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The Lost and Found ASCAP "Cavalcade of Music" Recordings

By David A. Banks

W.C. Handy described it as "a program that was never before nor can ever again be duplicated this side of Kingdom Come." He was referring to two concerts–really a two-part event–given by the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers (ASCAP). The concerts, given the title "Cavalcade of Music: Those Who Make America's Music," were held on Tuesday, September 24, 1940 in San Francisco at the Golden Gate International Exposition on Treasure Island. The afternoon was devoted to American classical music, the evening to American popular music. The concerts featured, to quote a brochure, "the most notable assemblage of artists and composers ever gathered on one stage." It was no exaggeration. Over 40 ASCAP members, including some of America's greatest composers, performed their most famous works to thousands.

Handy devotes the "Treasure Island" chapter of his autobiography, Father Of The Blues, to these special concerts. Only recently, over a half century later, has a set of transcriptions come to light. There is no evidence that the records were ever broadcast or issued to the public. The unique recordings have at last been issued on a four-CD set by the Music and Arts Program of America (PO Box 771, Berkeley CA 94701).

The transcriptions include performances by composers who never made commercial recordings. Others at the concerts were recording artists but here they perform works they never recorded. A few of the dozens heard on these transcriptions are George M. Cohan, W.C. Handy, Shelton Brooks, Albert Von Tilzer, Jerome Kern, Sigmund Romberg, Harold Arlen, Hoagy Carmichael, Bert Kalmar and Harry Ruby, Leo Robin, Ralph Rainger, Billy Hill, Johnny Mercer, John Charles Thomas, Walter Donaldson, and Irving Berlin.

The recordings came about because of two world fairs, a silver anniversary, and the onset of World War II. ASCAP was founded in 1914 as a non-profit organization for collecting royalties for public performances of works written by its members. Prior to ASCAP's founding, composers and lyricists received royalties on sheet music sales but not for public performances of their works.

The New York World's Fair and the San Francisco Golden Gate International Exposition both opened in the first half of 1939. The outbreak of war in September of that year created a bleak mood that was not conducive to fair attendance, and both fairs needed a second season to break even financially (many nations, due to the war, dismantled their pavilions at the end of the first season). New York's Mayor Fiorello H. La Guardia looked for ways to boost attendance. When ASCAP President Gene Buck made it known that ASCAP was observing its 25th anniversary–special concerts were held at Carnegie Hall in the first week of October, 1939–La Guardia suggested that ASCAP give, at the closing of the fair, concerts in which composers, singers, and instrumentalists could perform.

The New York World's Fair was scheduled to close in October 1940. San Francisco World's Fair was scheduled to close a month before that. Both ended with ASCAP concerts. Some artists appeared only for the West Coast concerts, others only for the East Coast concerts. Many artists traveled across the continent to appear on both coasts.

I know of no recordings of the New York gala concerts held on October 24, 1940, and recordings of the two San Francisco concerts might never have been made had it not been for a dispute between ASCAP and the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB).

A radio broadcast of live music was considered a public performance (broadcasting phonograph records was a different matter). In an era when most radio broadcasts featured live music, ASCAP had a license contract agreement with radio networks, as opposed to individual stations, allowing the networks to broadcast ASCAP music. Fees paid to ASCAP were based on a percentage of network advertising revenues. The contract was scheduled to expire on December 31, 1940. To increase revenues, ASCAP representatives planned to license each radio station separately. Network representatives objected.

Early in September 1940, NAB members met in San Francisco and agreed to boycott ASCAP music upon the contract's expiration. NAB had established Broadcast Music Incorporated (BMI) as an alternative to ASCAP. ASCAP's two San Francisco concerts of September 24 were given just a few weeks after the NAB meeting. One newspaper reviewing the concerts used the headline, "ASCAP Brings Its Radio War Right To Enemy." Reviewers noted that the concerts were not broadcast and mentioned the dispute between ASCAP and NAB.

It was not publicized that ASCAP commissioned a San Francisco company, Photo and Sound Inc., to record both concerts in their entirety.

Using alternating turntables and the public address system as an audio source, the company captured the concerts on a dozen 16" double-sided blue vinylite discs. My copies bear a special ASCAP label and play at 33 1/3 rpm. It is not known how many sets were pressed. In his autobiography W.C. Handy mentions owning a set, but I have found no other references to the recordings. It is unlikely many sets were pressed.

Perhaps the recordings were intended to be used as weapons with which to fight NAB, the idea being that transcriptions would be made available to stations that signed licensing contracts with ASCAP. With these recordings, ASCAP could call attention to how many important composers were ASCAP members. BMI's rooster of composers at this time was small.

In any case, beginning in 1941 ASCAP music was not broadcast. The gap was filled with BMI tunes or music in the public domain. While ASCAP officials monitored the airwaves, ready to file lawsuits if ASCAP tunes were broadcast, ASCAP President Gene Buck openly criticized BMI tunes. The situation at a stalemate, ASCAP's Board of Directors considered a plan for licensing radio advertisers for the use of ASCAP music, but advertisers did not want this additional expense. Surveys revealed that radio listeners did not understand the dispute or were indifferent. After five months, ASCAP's quarrel with the networks was proving counterproductive, especially since the U.S. Department of Justice was beginning to investigate NAB charges that ASCAP was a monopoly. ASCAP finally submitted to a consent decree, returning to the air with licensing as before. The dispute finally over, the radio transcriptions of the two San Francisco concerts were filed away and forgotten–until now.

The set of discs features performances–over 50!–that are remarkable, with interesting commentary between numbers, generally consisting of Gene Buck introducing artists to an enthusiastic audience. The set includes over four hours of music (Howard Hanson's Third Symphony, conducted by the composer, was omitted from the CD set due to its length). Master of ceremonies for the classical concert is composer Deems Taylor, who may be remembered today as narrator of Disney's Fantasia though some may know him as an editor of Musical America.

