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Henry_Burr

Henry Burr

For the footballer of the same name, see Robert Rice (footballer)

Henry Burr (January 15, 1882 - April 6, 1941) was a canadian singer of popular songs from the early part of the early 20th century, early radio performer and producer. He was born Harry Haley McClaskey and used Henry Burr as one of his many pseudonyms, in addition to Irving Gillette, Harry Haley, Henry Gillette, Alfred Alexander, Robert Rice, Carl Ely, Harry Barr, Frank Knapp, Harry Haley, Al King, and Shamus McClaskey. He was one of the first singers to make popular acoustic recordings and one of the most prolific recording artists of all time, with more than 12,000 recordings by his own estimate. A tenor, he performed as a soloist and also in duets, trios and quartets. His most famous collaboration was the Peerless Quartet.

Early years

Born in the border town of St. Stephen, New Brunswick, Canada, Harry McClaskey was the son of a candy and tobacco store owner. His vocal talents were recognized early and by the age 13 he was performing as a boy tenor with the Artillery Band in the nearby city of Saint John. Perhaps doubting that he could make a career in music, he later attended Mt. Allison Academy in Sackville, New Brunswick, and afterwards worked for his father. On April 14, 1901, he appeared at the opera house in Saint John in his first notable concert with the Scottish soprano Jessie Maclachlan. On September 30, 1901 he was discovered by the Metropolitan Opera baritone Giuseppe Campanari who was in St. John to perform at the St. John Opera House. Campanari insisted that McClaskey go to New York for musical training.

Recording artist

Emboldened by Campanari's endorsement, McClaskey ventured to New York in 1902, where he began lessons and sang with the Grace Methodist Episcopal Church choir. He ultimately rose to tenor soloist for the choir. His teachers included John Dennis Meehan (or Mehan) and Miss Ellen Burr, from whom he would adopt his stage name in her honour.

It was around 1902 that he started to make recordings with Columbia Records and he used the name Henry Burr at that time. He arrived at a particularly opportune time for Columbia, as their star tenor George J. Gaskin was in the final years of his career. He started recording for Edison Records as well in November 1904, under the name Irving Gillette. Disagreements with company executives resulted in him no longer recording for Edison after October 1914. He first recorded with Victor on January 4, 1905, and the recordings were first released that March. On April 7, 1905 he recorded Egbert Van Alstyne's "In The Shade Of The Old Apple Tree" which proved to be highly popular. It was also recorded by contemporary Billy Murray the same year. Burr proved to be a successful artist, recording as noted, thousands of songs for various labels under various names. He would record with Leeds Talk-O-Phone, Imperial, Busy Bee Records and the American Record Company as well.

Collaborations

In 1906, Burr joined the Columbia Male Quartet which was recording for the Columbia Record Company as second tenor under the management of Frank C. Stanley. They were later renamed the Peerless Quartet when they moved to the Victory Record Company label. When Stanley died in 1910, Burr took over management of the group. It continued on as a popular recording and live performance team (with various personnel and name changes over the years) until 1928, when it disbanded. Burr was also a member of other recording groups, including the Metropolitan Trio and the Manhattan Mixed Trio, both of which featured him with Frank C. Stanley and Elise Stevenson.

As a businessman

By 1915, he was in a comfortable position financially, and he began to seek ways to invest his money. That year, he formed the Paroquette Record Manufacturing Company with Fred Van Eps, based in New York City. The Paroquette system used vertical cut records and featured his own recordings and those of several other performers. As a novel introduction in a highly competitive market, the Paroquette recording technique was an early failure, and the company was out of business by 1917. Burr also tried music publishing, and he also shared ownership in a banjo factory with Van Eps for a short while.

Early radio

Burr performed live on the radio while broadcasting technology was still in its infancy. He made his first appearance in 1920 in Denver, Colorado using a microphone improvised from a wooden bowl with an inverted telephone transmitter. The broadcast was heard as far west as San Francisco. Burr is also credited with making the first transcontinental 'broadcast' by singing into the telephone in New York and being heard by diners wearing headphones at a Rotary dinner in California. Also in 1920, he signed an exclusive contract with Victor records that lasted seven years. A lucrative contract, it made him (for a time) a wealthy man.

By the late 1920s, his recording career was over (electrical recording technologies had led to the crooner style of tenor first exemplified in the voice of Gene Austin), but the commercial potential of radio continued to interest Burr. As a result, he became involved in early radio programming, forming Henry Burr, Inc. in 1928 as a producer of radio programming. He produced numerous programs for commercial radio networks into the 1930s. He originated the Cities Service broadcast, which he produced for two years. In October 1929, he reputedly lost a substantial portion of his wealth in the Wall Street Crash of 1929. Less than a month later, however, he was appointed Director of the Artist's Bureau at CBS which had just been organized under the ownership of William S. Paley. Around 1935, he returned to performing on the radio as a member of the WLS Chicago National Barn Dance troupe, which was broadcast over NBC on Saturday evenings. He soon became a featured performer on the show, which he stayed with for five years until shortly before his death. He suffered from throat cancer and died in Chicago on April 6, 1941. Buried near his step-daughter Marguarite, he was survived by his wife, Cecilia.

See also

References

  • Arthur Makosinki: Henry Burr online Makosinki attempts to trace the convoluted changes in Burr's various quartets, trios and other ventures. The web site also provides various additional stage names.

Audio

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