Critical Essay—Your Granny’s Gramophone: The Cultural Impact of 78 rpm Recordings on Ireland and Irish America
Roxanne M. O'Connell, Roger Williams University
From the wax cylinder to the iPod, technology has had a dramatic impact on the preservation, transmission and transformation of music in general and of Irish music in particular, a genre whose roots lie deep in non-technical oral traditions. This article examines the role mechanical reproduction technologies played during the first half of the twentieth century as Irish music traveled back and forth across the Atlantic. In what ways did the gramophone and 78 rpm record amplify and obsolesce cultural practices in Irish music? What did they retrieve from the past? Where did they go when pushed to the limit, and what role did the 78s play in the development of musically mediated Irish cultural identity formation? Informed by the work of Arjun Appadurai, Robert Albrecht, Daniel Miller and Marshall McLuhan, and based on oral histories collected from musicians and music lovers on both sides of the Atlantic, this article1 seeks to explore those questions.
The music that is broadly defined as Irish has developed in tandem with the media technologies of the past 100 years. From the wax cylinder to the iPod, technology has had a dramatic impact on the preservation, transmission and transformation of music in general and of Irish music in particular, a genre whose roots lie deep in non-technical oral traditions. This article seeks to understand and describe the interplay between Irish music and the recording technologies that emerged in the first half of the twentieth century, a time of prolific innovation in all forms of media, but, in particular, the mechanical reproduction of sound. In doing so, this article situates itself, not in any single field, but rather at the crossroads of technology, material culture, history and media ecology.
Few events in the history of any people exist detached from what went before. Nor can one divorce technologies and innovations from the social, economic and political environments in which they developed. Marshall McLuhan, the twentieth century media philosopher, maintained that media technologies don’t replace each other so much as change the nature and role of each technology. The old medium’s content becomes the content of the new medium. Television didn’t replace radio but rather changed the listener’s relationship to it and perhaps shifted the type of content radio would provide, as the radio itself provided program material for the television that superseded it. The computer and the Internet have not yet replaced television, although ready access to television programs online through websites like Hulu™ suggests that convergence is happening in both media.
Similarly, the advent of mechanically reproduced sound on wax cylinders and shellac discs did not replace or obsolesce the means by which Irish music was disseminated and distributed throughout native and diasporal populations. Instead, one could argue that it strengthened and augmented the music. Indeed, the traditional forms of Irish music are still conveyed down the generations from musician to musician, from singer to singer, as part of a thriving oral tradition. In summer music camps, arts weeks, music festivals and individual instruction, the style of teaching traditional Irish music is still very much an oral praxis. However, over the past hundred years, mechanically mediated forms of Irish music have also played a role in transmitting and making the music popular all over the world. Thousands of recordings by the very finest Irish musicians worldwide have raised the standards of playing and have added new compositions in equal measure to the number of songs and tunes recovered from the past. Irish music sessions can be found in every corner of the globe, thanks to the worldwide proliferation of Irish pubs and their reputation for good drink, music and craic—the Irish word for a really good time. The music/dance phenomenon Riverdance had, at one point, eight touring companies covering ten countries, and spawned several other extravaganzas of Irish music and dance. It doesn’t take a technological determinist to recognize the transformational impact of the mechanical reproduction of sound on Irish music culture at the dawn of the twentieth century. However, technology, in this story, is closely interwoven with the political and economic threads peculiar to that period of Irish and Irish American history.
Your Granny’s Gramophone
The last half of the nineteenth century was witness to widespread economic and cultural devastation in Ireland as successive famines, blights, hunger, disease, death and massive emigration halved its population (Scally 3). Many of the able-bodied and skilled, and any who could survive the cross-Atlantic journey, took up new lives in North America, particularly in the urban centers of Boston, New York, Philadelphia and Chicago. Among these new immigrants were many talented and skilled Irish musicians. Some found their niche in minstrelsy, music halls and later Vaudeville (Moloney, Irish Music 131-132). Many more took regular employment and continued to play music, just as they had done in Ireland, for their own amusement and that of their families and friends, as chronicled by Captain Francis O’Neill, of the Chicago Police, in his Irish Minstrels and Musicians with Numerous Dissertations on Related Subjects. In the first decades of the twentieth century, some of these immigrant musicians became immortalized through the mechanical reproduction of their music and, to this day, we can hear them play.
Let us go back in time to the first decade of the 1900s—a time when most people would have only experienced music as live performance, either because they played it themselves or because they were at a vaudeville theatre, a music hall or in some other place where live music could be found.
Someone brings home a black box and some shiny black disks in brown paper sleeves. We open the black box, remove a crank handle, insert it into the side of the box and begin to wind it up. We place one of the disks into the box and delicately move a tin arm over to the disk to make contact.
And this is what we hear:
[audio clip: John McCormack singing 'Snowy Breasted Pearl']
That was Ireland’s most famous tenor, John McCormack singing “The Snowy Breasted Pearl.” It was the song with which he won the coveted gold medal at the 1904 Feis Cheol, the Irish national music festival. Winning this prize brought him to America for the first time for the St. Louis World’s Fair that same year. He didn’t stay long—he was not at all impressed with the stage Irish atmosphere within which he was expected to perform. He quit the exhibition and returned to Europe to begin classical music instruction. He returned to America in 1909 to sing opera in New York, including the Metropolitan Opera and, a ten years later, he became a U.S. citizen (Ledbetter 37-103). However, while he was in London, McCormack recorded several 78 rpm sides for the Gramophone company to finance his musical training in Italy—and the term sides is appropriate here because these were issued as single-sided disks; double-sided discs were a later innovation.
In terms of of technology and culture, this recording is important because it exemplifies the dawn of a "golden age” of Irish music and dance. While this was a recording of an Irish song, sung by an Irish singer, and loved by Irish audiences the world over throughout the diaspora of that time, it was also popular with the general public. Irish music at the beginning of the twentieth century was popular music and it contributed greatly to the body of ethnic and popular music of the day with thousands of 78 rpm sides being released each year (Spottswood 1:1; Spaeth 352-354; Gronow 12-13).
From Oral Transmission to Mechanically Reproduced
Before the invention of the wax cylinder recorder, or phonograph,2 in 1877 by Thomas Alva Edison, Irish music was heard live in music and concert halls, in private homes and at gatherings of the various county associations formed to help newly arrived immigrants adjust to their new home. Music was recorded only in the act of writing it down. While not all Irish music of the time was recorded in manuscript, that which was put down on paper often suffered from the limitations of standard music notation. It is exceedingly difficult to capture the idiom of the music—its native accent—in written form. O’Neill, one of Irish music’s great collectors, remarked on the difficulties of trying to capture, in this format, the ornamentation and performance styles particular to Irish musical performance in his memoir, Irish Folk Music: A Fascinating Hobby. He writes of fiddler John McFadden, “everything connected with his playing was original and defiant of all rules of modern musical ethics; yet the crispness of tone and rhythmic swing of his music were so thrilling that all other sentiments were stifled by admiration” (36).
