Criterion Quartet (also Strand Quartet on Brunswick)

By Tim Gracyk

Excerpt from: Another Book About Popular American Recording Pioneers: 1895-1925: The Unpublished Entries


An early Criterion Quartet organized by Reinald Werrenrath made Columbia, Zon-o-phone, Edison, and Leeds & Catlin records. The quartet consisted of first tenor Robert R. Rainey, second tenor William A. Washburn, baritone Werrenrath, and bass Walter A. Downie. Werrenrath's first recording--"Little Tommy Went A Fishing" on Edison 8866, issued in January 1905--was made with this quartet. The June 1905 Zon-o-phone catalog lists eight 9-inch records and a single 10-inch record by the Criterion.

Walsh reports that by 1916 the Quartet had become first tenor John Young (the group's manager), second tenor Horatio Rench, baritone George W. Reardon, and bass Donald Chalmers. It made many Edison Diamond Discs and Blue Amberols. Harvey Hindermyer was second tenor for a time, as was Frank Mellor. One Diamond Disc--"Humming" (50817), issued in 1921--was the last Edison Diamond Disc to have an etched label. The next Diamond Disc in the popular series, 50818, featured Edison's first paper label.

Many of the quartet's Diamond Discs were issued in a classical series, and on some recordings the quartet accompanies famous artists, including Anna Case, Marie Rappold, and Frieda Hempel.

Victor records include "Bring Back My Bonnie To Me" (16105), "Old-Time Religion" (16743), "Some Blessed Day" (18808), and "De Coppah Moon" (19042). On some Victor records the quartet provided assistance to featured soloists. On Victor 45329, soprano Olive Kline is assisted by the Criterion on "Lilly Dale." Likewise, on Red Seal Victor 66020, soprano Hulda Lashanska is assisted by the quartet on "Sweet and Low." Labels cite the Criterion Quartet under the featured singer's name.

Columbia records include "While the Years Rolls By" (A3686; issued November 1922), "Drifting Down" (A3748; issued February 1923), and "It Came Upon A Midnight Clear" (A3998; issued December 1923).

The quartet was called the Strand Quartet by Brunswick in the early 1920s as well as the Criterion Male Quartet. Using its regular name, it enjoyed success with "Little Cotton Dolly" and "Kentucky Babe" on Brunswick 2228--the same numbers were recorded by the Shannon Quartet for Victor 19013, also a cappella. In the electric era the Criterion Quartet again recorded "Little Cotton Dolly" (4300), this time with guitar accompaniment. One of the first performances recorded with Brunswick's "Light-Ray" electrical recording system was of the quartet singing "Unclouded Day," cut in July 1925 and issued on Brunswick 2931 in October. It recorded for other companies such as the Aeolian Company, maker of Vocalion discs.

In the mid-1920s the Criterion Quartet changed its name to the Roxy Quartet or Roxy Male Quartet to be better identified with the "Roxy's Gang" radio program. Beginning on November 19, 1922, Samuel L. ("Roxy") Rothafel hosted a variety series on Sunday evenings over radio station WEAF between shows at the Capitol Theatre, later at the Roxy Theatre. During this later period, when it was known as the Roxy Quartet, members were Young; Reardon; Mellor, who joined the group in 1921; and Fred Thomas, who replaced Chalmers some time in the 1930s.