We have a much better idea than ever before of who was in the various iterations of the Unique Quartette, as well as some pretty good guesses as to which of the members participated in the group’s recordings. Good as his work was in Lost Sounds: Blacks and the Birth of the Recording Industry, 1890-1919 (Urbana: University of Illinois Press), Tim Brooks faced significant limitations back in 2004. After all, there was no newspapers.com or genealogybank.com all those years ago. It is exciting to update the record. But it will be difficult to beat down all the misinformation out there on the Web by people who have uncritically repeated the guesswork.
Tim identified ten men who participated in the quartet over a ten-year period: Joseph M. Moore, William H. Tucker, Samuel G. Baker, J. E. Carson [sic], James Settles [sic], Walter A. Dixon, Ben Hunn, Burt Lozier, Thomas Craig, and Frank DeLyons. As happens in news accounts, names often get mangled, so Carson should really be “Cayson” and Settles should be “Settle.” It turns out that these two misapprehended gentlemen, in addition to the founder and leader Joe Moore, are essential to the story of the quartet. Our research indicates that Moore (second tenor), Settle (first tenor), and Cayson (baritone) had the longest tenures of anyone in the Unique Quartette. That means, for one thing, they would have been very comfortable singing together.
The bass singer changed several times, but the biggest revelation is that Frank DeLyons, whom Brooks found to be a minor player who served a short time in 1898, actually had first sung with the group in 1893. The lineup of Settle, Moore, Cayson, and DeLyons was verifiably intact from late 1893 through 1895, and probably into 1896 as well. That means their union stretched from the end of the North American period (think: “Mamma’s Black Baby Boy” from Lost Sounds) through the period when they recorded for U.S. Phonograph and Walcutt and Leeds, which is covered by our Celebrated vinyl release. So it is highly probable these four made at least some of the records we have restored and issued.
In addition to the members Brooks identified, we add three significant personalities, all in the original lineup with Moore in 1886: first tenor and banjoist Charles A. Asbury, baritone Fred J. Piper, and basso Richard W. Marks. Of course, we know what Asbury went on to do . . . Piper was a big star for several seasons in John W. Isham’s Octoroons, and Dick Marks had a very successful career as a bass soloist. It’s certainly possible but unlikely that Asbury, Piper, and/or Marks were still with Moore for the Unique’s first recordings in December 1890. More likely it was the lineup of 1891 that had Tucker, Moore, Cayson, and Baker. Marks returned to the Unique Quartette in 1899 and is included with Settle, Moore, and Cayson in the only known picture of the group. In 1900, Moore was gone, but the quartet continued a little longer with Settle, Cayson, Marks, and a second tenor named Ball.
Here’s Tim Brooks’ handy membership chart from Lost Sounds:
We have not found Lozier in our research and have yet to reconcile this with Tim’s account. Further, if Dixon was a tenor, as Tim reports, then in 1896, somebody had to slide over and sing a different part. Likeliest is that Moore took over baritone, with Hunn singing bass, and Tucker staying put at first tenor.
And now, here is our updated chart:
|1st tenor||2nd tenor||baritone||bass|