Arthur Collins (singer)
|Born||Arthur Francis Collins
February 7, 1864
|Died||August 31, 1933
|Spouse(s)||Anna Leah Connelly|
Arthur Francis Collins (February 7, 1864 – August 3, 1933) was an American baritone who was one of the most prolific and beloved of pioneer recording artists, regarded in his day as “King of the Ragtime Singers.”
Born in Philadelphia, Collins moved with his family to Barnegat, New Jersey around 1879 and as a teenager worked as a volunteer lifesaver on the Jersey shore, beginning an enthusiasm for sailing that became a lifelong pursuit. However, his fine baritone voice – heard in church and in local concert appearances – convinced Collins’ family to send him back to Philadelphia for formal training. After concluding his studies, Collins spent some 15 years touring with various stock companies and appearing in summer opera in St. Louis. None of these ventures turned out any long term prospects for Collins, and when he married actress and singer Anna Leah Connelly in 1895 Collins swore off show business and decided to study for a career in bookkeeping. Taking occasional roles for extra money, Collins enjoyed a star turn in a production given by the DeWolf Hopper Opera Company in 1898, and talent scouts for Edison Records requested Collins audition which, according to his wife, was held May 16, 1898.
Within a few years, Collins proved one of the most productive and successful singers in the record business, and in his long career between 1898 and 1925 he worked for literally every record company active in the United States. He specialized in what was then called coon songs, popular African-American dialect numbers associated with vaudeville and minstrel shows. Collins also utilized a large array of vocal effects and caricature voices which gave the impression that there were multiple persons at the horn on his recordings, though it was just Collins. Towards making that end of it more effective, Collins began to work in a duo format with tenor Joe Natus in 1901 and both sang in an Edison group called the Big Four Quartet. It is assumed that Collins first came into contact with tenor Byron G. Harlan within the context of the Big Four Quartet, and from then until the end of Collins’ career in the early 1920s, Harlan was Collins’ duet partner. Collins and Harlan were probably the most famous and popular male duo on early records.
In 1909, Collins joined John H. Meyer, Henry Burr and Albert Campbell in the Peerless Quartet, an enormously successful barbershop harmony type group which toured as The Record Makers, and later as the Eight Popular Victor Artists. However, by 1917 bass Frank Croxton began to replace Collins on some records, a situation that became permanent by mid-1919 as Collins did not get along with Burr, who also served as the group’s manager. During a personal appearance at the Princess Theater in Medina, Ohio on October 20, 1921, Collins was badly injured when he fell through an open trap door. While he recovered well enough to resume his singing and recording career, his health began to decline afterward and in 1926, Collins retired, relocating to Florida with his wife. He died at the age of 69 in Tice, Florida on August 3, 1933.
Recorded Repertoire & Legacy
Arthur Collins recorded hundreds of songs, and in many cases he recorded the same song multiple times for various recording outfits. His signature song, though, was “The Preacher and the Bear,” which he first recorded in 1905; his rendition, widely dispersed among a variety of releases, constitutes the most popular non-operatic record made during the first decade of the twentieth-century. Collins was still recording the number in 1922, and a 1908 remake of the piece for Victor remained in their catalog until 1941; at his personal appearances “The Preacher and the Bear” was invariably requested. Collins lived up to his reputation as “The King of Ragtime Singers” and recorded more ragtime songs than any other singer during the era when ragtime was at its peak of popularity; Collins recorded some of Bert Williams’ songs before Bert Williams did, and even recorded some numbers associated with Williams that the latter never waxed. Collins & Harlan also made best-selling records of tunes old and new that remain well cherished and iconic even in the twenty-first century, such as “Waiting for the Robert E. Lee,” “Alexander's Ragtime Band,” “Lily of the Valley” and “The Old Grey Mare.” Collins survived into the early years of the Jazz Age, and he and Harlan recorded the earliest record known to mention jazz, “That Funny Jas Band from Dixieland” (Victor 18235, recorded January 12, 1917.).
