When it came to disseminating America’s popular songs, there were many ways. There was sheet music, retail sales of phonograph records, live radio broadcasts, and even the burgeoning “music machine” or juke box industry.
There was another means for bringing popular songs to a waiting public. That was the ‘radio transcriptions’ libraries. The major networks–spurred on by the advertising agencies–did not approve of recorded, or “transcribed” programs. But time slots had to be filled–in any way possible!
By the late 1930’s, several firms–including an arm of the mighty National Broadcasting Company–were offering libraries of music to subscribing radio stations. The music ranged from popular to pseudo-hillbilly to semi-classical. Once a station signed on with a transcription service, they could use these recordings in any way they saw fit.
A good example of how a station might use these recordings exists on the Library of Congress recording of the complete day of broadcasting for September 21st, 1939–when they recorded the output of WJSV,the CBS affiliate that served Washington, DC from a transmitter in Arlington, Virginia.
WJSV subscribed to the World transcription library, and was able to fill a couple of vagrant quarter-hour time slots with un-sponsored (“sustaining”) programs drawn from this library.
These transcription services would record versions of almost all the popular songs being plugged by the various publishers–including some of the songs we’ve been discussing in these previous Posts. There is still a great deal of research to be done in this field.
I have yet to see listings for such firms as Standard, World, Associated, or some of the minor firms such as Davis and Schwegler (out of Los Angeles). But there has been published a listing for the NBC Thesaurus library, which was active between 1935 and about 1961.
The earliest of the songs with which we have dealt that appeared on the sixteen-inch Thesaurus platters was “Mickey Mouse’s Birthday Party”. The song went to George Hall’s dance orchestra, which was playing regularly at the Hotel Taft (New York), and recording regularly for Victor’s low-priced Bluebird label. We don’t know who got to sing the vocal refrain, but Hall’s most notable vocalist at the time was one Dolly Dawn–a pseudonym for a pert little lass who eventually took over leadership of the band.
When Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs came out, several of the songs from the score were entered into the libraries. At Thesaurus, Art(ie) Shaw got to reprise his version of “One Song”. But it was logged under a generic pseudonym–the Rhythm Makers–which also covered, at various times, the orchestras of Benny Goodman, Joe Haymes, Les Brown (even going back into his days at Duke University), and Charlie Barnet (before he became popular).
Here is a Larry Clinton version of “Whistle While You Work” from one of the Associated transcriptions of 1938, which were vertical-cut discs, and which have some of the highest fidelity available at the time. Bea Wain takes the vocal:
Three other songs from the “Snow White” score went to a more unlikely band. “Heigh-Ho”, “Whistle While You Work”, and “Some Day My Prince Will Come’ were assigned to Xavier Cugat–a maestro best-known for tangos, rhumbas, and whatever other dances were coming from Latin America at the time. It is not known if he tried to give these numbers a Latin beat. But, considering as he recorded a pretty fair number of straight, American pop tunes for the Thesaurus transcriptions, it is highly possible that he cut these in straight society-band style, without any resort to the bongos, claves and maracas of Cuban music.
Still–can you imagine “Heigh-Ho” or “Whistle While You Work” being played as rhumbas?