As noted by Jim Walsh, chronicler of pioneer recording artists, if you were to walk into 312 West 20th Street in Manhattan in the early 1930s, you would be standing in a theatrical booking agency, run by one Dan W. Quinn. But what Walsh didn’t realize was that this was also Quinn’s home. Now what we don’t know is how much space he and his family had in that flat in the days before all the apartments were cut up into smaller units. Was Quinn able to set aside dedicated space for the business and keep his home private? Or was there no real “agency” to walk into? Does anybody know?
There’s a charming bit in one of Quinn’s letters to Walsh in which he takes understandable pride in his little neighborhood, noting all the great things that had happened on 20th Street:
I’m beginning to think that Twentieth Street is illustrious. #4 East 20 St, Howley, Haviland & Co had their famous publishing house, 29 East 20 St, was George L. Spaulding, Publisher, where “I Guess I’ll Have to Telegraph My Baby” (Geo. Cohan) was born, 41 East 20 St, Stern & Marks, held forth. Now we have Music Lover’s Guide, at 42 East 20 St. The mansion at 28 E. 20 still stands, majestic and grand—where Theodore Roosevelt was born. Gottschalk & Alpuente—the great Concert Managers, at 21 E. 20 and last but by no means the least—a-hem, Dan W. Quinn, at 312 W. 20. Now do you not think we are rather proud of Twentieth Street?
(August 27, 1934)
Dan Quinn’s old stomping grounds.
Quinn lived the better part of four decades in the Chelsea neighborhood.
Revised April 30, 2015 to include new information from the Quinn family.
We’re getting close to wrapping up our Anthology of Dan W. Quinn, and something occurs to us.
One of the challenges in telling the stories of the pioneer recording artists is trying to get a sense of what they were like as people. The stars were much more anonymous than today: They weren’t (for the most part) celebrities, each new record wasn’t accompanied by a media blitz, few got biographies or biopics, and TMZ wasn’t on hand to catch them out and about. To try and learn what their lives were like outside of the studio, we have to rely on the printed material that survives (industry publications and news items) and genealogical sources.
Dan Quinn advertises his services in The Phonoscope, December 1896.
So, as far as the blog goes: there are plenty of fascinating things to share with you about the man and his life, but we should probably save some of the revelations for the final product! One item, however, that we won’t have room to explore fully is Quinn’s family. Here’s what we’ve found through our own research.
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.
As many of you know, especially those of you trying to hunt down those choice Paramount blues sides from the late ’20s, a record doesn’t have to be old to be rare and desirable. It’s just a matter of whether the maker of the record stayed in business long enough or had any kind of market reach.
Behold the case of the American Talking Machine (ATM) Company, maker of the Vitaphone talking machine and bright red-brick-colored seven-inch Vitaphone discs to go with it. This company was the second business to challenge Berliner’s Gramophone flat discs. The first, Wonder records, made in 1898 by the Standard Talking Machine Company, were obvious pirates of Berliner discs and Standard was quickly sued out of existence. Good luck finding one of these discs today. The ATM Company, however, was buoyed up by the patents of the American Graphophone Company (all licensed to Columbia)—which gave them a little more time to penetrate the market in late 1899.
American Talking Machine Record #285, “Say You Love Me Sue” by Dan W. Quinn (David Giovannoni Collection.)
In last week’s (inaugural) post about our upcoming Anthology CD of Dan W. Quinn, we included a link to the track list on our website. If you didn’t see it or didn’t have time to follow it, the tracks are here below with glosses on the selections and some rationale for inclusion.
Archeophone’s Anthology series is reserved for artists whose output was simply too great to be featured *complete* over the course of a few CDs. We’re talking about people who made thousands of records—and in the case of the 1890s stars, many titles have never been found. So each Anthology begins as early as possible in the artist’s career and goes as late as possible (emphasis on the acoustic era, of course), with hits and misses and representative tracks along the way. We want to hear all the different types of material the artist did, whether comic songs, ballads, sketch humor, or whatever. If it’s a solo star who also did duets, trios, and quartets, we need tracks representing these different kinds of activity. So far, we’ve done Anthology CDs of Billy Murray (covering 1903-1940), Henry Burr (1903-1928), and Irving Kaufman (1914-1974!).
With Dan W. Quinn, it’s a little tricky because he really didn’t do a great variety of material, and he rarely recorded duets or ensemble pieces. He did sing duets in the mid-1890s with Minnie Emmett (sadly, none have been found), more duets with Helen Trix in the 1900s, and was a member of the Spencer, Williams & Quinn Imperial Minstrels. (On most of these minstrel cylinders we’ve auditioned, it’s difficult to establish his presence.) The thing that makes Quinn especially unique is the number of different labels for which he made records. Some of them we bet you’ve never heard of.
What’s old is new, and what’s new is old.
Welcome to the inaugural edition of “Archeophone Outtakes,” a new blog from Archeophone Records. For more than 15 years, we have striven to bring America’s earliest recorded history into the present, making the sounds of the late-19th and early-20th centuries fresh and compelling for a modern audience of discoverers. If you have followed us, then you know we put everything we can into our CDs—tons of music, beautiful illustrations, top-notch scholarship—and we hope you have learned a thing or two while you have enjoyed the weird and wonderful recordings from the past.
We hope you have also noticed that we have aimed to get better with each release: better sonic restoration, better photo restoration, better facts and figures in the notes. (Around here, it sounds a lot like press conferences given by Tony Romo, Tom Brady, or Andrew Luck, saying even after a great win, “We just have to get better!”) This blog is an attempt on our part to let you inside the process a little bit: to see what we’re working on, to hear the thoughts that go into the making of an Archeophone release, and to witness how we view the ancient world of acoustic-era recordings fitting into the larger landscape of American culture, past and present.
So, what’s a little bit old webwise—a blog—is new to Archeophone. But what’s old to us—these crazy ancient sounds—we’ll make new to you. And we’ve got a good one coming that is pretty much the reason Archeophone exists. Continue reading