Crispness of tone and rhythmic swing, qualities that are tied to performance and to what aficionados of Irish music would call the nyah,3 are impossible to convey in manuscript form. Part of the difficulty is that the performers rarely play or sing a tune the same way twice through and their ornaments or embellishments are as much a part of the tune as the barebones melody. O’Neill underscores this when he writes of two popular uilleann pipers,4 “Touhey’s and Delaney’s graces, trills and deviations were endless in variety. While their style and skill entranced the listener, both were the despair of the music writer” (96). Elsewhere in his memoir he refers to longtime musical colleague and fiddler Edward Cronin, observing that “long sweeping bowing with its attendant slurs gave marked individuality to his style which was both airy and graceful. In fact he presented a distinct school in this respect, for among traditional Irish musicians nothing is so noticeable as the absence of uniformity of style or system” (96). The invention of the talking machines—the wax cylinder and the gramophone disc—introduced a way to capture the nuance of Irish traditional music. These inventions lent themselves well to solving the problem of reproducing, with as much fidelity as they could technically provide, the music with all its inflections and ornamentation. For the first time, one could hear the nyah in recorded Irish music.
While Edison’s talking machine was first on the commercial sound reproduction scene, he didn’t really see the wax cylinder phonograph as a vehicle for music—he believed that it was primarily a serious business machine (Gelatt 45). It wasn’t until the turn of the century that the phonograph became a commercial entertainment device.
Because the phonograph and the gramophone developed during the same period, each profited from the same array of mechanical and material innovations, each used as its content the same raw audio material: the popular music and spoken arts of the day. During the first forty years of the twentieth century, the fierce competition within and between formats served to bring down the cost of in-home entertainment on these talking machines from several thousand dollars to only a few hundred dollars, in today’s currency, and the cost of a cylinder or disc to drop close to 80 percent. However, an element of “temporality” was introduced into the world of music, “one imposed not by performers or audiences,” according to Katz, “but by a machine” (31).
Popular songs were written to the three to four minute length of the medium and existing material was edited to create “complete” abridged versions of classic favorites. For some genres, the original time limitations of three and a half minutes had little impact. For other genres, particularly classical and dance music, the impact was such that it drove the development of longer media formats, culminating in the long-playing disc, or LP (Gelatt 290).
Mechanical recording also changed the relationship of the musician or singer to their material. Singing or playing into the recording horn imposed strictures a performer would not encounter elsewhere. Pianists would accompany singers with their instrument perched on a narrow platform, four or five feet off the ground. New instruments were developed, including the Stroh violin, which amplified its sound through a metal resonator instead of the wooden body of a traditional instrument (Ledbetter 30).
The way the artist had to physically maneuver to get the best dynamic range in a recording changed his or her method of singing and the choice of material for recording. The physics of recording and sound reproduction determined which voice range would be preferred as higher ranges—sopranos and tenors—could be heard better than lower ranges. It determined the accompaniment and the musical arrangements, and where the instruments would be placed in relation to the singer in the studio. In effect, the assembly of a piece for recording could be, and often was, substantially different from what an audience would experience in live performance.
The music-making milieu changed as well to accommodate the recording equipment. Sound engineers in all the recording companies, vying for the attention of the listening public, kept innovating and inventing all manner of equipment to better recreate, with fidelity, the sounds the artist would achieve in normal performance. They literally altered the playing field and much of what we know about ethnic music today is derived from these early recordings.
A Short History of the Irish 78 rpm Record
The journey from de Martinville’s 1860 paper phonoautograph (Rosen n. pag.) to Columbia’s vinyl long playing record spans a hundred years of innovation consisting of major leaps and minor adjustments punctuated by patent battles, economic crises, and global war. During this time, the pursuit of audio fidelity and market domination was led by three inventors and their companies: Thomas A. Edison, and Emile Berliner and Eldridge Johnson of the Victor Talking Machine Company. The other major force in audio recording was Columbia Records, the oldest record company in the world, originally a distributor for Edison’s cylinders (Mamorstein 4-11).
During the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries—a period of massive immigration of Europeans to America—three ethnic groups dominated live and recorded entertainment, according to Mick Moloney in his liner notes to If It Wasn’t for the Irish and the Jews: the Jews, the Germans and the Irish. Very early on, in the search for popular product, the record companies began to amass catalogues of music that displayed a broad range of material from Sousa marches to Strauss waltzes, including a great deal of ethnic music. Columbia alone was producing and selling between three hundred and five hundred cylinders a day during the last decade of the nineteenth century (Gelatt 48-49). The promotion department of Columbia, in the “Columbia Record” of January 1912 explained its strategy:
Remember that the alien immigrant of to-day is the American citizen of to-morrow. If he gets acquainted with the Columbia product in his own tongue, he will later on become a good customer when he has become Americanized. But until then let him know that you have his own particular kind of music. (qtd. in Healy 4)
As William Healy points out, “Rather than providing the immigrant with familiar cultural material until his tastes changed, these records probably served to retard change and to preserve music which might have disappeared in the new country” (43).
In the same year, Irish recordings began to appear in the catalogues of Edison and the Victor Talking Machine Company. Many of the cylinders of Irish material came from the popular minstrel shows of the time, which might include tunes, songs, comic recitations and skits. The enormous popularity of the Irish performers in minstrelsy would make their recordings of interest to buyers beyond the Irish-American community because there were no language barriers (Healy 39). In addition, as music recorded in New York made its way back to European audiences, it had an influence on established cultural attitudes concerning ethnic material—if it was popular in the States, it must be good! This had the subtle effect of elevating traditional music—and the musicians who recorded it—in the minds of the record buying public abroad.
The Proliferation of Small Recording Companies
Two events changed the landscape for companies producing ethnic recordings—the outbreak of World War I and the loss of a major patent suit by Victor. The first forced recording companies to fall back on domestic resources (both artists and raw materials), the latter blew open the technical playing field once enjoyed only by the big three talking machine companies.
