This is a blog about music, photography, history, and culture.
These are photographs from my collection that tell a story about lost time and forgotten music.

Mike Brubaker
{ Click on the image to expand the photo }

Three of a Kind

20 March 2020

It used to be a requirement
for every theater, opera, and concert hall.
Just before the performance began,
the house lights would dim,
and slowly the proscenium curtain
would rise.

On some stages
the velvet drapery parted rather than a lifted,
but the effect was the same.
What was hidden was now revealed.

A great program always had
a strong curtain raiser.
And likewise no show was ever finished
until the final curtain came down.

What happens to the curtain call
when there is no curtain?

* * *

My first image was clipped from a photograph of three women with brass instruments, two cornets and an alto horn. They are outside a house apparently floating above the garden lawn, as their long dresses hide their shoes. There are no clues to where, but I believe they are somewhere in North America. The chain link fence on the left was not manufactured in the United States until 1898. So my guess is that this photo dates from 1900-1910.

Bonus points if you spotted the little person in the photo.

* * *

Skipping to the third trio of calves and knees, they belong to a musical trio of young lasses dressed in Scottish tartans, kilts, and caps. Two musicians hold traditional Scottish instruments, the oboe and the tenor saxophone, essentially bagpipes without bags. The third woman has no instrument but presumably is in the photo because she's in the band. So she might be the bass drummer or the conductor. My guess is principal accordionist.

This is an unmarked photo postcard so the three women could be from Melbourne or Glasgow for all we know, but my bet is they are members of some Presbyterian college band in the United States, circa 1920-30.

* * *

With a hop back to the second image, those neatly turned ankles came from a large 8" x 10" promotional photo of three female entertainers wearing fine evening dresses from the 1920s. On left and right are a violinist and a cornet player. In the center a third woman is without an instrument but that is because she is a pianist. The reason I know this is due to a helpful note signed on the lower right. 

Kindest Regards
The Dann Trio

The Dann Trio was a musical troupe of three women from Worcester, Massachusetts who played violin, cornet and piano. From 1919 to 1923 they toured the country accompanying a noted tenor, Harvey Hindermyer, in concerts that promoted Edison Records, the first successful manufacturer of phonograph machines, cylinders, and disc records. The Dann Trio's recitals were sponsored by local music stores that sold the Edison Record's disc library. Often the tickets were free but required picking them up at the sponsor's store which gave the retailer an opportunity to demonstrate the latest in home entertainment technology. 

Visalia CA Times-Delta
30 November 1922
Their performance used a phonograph player, somehow concealed on stage, that would play the same music that the group was playing. As Harvey Hindermyer sang he would trick the audience by closing his mouth and yet somehow his voice from the record would continue. The Dann Trio also used the same effect to demonstrate with their records that there was no difference between the living artist's sound and Mr. Edison's wondrous invention.

Edison Record Logo circa 1910
Source: Wikipedia

Thomas A. Edison invented his phonograph machine in 1877, but set it aside to devote all his time to  perfecting his electric light bulb. It wasn't until 1887 that he returned to it seriously and brought out in 1889 an improved device that used wax cylinders to capture sound. But the wax cylinders were fragile and difficult to duplicate. The first mass produced cylinders were made from a more sturdy  plastic type material and first marketed in 1902. Facing competition, in 1908 the Edison Company came out with its improved version called Blue Amberol that could play 4 rather than 2 minutes of music. But by 1912 the cylinder record's deficiencies were no match for more popular disc records from Edison's competitors. So once again the Edison Labs came out with yet another system, the Diamond Disc.

Unlike the more conventional method of a side-to-side lateral needle that recorded sound waves onto a disc, Edison's Diamond Disc records used an up-and-down vertical needle to make the disc's spiral groove. This improved the sound fidelity but it also meant that Edison records could only be played on an Edison phonograph machine. The placement of the needle and the speed of the turntable were different and neither disc system could be played on its competitor's devices.

In the 1920s, Edison Records needed a way to convince the public that their machine and records were better than anyone else's, so they used Harvey Hindermyer and the Dann Trio to market the life-like quality of recorded music. Hindermyer, born in 1878, was already a well-known vocalist in part because he had recorded some early cylinders for the Edison company.

Musical America
01 January 1921
In a 1921 report on one of their recitals, the Dann Trio were identified as Rosalynd Dann, violin; Felice Dann, cornet; and Blanche Dann, piano. This is 1/3 incorrect. The cornetist and pianist were sisters, but the violinist's name was Rosalynd J. Davis.  I found them pictured in a 1977 newsletter magazine for record collectors with the same photo but this time autographed by the three musicians.

June 1977 Record Research magazine, Brooklyn, NY
Blanche Dann and Maybelle Felice Dann were born in Worcester, in 1892 and 1901 respectively, and had another sister name Hazel G. Dann born in 1895. All three became professional musicians as listed in the Worcester city directory, though I don't know what instrument Hazel played. In the 1920 census, Blanche and Felice were still single, living at home with their widowed mother. They listed their occupations as Professional Pianist, Hotel and Professional Cornetist, Hotel, so their principal gig was likely a kind of salon trio. 

The trio's violinist was Roaslynd J. Davis, born in 1900 in Massachusetts. She was a high school classmate of Felice, and I suspect she was a replacement for the Dann Trio's missing sister, Hazel. She also made solo records for the Edison company, all quasi-romantic instrumental music played with a light sentimental rubato. An Edison True-Tone single with sides A and B  cost $1.85 in 1921.

Advertisement for Edison Records
The Dann Trio worked for about three years doing tours for the Edison Record company. But sadly despite having invented the first recording machines, Edison's stubbornness in business put him behind the new trends in sound recording made in the 1920s. Long after other companies had changed to electrical recording, Edison didn't convert until 1927. But the worst decision Edison made with the Diamond Disc was developing a media system with a serious limitation of being incompatible with machines made by other manufacturers. When they finally admitted to the error it was too late. The Edison Record company shut down in October 1929, shortly before the great financial crash.

Thanks to the wonders of the 21st century,
we can listen to music performed 100 years ago,
and pretend the artists are playing
right in our own living room.
Here is "Extase Rêverie"
by Louis Ganne, for Violin, Cornet & Piano
performed by The Dann Trio
on Edison record # 80525

* * *

* * *

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where someone is always recycling old photos.


La Nightingail said...

Nice take on the prompt with "3" and as always, an interesting lesson with a added note ('scuse the pun) by way of being able to listen to the music from yesteryear! :)

smkelly8 said...

Good pun.

smkelly8 said...

I love the creative thought of the three of a kind angle.

Barbara Rogers said...

I remember listening to records with that scratchy sound...but it was still music. Good post today, Mike. My grandmother's gramophone (unknown manufacturer) was a cabinet model with the handle on the side...inside the cabinet of course was a huge stack of records.

Virginia Allain said...

It was fun to see half the photo and then reveal the whole picture.

Wendy said...

Leave it to you to date a photo by a fence rather than the Gibson Girl hairdo.


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