|Parent company||Brunswick Records|
|Distributor(s)||E1 Entertainment formerly Koch Entertainment (In the US)|
Current: Soul music
|Country of origin||US|
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.
In January 1920, a new line of Brunswick Records were introduced in the US and Canada that employed the lateral cut system that was then 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. 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 (licenced 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 to the utmost: 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, 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, 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 Parlophone. 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. 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 they also signed Bing Crosby, who was to become their biggest recording star, as well as The Mills Brothers, The Boswell Sisters, Cab Calloway, Casa Loma Orchestra and Ozzie Nelson. 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), in December 1931. In 1932, the UK branch of Brunswick was acquired by British Decca.
Between early 1932 through 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 label as a means to compete with Decca's 35 cent price.
Collectors have 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).
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.
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, adding pop music in 1957. Later in the 1950s, American Decca made Brunswick its leading Rock and Roll label, featuring artists such as The Crickets. Records by Buddy Holly and Buddy Holly and the Crickets were released on the co-owned Coral Records.
Transformation into Rhythm & Blues label
Starting in the latter part of the 1950s and well into the 1970s, the label was recording more R&B/soul acts such as Jackie Wilson and 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. He acquired 50% interest in Brunswick from Decca in 1964. Tarnopol acquired the rest of Brunswick from Decca in 1969 to settle disputes with Decca management. Legal problems caused Brunswick to become dormant after 1982 in which Tarnopol licensed Brunswick recordings from 1957 onward to the special products unit of Columbia Records. Brunswick had its last chart hits in 1982. While Brunswick was cleared of charges, it left the company and Tarnopol basically broke. Tarnopol blamed his legal problems on a personal vendetta by Decca parent MCA Inc.'s head Lew Wasserman. Tarnopol died in 1987 at age 56.
Ownership of Brunswick catalogue and Brunswick Records today
The Tarnopol family only claims ownership of Brunswick recordings since Tarnopol joined Brunswick in 1957. Decca 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 (which is also part of Universal). The official Brunswick Records web site has a detailed history of the Tarnopol-era Brunswick Records.
Brunswick was revived in 1995 by Nat's children Paul and Mara Tarnopol. Today, Brunswick is run by president and CEO Paul Tarnopol. The Brunswick catalog is distributed by E1 Entertainment. Many of the recordings, supervised by producer Carl Davis in Chicago, which established Brunswick as a major force in R&B/soul music in the 1960s and 1970s have been re-issued in recent years. Davis formed sister label Dakar Records in 1967. Dakar was first distributed by Atlantic Records, then by Brunswick in 1972 after Brunswick became an independent label. Brunswick and Dakar artists include the Chi-Lites, Tyrone Davis, Barbara Acklin, Young-Holt Unlimited, Jackie Wilson, as well as Little Richard.
- Laird, Ross (2001). Brunswick Records - A Discography of Recordings, 1916-1931 vol. 1: New York Sessions 1916-1926. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press. p. 49. ISBN 0-313-31866-2.
- (I have a Brunswick record, College Days & Yellow and Blue, Nos. 5073-A&B.)
- Barry Kernfeld The New Grove Dictionary of Jazz, London & New York: Macmillan, 1988 , p.164
- The Billboard, 29 May 1943, p.95
- The Billboard, 23 August 1947, p.38
- The Billboard, 13 December 1952, p.27, col.5
- The Billboard, 26 September 1960, p.6, col.6
- Brunswick Records
- McDougal, Denis (2001). The Last Mogul: Lew Wasserman, MCA, and the Hidden History of Hollywood. Da Capo Press. p. 439. ISBN 9780306810503.
- History of Brunswick Records
- Lichtman, Irv. "Brunswick digs into its vaults to release vintage R&B on CD". Billboard, 8 June 1996, p.6
- "Verve Music Group", List Company
- "Universal Music Group Donates Over 200,000 Master Recordings to the Library of Congress", News from the Library of Congress, January 10, 2011
- Martens, Todd. "Brunswick minds its legacy". Billboard, 3 September 2005 p. 25
- "Brunswick in Atlantic split: name officials". Billboard, 11 December 1971, p. 3