By the mid-1910s many of the sound recording patents originally held by Columbia, Edison, and Victor were licensed to small companies like Rex, Vocalion, Brunswick and Starr. Some of these—like Vocalion, Starr and Gennett—were labels or subsidiaries of companies that originated in the player piano business. Others were new business endeavors for manufacturing enterprises unrelated to sound recording, like the Wisconsin Chair Company that started Paramount Records in 1918.
The ethnic record market was a logical choice for many of these companies. Most of the best-known, and more expensive, classical and operatic stars were under contract to the big-three—Edison, Victor and Columbia. Smaller companies could take advantage of local unsigned artists, produce popular and ethnic recordings and sell them in a local market. One might ask, just how big could the immigrant market be? Pekka Gronow, in his introduction to Ethnic Recordings in America: A Neglected Heritage, reports, “In 1900, 13.5 percent of the population of the United States was foreign born, and the figure was much higher in metropolitan areas such as New York” (5). Gronow points out that in 1910 “there were 700 foreign-language dailies or weeklies in the United States with a total circulation exceeding 5 million” (5). Clearly, providing immigrants with recordings reflecting their own culture was well worth the investment.
Once war broke out in Europe in the summer of 1914, the practice of recording ethnic and classical music in Europe declined. German-born Otto K. E. Heinemann was then the import manager for the U.S. branch of Carl Linström A-G, a Berlin-based company first formed in 1893 (Laird 1). As supplies of discs from Europe dried up and travel to Europe became impossible, Heinemann felt it prudent to start up his own American-owned record company, incorporating OKeh Records in December 1915, the label’s name coming from the initials of his name (2). While the strength of OKeh’s catalogue eventually became its “race” recordings,5 they also produced hundreds of ethnic recordings, including those by Irish musicians Peter J. Conlon, Tom Morrison, the Four Provinces Orchestra, O’Leary’s Irish Minstrels and The Flanagan Brothers (Gelatt 250-251; Spottswood 1:1; O’Connell 313-357).
While some small companies were able to exploit existing patents by making minor adjustments to the machines used in the recording process, the most important patent was Eldridge Johnson’s lateral-cut recording process (#896,059) held by the Victor Talking Machine Company and licensed by Victor to all the other record companies that used this method, including Columbia.
In the March 15, 1919 issue of “Talking Machine World,” Starr-Gennett announced that it was producing lateral discs. The Victor Talking Machine Company brought suit against the Starr Piano Company for patent infringement. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Starr-Gennett’s favor in an October 1922 decision that rendered the Johnson patent essentially worthless (Sutton 86-87). This decision, which effectively ended Victor’s ability to charge licensing fees, triggered a rush of small recording companies to enter the market, further “diversifying the music industry and setting the stage for continued industry development, which furthered the spread of early popular music” (87).
Domestic Irish Recordings
While the outbreak of the First World War forced Columbia and the other major record companies to look toward home for recording material, in the case of ethnic recordings, the record companies also had to begin using immigrants as musical talent. With the exception of the artists on the vaudeville and music hall stages, however, the record companies had little notion of where to find the musicians their immigrant audiences wanted to hear. “They turned to the ethnic music businesspeople, who were already well established in their communities as vendors of sheet music, instruments, and piano rolls and were familiar with the musical talent in their neighborhoods” (Greene 74), entrepreneurs like Ellen O’Byrne and her New York shop that eventually became the launching pad in 1945 for Boston’s Copley Record label.
O’Byrne emigrated from Leitrim, Ireland in 1890 when she was fifteen. She met and married Justus DeWitt, a Dutch immigrant, and together they founded the O’Byrne DeWitt store on Third Avenue in Manhattan in 1900 (Gedutis 149). Ellen was a sharp business woman. In a lengthy interview with ethnomusicologist Mick Moloney, her son Justus O’Byrne DeWitt recounts how his mother approached the Columbia Record company and struck a deal “on the proviso that they buy a certain number like 500 or 1,000 of the copy if they made the record... You see at that time,” her son recalled, “there were no Irish records practically available except John McCormack and two or three on the Victor label by an accordion player called John Kimmel.”
O’Byrne did her research before approaching Columbia; she noticed that, of the recordings they sold in the shop, there were very few dance tunes and those they stocked sold quickly, especially a barn dance called “Stack of Barley.” While Columbia was willing to do the recording for a guaranteed purchase, the company didn’t have among their studio musicians anyone who could perform the piece. In 1916, the method of recording was entirely acoustic; this limited the types of instruments that could be used. Justus, tasked with finding some musicians for the recording, went over to Celtic Park, Long Island, and “picked up an accordion and banjo player called Herborn and Wheeler” (interview with Moloney). His mother is reported to have gone from door to door in the Irish neighborhoods alerting her customers to the soon-to-be-delivered recording. The store sold out of the record in no time at all, proof that there was indeed a market for this music. This recording by Eddie Herborn and James Wheeler was so popular that Columbia continued to include it in their catalog for decades.
Folklorist and scholar Lawrence McCullough, among others, credits the efforts of ethnic business people like Ellen O’Byrne DeWitt as the driving force behind the revival of traditional Irish music in America. As with the case of Francis O’Neill in Chicago twenty years before, the O’Byrne DeWitts were in the right place at the right time.
While a few recordings of Irish traditional music were released before the war, the arrival of several first class Irish instrumentalists like James Morrison and Michael Coleman, who came to the U.S. in the aftermath of the first World War, brought traditional music back to the community and beyond. Several of the big record companies issued separate Irish traditional music collections, marking them with different labels, often with Irish language copy such as “An Seamróg Series”—the Irish word for shamrock. Several ethnic labels, launched in the early 1920s, published Irish music exclusively. Shannon Records, established by piper Tom Ennis in 1920, was the first label on which a few traditional artists recorded, including fiddler Michael Coleman. Other independent labels launched at this time included the Keltic Record Corporation, Emerald and the Gaelic Phonograph Record Company (Bradshaw, Michael Coleman liner notes).
In 1921, in the wake of the Irish War of Independence, the Anglo-Irish treaty, and Ireland’s subsequent civil war, New York became an entrepôt for a renewed influx of Irish immigrants fleeing a new, and economically depressed, Irish Free State. These included a coterie of political refugees, most of whom had espoused the republican side during the Irish civil war. This influx unleashed a surge of nationalist sentiment among New York’s Irish community; the trend was mirrored in a profusion of independent Irish recording companies.
The most influential of these, the M. & C. New Republic Irish Recording Company, was founded in 1921 by Peter McGettrick and James Clinton. It sported a green, white and gold flag-draped sunrise label decorated with shamrocks and advertised itself as the first all-Ireland record company to have marketed Irish records.
