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Brunswick Records
Parent company Brunswick Records
Founded 1916
Distributing label Koch Entertainment (In the US)
Genre Historic: Various
Current: Soul music
Country of origin US
Official Website
The Brunswick Records logo
A Brunswick Record label from 1922

Brunswick Records is a United States based record label. The label is currently distributed by Koch Entertainment.




From 1916

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. 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 Isham Jones, Ben Bernie, and Abe Lyman, 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"). Brunswick 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) 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 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 record company executive of Brunswick in 1930.

In April 1930, Brunswick-Balke-Collender sold Brunswick Records to Warner Brothers, who 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 period they also signed Bing Crosby, who was to become their biggest recording star. 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 the American Record Corporation (ARC) in December 1931.

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, Leo Reisman, Ben Bernie, and Anson Weeks (many of whom moved over to Decca in late 1934).

In 1932, the British branch of Brunswick was acquired by Decca Records.

Since 1939

In 1939, the American Record Corp. was bought by the Columbia Broadcasting System for $750,000, which discontinued the label in 1940. This, along with the lower than agreed-upon production numbers, violated the Warners lease agreement, resulting in the Brunswick trademark being transferred to American Decca (Which WB had a financial interest in), along with all masters recorded up to December 1931. Rights to recordings from late December 1931 on were retained by CBS/Columbia.

In 1944, 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.

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.

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

Jackie Wilson's debut single was the first release of the current Brunswick Records

In the latter part of the 1950s and into the 1960s, it was primarily used for African-American acts with Jackie Wilson its only major recording star. Jackie Wilson's manager Nat Tarnopol, who was also an executive with the label, acquired 50% interest in Brunswick from Decca in 1964. Tarnopol acquired the rest of Brunswick from Decca in 1970 to settle disputes with Decca management. Legal problems caused Brunswick to become dormant after 1982 in which Tarnopol licensed Brunswick recordings from 1957 onward. Brunswick had its last chart hits in 1982.[1]

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 CBS/Sony). The Decca-era Brunswick jazz catalogue is managed by Verve Records. The official Brunswick Records web site has a detailed history of the Tarnopol-era Brunswick Records.

Today, Brunswick is run by president and CEO Paul Tarnopol, Nat's son. The Brunswick catalog is currently distributed by Koch 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 60s and 70s have been re-mastered and 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, as well as Jackie Wilson.

See also

External links


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