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Brunswick Records

Brunswick Records
Parent company Brunswick Records
Founded 1916
Distributor(s) E1 Entertainment formerly Koch Entertainment (In the United States)
Genre Historic: Various
Current: Soul music
Country of origin US
Official website
The Brunswick Records logo
A Brunswick record label from 1922

Brunswick Records is a United States-based record label with a history dating back almost a century.


  • History 1
    • From 1916 1.1
    • Since 1939 1.2
    • Transformation into rhythm and blues label 1.3
  • Ownership of Brunswick catalogue and Brunswick Records today 2
  • See also 3
  • References 4
  • External links 5


From 1916

Records under the "Brunswick" label were first produced by the Brunswick-Balke-Collender Company (a company based in Dubuque, Iowa, which had been manufacturing products ranging from pianos to sporting equipment since 1845). The company first began producing phonographs in 1916, then began marketing their own line of records as an after-thought. These first Brunswick Records used the vertical cut system like Edison Disc Records, and were not sold in large numbers. They were recorded in the US but sold only in Canada.[1]

In January 1920, a new line of Brunswick Records was introduced in the US and Canada that employed the lateral cut system which was becoming the default cut for 78 disc records. Brunswick started its standard popular series at 2000 and ended up in 1940 at 8517. However, when the series reached 4999, they skipped over the previous allocated 5000's and continued at 6000.[2] Also, when they reached 6999, they continued at 7301 (because the early 7000's had been previously allocated as their Race series). The parent company marketed them extensively, and within a few years Brunswick became one of the USA's Big Three record companies, along with Victor and Columbia Records.

The Brunswick line of home phonographs were also commercially successful. Brunswick also had a hit with their "Ultona" phonograph capable of playing Edison Disc Records, Pathé disc records, and standard lateral 78s. In late 1924, Brunswick acquired the Vocalion Records label.

Audio fidelity of early 1920s acoustically recorded Brunswicks is above average for the era. They were pressed into good quality shellac, although not as durable as that used by Victor. In the spring of 1925 Brunswick introduced its own version of electrical recording (licensed from General Electric) using photoelectric cells, which Brunswick eventually called the "Light-Ray Process" . These early electric Brunswicks have a rather harsh distinctive equalization which does not compare well to early electric Columbias and Victors, and the company's logbooks from 1925-27 show many recordings that were unissued for technical reasons having to do with the GE system's electronic and sonic inconsistencies.

Once Brunswick's engineers had tentative control of their new equipment, the company expanded its popular music recording activities dramatically, exploiting its impressive roster of stars: the dance bands of Bob Haring, Isham Jones, Ben Bernie, Abe Lyman, Earl Burtnett, and banjoist Harry Reser and his various ensembles (especially the Six Jumping Jacks), and most famously the legendary Al Jolson (whose record labels modestly proclaimed him "The World's Greatest Entertainer With Orchestra").

Then based in Chicago (although they maintained an office and studio in New York), many of the city's best orchestras and performers recorded for Brunswick. The label also had an impressive black and white jazz roster including Fletcher Henderson, Duke Ellington (usually as the Jungle Band), King Oliver, Johnny Dodds, Andy Kirk, Red Nichols and others. Brunswick also initiated a 7000 race series (with the distinctive 'lighting bolt' label design, also used for their popular 100 country series) as well as the Vocalion 1000 race series. These race series recorded all sorts of interesting hot jazz, urban and rural blues, and gospel.

Brunswick also had a very successful business supplying radio with sponsored transcriptions of popular music, comedy and personalities.

Brunswick also embarked on an ambitious domestic classical recording program, recording the New York String Quartet, the Cleveland Orchestra under Nikolai Sokoloff (who had been recording acoustically for Brunswick since 1924), and in a tremendous steal from Victor, the New York Philharmonic with conductors Willem Mengelberg and Arturo Toscanini. The popular records, which used small performing groups, were tricky enough to make with the photoelectric cell process; symphony orchestra recording, however, exacerbated the problems of the "Light-Ray" system to new levels. Very few of the orchestra records were approved for issue and those that did appear on the market often combined excellent performances with embarrassingly execrable sound. Therefore Brunswick found it expedient and ultimately cheaper to contract with European companies (whose electrical recording systems were more reliable than Brunswick's) to fill their electrical classical catalogue. Among the recordings Brunswick imported and issued under their own label were historic performances conducted by Hans Pfitzner and Richard Strauss—the latter conducting critically acclaimed performances of his symphonic poems Don Juan and Till Eulenspiegel's Merry Pranks, recorded in Berlin in 1929-30 by Deutsche Grammophon. Some of these recordings have been reissued on CD.

Brunswick itself switched to a more conventional microphone recording process in 1927, with better results all round. Prior to this, however, they had introduced the Brunswick Panatrope. This phonograph met with critical acclaim, and composer Ottorino Respighi selected the Brunswick Panatrope to play a recording of bird songs in his composition The Pines of Rome. Jack Kapp became the record company executive of Brunswick in 1930.

