|Parent company||Sony Music Entertainment|
|Distributor(s)||Sony Masterworks (In the US)|
|Country of origin||US|
Bluebird Records is a sub-label of RCA Victor Records originally created in 1932 to counter the American Record Company in the "3 records for a dollar" market. Along with ARC's Perfect Records, Melotone Records and Romeo Records, and the independent US Decca label, Bluebird became one of the best selling 'cheap' labels of the 1930s and early 1940s. (RCA pressed the "two hits for two bits" cheap Crown label, independently owned in New York City, from 1930 to 1933, and Crown's sales probably also influenced RCA to get in on the cheaper priced market.)
Timely Tunes, Electradisk, Sunrise and the early Bluebird labels
RCA VIctor's first foray into the budget market was the 35c Timely Tunes. Sold through Montgomery Ward stores, 40 issues appeared from April to July, 1931.
In July, 1932, appeared the first, short-lived Bluebird record, along with an identically numbered Electradisk record sold at Woolworth's. These 8" discs, probably an early form of test marketing, may have sold for as little as 10c. Bluebirds bore a black-on-medium blue label; Electradisks a blue-on-orange label. Credit for establishing the label is given to Victor's executive Eli Oberstein, who had previously set up the Crown label.
The 8" series only ran from 1800 to 1809, but both labels reappeared later in 1932 as 10" discs: Bluebird 1820-1853, continuing to April, 1933, and Electradisk 2500-2509 and 1900–2177, continuing to January, 1934.
Electradisks in the 2500 block were dance band sides recorded on two days in June, 1932. These very rare issues were given Victor matrix numbers but the 4 digit matrix numbers on the 78 look more like Crown Records (this independent label had its own studios, but its product was pressed by Victor). The few records in that block that have been seen resemble Crowns, leading to speculation that all were recorded at Crown.
In May, 1933, RCA Victor restarted Bluebird as a 35c (3 for $1) general-interest budget record, numbered B-5000 and up, with a new blue-on-beige label (often referred as the "Buff" Bluebird, used until 1937 in the US and 1939 in Canada). Most 1800-series material was immediately reissued on the Buff label; afterwards it ran concurrently with the Electradisk series (made for Woolworth's).
Another short-lived concurrent label was Sunrise, which may have been made for a store chain (very few discs, and essentially no information, survive). Sunrise and Electradisk were discontinued early in 1934, leaving Bluebird as RCA's only budget priced label. ( RCA Victor also produced a separate Montgomery Ward label for the Wards stores.)
'Buff' Bluebird and beyond
In the 1930s, Bluebird recorded popular dance music,country, blues and jazz, as well as reissuing jazz, gospel and blues items previously released on Victor. Some notable orchestras came to Bluebird from the regular-priced Victor label: Ted Weems, Rudy Vallee, Bert Lown, and Joe Haymes. Another popular Bluebird artist in these early days was George Hall and his orchestra, who remained with the label until 1937.
Many blues artists were brought to the label by talent scout and record producer Lester Melrose, who had a virtual monopoly on the Chicago blues market. The records were recorded cheaply and quickly, often using a regular pool of Chicago musicians including Big Bill Broonzy, Roosevelt Sykes, Tampa Red, Washboard Sam and Sonny Boy Williamson. They produced a characteristic small band style which became known as the "Bluebird sound" and which, when electric amplification was added, became hugely influential on R&B and early rock and roll records. However, Bluebird all but ceased making blues records in 1942.
Meanwhile in the mid-1930s Bluebird was very successful in competing with ARC's cheap labels as well as the US Decca label which started in late 1934. Two of the most popular swing bandleaders, Artie Shaw and Glenn Miller, were Bluebird artists starting in 1938. Shep Fields and his "Rippling Rhythm" orchestra signed with the label as early as 1936. Earl Hines was also a Bluebird artist during the early 1940s. During the WWII years (and the recording ban), Victor reissued hundreds of previously rare hot jazz by artists like Duke Ellington, Jelly Roll Morton, Bennie Moten, McKinney's Cotton Pickers and many others on Bluebird. After World War II, the Bluebird label was retired and Bluebird artists were issued on the RCA Victor label.
RCA Victor revived Bluebird for certain jazz releases and reissues, as well as children's records and low priced classical titles in the 1950s. In the mid-1970s it was again reactivated by RCA for a series of 2-LP sets of big band and jazz reissues produced by Frank Driggs. Bluebird remains active as a jazz label in the CD era.
Artists associated with Bluebird Records
- Big Bill Broonzy
- Bo Carter
- Wilf Carter
- Arthur "Big Boy" Crudup
- Curtis Jones
- Billy Daniels
- Shep Fields
- Lil Green
- George Hall
- Joe Haymes
- Earl Hines
- Dan Hornsby
- Spike Jones
- Vincent Lopez
- Bert Lown
- Big Maceo
- J. E. Mainer
- Tommy McClennan
- Glenn Miller
- Vaughn Monroe
- Ozzie Nelson
- Jimmie Rodgers
- Tampa Red
- Artie Shaw
- Ruby Smith
- Roosevelt Sykes
- Washboard Sam
- Rudy Vallee
- Ted Weems
- Sonny Boy Williamson
- The American Record Label Book by Brian Rust (Arlington House Publishers, 1978)
- American Record Labels and Companies - An Encyclopedia (1891–1943) by Allan Sutton & Kurt Nauck (Mainspring Press, 2000)
- The Victor Master Book, Vol. 2, by Brian Rust (Walter Allen, 1974)
- Donald Clarke, "OBERSTEIN, Eli and Maurice", Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music. Retrieved 27 March 2014
- http://sundayblues.org/archives/tag/bluebird-records Lil Green at Bluebird