ASCAP President Gene Buck (1885-1957) presides over the evening concert of popular music. Buck got his start in the music business as a designer of sheet music covers, eventually working as a designer-director for Flo Ziegfeld. For decades he was a prolific lyricist, supplying words to such hits as "Hello, Frisco!" (music by Louis A. Hirsch), "Sally, Won't You Come Back" (music by Dave Stamper), "Tulip Time" (music by Stamper), and "No Foolin'" (music by James F. Hanley). He was ASCAP's president from 1924 to 1941.

The classical concert was recorded outdoors in the Federal Plaza, and one hears sounds of the fair itself, especially crowds and fireworks. At the fair was a 450-foot Tower of the Sun with a carillon that you can hear ringing on the recording of the afternoon concert (the carillon was later installed in San Francisco's Grace Cathedral, where it is heard to this day). Highlights of the classical concert include Charles Wakefield Cadman (composer of "At Dawning" and "From The Land Of Sky Blue Waters") at the piano and African- American composer William Grant Still conducting two of his own works.

Especially interesting is the popular music segment that was given in the evening inside the fair's California Coliseum. In a stentorian baritone, perfect for the song, baritone Harry Armstrong sings his own "Sweet Adeline," telling the audience, "Although she's been hanging around for 40 years, old Addie's still a great old pal of mine." Joe E. Howard sings his own "I Wonder Who's Kissing Her Now?" and leads the audience in a reprise, following with "Goodbye, My Lady Love." The audience roars its approval, clapping in rhythm as Howard does a cakewalk. When it is over, Buck says, "I'd like to have you folks know that kid is only 72 years old!"

George M. Cohan sings a medley of the hits that we today wish he had recorded commercially–"Give My Regards To Broadway," "Yankee Doodle Boy," and "You're A Grand Old Flag." Cohan adds "Over There" for an encore. Cohan would live for only another two years, dying on November 5, 1942.

Jean Schwartz plays his own "Chinatown, My Chinatown." Accompanied by the orchestra, Albert von Tilzer plays piano and sings "Take Me Out To The Ball Game," beginning with his rarely heard first verse (his lyricist was Jack Norworth), the audience joining him on the famous chorus.

Jerome Kern plays "Smoke Gets In Your Eyes," then accompanies Tony Martin for "All The Things You Are." Because of the audience's enthusiastic response to the latter song, it is repeated–the only time an entire song is repeated. Sigmund Romberg plays several of his famous melodies, including "Lover Come Back To Me." I do not know of any other recording of Kern at the piano, nor of Romberg (though Romberg did make commercial recordings as a conductor).

After W.C. Handy takes a cornet solo in "St. Louis Blues," Buck tells the audience that this is Handy's first San Francisco visit in 40 years: "That dear man came 3000 miles just to toot that tune!"

Carrie Jacobs-Bond accompanies tenor Allan Lindquist in "A Perfect Day." Like Charles Wakefield Cadman, who had performed during the classical concert, Bond made AMPICO [reproducing piano] rolls but only on this day was a record made of her playing.

Lyricist L. Wolfe Gilbert sings the hit he wrote with Louis F. Muir: "Waiting For The Robert E. Lee." Because of Gilbert's performance, I finally understand what Byron G. Harlan shouts on the Collins and Harlan performance of the song on Blue Amberol [Edison cylinder recording] 1897. At the break after the words "Watch them shuffle along...," Gilbert yells "Hitchy Koo!" three times (the nonsense syllables happen to be the title of another Muir and Gilbert song–and another Collins and Harlan performance), an interpolation not in the original sheet music. I now realize that the Collins and Harlan recording preserves an unwritten but authentic interpolation introduced by the song's own lyricist.

Shelton Brooks plays and sings "Some Of These Days." Lyricist Arthur Freed sings and plays the hit he wrote with Nacio Herb Brown, "Singin' In The Rain." Freed's rendition is closer in tempo and delivery to Gene Kelly's in the film Singin' In The Rain (made a decade after the concert) than to those of Cliff Edwards, who performed the song in the film Hollywood Review Of 1929. It was Freed who directed Kelly in the 1951 film.

John Charles Thomas sings two songs he never recorded commercially: "Mighty Lak' A Rose," composed by Ethelbert Nevins, and "Sally, Won't You Come Back," composed by Dave Stamper (who accompanies Thomas on piano). With lyrics by Gene Buck, the song had been written as a tribute to musical comedy star Marilyn Miller.

During the concerts references are made to the war in Europe, and within 15 months America would also be at war. No doubt because of world events, the audience greets patriotic numbers with volcanic eruptions of applause, especially the George M. Cohan tunes and Carrie Jacobs-Bond's "The Flying Flag," composed specially for the ASCAP program.

But the most rapturous applause is saved for Irving Berlin, who sings his own "God Bless America." Berlin's tenor voice is frail and has a limited range, but it is a moving performance. A very young Herb Caen, writing for the San Francisco Chronicle, reviewed the concerts and describes audience members standing up–without prompting–and joining Berlin: "Hundreds started to sing with him. Then thousands. And when he came to the end of his song, 15,000 Americans were on their feet singing with him. Then it was all over." We can hear the crowd on these historic transcriptions. It was a fitting conclusion to a unique program celebrating American music.

For a postpaid copy of the 4-CD set Carousel Of American Music (Music and Arts Programs of America CD-971), send $53.50 to Norbeck & Peters, P.O. Box 4, Woodstock NY 12498. Phone is 800-654-5302.
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