In April 1930, Brunswick-Balke-Collender sold Brunswick Records to Warner Bros., and the company's headquarters moved to New York.[3] Warner Bros. hoped to make their own soundtrack recordings for their sound-on-disc Vitaphone system, A number of interesting recordings were made by actors during this period, featuring songs from musical films. Actors signed up to make recordings included Noah Beery, Charles King, and J. Harold Murray. During this Warner Brothers period Brunswick also signed Bing Crosby, who was to become their biggest recording star, as well as the Mills Brothers, the Boswell Sisters, Cab Calloway, the Casa Loma Orchestra and Ozzie Nelson.

In November 1930 the new budget line Melotone debuted, entering a field of lower priced electrical records including Columbia's Clarion and the various labels of the Plaza Music Company (such as Perfect, Banner, and Romeo - note that Melotone releases before the ARC takeover of December 1931 are not duplicated on these labels).

When Vitaphone was abandoned in favor of sound-on-film systems—and record industry sales plummeted due to the Great Depression—Warners leased the entire Brunswick record operation to Consolidated Film Industries, the parent company of the American Record Corporation (ARC),[3] in December 1931. In 1932, the UK branch of Brunswick was acquired by British Decca.

Between early 1932 and 1939, Brunswick was ARC's flagship label, selling for 75 cents, while all of the other ARC labels were selling for 35 cents. Best selling artists during that time were Bing Crosby, the Boswell Sisters, the Mills Brothers, Duke Ellington, Cab Calloway, Abe Lyman, Casa Loma Orchestra, Leo Reisman, Ben Bernie, and Anson Weeks. Many of these artists moved over to Decca in late 1934, causing Brunswick to reissue popular records by these artists on the ARC dime store labels as a means to compete with Decca's 35 cent price.

During much of 1932, Brunswick/ARC used a different microphone setup in their New York studios which made records from 1932 sounding very contricted with little bass. By the end of 1932, they apparently abanoned this setup and sound quality improved dramatically. Collectors have also long complained that Brunswicks from 1936-1939 showed a drop in sound quality as well as pressing quality, but in fact, those records had a wider groove than the earlier Brunswicks. Playing them today on good equipment with a 4.0 mil (0.004) diamond stylus produces a clear, crisp sound (earlier Brunswicks play just fine on the more standard 3.0 mil or 3.5 mil stylus).

Since 1939

In 1939, the American Record Corp. was bought by the Columbia Broadcasting System for $750,000, which discontinued the Brunswick label in 1940 in favor of reviving the Columbia label (as well as reviving the OKeh label replacing Vocalion). This, along with the lower than agreed-upon sales/production numbers, violated the Warners lease agreement, resulting in the Brunswick trademark reverting to Warners. In 1941, Warners sold the Brunswick and Vocalion labels to American Decca (which Warners had a financial interest in), along with all masters recorded prior to December 1931. Rights to recordings from late December 1931 on were retained by CBS/Columbia.

In 1943, Decca revived the Brunswick label, mostly for reissues of recordings from earlier decades, particularly Bing Crosby's early hits of 1931 and jazz items from the 1920s. Since then, Decca and its successors have had ownership of the historic Brunswick Records archive from this time period.[4][5]

After World War II, American Decca releases were issued in the United Kingdom on the Brunswick label until 1968 when the MCA Records label was introduced in the UK. During the war, British Decca sold its American branch.

By 1952, Brunswick was put under the management of Decca's Coral Records subsidiary. That same year, Brunswick resumed releasing new material, initially as rhythm and blues specialty label,[6] adding pop music in 1957.[7] Later in the 1950s, American Decca made Brunswick its leading rock and roll label, featuring artists such as the Crickets. Hit records by Buddy Holly and Buddy Holly & the Crickets were released on the co-owned Coral Records. In 1957, Brunswick became a subsidiary label to Coral.[8]

Transformation into rhythm and blues label

Jackie Wilson's debut single was the first release of the current Brunswick Records

Starting in the latter part of the 1950s and continuing well into the 1970s, the label recorded mainly R&B/soul acts, such as the label's leading artist in the late 50s and early/mid 1960s, Jackie Wilson, and later on, the Chi-Lites. Jackie Wilson's manager, Nat Tarnopol, joined the label in 1957 as head of A&R. Brunswick became a separate company and a unit of Decca in 1960 with Tarnopol serving as executive vice-president.[9] He acquired a 50% interest in Brunswick from Decca in 1964 and then the rest of Brunswick from Decca in 1969 to settle disputes with Decca management.

Many of the recordings which established Brunswick as a major force in R&B and soul music in the mid-1960s and into the 1970s were supervised by producer Carl Davis in Chicago. He joined the label after helping to revive Jackie Wilson's recording career with his production on Wilson's 1966 hit, "Whispers". Wilson and Davis collaborated the following year for one of the label's biggest selling singles, "Higher And Higher", which sold over two million copies (#1 R&B, #5 pop). The Chi-Lites recorded two #1 R&B hits in the 1970s for Brunswick, "Have You Seen Her" and "Oh Girl", both co-written and co-produced by lead singer, Eugene Record. "Oh Girl" also topped the Billboard Hot 100 pop chart.