Both Arthur Collins solo recordings’ and the Collins & Harlan recordings are viewed as desirable by collectors, particularly the very early ones, and such enthusiasm about their output dates back to at least the 1940s. Given the great antiquity of these recordings and their highly specialized frame of interest, few of them were reissued in the LP era; Collins has fared better in the digital age, but still lacks a single disc anthology of his characteristic recorded work.
- "My Josephine"
- "Happy days in dixie"
- "Zizzy ze zum zum"
- "I'd Leave Ma Happy Home For You"
- "All Coons Look Alike To Me"
- "I Guess I'll Have To Telegraph My Baby"
- "Kiss Me, Honey Do"
- "Mandy Lee"
- "Hello! Ma Baby"
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- "My Sunflower Sue" with The Metropolitan Orchestra, Victor's house orchestra
- "You're Talking Rag Time"
- "I Ain't Seen No Messenger Boy" (E. Berliner Gramophone Record # 0876J)
- "Every Darky Had A Raglan On"
- "Ain't Dat a Shame"
- "I Dreams About You"
- "Coon, Coon, Coon"
- "All Coons Look Alike To Me" (w.m. Vess L. Ossman)
- "Any Old Place I Can Hang My Hat Is Home Sweet Home To Me"
- "Bill Bailey Won't You Please Come Home"
- "Drill Ye Tarriers, Drill"
- "Helen Gonne"
- "Just Kiss Yourself Goodbye"
- "They Were All Doing The Same" (w.m Byron G. Harlan) - on Edison Records No. 8255
- "Any Rags?" (w.m. Thomas S. Allen) - on Edison Records
- "Good-bye, Eliza Jane" (w. Andrew B. Sterling m. Harry Von Tilzer) - on Edison Records
- "I'm A Jonah Man" (w.m. Alex Rogers) - on Edison & Victor
- "I Wonder Why Bill Bailey Don't Come Home" (w.m. Frank Fogerty, Matt C. Woodward & William Jerome) - on Victor Records & Edison Records
- "The Preacher And The Bear"
- "Have You Seen My Henry Brown?"
- "Hannah, Won't You Open That Door"
- "Scissors to Grind"
- "Johnny Morgan"
- "Rufus Rastus Johnson Brown"
- "My Irish Molly O"
- "What You Going To Do When The Rent Come's 'Round"
- "Who's there"
- "Abraham Washington Jefferson Lee"
- "Bill Simmons"
- "Pretty Desdamone"
- "Won't You Fondle Me"
- "When A Poor Relation Comes To Town"
- "Bake Dat Chicken Pie" (w.m Byron G. Harlan)
- "Whats The Use Of Knocking When A Man Is Down"
- "Dixie Dan"
- "Rag Babe"
- "If I'm Going to Die, I'm going to Have Some Fun"
- "The Meanest Man in Town"
- "I Think I See My Brother Coming Home"
- "Rag Babe"
- "The Ghost of the Banjo Coon"
- "Abraham Lincoln Jones, or, The Christening"
- "A Possum Supper At The Darktown Church"
- "Down At The Huskin' Bee" (w.m. Byron G. Harlan)
- "Everybody's Picken' On Me"
- "No One Loves A Fat Man"
- ""That's A Plenty""
- "Casey Jones" (w.m Byron G. Harlan)
- "Contribution Box"
- "Temptation Rag"
- "Wild cherries (Rag)"
- "Alexander's Ragtime Band" #1 for 10 weeks
- "Play That Barbershop Chord"
- "Chicken Reel"
- "Railroad Rag"
- "Steamboat Bill"
- 'The Barn Dance" (w.m Byron G. Harlan)
- "I'm Goin' Back to Dixie" (w.m Byron G. Harlan)
- "In Ragtime Land"
- "Rum Tum Tiddle"
- "Somebody Else Is Getting It"
- "The Ragtime Goblin Man"
