Franklyn Baur (c. 1904 - 24 February 1950)
- by Tim Gracyk
Excerpt from POPULAR AMERICAN RECORDING PIONEERS: 1895-1925, by Tim Gracyk. The book was published in late 2000.
Born in Brooklyn, tenor Franklyn Baur was a church and concert singer around the time he began making records. He gained much recording experience in the last two years of the acoustic era and then enjoyed great popularity, as a recording and radio artist, in the early years of the microphone between 1925 and 1930.
His last name, curiously spelled "Bauer" on side A of Brunswick 3381, should be pronounced to rhyme with "power." This is how it is said by Ernest Hare, who emceed with Billy Jones a twelve-inch Columbia Artists promotional disc titled "Studio Stunts" (50038-D) on which Baur, called by Jones the "Viva-tonal velvet-voiced vocalist," sings "Put Your Arms Where They Belong." Side A, with the Baur pronunciation, was cut on September 7, 1926, but the disc was not issued that year. Side B, featuring the Shannon Quartet (with Baur) among other artists, was cut February 18, 1927.
His first solo recording was made for the Victor Talking Machine Company. "If The Rest Of The World Don't Want You" was cut in late 1923 and issued on Victor 19243 on February 22, 1924. Other acoustic-era Victor discs of Baur as a solo artist include "You're in Love With Everyone" (19368), "Deep In My Heart" (19378), and "Heart of a Girl" (19495).
He joined the Shannon Quartet in 1923, replacing Charles Hart, who aspired to be an operatic tenor (Hart cut opera arias for Edison around the time he left the quartet and in late 1923 was engaged by the Chicago Civic Grand Opera Company). Baur's voice can be heard on the Shannon's "Stars of the Summer Night" on a Victor disc made around the time of his first session as a solo artist, which suggests that joining the Shannon group paved the way to his solo recording career. Victor 19242, featuring the Shannons (with Baur), has a lower catalog number than Baur's first solo record (19243) but was issued on March 28, a month later than the solo disc.
He remained with the quartet (later called the Revelers on many records) until 1927, serving as first tenor, with Lewis James as second tenor. During Columbia sessions on August 30 and 31, 1926, they reversed roles. Baur sang the melody and James harmonized on "Where the River Shannon Flows" (746-D) and "Where the Silvery Colorado Wends Its Way" (747-D).
The young tenor must have learned much from the other members since they were veteran performers. Likewise, the older members were influenced by Baur. Charles Hart writes in the December 1958 issue of Hobbies, "Baur was instrumental in getting the boys to do jazz numbers and the name was changed in 1925 to the Revelers."
His earliest duet partner was Shannon member Elliott Shaw, who had been working regularly with Charles Hart up to this point. Shaw and Baur began singing vocal refrains on dance band records, such as "Arizona Stars" performed by the Troubadours on January 14, 1924 (Victor 19251). Baur and Shaw recorded duets for Gennett, such as "June Night" and "I Wonder What's Become of Sally" (5514), issued in October 1924. On Gennett 5543, issued in November 1924, Baur's partner is Marcia Freer for "When I Was the Dandy and You Were the Belle."
The tenor added a vocal refrain to "Counting the Days" when it was recorded by the International Novelty Orchestra on February 15, 1924 (Victor 19277), the first of many sessions during which he was vocalist for a Nat Shilkret ensemble.
The second company to issue a Baur record was Columbia, which released "Watchin' the Moon Rise" and "Twilight Rose" on 106-D in June 1924. He would become an increasingly important vocalist for the company, with some numbers issued in 1925 on Columbia's newly launched budget label, Harmony, including "Let Me Call You Sweetheart" (52-H) with baritone Billy Travers (a nom de disque for Shaw).
The Aeolian Company, maker of Vocalion discs, also issued Baur titles in the acoustic era, beginning in November 1924 with Cliff Hess's "Beautiful Heaven" backed by another ballad, James Monaco's "I'm Forever Falling in Love With Someone" (14869). He began recording for Brunswick around this time and would become increasingly important to that label.
On pages 492 to 494, the September 1927 issue of Phonograph Monthly Review features an article about the singer titled "An Interview." It states, "His singing career began a little over four years ago--when he was still under twenty!--when he was engaged as soloist at the Park Avenue Baptist Church of New York...He began to make records almost simultaneously, at first for nearly a dozen various companies, then later for the three leading ones alone." The three companies alluded to are Victor, Columbia, and Brunswick.
Pseudonyms for Baur include Irving Post (Puritan), George Bronson (Regal and Banner), Sydney or Sidney Mitchell (Oriole and Banner), Joseph Elliott (National Music Lovers), and Ben Litchfield (Radiex, Grey Gull, and related labels--he was sometimes Charles Dale on these labels, a name used for various singers).
In 1926 his own name could be found on nearly a dozen labels--the three major ones (Victor, Columbia, and Brunswick) along with several minor ones. In January 1926, Gennett issued two titles: "The Lonesomest Girl in Town" backed by "I Wonder (If She Wonders Too)" (3167). In April 1926, "Just Around the Corner" was issued on Regal 8013 as well as Banner 1706, while "California Chimes" was issued on Domino 3673 as well as Banner 1701. Two titles issued on the Domino label in June 1926 are "Why Should I Cry?" (3709) and "Meet Me To-Night in Dreamland" (3711). "Until You're Mine" was issued in July on Banner 1752 and Domino 3723. In early 1927 he recorded "Meet Me To-Night in Dreamland" for Emerson 7338, one of the last Emerson releases. After that Emerson session, he recorded only for the three largest companies.