Mattie Haskins, a Dublin singer who emigrated to New York, opened a music shop in Manhattan in 1923 and formed a label, Shamrock, for his own recordings and those of other Irish musicians. Artists found on this label included Michael Coleman, Peter Conlon, James Morrison, and Packie Dolan. As few recordings on this label appear in Spottswood after 1928, it can be surmised that, while the shop continued in operation long after Haskin’s death at age 30, the recording enterprise did not.
Throughout that decade, Ellen O’Byrne DeWitt’s shop issued recordings of a surprising number of artists. These recordings were also issued on the Pathé and Gennett labels and featured, among others, artists such as Frank Quinn, Shaun O’Farrell, P. J. McNamara, Fireman John McKenna, John J. Kimmel, and John Griffin “The 5th Avenue Bus Man” (Spottswood, vol. 5)
The Depression Years
In the midst of the Depression, all forms of entertainment were hit hard. The fast growing record industry of the Roaring ‘20s and the resulting proliferation of small labels was, by 1933, approaching extinction (Gelatt 267). What initially made it possible for local talent to break onto the national stage was the presence of small regional record companies, now rapidly being absorbed by the new big three, Columbia (ARC), RCA Victor and Brunswick. Driven by the economic realities of the time, the larger companies reserved their primary brand for art music and other high production repertoire and began using the smaller acquired labels such as Vocalion, OKeh and Bluebird for selling records at cut-rate prices (Gelatt 238).
The economic pressure to lower the costs of records extended to the record players. Just as seventy-five cents was too much to pay for a record, $50 was too much to pay for a record player. By 1930 the manufacture of gramophone players in America had all but ceased. “Those that survived were obsolete-—and usually in the attic. On the other hand, twenty million American homes had one or more radio sets to which a record player could easily be hooked up” (Gelatt 266). RCA Victor was ready to step into the breach and, in 1934, they launched a radio attachment called the ‘Duo Jr.,’ priced at $16.50, basically at cost. Special promotions advertised that if you bought a certain number of Victor records, you could get it for free (266). Into this turbulent and troubled marketplace entered yet another new company, Decca Records. Its guiding genius was Jack Kapp, son of a Columbia record salesman who had been a shipping clerk at Columbia before becoming the recording director of the Brunswick label when American Record bought them out in 1931 (Mamorstein 71). Kapp and his financial backer, E. R. Lewis of Decca England, were convinced that good phonograph records could be priced affordably. Mamorstein writes that Decca had three things going for it: “the ravenous jukebox; Jack Kapp’s slashing of prices, so that the new label’s popular records were available to just about everyone; and, most important of all, Kapp’s pied-piper ability to lure Brunswick stars to Decca,” including Bing Crosby (82). According to Greene, Kapp was also the person most responsible for bringing ethnic, old-time and international music to national attention. He apparently had an uncanny ability to sense what the listening public wanted to hear and he was particularly talented at forecasting hits. Open to all sorts of music, “so long as it promised to be appealing to middle-class taste,” Kapp continually stressed the market potential of a recording rather than its musical quality, earning him the sobriquet of a “man of no taste, but so corny he’s good” (126-127).
The Decca label became a prolific outlet for Irish music and attracted a number of artists including the McNulty Family, Paddy Killoran, tenor John Feeney, Miles O’Malley, and Sligo fiddler Michael Coleman. It was for Jack Kapp that Bing Crosby recorded his Irish pieces. Focusing on the jukebox as a major means of marketing and distribution, he was able to outperform his competitors, Victor and Columbia (ARC), in the popular music market. It was a winning strategy:
By 1938, only a few years after its formation, Decca’s sales had risen to a close second place in the industry, reaching 12 million discs annually, behind Victor’s 13 million. Columbia was a distant third with 7 million…. His faith in the power of these kinds of works, anglicized for the mass market and delivered via the new jukebox, had been justified by 1940. By that time some felt that the jukebox was a more necessary device to make hits than radio, a position that Kapp had taken years before. (Greene 126-127)
The record industry had weathered yet another economic storm, but more lay in store. The outbreak of World War II and the resulting shortages in materials, particularly the shellac with which records were made, were one threat, but another threat came from the recording ban of 1942 to 1944 when the American Federation of Musicians (AFM) went on strike against the major American recording companies seeking the payment of royalties to the studio musicians (Mamorstein 116). Very little new recording was done in the U.S.. The big companies began moving their Irish catalog to “budget” labels by reissuing and re-releasing previously recorded material and using poorer grade manufacturing materials (Healy 145-146).
WWII – The Victory of the LP over the 78
To the listening public, pre-occupied with war shortages of every type, the rationing of shellac for disc production didn’t immediately register. Since record companies generally planned their releases months in advance, the big companies had stockpiles of new issues in the pipeline (Gelatt 279). The American Federation of Musicians imposed a deadline after which no studio recordings could take place. Some companies scheduled extra recording sessions prior to the July 31, 1942 deadline, stockpiling inventory in the hopes that the AFM strike would fail. Decca settled with the union in September 1943, and immediately returned to production, gaining momentum while Columbia and RCA Victor held out until November 1944 (281). By this time the War Board had lifted restrictions on the use of shellac ensuring that there were no impediments to ramping up production again. By 1946, the production and sales of 78s, in general, reached an all-time high. Gelatt writes:
As a matter of fact, almost anything with grooves sold well in 1946. It was a year the like of which the record industry had never experienced before. Unrestricted shellac shipments from India had been resumed, skilled labor had returned to the record factories, and the combination of pent-up demand and swollen bank accounts boosted total sales for the year to 275,000,000 discs—more than double the prewar high. (283)
However, these improved sales figures do not reflect the activity in Irish music, at least not by the big three. Although the Columbia and Decca still had their Irish record series in their catalogs, it was the smaller regional companies that made up the bulk of new Irish recordings. New labels such as Copley, Avoca and Dublin Records were launched and flourished by catering to the rapidly growing and immensely popular dance hall craze (Healy 145-146).
Nevertheless, the lifespan of the 78 rpm format was drawing to a close. Improvements in recording fidelity and the growing relationship between radio and record with regard to promotion and marketing began driving the record companies to slower recording speeds and “unbreakable” materials like the vinylite that Columbia used on its new 33 1/3 rpm discs. Now Columbia had a disc that could play for 23 minutes on each side and could exploit microgroove recording techniques developed during the war.
Meanwhile, RCA Victor decided to go with a different format—the 45 rpm single—and with it launched a format war that nearly brought the recording industry into another major slump as confused consumers waited to see which format would win the day. Labeled the "War of the Speeds," the result was that Capitol and Decca adopted the new LP [long playing] format in 1949; RCA capitulated and issued its first LP in January 1950. But the increasing popularity of the 45-rpm size had Columbia issuing its first 45s in February 1951. “By 1954, 200 million 45s had been sold” (Soderbergh 194).