Davis formed a sister label, Dakar Records, in 1969, with Tyrone Davis (no relation) becoming its main artist and a major-selling R&B act. Dakar was first distributed by Atlantic Records for two years, but moved under Brunswick distribution from January 1972, after the company became independent from Decca.

Brunswick and Dakar artists included the Chi-Lites, Tyrone Davis, Jackie Wilson, Barbara Acklin, Young-Holt Unlimited, Gene Chandler, the Artistics, Otis Leavill, the Lost Generation, Walter Jackson, Erma Franklin, Hamilton Bohannon, Lavern Baker, and Little Richard. Main producers for the labels, along with Davis, were Eugene Record, Willie Henderson and later, Leo Graham, whilst staff arrangers during the Chicago years included Sonny Sanders, Gerald Sims, Tom Washington and Willie Henderson.

The Chi-Lites' "Oh Girl" was the label's only release from post-1957 to reach the top of the Billboard Hot 100 pop chart, but Brunswick and Daker managed to top the R&B chart a total of 10 times during the same period, six by Jackie Wilson and two each by Tyrone Davis and the Chi-Lites.

Legal problems caused Brunswick to become dormant after 1982 in which Tarnopol licensed Brunswick recordings from 1957 onwards to the special products unit of Columbia Records. Brunswick had its last chart hits in 1982.[10] Although Brunswick was eventually cleared of the charges, the situation, which had resulted in court action, left both the label and Tarnopol in financial difficulties. By then, Carl Davis and most of the artists had left the company. Tarnopol blamed his legal problems on a personal vendetta led by Lew Wasserman, the head of Decca's parent corporation, MCA Inc.[11] Tarnopol died in 1987 at age 56.[12]

Ownership of Brunswick catalogue and Brunswick Records today

The Tarnopol family only claims ownership of Brunswick recordings since Tarnopol joined Brunswick in 1957.[13] Decca's parent company, Universal Music controls the Decca-era pre-Tarnopol Brunswick recordings (excluding the late 1931–1939 era, which is still controlled by Columbia Records' parent, Sony Music Entertainment). The Decca-era Brunswick jazz catalogue is managed by the Verve Music Group[14] (which is also part of Universal).[15]

The official Brunswick Records web site has a detailed history of the Tarnopol-era Brunswick Records. The label was revived in 1995 by Nat's children, Paul and Mara Tarnopol [13] and many of the Chicago soul recordings have been re-issued in recent years. Brunswick is now run by president and CEO Paul Tarnopol and the catalog is distributed by E1 Entertainment.[16]

See also


  1. ^ Laird, Ross (2001). Brunswick Records - A Discography of Recordings, 1916-1931 vol. 1: New York Sessions 1916-1926. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press. p. 49.  
  2. ^ (I have a Brunswick record, College Days & Yellow and Blue, Nos. 5073-A&B.)
  3. ^ a b Barry Kernfeld The New Grove Dictionary of Jazz, London & New York: Macmillan, 1988 [1994], p.164
  4. ^ ''The Billboard'', 29 May 1943, p.95. 1943-05-29. Retrieved 2014-06-29. 
  5. ^ ''The Billboard'', 23 August 1947, p.38. 1947-08-23. Retrieved 2014-06-29. 
  6. ^ ''The Billboard'', 13 December 1952, p.27, col.5. 1952-12-13. Retrieved 2014-06-29. 
  7. ^ Billboard - Google Books. 1957-03-30. Retrieved 2014-04-04. 
  8. ^ Billboard - Google Books. 1957-03-09. Retrieved 2014-04-04. 
  9. ^ ''The Billboard'', 26 September 1960, p.6, col.6. 1960-09-26. Retrieved 2014-06-29. 
  10. ^ "The soul of the 60s and 70s". Brunswick Records. Retrieved 2014-04-04. 
  11. ^ McDougal, Denis (2001). The Last Mogul: Lew Wasserman, MCA, and the Hidden History of Hollywood. Da Capo Press. p. 439.  
  12. ^ "The soul of the 60s and 70s". Brunswick Records. Retrieved 2014-04-04. 
  13. ^ a b Lichtman, Irv. "Brunswick digs into its vaults to release vintage R&B on CD". Billboard, 8 June 1996, p.6
  14. ^ "Verve Music Group". Retrieved 2014-04-04. 
  15. ^ "Universal Music Group Donates Over 200,000 Master Recordings to the Library of Congress", News from the Library of Congress, January 10, 2011
  16. ^ Martens, Todd. "Brunswick minds its legacy". Billboard, 3 September 2005 p. 25

External links

  • Official site
    • history
  • Brunswick Records: From Brunswick to Warner Bros., Decca, et al.
  • History of Brunswick and Vocalion
  • Both Sides Now page on Brunswick's history and LP catalogue
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