In his Phonograph Monthly Review interview he stated, "The invention of the electrical process was of greater significance than the average layman realizes. Not only are the finished records incomparably better from every standpoint, but the strain on the singer is immeasurably eased. A record can be made in exactly one-third the time it used to take, and no longer is it necessary for us to nearly crack our throats singing into that hated horn...When the electrical system was first introduced, the recording rooms were difficult to sing in since they were 'deadened,' exactly like the broadcasting studio of today. But the phonograph people have learned some secret the radio does not know, and now the recording studios are no longer absolutely 'dead,' but are resonant and consequently infinitely easier to sing in."
In the mid-1920s he toured Europe with the Revelers, a new name for the Shannon Quartet. He sang regularly with that group until March 25, 1927, when the group cut "So Blue" on Victor 20564, on the reverse side of which, "Yankee Rose," Charles Harrison substituted for Baur. Harrison sang as first tenor other times in 1927. Baur recorded only a few times as a Revelers member in 1927. James Melton replaced him as first tenor by November--or possibly Harrison replaced Baur, Melton replacing Harrison.
The March 1927 issue of Talking Machine World reports that the Revelers, using the name Merrymakers, were heard on March 4, 1927, during the Brunswick Hour of Music broadcast over the National Broadcasting Company network. Baur is named as a member and is included in a group photograph.
In the popular stage production Ziegfeld Follies of 1927, which ran from August 16, 1927, to January 7, 1928, at the New Amsterdam Theatre, he sang "The Rainbow of Girls" and, with Irene Delroy, the popular "Ooh! Maybe It's You." The show's numbers were by Irving Berlin. Baur recorded "Rainbow of Girls" as part of "Ziegfeld Follies Medley" conducted by Nat Shilkret on Victor 35845.
Around this time he was busy in Victor's studios as a solo artist and dance band vocalist. Lewis James, also a Revelers member, was used at other times for similar material. Victor sometimes placed a Baur selection on one side of a disc (often a vocal refrain on a dance band number), James on the other. Columbia did the same.
On September 9, 1927, Baur cut the popular "Charmaine" for Columbia 1119-D. Months earlier, on February 4, 1927, James had cut it for Victor. The tenors sing different lyrics to the same "Charmaine" tune.
From 1925 through 1927, Baur worked for Brunswick and Columbia nearly as much as for Victor. His final Columbia session was on December 8, 1927. His final Brunswick record, "My Heart Stood Still" (3757) was made in December 1927. He made Victor discs for another two years. He possibly signed a contract making him exclusive to the company.
He was the first singer to record selections from Jerome Kern's Show Boat. In mid-December, 1927, a few weeks after the show's premiere, he sang vocal refrains on performances by Nat Shilkret and the Victor Orchestra of "Why Do I Love You?" (December 13) and "Can't Help Lovin' Dat Man" (December 15), issued on Victor 21215.
Baur's photograph appeared on the sheet music cover for "I'm Waiting For Ships That Never Come In" (music by Abe Olman, words by Jack Yellen), a song from 1919 that was revived in the late 1920s. Under his image are the words "Successfully sung by Franklyn Baur." He recorded it on March 12, 1928 (Victor 21303). Maurice J. Gunsky had recorded it on January 25, 1928 (Victor 21246). This is a rare case of Victor issuing competing versions of a song performed by similar artists (in this case, two tenors--Gunsky had been a songwriter in San Francisco area and became increasingly popular there as a singer).
Baur was the original "Voice of Firestone," or first resident soloist on the weekly coast-to-coast radio program that began as The Firestone Hour and was later named The Voice of Firestone. He was not only a regular on the show but the featured male vocalist on the program's first broadcast on December 3, 1928. His occasional recording partner Vaughn De Leath was the featured female vocalist on that debut broadcast. Sending greetings to listeners, both singers participated in a Firestone anniversary broadcast made on January 6, 1939.
He remained with Firestone until May 26, 1930, which marked the end of the 1929-1930 season. He was then dropped from the program-- that is, his contract was not renewed--since Baur had tactlessly demanded his usual performing fee when asked to sing at a company function. Since Baur already earned a large salary from Firestone for his radio work, it had been expected that he would sing at the event without receiving additional compensation. For an unrelated reason the show went off the air for more than a year, returning on September 7, 1931, with other singers in place of Baur, including tenor James Melton and baritone Lawrence Tibbett, the latter remaining with the program until the spring of 1934. In 1934 tenor Richard Crooks, whose recording career also began like Baur's in early 1924, began his longtime association with the radio program.
Baur's recording career ended with a Victor session on December 27, 1929. His final Victor disc, issued in early 1930, featured "With A Song In My Heart" backed by "Through" (22281). The ambitious Baur passed up further recording opportunities and radio work to study voice and French art song in Paris for over a year. He had a recital at Town Hall in New York City on December 4, 1933, during which he performed works by Debussy and others.
Critical responses were mixed. The disheartened Baur, still in his 20s, retired from his singing career. He never married. He lived with a sister, Mrs. Marie Kuhlman, and at age 46 died in the home in which he had been born. Obituaries appeared on page 17 of the February 25, 1950, edition of The New York Times and page 63 of the March 1 edition of Variety.