing processes were made later in the enterprise. And this is one of those.
- Hold the Fort—Ira D. Sankey (Biglow & Main, 1899)
Considered Sankey’s greatest triumph by his supporters in Great Britain. The finest specimens of Sankey that we present to you were found all together by Ed Gabrielse at a flea market in Wheaton, Illinois, in the 1980s.
- The Mistakes of My Life Have Been Many—Ira D. Sankey (Biglow & Main, 1899)
- Wonderful Words of Life—Ira D. Sankey (Biglow & Main, 1899)
- True Hearted, Whole Hearted—Ira D. Sankey (Biglow & Main, 1899)
You will hear some of the technical problems attendant upon these small-scale productions, such as wow and flutter. Several of these records we transferred on two different electronic playback systems and were able to confirm that the problems were “burnt in” to the original specimens.
- God Be with You Till We Meet Again—Ira D. Sankey (Biglow & Main, 1899)
Moody Bible Institute put out a seven-inch disc to alumni in the late 1950s and included a snippet of this record from the collection of our late friend, Allen Debus. Through the kindness of the Debus family, we procured a high-quality transfer of the entire record, heard here for the first time.
- My Jesus, as Thou Wilt—Ira D. Sankey (Biglow & Main, 1899)
Announced as a “standard hymn,” i.e., not a “gospel song” like the ones Moody and Sankey had made so famous.
- God Is Love—Sankey Quartette (Biglow & Main, 1900)
The makeup of the Sankey Quartette is probably the same as the Haydn Quartette, including John Bieling, first tenor; S. H. Dudley, baritone; and William F. Hooley, bass. The first time out (#11) we heard second tenor Jere Mahoney. He fell ill in 1899, and Harry Macdonough took his place. You can hear Mac very clearly on this one.
- Beulah Land (excerpt)—Prof. John R. Sweney (Columbia, 1892)
This record is missing a big chunk out of it and has a marred intro as well. But luckily we got a transfer of most of it, as Sweney sings his own famous song. It was the unofficial anthem at the Ocean Grove camp meeting for several years.
- Nearer, My God, to Thee—Trinity Chimes (United States, ca. 1895-96)
There was a chimes record on CD 1, but that was just any old church. These are the chimes of the very famous Trinity Church, located at the corner of Wall Street and Broadway in Manhattan. You would have had to pony up big bucks to get one of these records!
- The Sermon on the Mount—Dwight L. Moody (Gramophone, 1898)
The second of two discs made by Moody for Berliner in January 1898. Courtesy of Kurt Nauck.
- Beautiful City of God (excerpt, from National Vocarium disc)—Ira D. Sankey (Biglow & Main, 1899)
G. Robert Vincent was a collector of famous voices, and he republished several on discs in the 1930s. For many years, this was one of the only known Sankey recordings.
- Nearer, My God, to Thee—Ira D. Sankey (Biglow & Main, 1899)
Sankey played rather rudimentary piano accompaniment on most of his records, but here he is joined by someone else, playing an ornate and floral arrangement.
- Lead Kindly Light—Ira D. Sankey (Biglow & Main, 1899)
- Blessed Assurance—Ira D. Sankey (Biglow & Main, 1899)
Probably the first recordings of these classics by anyone.
- Throw Out the Life Line—Ira D. Sankey (Biglow & Main, 1899)
Many questions have surrounded the genesis of the Sankey records, but we now know that Sankey personally approved the records designated as masters sent for reproduction at Edison. We learned this in an extraordinary article, previously unknown, printed in the New York Tribune in July 1899. The entire article is reprinted in Waxing the Gospel as an appendix.
- Though Your Sins Be as Scarlet—Sankey Quartette (Biglow & Main, 1900)
Amazing harmonies on this Fanny Crosby—Howard Doane hymn. Unaccompanied, of course.
- Where Is My Boy Tonight?—Ira D. Sankey (Biglow & Main, 1899)
From a concert cylinder in Michael Khanchalian’s collection.
- Safe in the Arms of Jesus—Ira D. Sankey (Biglow & Main, 1899)
Sankey really sounds like he is struggling here. We believe the recording process took a heavy toll on him.
- Onward, Christian Soldiers—Ira D. Sankey (Biglow & Main, 1899)
We managed to rescue the sound from this very well-worn cylinder.
- The Homeland—Ira D. Sankey (Biglow & Main, 1899)
A most fitting conclusion to the celebrity story!
Come back next Tuesday, when we’ll introduce the contents of CD 3, the vernacular recordings.