- "Ragtime Dreams" (w.m Byron G. Harlan)
- "Aba Daba Honeymoon" (co-written with Walter Donovon)
- Used in the film King of Jazz
- "Auntie Skinner's Chicken Dinner" (w.m. Byron G. Harlan)
- "Cotton Blossom Time" (w.m. Byron G. Harlan)
- "Kentucky Home" (w.m. Byron G. Harlan)
- "The Kid Is Clever" (w.m. Byron G. Harlan)
- "Pretty Baby" (w.m Byron G. Harlan)
- "Emancipation Handicap" (w.m Byron G. Harlan)
- "Honest Injun" (w.m Byron G. Harlan)
- "Two Key Rag" (w.m Byron G. Harlan)
- "If You've Got a Little Bit"
- "That Funny Jas from Dixieland" (w.m Byron G. Harlan)
- "In Huneysuckle Time" (w.m Byron G. Harlan)
- "On the Hoko Moko Isle" (w.m Byron G. Harlan)
- "My Lovin' Lou" (w.m Byron G. Harlan)
- "All Aboard for Chinatown" (w.m Byron G. Harlan)
- "Johnny Get A Girl" (w.m Byron G. Harlan)
- "When I'm a Sargent Man" (w.m Byron G. Harlan)
- "At the Old Plantation Ball" (w.m Byron G. Harlan)
- "I'm Savin' Up the Means to Get to New Orleans" (w.m Byron G. Harlan)
- "Oh Lady" (w.m Byron G. Harlan)
- "Buzzin' the Bee" (w.m Byron G. Harlan)
- "Everybody's Jazzin' It (w.m Byron G. Harlan)
- "Night Time in Little Italy" (w.m Byron G. Harlan)
- "They're Wearing 'em Higher in Hawaii" (w.m Byron G. Harlan)
- "Come Along to Caroline" (w.m Byron G. Harlan)
- "The Ghost of Saxophone" (w.m Byron G. Harlan)
- "Lily of the Valley" (w.m Byron G. Harlan)
- "Three Pickaninnies" (w.m Byron G. Harlan)
- "Mammy Blossom's possum Party (w.m Byron G. Harlan)
- "The Old Grey Mare" (w.m Byron G. Harlan)
- "Everybody's Crazy 'bout the Doggone Blues" (w.m Byron G. Harlan)
- "If You Saw All That I Saw in Arkansas" (w.m Byron G. Harlan)
- "Darktown Strutters' Ball" (w.m Byron G. Harlan)
- "Sweet n' Pretty" (w.m Byron G. Harlan)
- "I've Got Em'" (w.m Byron G. Harlan)
- "When Tony Goes Over The Top"
- "Down in the Jungle Land" (w.m Byron G. Harlan)
- "Everything is Hunky Dory" (w.m Byron G. Harlan)
- "On the Ozark Trail" (w.m Byron G. Harlan)
- "Climbing Up the Golden Stairs"
- "Sipping Cider Through a Straw" (w.m Byron G. Harlan)
- "Every Day's A Holiday in Dixie" (w.m Byron G. Harlan)
- "Suicide Blues"
- "Old man jazz"
- "The Argentines, the Portuguese and the Greeks"
- Arthur Collins cylinder recordings, from the Cylinder Preservation and Digitization Project at the University of California, Santa Barbara Library.
- Rare Arthur Collins Recordings, from [Archive.org]
- The Frances G. Spencer Collection of American Sheet Music at Baylor University
- Tim Gracyk's Phonographs, Singers, and Old Records – Jass in 1916-1917 and Tin Pan Alley at www.gracyk.com
- "Ed Morton / Arthur Collins And Byron G. Harlan – What Do You Mean, You Lost Your Dog? / On The Old Fall River Line". discogs. Retrieved 7 October 2011.
- Cumella, Michael. "Antique Phonograph Music Program: Playlist for May 31, 2011". Antique Phonograph Music Program with MAC. Retrieved 7 October 2011.
- Arthur Collins at Find a Grave
- Discography of Arthur Collins on Victor Records from the Encyclopedic Discography of Victor Recordings (EDVR)