Wednesday, July 6, 2022

The Greatest Musical Attraction in the History of Pueblo

A small portion of this story ran in the July issue of Pueblo County Historical Society Lore magazine. For whatever reason, the piece was missing the art, and other important details. Here is the story, in its entirety.

In 1917, in an effort to promote its new “talking machine” phonograph, the Victor company put together what was considered the first “super group” of musicians. The ensemble would be called The Record Maker Troupe, and originated with well-known performers Billy Murray, Henry Burr, Albert Campbell, John Meyer, Arthur Collins, and Byron Harlan, Teddy Morse and Vess Ossman.

By 1922, a Victor Victrola cost a Pueblo music lover about $150, the equivalent to $2,500 today. For the average resident, coming out of the 1921 recession (and a devastating flood the previous year), it was a luxury many couldn’t afford. Many music stores, such as Knight-Campbell offered payment plans, as low as $3 a month (the equivalent to about $50 today). To encourage sales of record players, local Victor dealers Knight-Campbell, Silver State Music, and D.Z. Phillips Music stores convinced Victor to bring their recording stars (renamed the Eight Famous Victor Artists) to Pueblo. 

 “You can hear them any day of your Victrola, but only this once can you look upon them actually, in person, and feel the magic of their buoyant personalities” Pueblo Daily Chieftain - Jan. 19, 1922

A large newspaper ad proclaimed the event, which was held at the City Auditorium, as “The Greatest Musical Attraction in the History of Pueblo.” It would feature a literal who’s who of Victor recording artists, of the day - Henry Burr, Monroe Silver (who replaced Byron Harlan), Frank Croxton (who had replaced Arthur Collins), John Meyer, Albert Campbell, Fred Van Eps (who replaced Vess Ossman), Frank Banta (who replaced Teddy Morse), Billy Murray, the Sterling Trio, and the Peerless Quartet. “It would be the first time in history these famous Victor artists have visited Pueblo. Fill the house Monday night, and they will come again,” the Feb. 12 Chieftain proclaimed. Ticket prices ranged from $1-$2.50 ($16-$41 today). Maybe thinking that the cost was too exorbitant for locals, the paper declared, “Oh you cannot afford to miss the Victor concert on the 13th of February. It will be great and well worth anyone’s time to hear.”

Billy (“The Denver Nightingale”) Murray (1877-1954) was born in Philadelphia. His family moved to Denver in 1882. He is credited with calling attention to the music of George M. Cohan (“You’re a Grand Old Flag”). He would go on to record many other well-known songs - “Alexander’s Ragtime Band,” “Meet Me in St. Louis,” “Over There,” and “Casey Jones.” He was inducted into the Colorado Music Hall of Fame, in 2016.

Henry Burr (Harry Haley McClaskey) had first come to Denver, in 1920, and would be considered one of the first performers to use a microphone. According to Popular American Recording Pioneers, “It is reported that he used wooden bowl with an inverted telephone transmitter, during the Denver show. The broadcast could be heard all the way to San Francisco. He was also a member of the Peerless Quartet and Sterling Trio. He died in 1941.

Monroe Silver (1875-1947) was known as a comedian, whose routine used an exaggerated Yiddish dialect. His claim to fame was adapting vaudeville performer Joe Hayman’s earlier “Cohen on the Telephone” routine, into other Cohen routines - “Cohen Gets Married” (1918), “Cohen on His Honeymoon” (1918), “Cohen at the Picnic” (1919), “Cohen at the Movies” (1919), “Cohen Talks About the Ladies” (1919), “Cohen Takes His Friend to the Opera” (1921), He often performed with Billy Murray.

Fred Van Eps (1878-1960) was a celebrated banjoist, and the father of jazz guitarist George Van Eps. He was the creator (along with Henry Burr) of the Van Eps Recording Banjo. He is often credited as influencing pre-bluegrass/roots musicians, including Charlie Poole (“Don’t Let Your Deal Go Down Blues,” “White House Blues,” “If I Lose, I Don’t Care,” “Sweet Sunny South,”).