The rest is history: the 45 rpm single, altogether unsuitable for long format recordings, became the format for low cost “pop” music and jukeboxes. The “long playing” (LP) disc became the format of choice for true audiophiles in all genres, from classical to folk, as the immensely popular albums were to prove: Broadway musicals such as Oklahoma! and Kiss Me, Kate, conductors such as Leonard Bernstein, jazz greats Ella Fitzgerald and Duke Ellington, and folk singers such as Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, and the Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem. The added advantage of the larger format recording was the new cardboard sleeve that these LPs came in—a twelve-inch color-printed square that could accommodate a great deal more information than the small three-inch label.
On a 1962 field trip to visit and record traditional musicians living in New York and Boston, Ciarán Mac Mathúna of Raidió Éireann, Ireland’s national radio station, observed that in nearly every home he visited there were record sleeves featuring photos of four young men wearing Aran-knit sweaters. He brought a few of these albums back to Ireland and began to give them airplay (Bradshaw, interview). Another segment in the cross-Atlantic musical conversation forged, the Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem, who had left Ireland in the ’50s to be actors in New York, triumphantly returned to their native place in 1963 to perform at Dublin’s Olympia Theatre (O’Connell 117).
There is a certain poetry in the way Irish music moved back and forth across the ocean over the last 150 years. Before the invention of mechanically reproduced sound—in the music hall days of Ed Harrigan and “Willie John” Ashcroft—Irish and Irish American music was carried by the singer or musician. A few decades later it was carried by the wax cylinder and the 78 rpm disc and, finally, by the vinyl LP.
The Cultural Impact of the Irish Music Shop
The black and white photograph is a bit blurry but one can see, standing in the back of the smiling crowd of over twenty people, a young Felix Dolan. The location, the back room of Mattie Haskins’ Shamrock Imports store on East 75th and Third Avenue, was where Felix and his friends met to play music and socialize in the ’50s and it was the occasion of his first date with Joan, his wife of fifty years.
Born in New York of immigrant parents in 1937, Felix was the youngest member of the New York Céilí Band that competed in the Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann in Boyle, Co. Roscommon in 1960. But for him, music started with the 78s his mother, Bridget Broderick Dolan, listened to every Saturday as she did the big house cleaning. Felix recalls the weekly scene:
We had a big Victrola. You could put seven or eight [discs] on and pull the thing over and they'd slap down on top of each other. And it was destructive for the record but it just shows you how strong they are really…. She'd get through them all, then she'd flip them, and they'd all go down... all day long.
Felix’s older sister, Mary, and her friends would go downtown, wandering from shop to shop, listening to music and buying records. They were as fond of the songs as they were of the dance tunes and the family collection grew into the hundreds of discs as each week Mary would bring home something new. Later, when Felix was five or six, he started playing around with his mother’s accordion. A natural musician with no formal training, he credits the hours of listening to those 78s for his ability to quickly pick up playing the music. For Felix this was consistent with the oral tradition of Irish music. “There would be very few traditional musicians who read music,” he recalls. “It would be only a handful. But everybody had the good ear. So if they heard the record and could hear it again and… again, they'd have that tune off and they would play it and it would spread.”
Whether it was playing for church and school events, for bus picnics with his mother, for local dances in the various halls, and later with Paddy Killoran’s Irish Entertainers in Woodside, New York, Felix and his friends were part of a vibrant cultural milieu that not only supported them socially but also financially.
Bringing It All Back Home—O’Byrne De Witt’s and Copley Records
New York shops like Mattie Haskins, Andy’s Music and O’Byrne DeWitt were meccas for new immigrants. They fulfilled the role that the village shop played in rural Ireland: a place to get news, meet neighbors and friends, have a friendly cup of tea—or something stronger. While New York was a hub for Irish music recording throughout much of the early twentieth century, the Boston area came to play an important part in bringing that recorded music back to Ireland and for producing a whole new generation of musicians and recordings. As with the Irish immigrant communities of Philadelphia, Chicago and New York, church groups, county associations and unions provided social and cultural support for both immigrant and American born Irish even when the population began to shift away from the North End and Boston harbor toward the surrounding towns and villages of Dorchester, Roxbury and the South Shore. More importantly, they provided political clout that helped politicians, like second generation Irish American James Michael Curley, come into power supplanting Boston’s “blue-blooded Brahmin class” who had ruled New England’s political and economic landscape for generations (Dolan, J. 154-157).
Ellen O’Byrne DeWitt’s New York store was one of the first of its kind. It sold sheet music, 78s, both domestic and imported, and instruments for the predominantly Irish clientele. For nearly twenty years, it was the only shop of its kind in town. It did a booming business providing the Irish American community with the sounds of home and, for newly arrived immigrants, a place where they could connect with family and friends. In 1926, the year his mother Ellen died, Justus left New York for Boston. His brother James had inherited the New York shop and Justus was looking for a place to start his own business. Over the next 50 years, the name O’Byrne DeWitt would come to be synonymous with everything Irish in Boston—music, instruments, records and, especially, travel to and from Ireland.
Location is key to the success of any socio-economic venture. The Dudley Square area was served by an excellent public transportation service. Dance venues like Deacon Hall, the Hibernian Hall, Winslow Hall and the Dudley Street Opera House drew people from the working class Irish all over the Boston area for a night’s entertainment and socializing.
Irish dance halls and cabarets were an increasingly popular forum for music... [They] became one of the most common Irish emigrant experiences of the twentieth century, as well as an important means of acculturation… It seemed to matter less what was played at these venues than the fact that music and dance continued to be a means of socializing for Irish immigrants and their offspring as it had been in Ireland. (Casey 24)
Irish dance bands like O’Leary’s Irish Minstrels and Dan Sullivan’s Shamrock Band filled the halls nearly every night playing a selection of traditional Irish dance tunes as well as other Irish melodies played in waltz and fox-trot tempos. Joe O’Leary, who had the only Irish radio show at the time on WEEI in Boston, and who enjoyed a significant following at the dances, helped Justus O’Byrne DeWitt get situated in his new shop at 51 Warren Street in Roxbury, in the heart of Dudley Square.
