Ben Selvin

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Benjamin B. ("Ben") Selvin (March 5, 1898 – July 15, 1980), son of Russian-immigrant Jewish parents, was a musician, bandleader, record producer and innovator in recorded music. He was known as The Dean of Recorded Music.

Selvin started his professional life at age 15 as a fiddle player in New York City night clubs. A "husky" lad, he looked older than he was and as such was permitted into such establishments.

A mere six years later, as leader of his own dance band, the "Novelty Orchestra," Selvin released the biggest-selling popular song in the first quarter-century of recorded music. That single, "Dardanella", eventually went on to sell more than 5 million copies and an additional 2 million pieces of sheet music.

According to The Guinness Book of World Records, Selvin recorded more musical sides (on 78-rpm discs) than any other person. One reason for this prolific output is that he recorded for dozens of different labels during this high-growth time in the industry, using a different name (or slightly different name) for each label. Selvin's output has been estimated at 13,000 to 20,000 song titles.

Selected discography of bands led by Ben Selvin[edit]

  • "The Original Charleston" (the Columbia 78rpm version)
The Knickerbockers (Ben Selvin & His Orch.)
NYC - Apr. 10th, 1925
Voc. vocal breaks by Ben Selvin
Columbia 355-D, mx.140514-1
  • "Margie"
Selvin's Novelty Orchestra
NYC - Nov., 1920
Voc. Arthur Hall
Grey Gull L-1036-(a), mx.J-3-10
  • "So This Is Venice"
Ben Selvin & His Moulin Rouge Orchestra
NYC - Dec., 1923
Voc. Irving Kaufman
Vocalion A-14757, mx.12641
  • "Steppin' In Society" (the Columbia 78rpm version)
The Knickerbockers (Ben Selvin & His Orch.)
NYC - May 26th, 1925
Columbia 391-D, mx.W-140623-2
  • "We'll Have A New Home (In The Morning)"
Ben Selvin & His Orchestra
NYC - Dec. 28th, 1927
Vocs. unidentified trio
Columbia 1274-D, mx.W-145445
  • "Happy Days Are Here Again" (Annette Hanshaw vocal version)
Annette Hanshaw
(Ben Selvin & His Orchestra - vocs. Annette Hanshaw & The Rollickers)
NYC - Feb. 11th, 1930
Diva 3106-G; Harmony 1106-H; Velvet Tone 2106-V
  • "Dardanella"
(Felix Bernard - Johnny S. Black)
(Six Million Seller - No. 1 hit for 13 weeks, 24 in charts)
Selvin's Novelty Orchestra
NYC - Nov. 20th, 1919
Victor 18633-A, mx.23344-3
  • "I'm Forever Blowing Bubbles"
(Kellette - Kenbrovin)
(No. 1 hit for 4 weeks)
Selvin's Novelty Orchestra
NYC - Jul. 31st, 1919
Victor 18603-A, mx.B-22966-6
  • "Manhattan"
(Richard Rodgers - Lorenz Hart)
(No. 1 hit for 4 weeks)
The Knickerbockers (Ben Selvin & His Orch.)
NYC - Jul. 15th, 1925
Columbia 422-D, mx.W-140765
  • "Sentimental Me"
(Richard Rodgers - Lorenz Hart)
(No. 2 hit)
The Knickerbockers (Ben Selvin & His Orch.)
NYC - Jul. 15th, 1925
Columbia 422-D, mx.W-140766
  • "I Can't Give You Anything But Love"
(James "Jimmy" McHugh - Dorothy Fields)
(No. 2 hit)
The Knickerbockers (Ben Selvin & His Orch.) -
Voc. Vaughn DeLeath
NYC - Jun. 1st, 1928
Columbia 1424-D, mx.W-146380
  • "You're The Cream In My Coffee"
(Ray Henderson - Buddy G. DeSylva - Lew Brown)
(No. 2 hit)
Eddie Thomas' Collegians (and/or) The Broadway Nitelites (Ben Selvin & His Orch.) -
Voc. Jack Parker
NYC - Oct. 19th, 1928
Columbia 1604-D, mx.W-147140-3

Selvin at Columbia[edit]

From 1927 to 1934 he was A&R Director for Columbia Records, where his many productions included scores of exceptionally well performed pop songs of the day with hot jazz solos by musicians like Manny Klein, Benny Goodman, Tommy Dorsey, Jimmy Dorsey, Joe Venuti, Eddie Lang, and Bunny Berigan, among others. Many of these specific recordings made during this period continue to be highly collected and prized.

During the Columbia era, he recorded under many different names (for Columbia, OKeh, Odeon, Parlophone, Harmony, Diva, Velvet Tone & Clarion) including

  • The Broadway Nightlites
  • The Knickerbockers
  • The Columbians
  • The Cavaliers
  • Barney Trimble and his Oklahomans
  • Jerry Mason and his Californians
  • The Harmonians
  • Rudy Marlow and his Orchestra
  • Columbia Photo Players
  • Frank Auburn and his Orchestra
  • Kolster Dance Orchestra
  • Lloyd Keating and his Music
  • Earl Marlow and his Orchestra
  • Ed Loyd and his Orchestra
  • Ray Seeley and his Orchestra
  • Sam Nash and his Orchestra
  • Mickie Alpert and his Orchestra
  • Johnny Walker and his Orchestra
  • Chester Leighton and his Sophomores
  • Wally Edwards and his Orchestra
  • Roy Carroll and his Sands Point Orchestra
  • Buddy Campbell and his Orchestra
  • Golden Terrace Orchestra
  • Bar Harbor Society Orchestra
  • Ted Raph and his Orchestra
  • Georgia Moonlight Serenaders
  • Cloverdale Country Club Orchestra
  • Ed Parker and his Orchestra

Many of the these records during the Columbia era are highly collected and treasured examples of either jazz related pop, or sophisticated, smoothly arranged dance music.

Also, there had been incorrect reports that Ben Selvin's Band played under the name "Perley Stevens and his Orchestra", when in fact, Perley Stevens on occasion played with Ben Selvin's Band and many others, including Jimmy and Tommy Dorsey Orchestras and Paul Whiteman's Band.

Post Columbia[edit]

Selvin had an instrumental part in the development of Muzak in the mid-1930s. He was musical director of Majestic Records beginning in 1947. He was a Vice-President and A&R Director (artists and repertoire) at Columbia Records in charge of the recordings of Frank Sinatra, Doris Day, Dinah Shore and Buddy Clark in the late 1940s and early '50s.

He was an A&R Director at RCA Victor in charge of the company's popular Camden Label and served as the Musical Director for a recording in 1954 by John Serry, Sr..

Post-retirement, he became a consultant to 3M (Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Company), helping them during the transition from vinyl recordings to recordings on tape.

References[edit]

  • Richard J. Johnson & Bernard H. Shirley (2010). American Dance Bands on Record and Film 1915-1942. Rustbooks.
  • Brian Rust (1975). American Dance Discography. Arlington House.