Albert Campbell (1872-1947), John Meyer (1877-1949), were members of both the Peerless Quartet and Sterling Trio, which were considered one of the most commercially successful groups of the era. The group made hundreds of recordings, including popular versions of songs such as "Sweet Adeline", "By the Light of the Silvery Moon", "Let Me Call You Sweetheart", and "I Want a Girl (Just Like the Girl That Married Dear Old Dad)". Frank Coxton (1877-1949) was also a member of the Peerless Quartet. The groups broke up in 1928.

Frank E. Banta (1897-1969) is not to be confused with his famous father, Frank P. Banta (1870-1903) was an early ragtime performer. Frank E Banta was a regular pianist with the Joseph C. Smith’s Orchestra, the Van Eps Trio and Quartet, the Club Royal Orchestra, and the Great White Way Orchestra.

Five days before the big event, it was reported that “Present seat sale indications for the Eight Famous Victor Artists show that very few, if any, seats will be available after the next few days.”

(click to enlarge)

Concert Program 

First Set:

Opening chorus - Entire Company
“Get Comfortable” (words and music by Ray Perkins)
Baritone and Bass Duets - John Meyer and Frank Coxton
“Goodbye My Love”
“Just Like a Rainbow” (recorded by The Benson Orchestra - Victor 18823)
Stories and Songs by Monroe Silver
“Irish Home, Sweet Home” (recorded with Billy Murray - Victor 18794)
“Cohen’s New Automobile”
Sterling Trio
“Tomorrow Land” (recorded by Sterling Trio - Victor 18837)
“That Old Irish Mother of Mine (recorded by Sterling Trio - Victor 18696)
Banjo Solo - Fred Van Eps
Tenor Solo - Henry Burr
“Old Pal Why Don’t You Answer Me” (Recorded by Henry Burr - Victor 18708)
“I’ll Take You Home Again” (with quartet - Victor 18781 Henry Burr and Peerless Quartet)
Tenor Solos - Billy Murray
“Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes” (recorded by Billy Murray and Ed Smalle - Victor 18830)
“Stand Up and Sing For Your Father an Old Time Tune.” (recorded by Billy Murray and American Quartet - Victor 18784) 


Second Set: 

Piano Solos - Frank Banta
“Operatic Nightmare”
“MonHomme” (duet with John Meyer)
Tenor Duets - Campbell and Burr
“Underneath Hawaiian Skies” (recorded by Al Campbell and Henry Burr - Victor 18730)
“Sunny Side Sal”
Stories and Songs - Monroe Silver
“Rebecca” (recorded by Billy Murray and Monroe Silver - Victor 18748)
Bass Solo - Frank Croxton
“Song to the Evening Star” (recorded by Victor Orchestra - Victor 18759)
Banjo Solo - Fred Van Eps
“Cocoanut Dance”
Peerless Quartet
“My Sunny Tennessee” (recorded by Peerless Quartet - Victor 18812)
“Somebody’s Mother”
“Medley of Foster Songs”
Tenor Solos - Billy Murray
“When Francis Dances with Me” (recorded by Ada Jones and Billy Murray - Victor 18830)
“Humpty Dumpty” (recorded by Billy Murray and Ed. Smalle - Victor 18810)
Closing Chorus - Entire Company
Frank Banta, Accompanist

“Words cannot fully describe music of the eight Victor artists, who appeared at the city auditorium Monday night, and faced a full house.” -Pueblo Daily Chieftain, Feb. 14, 1922

According to reviews of the show, the sold-out performance (which varied between 1,600-1,900 people in attendance) was a success for both the attendees and the entertainers. “Every number on the greatly varied program was so well received by the audience that the hearty and earnest applause brought the artists back to the footlights two or three times.” 

 “If you heard the Eight Famous Victor Artists at the Auditorium last Monday night - if you were a part of the great audience who enjoyed that wonderful program, you can perpetuate your memories with their VICTOR records.”
- Advertisement (above) Pueblo Daily Chieftain - February 15, 1922 (click to enlarge)

The troupe, in various incarnations, would spend a total of 11 years on the road, promoting Victor Victrolas and Victor label recordings. On February 26, 1925, Rudy Wiedoeft, Monroe Silver, John Meyer, Frank Croxton, Albert Campbell, Henry Burr, Frank Banta, and Billy Murray recorded “A Miniature Concert,” Victor’s first commercial electrical recording. In 1928, the group performed in the MGM film At the Club. They would disband that same year.