In the spring and summer of 1927, Justus began to advertise to his clientele, “Take a Victrola to Ireland with you when you go, and some Irish records!” To his surprise many did—and in significant numbers. O’Byrne DeWitt’s became known as the place for getting your ticket to Ireland. Moreover, his shop was where established Irish immigrants purchased tickets to bring family and friends to America, a link in what Timothy Meagher refers to as a “chain” of immigration (617).6 But it was the shop traffic created by selling tickets to or from Ireland that was the primary focus of O’Byrne DeWitt’s efforts—it got people into the shop to buy records.
Drawing as heavily as he could from the Victor and Columbia catalog lists, he sold any and every Irish record available, from John McCormack to the Herborn and Wheeler recording first commissioned by his mother in 1916. No ethnically Irish recording escaped his notice. He had a long-standing relationship with Decca and included, in his mail order catalog, material from Gennett, OKeh, Vocalion, New Republic and Celtic. Artists whose 78s were sold in O’Byrne DeWitt’s shop included Michael Coleman, Dan Sullivan’s Shamrock Band, the tenor John Feeney, the Flanagan Brothers, Pat Harrington, Paddy Killoran, both solo and with Killoran’s Irish Entertainers, John Fogarty, Tim O’Donovan, George Sweetnam, Bing Crosby and the McNulty Family—recordings from the latter two being perhaps the most popular items in the shop. The shop’s catalog mailing list held more than 12,000 names and business was brisk.
By the mid 1930s, the only company actively recording and producing new ethnic 78s was Decca. The Great Depression had a devastating impact on all the large record companies but because of Decca’s efforts to go after the “3 for a $1” market, ethnic records were still a viable business for them. Shops like Mattie Haskins and O’Byrne DeWitt had sufficient volume between walk-in buyers and mail order customers to make it worth while. However, the banner years of the 1920s when the big three record companies produced thousands of ethnic recordings a year would not come again. The end of Prohibition in the U.S. in 1933 gave a temporary boost to the dance hall scene and related record sales; however, the outbreak of World War II soon brought that to an end (Garofalo 73-74).
During the war years, O’Byrne DeWitt kept two Irish music radio programs a week on Boston station WMEX, even though he didn’t have a record in the shop to sell. He said to himself at the time, “This isn’t going to last forever,” and he was proved right (interview with Moloney). When the war was over and Decca resumed production of Irish records, they promised O’Byrne DeWitt exclusive distribution. Because he kept the music on the air, the minute he had Irish records for sale, “the business was right there” (interview with Moloney). However, Decca, too, ceased its production of Irish and other ethnic recordings altogether in favor of popular music for the general public.
For the first time in forty years, no major record company recorded or released Irish music. Only one small company, Celtic Records, out of Providence, Rhode Island, was producing ethnic recordings, the other small companies like New Republic, OKeh and Vocalion having been bought up by Columbia, RCA Victor or Decca. As nature abhors a vacuum, so did Justus O’Byrne DeWitt. With the same entrepreneurial panache that led his mother to approach Columbia in 1916, her son set out to launch a new company, Copley Records.
There was a resurgence of immigration to the United States just after the Second World War. Many of the Irish-born Americans who later participated in the revival of traditional music during the folk boom of the ’60s and ’70s were among those who came to the U.S. and Canada either as children or young adults during this time. Most, like flute-player Mike McHale, fiddler Larry Reynolds, and the young women they soon met and married, arrived in Boston and immediately submerged themselves in the culture of the Irish American neighborhoods of Dorchester, Roxbury and Jamaica Plain. Copley was interested in recording those artists that were popular with the Irish American community who frequented local dance halls and listened to the Irish radio programs in the Boston area, for by this time there were several. O’Byrne DeWitt, as executive producer, was in charge, overseeing everything from the design of the green shamrock label to the selection of photos for the record sleeves once they began issuing LPs and Extended Play (EPs).
The first few artists recorded on the Copley label came from the Boston area. O’Byrne DeWitt started with Jerry O’Brien, an accordion teacher who worked in the shop and was a regular member of O’Leary’s Irish Minstrels.
He then recorded Joe Derrane, an 18 year-old accordion player, a student of O’Brien’s and a great admirer of John J. Kimmel, who recorded for Columbia and Victor in the early part of the century. He continued by recording O’Leary’s Irish Minstrels and the other popular bands playing at the Dudley Square dance halls, and vocalists like Connie Foley and Ruth Morrissey. By far the biggest money-maker for Copley was the McNulty family who had been on the Decca label for years. They were enormously popular and, although they never toured beyond America’s eastern seaboard, their 78s can be found in family and library collections on both sides of the Atlantic.
The O’Byrne DeWitt story illustrates the symbiotic relationship within a culture, its music and dance, and the media that fosters it and helps it adapt to new geographies and circumstances. The Copley story is unique for many reasons. First, it is rare to find the history of such an endeavor outside of a marketing brochure. Copley was one of the few small record labels documented by ethnomusicologists. Second, it involved the organic interplay amongst a community, a cultural artifact, and a means of dissemination and distribution—Irish Americans, their music, the store, the radio shows and the record label. Finally, as Méabh Ní Fhuartháin observes, the O’Byrne DeWitt enterprise was unique in that:
[O]ne can trace, from its inception to its demise, the entire tale of Irish music recording in the USA…. That it was conceived and operated by one family throughout its history adds even more substance to the importance of this company as a socio-cultural history of Irish America itself. (40)
McLuhan’s Laws of Media and the Cultural Impact of Irish 78s
McLuhan, in Understanding Media, referred to the phonograph as a “music hall without walls” (283). Alan Lomax once told Paddy Clancy, the eldest of the Clancy Brothers, that Irish music was one of the few ethnic traditions he wasn’t worried about. It wasn’t in any danger of dying out because it had a vitality and strength that made it popular with all kinds of people from all parts of the world.7 Indeed, Irish music has never been more popular than it is today. In the beginning of the twentieth century, it was popular as part of a larger body of popular music. Today it is popular as its own thing.
Given the size of Ireland as a country, the influence of its culture worldwide is unprecedented. There are Irish pubs in every major city in the world serving up, as cultural fare, both Irish American and Irish traditional music. Traditional musicians can spend up to six months and more playing music seven nights a week in Hong Kong. Irish set dancing is happening in places like Moscow and Anchorage. What makes these places Irish isn’t the green decor or the shamrocks and harps that might be on the signs or the bar mats—indeed, the more sophisticated establishments eschew those symbols that once identified things as Irish. These social centers are Irish because they convey the qualities of Irishness first articulated in the music and song recorded in the early twentieth century. The foundation of what we now recognize as Irishness was shaped on those 78 rpm recordings.
