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American Quartet – They’re wearing ’em higher in Hawaii

February 6th, 2010 Leave a comment Go to comments

Edison master 5200-C, rec. December 7 1916.
John Young (1st tenor), Billy Murray (lead), Steve Porter (baritone), and William F. Hooley (bass) with orchestra.
This ensemble was something of a vocal “supergroup” when they first started recording in early 1909. All of the group’s members had been singing with other quartets and/or were well-known as solo performers, and so it is no big surprise that their records sold exceedingly well. At the time this American Quartet (there was an earlier group led by Hooley between 1901 and 1904) cut its first titles, Edison was not yet selling his “Diamond Discs”, so the group had exclusive contracts with Victor as well as with Edison. All Edison titles were published as by “The Premier Quartette”, whereas the Victors were marketed as by “The American Quartette”. In 1920 the quartet chose not to renew their Edison contract; the numerous Edison releases by a “Premier Quartette” from 1920 on were in fact pseudonymous recordings sung by Billy Jones’ “Harmonizers”. Around this time some sides cut by Murray’s quartet for Gennett, Okeh, Pathé, and Vocalion were labeled as by “The Premier-American Quartet”.
To most listeners today, however, this group is known simply as the “American Quartet”, as their Victor sides had the widest distribution of all. This is, in fact, the third line up of the group. Original first tenor John “The Canary” Bieling had to retire because of chronic throat illness in September 1913. He was replaced by Robert D. Armour, who himself was replaced hardly two years later by Young. With the death of Hooley in October 1918 the quartet lost a few hardcore fans – Hooley’s recording career had spanned almost 30 years, and he was called the “King of the Quartet Basses” -, although in my humble opinion the new bassist Donald Chalmers was a very worthy successor.
The American Quartet was the first vocal group to fully embrace and cultivate ragtime music, so they practically they are the fathers of all the jazz and novelty groups that followed later. I will try to upload something of each of their line-ups in the next months, so you can follow their development.

Duration : 0:3:14

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