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The Edison Files: The American Quartet

Thomas Edison invented the phonograph in 1877. No one knows for sure who the very first recording artist was. Here is a look at the early recording artists I have in my collection.,


The American Quartet, a highly successful vocal group with 12 number one hits during the 1910’s and ’20’s, was formed in 1909 and recorded together for over 15 years. Its original lineup consisted of tenor Billy Murray (the featured soloist), tenor John Bieling, baritone Steve Porter and bass William F. Hooley. Journalist Jim Walsh wrote in the 1970 February issue of Hobbies magazine that "For several years [Murray] had been singing frequently on Victor records with the assistance of the Haydn Quartet, but now it was decided there was a need for a foursome in which he would star. So John Bieling and Hooley were borrowed from the Haydn Quartet (in which, however, they continued to sing) and Porter was brought in from the Peerless, where he had been singing baritone." Bieling left in 1914 and was replaced by John Young. When Hooley died in late 1918, he was succeeded by Donald Chalmers.

In 1920, a revamped American Quartet featured Murray, Albert Campbell, John Meyer and Frank Croxton. While the individual members, particularly Murray, enjoyed solo success, the quartet is responsible for some of the most successful recordings of its day including the #1 hit songs ‘Casey Jones’ (1910), ‘Call Me Up Some Rainy Afternoon’ (1910 with Ada Jones), ‘Come Josephine in My Flying Machine’ (1911 with Ada Jones), ‘Oh, You Beautiful Doll’ (1911), ‘Moonlight Bay’ (1912), ‘Everybody Two-Step’ (1912), ‘Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm’ (1914), ‘It’s a Long, Long Way to Tipperary’ (1914), ‘Chinatown, My Chinatown’ (1915), ‘Oh Johnny, Oh Johnny, Oh!’ (1917), ‘Over There’ (1917) and ‘Good-Bye Broadway, Hello France’ (1917). In total, American Quartet had over 65 top ten hits from 1910 through 1924 and is listed as #16 on the list of most #1 singles from 1890-1954.
The group disbanded in 1925.


To listen to recordings by The American Quartet, or other early recording artists, visit the Cylinder Preservation and Digitization Project at the University of California at Santa Barbara.

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