I, and others, believed that the gramophone in Ireland would have been a distinctly middle-to-upper class item with limited presence in rural areas, given its cost and availability. This was far from the reality. The gramophone may have been an expensive household item, but the ingenuity of those people who most loved and wanted to hear the music was inexhaustible. People pooled their resources to purchase gramophones, such as the used “co-op” gramophone fiddler Larry Reynold’s family bought with their neighbors. People had “the loan” of a gramophone from relatives and friends. Most intriguing was the notion that someone would buy a 78 rpm record even if they didn’t have a gramophone. As one person remarked, “If you knew someone who had a gramophone, you could bring your new record over to them. And wouldn’t they be only too delighted to listen to it with you?” (Reynolds, interview). However, the most surprising revelation was the fact that many gramophones found their way to Ireland in the luggage of returning emigrants. Some “Returned Yanks” relocating back to Ireland to marry and start a family, brought their gramophones and 78s with them. Many of those returning to Ireland for a visit, at least those that had settled in Boston, most likely brought back to their families in Ireland a gramophone and some 78s purchased at O’Byrne DeWitt’s in Dudley Square.
Applying McLuhan’s tetrad, or the “Laws of Media,” to the gramophone and 78s helps us organize the impact of the recorded music as part of a cultural environment. We ask four basic questions: what was amplified, what was obsolesced, what was retrieved from the past, and what did the music on disc become when pushed to its limit?
Clearly, the availability and accessibility of Irish music, as part of a popular music trend in the first decades of the twentieth century, was vastly amplified when compared to the availability and accessibility of the same music as part of an orally transmitted tradition. Even the music recorded on wax cylinder at the turn of the century was limited in distribution to those who had access to the expensive Edison machine. The wax cylinder, in 1900, had several impediments to widespread accessibility in Irish and Irish-American communities: the cost of the talking machine; the poor fidelity of the recording; the short length of the recording; and no efficient, reliable means of reproduction. The introduction of the 78 rpm flat disc and the spring-driven wind-up gramophone addressed at least three of these issues. It wasn’t until the advent of the long-playing 33 rpm vinyl disc in the late ’50s that the issue of recording length was significantly addressed. In the meantime, the invention of the automatic record changer ameliorated the issue of recording length, albeit at the expense of wear and tear on the disc itself.
Why were these amplifying factors important in a cultural sense? The cost of the machine is self-explanatory. In the urban consumer culture of early twentieth century New York or Boston, with its cash- and credit-based economy, gramophones sold briskly once they were available at an affordable price. Rural Ireland, on the other hand, did not have a strong cash-based economy. Money was tied up in the land and the farm, or in credit-ledgers at the local shops. The inventive means by which people acquired gramophones in rural Ireland is testament to the attraction people had for listening and dancing to recordings when live music was not available, or for learning new material from masters of the tradition living 3,000 miles away. Issues of fidelity and recording length are minute in comparison to the ready availability of the music on disc.
[audio clip: All-Ireland champion Seamus Connolly
talking about learning to play fiddle from a 78 rpm disc]
True, some elements were rendered culturally obsolete. Some regional styles were lost as the “Sligo style,” exemplified by Coleman, Morrison and Killoran in recordings made in New York, became dominant. However, that phenomenon experienced its own shift in recent decades as admirers of the remaining regional styles began recording, with cassette tapes, remote rural musicians who would never have been brought into a recording studio and published on disc. Some old styles were lost and, as some lament, it is unfortunate that the technology of the 78s was necessarily one of consumer playing and not consumer recording, unlike the wax cylinder that preceded it or the cassette tape that followed.
However, much of the music that was around in the urban centers of New York, Boston, Dublin and London was recorded. In addition, new music was created to feed the ever hungry record buying public. Tunes that would have only been heard in small villages a hundred years earlier, once recorded, were retrieved from obscurity and kept alive for a new global generation of listeners.
What does this technology become when pushed to its limit? The technical answer is that it has taken another 50 years for the music loving public to dispense with the flat disc in favor of the digital MP3. That’s 100 years of dominance by a single format, for even the CD-rom is a flat disc with a center hole. Only the printed word, in the form of book and periodical, exceeds this monumental accomplishment.
However, it is the power of the 78 rpm record’s cultural transformation that indicates best what this technology becomes when pushed to its limit. The record-as-disc did not replace live performance, although it perhaps changed the standards of what that performance should be. Song and tune length became standardized to less than four minutes. An entire technological milieu, the recording studio, was developed in order to bring higher levels of quality and fidelity to what was being recorded. Record shops became a hub of social activity where young people spent their Saturday afternoons going from one shop to another to listen to music and purchase more to take home. Recorded music made, or reinforced, the home as the locus for music-listening, dancing, and socializing. The gramophone, when combined with the radio and, later, the television, became part of an “entertainment center” that spilled out into the ballrooms and concert halls, part of a symbiotic cycle of artist-performance-recording-airplay.
Gramophones and 78s became part of the mediascape of the early twentieth century. But they also became part of the ethnoscape as ethnic recordings on 78s were imported and exported to markets that thirsted for the sounds of their own culture. Ethnically identified mediascapes, as Arjun Appadurai explains, “tend to be... narrative-based accounts of strips of reality, and what they offer to those who experience and transform them is a series of elements… out of which scripts can be formed of imagined lives, their own, as well as those of others living in other places” (35). As the writers of Tin Pan Alley demonstrate, the narratives that began to mythologize Ireland contributed to “complex sets of metaphors by which people live as they help to constitute narratives of the Other and protonarratives of possible lives, fantasies that could be prolegomena to the desire for acquisition and movement” (36). The cultural remittance of the 78s recorded in the U.S. and played on both sides of the Atlantic created a bridge across the ocean, shared sounds becoming shared narratives.
In the repertoire of the artists recorded during this period, we see a broad panoply of what could be ethnically described as Irish. The easiest music to so recognize would be the jigs and reels of artists like Coleman, Killoran, the Morrisons, James and Tom. The instrumental music recorded between 1900 and 1929 might, as a body, be deemed the most authentically Irish because it deals with musical tropes, time signatures and titles such as Kimmel’s Medley of Irish Jigs or P. J. Conlon’s Paddy O’Rafferty’s Jig. Other signifiers would be place names as in The Rakes of Kildare and the Humours of Ennistymon. However, we would not be entirely accurate if we included songs like Dear Old Donegal (known familiarly as “Shake hands with your Uncle Mike”) or Over In Killarney as having Irish provenance merely on the basis of place name.
Nor would one of Chief O’Neill’s favorite hornpipes, Off to California, be immediately recognized as Irish were it not labeled “(Traditional),” coupled with Dunphy’s Hornpipe, played by Michael Grogan, and pressed for Columbia in “Éire.” Indeed, had it been pressed in the U.S., it would also have carried a small identifier “Irish” in the top left third of the label.
