Vocalion Records

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For Decca's Vocalion label, see Disques Vogue

Vocalion Records
1921 Vocalion label
1921 Vocalion label
Founded 1916 (1916)
Founder Aeolian Piano Company
Genre Jazz
Country of origin U.S., U.K.

Vocalion Records is an American record company and label active for many years in the U.S. and the U.K.


Vocalion (pronounced "vo-CAL-yun") was founded in 1916 by the Aeolian Piano Company of New York City, which introduced a retail line of phonographs at the same time. The name was derived from one of their corporate divisions, the Vocalion Organ Co. The fledgling label first issued single-sided, vertical-cut disc records but soon switched to double-sided and then, in 1920, switched to the more common lateral-cut system.

Aeolian pressed Vocalion discs in a good-quality reddish brown shellac, which set the product apart from the usual black shellac used by other record companies. Advertisements stated that "Vocalion Red Records are best" or "Red Records last longer". However, Vocalion's shellac was no more durable than good-quality black shellac. Vocalion red surfaces are less hardy than contemporary[clarification needed] Victor Records, but the audio fidelity and pressing quality of Vocalion records are well above average for the era and are among the best of the acoustic era.

In 1925 the label was acquired by Brunswick Records. During the 1920s Vocalion also began the celebrated 1000 race series (records recorded by and marketed to African Americans).[1] The 15000 series continued, but after the Brunswick takeover, it seems that Vocalion took a back seat to the Brunswick label. From 1925 to 1927, quite a few Brunswick titles were also issued on Vocalion, and since the Vocalion issues are much harder to find, one can speculate that they were not available for sale in as many stores as their Brunswick counterparts. (It is not known if Brunswick dealers automatically sold Vocalion titles, or if Brunswick maintained a separate dealer network for exclusive Vocalion sales.) By 1928–1929, many of the records issued on the Vocalion 15000 series were hot jazz exclusive to Vocalion and are extremely rare and highly sought after.

In retrospect, it seems that Brunswick never really had a plan for the Vocalion 15000 series. From 1925 to 1930, Brunswick appeared to use this series as a specialty label for purposes other than general sale. This is assumed because of the relative rarity of the Vocalion popular series, the period of near-inactivity in this series in 1928, and the fact that some of the regular Brunswick releases were also put out for sale as Vocalions. This seems to also be a possible explanation as to why the early 1930s Vocalions are rarer than Brunswick records.

In April 1930, Warner Bros. bought Brunswick Records and, for a time, managed the company. In December 1931 Warner Bros. licensed the entire Brunswick and Vocalion operation to the American Record Corporation. ARC used Brunswick as their flagship 75-cent label and Vocalion as one of their 35-cent labels. The Vocalion race/blues series continued and continued to be popular. Starting in 1933, a number of Brunswick artists (Ozzie Nelson, Adrian Rollini, Henry King, for example) were assigned to Vocalion's then-new 2500 series. New signings (Dick Himber, Clarence Williams, Leroy Carr, among others) contributed to the growing popularity of the label.

Vocalion record by Louis Armstrong

Starting in about 1935, with the change in label design to the black and gold scroll label, Vocalion became even more popular with the signing of swing artists like Billie Holiday, Mildred Bailey, Stuff Smith, Putney Dandridge and Henry "Red" Allen. Coupled with other short-term signings, including Fletcher Henderson, Phil Harris, Earl Hines, and Isham Jones, and their healthy Race and Country releases (within the same series, but with a zero added in front the catalog number) made Vocalion a powerhouse presence. Also, starting in 1935, Vocalion started reissuing titles that were still selling from the recently discontinued OKeh label (see the Armstrong label). In 1936 and 1937 Vocalion produced the only recordings of the influential blues artist Robert Johnson (as part of their ongoing field recording of blues, gospel and "out of town" jazz groups). From 1935 through 1940, Vocalion was one of the most popular labels for small-group swing, blues and country band. After the short-lived Variety label was discontinued (in late 1937), many titles were reissued on Vocalion, and the label continued to release new recordings made by Master/Variety artists through 1940. This added Cab Calloway and the Duke Ellington small groups-within-his-band (Rex Stewart, Johnny Hodges, Barney Bigard and Cootie Williams) to the label.

ARC was purchased by CBS and Vocalion became a subsidiary of Columbia Records in 1938. The popular Vocalion label was discontinued in 1940, and the current Vocalions were reissued on the recently revived OKeh label with the same catalog numbers. The discontinuance of Vocalion (along with Brunswick in favor of the revived Columbia label) voided the lease arrangement Warner Bros. had made with ARC back in late 1931, and in a complicated move, Warner Bros. got the two labels back and promptly sold them outright to Decca, but CBS retained control of the post-1931 Brunswick and Vocalion masters.

The name Vocalion was resurrected in the late 1950s by Decca (US) as a budget label for back-catalog reissues. This incarnation of Vocalion ceased operations in 1973; however, its replacement as MCA's budget imprint, Coral Records, kept many Vocalion titles in print and held its costs down by not changing the Vocalion trademarks and catalog numbers on album covers, even when the records inside bore Coral labels. In 1975, MCA issued five reissue albums on the Vocalion label.[2]

In the UK, Decca used the Vocalion label mainly to issue US artists, replacing its Vogue label, the rights to whose name had reverted to the French Disques Vogue.

In 1997 the Vocalion brand was brought back for a new series of compact discs produced by Michael Dutton, of Dutton Laboratories, in Watford, England. This label specialises in sonic refurbishments of recordings originally made between the 1920s and the 1970s, often leasing original master recordings originally made by Decca and EMI.

Label style[edit]

From their early years through about 1931, the ornate label design was like the 1921 label (shown above) with only changes in the ownership info along the bottom. Starting in 1932 or so, the label changed to a gold color with the same overall design. For a very short time in 1935, the colors were inverted to a black label with gold printing. Collectors consider this short-lived style highly desirable (and a few good selling gold label issues were pressed using this rarer label design). Later in 1935, the label was changed to a black scroll label with a scroll covering most of the label design. In 1937, the label was changed again to a blue with gold printing and the legend "full range recording" along the top. In 1938 through 1941, the blue label was simplified (see the Armstrong reissue above).

Notable recordings[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ [1] Archived February 8, 2007, at the Wayback Machine.
  2. ^ "Vocalion Album Discography". Bsnpubs.com. 2014-04-27. Retrieved 2014-08-04. 
  3. ^ "Peter Seeger: American Favorite Ballads : Liner Notes" (PDF). Media.smithsonianfolkways.org. Retrieved 2014-08-04. 
  4. ^ "GRAMMY Hall Of Fame". GRAMMY.org. Retrieved 2014-08-04. 

External links[edit]