February 27, 1994

American Celebrity Recordings, 1900‑1925.  Revised Third Edition.  By Julian Morton Moses.  Monarch Record Enterprises, 1993.  208 pp.  $12.95 plus $2.00 shipping from Monarch Record Enterprises, 100 Highland Park Village, Dallas, TX 75205‑2788.

Reviewed by Tim Brooks

An old favorite is back, all dressed up in new clothes, in this third edition of American Celebrity Recordings.  The 1936 original, titled The Record Collector’s Guide: American Celebrity Discs, was a true pioneer, one of the first general discographies ever published.  Revised in 1949 as Collector’s Guide to American Recordings 1895‑1925, and reprinted by Dover in 1977, it is a tattered standby on many vocal record collectors’ shelves.

This is really a rather simple book, and that perhaps is the key to its longevity.  It is basically a checklist to issued recordings by approximately 240 (mostly) vocal artists, on four principal record labels, during the “golden age” of acoustic recording.  Do not look here for all the paraphernalia of modern discographies: there are no recording dates, matrix numbers, unissued takes or details on accompaniment.  Instead we have a single alphabetical listing of artists, from Bessie Abott to Efrem Zimbalist, each followed by a short introductory paragraph and a list of titles and issue numbers.  The general period in which each group of records was issued is indicated, but not the specific year.  The labels covered are Victor, Columbia, Vocalion and Brunswick.  Following the status‑conscious conventions of the classical field, only these labels’ “celebrity” series are listed , i.e. Victor Red Seal and its equivalents (the author spends a good deal of time grousing about the fact that Columbia had no separate celebrity series for most of the period covered, complicating his task).  Issue numbers are provided for original releases and some 78 r.p.m. reissues (e.g. single‑face and double‑face), but not for other 78’s or any LP or CD versions.

With all of the exclusions, the listings for any given artist are likely to represent only a portion of his or her recorded repertoire.  Rachmaninoff’s Victor Red Seals are here, but not his Edisons.  Likewise the prolific De Gogorza is represented by his many Red Seals, but everything prior to 1904 is  omitted.  He is better off than Ferruccio Giannini, the first classical vocal artist to record commercially, who receives only a short descriptive paragraph and no listings at all (he recorded before the Red Seal series began).  The same is true for Roland Hayes, whose 1917‑1918 privately marketed discs and 1923 English Vocalions don’t count in this book (although I am not sure why the 1924 U.S. Vocalion reissues of the latter aren’t listed; wrong series, maybe?).  Tantalizingly, the notes for many artists cite examples of their non‑listed repertoire‑‑but only examples.  In sum, there is a lot here, and a lot that’s not.

Owners of the previous edition may be interested in learning what revisions have been made.  The introduction, with its label discussions, has been substantially rewritten, and two new appendixes have been added: Mr. Moses’ fifty favorite recordings, and capsule reviews of Metropolitan Opera performances he attended during his brief career as a critic from 1929‑1933.  The main body of listings appears to be substantially a reprint of the 1949 edition, with occasional changes to the notes.  The only entirely new listing seems to be for John Charles Thomas, who was dismissed with a paragraph in 1949 but now gets a page worth of issues on Vocalion and Brunswick.  With the new appendixes, the page count has increased from 199 pages in 1949 to 208 in this edition.

Also carried over from the 1949 edition are indexes to Victor Red Seal issue numbers, operas, and the limited number of instrumentalists and orchestras found in the listings.  Production quality is good, with a handsome multi‑colored cover displaying a selection of labels.  And of course the price is right.  All in all, and taken for what it is, this new edition should prove as useful a checklist for collectors as have its honored predecessors.


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