Authenticity is a subject fraught with controversy. Moloney writes:
Indeed, many Irish Americans have been extremely upset at hearing that such “Irish” songs as “I’ll Take You Home Again, Kathleen,” “If You’re Irish Come Into the Parlor,” [etc.]... were composed in America, and by non-Irish composers at that! (Ethnic Recordings 93-94)
And yet, unquestionably, even the Irish living in Ireland would not imagine that Galway Bay had been written for any other bay in the world. Songs equally sentimental, and I refer here to the Irish “foxtrot” Come Back Paddy Reilly to Ballyjamesduff, written by Irishman Percy French, or the Irish “waltz.” The Valley of Slievenamon, by Irish poet and novelist Charles Kickham, use similar tropes to appeal to the nostalgic immigrant and the native Irish alike. The songs sung by Connie Foley, Mickey Carton and Ruthie Morrissey, with the dance orchestras in the 1940s and 1950s, were as welcome in Ireland as they were in Boston—and not as exotic fare but as part of Irish popular song. These may be Irish-American music in origin, but the Irish part cannot be left off or expunged and still describe the same music.
To use an analogy, the cables and twists of an Aran sweater, knit with unbleached wool is easily recognized as Irish regardless of whose hands spun the wool or knit the garment. It might surprise some to learn that the first Irish women to knit an Aran sweater, Margaret Dirrane and Maggie O’Toole of Kilronan, Inís Mór, brought the patterning skills back to Ireland in 1908, after a two-year stay on an island outside of Boston, Massachusetts (Darlington 86). What is ethnically identified as feels-Irish, to use John O’Flynn’s term, is a matter for the listener. Some would disagree, but the fact that these songs and tunes—regardless of where they were written or recorded—were present, popular, and treasured, on both sides of the Atlantic, is inarguable and, perhaps, the most lasting and dramatic example of the impact of the Irish 78 rpm recordings.
The concept of Irishness is more than tricky; it a matter of myriad perspectives: economic, political, social, as well as cultural. It greatly depends on who you are talking to and where. Much has been argued about it in both scholarly and popular press. But there are common threads and they are knitted together, if you will, in the current state of Irish music. The music that was brought to America and recorded there was influenced by both the new recording technologies and the urban cultural milieu that fostered and nourished its expression. That mediated music made its way back across the Atlantic to the source and worked its way into the DNA of what has become the Irish music of today. There will never be another Golden Age of Irish Music on 78s. But, as new technologies help us retrieve what was on those Irish 78s, and we add those artists and their styles to what is currently being produced by today’s musicians in the ethnoscape, be it in Hong Kong, Stockholm, Buenos Aires, or Doolin, Co. Clare, we contribute to the Global Age of Irish Music.
1This article includes material excerpted from the author’s 2010 dissertation: O’Connell, Roxanne M. “The Golden Age of Irish Music: The Cultural Impact of 78 RPM Recordings in Ireland and Irish America 1900-1960.” Diss. Salve U, 2010. Print.
2As early as 1900, the term phonograph was reserved for the wax cylinder recorder; the term gramophone was used for the flat disc player. However, patent wars complicated the terminology when various companies’ patents attempted to restrict the use of the term gramophone. When production of the wax cylinder recorder waned, the term phonograph was often used in the U.S. for both cylinder and disc players, where the disc player was also referred to as the Victrola or record player. In Europe, where there were no patent restrictions on the term, the disc player continued to be called a gramophone, even when it was no longer a wind-up machine, as in the electric record player, the Dansette
3A particularly Irish inflection in song or instrumental music. Irish singer Delia Murphy, wife of Irish diplomat Tom Kiernan, was reported to have teased John McCormack about having lost the nyah with all his classical training.
4Uilleann pipes (elbow pipes) are a set of bag pipes that are not blown by mouth but are played using a bellows pumped by the elbow and are intended for indoor use. During the music hall and early vaudeville days, uilleann pipers were a popular form of entertainment (Mitchell and Small).
5In this context, race or colored refers to recordings of black artists; ethnic refers to the many various recordings of ethnic origin, largely those of Western and Eastern Europe and Asia.
6Meagher writes, “Irish Americans sent $260 million back to Ireland between 1848 and 1900: 40 percent or $104 million in prepaid tickets.” (617)
7Lomax and Clancy had this conversation in the ’50s when Lomax was collecting material in the Waterford/Cork area. Paddy Clancy often repeated Lomax’s observation in press interviews and in private conversation with the author.
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_____." Felix Dolan and Friends in Mattie Haskin's shop." 2009. Last modified 22 August 2012. PNG file.
_____. "McLuhan's Tetrad - Laws of Media." 2010. Last modified 22 August 2012. PNG file.
_____. 78 rpm Disk Label for "Off to California—Hornpipe." 2009. Last modified 22 August 2012. PNG file.
_____. 78 rpm Disk Label for "Paddy Finley's Reel & The Red Haired Lass Reel." 2009. Last modified 22 August 2012. PNG file.
_____. 78 rpm Disk Label for "The Dear Little Shamrock" Side A and B. 2009. Last modified 22 August 2012. PNG file.
_____. 78 rpm disk label for "The Indian on the Rock." 2008. Last modified 22 August 2012. PNG file.
_____. 78 rpm disk label for "The Snowy Breasted Pearl." 2009. Last modified 22 August 2012. PNG file.
_____. 78 rpm disk label for "The Stack of Barley." 2008. Last modified 22 August 2012. PNG file.
_____. 78 rpm disk label for "The Varsouviana (Shoe the Donkey)." 2009. Last modified 22 August 2012. PNG file.
_____. 78 rpm disk shop label for "Mattie Haskins Shop label." 2009. Last modified 22 August 2012. PNG file.
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Roxanne O’Connell, Ph.D., is an associate professor and Department Chair at Roger Williams University. She is also a singer, photographer and designer. Her professional life “dances at the crossroads” between visual media, media ecology, ethnography and music. She is the editor of Teaching with Multimedia: Pedagogy in the Websphere (Hampton Press) and is currently finishing Visualizing Culture: Analyzing the Cultural Aesthetics of the Web for Peter Lang-USA. Recent CD publications of her work include an interview with Seamus Connolly on “Fieldwork” from ICTM-Ireland and back-up vocals ('Pretty Saro') on a new tribute album to legendary folk artist Jean Ritchie.
© 2013 Roxanne M. O'Connell, used by permission.